Taking the Long Way Round: UT55Km recce weekend

You have Arrived at Your Destination

As far as travelling goes, it went without issue: the flight left and got into Edinburgh ahead of schedule; the Edinburgh trams are really quick and efficient to use and as I was really in need of breakfast, I hopped of at Princes Street and made my way to Costa for a chai latte and bacon sandwich.  I then had a quick visit to Lush, to buy a few items to only end up behind someone buying half the shop, this resulted in me legging it to Waverley station and just getting on the train in time (which was on time).  If you travel regularly on Virgin trains, you’ll be aware that they give you about 2 mins to get on before moving off.  I just managed to squeeze my small case onto the luggage rack, the lack of luggage space would become an issue later on as increasing numbers of people boarded with all their worldly possessions.

We arrived into Oxenholme station right on time; having left a cloudy and cool Edinburgh, imagine the surprise to step off into bright, warm sunshine.  I had an hour before the train to Windermere, so I used it to do a change into my running Capri’s and change my socks.  My plan was to drop my case in the hostel dry room (as i couldn’t check-in until 16:30), grab my waist pack and go for a run.  I finally got through to the hostel to get the code and got onto the northern trains carriage.  Getting on the train early was the best idea yet; as 15 mins later 2 more Virgin trains arrived complete with a throng of Chinese and Londoners plus all their worldly possessions (again); I am trying to figure out what they can possibly have in these 70 litre cases for a weekend break.  We leave slightly late, due to the aforementioned trains, but arrive in Windermere in time to catch the 555 to Ambleside.

It’s a quick case drop, and organise in the dry room of Ambleside Backpackers Hostel before I head into the town.  I have about 20 mins until the next bus (plan to get off at White Moss Common Car Park, Rydal Water and run back) so I go and make my visit to the climbers shop and pick up an Ultimate Direction Jenni handheld bottle..this bottle would be an unforeseen great buy for the weekend..but my initial purchase was to try out carrying some Mountain Fuel energy drink at the start of Saturdays run and I’d test it out on todays run.


A little leg stretch back to Ambleside


My initial plan was to run along Rydal Water, cross over at the bridge, then run back through Rydal Park..that wouldn’t be possible.  After a lovely bluebell and wild garlic scented run through White Moss Common and a slow run along the side of Rydal Water, I went through the gate ignoring the sign to my right.

2 minutes later I saw a lot of yellow tape and a digger and half a bridge (that aforementioned bridge).  Deciding it might be useful to read the notice this time, it confirmed that there was no bridge and therefore no direct way to get over to Rothay Hall. I didn’t want to retrace my route all the way back, so I turned to go up into Cope How and ran back along the Lower Loughrigg road to Ambleside, here there was a bridge which is just as well as it’s the finishing straight for the Ultimate Trails courses.

Checking in

I got back to the hostel, just after check-in opened, with my Tesco supplies for breakfast.  I was really lucky to only have 1 extra body in my room.  Another lady who was down to train for the Lakeland 50.  I had a quick shower, before enjoying a lamb kofta burger and bottle of Hawkeshead Gold at the new burger bar in the town before a chilled evening and early night.

Note: Ambleside Backpackers has no TV and random WIFI, so it was good old talking and reading for entertainment.

Saturday: Ambleside to Grasmere ~ 18.5 miles (indirect)


Prescript: ‘If you want a quiet life, don’t stay in a hostel’

‘Crash, Squeak, Stomp’

Okay, I’d been warned at check-in that there were two large groups; one group of 14 doing the 12 peaks, one group of 8 doing the Help the Heros challenge and that they’d be up early for breakfast, and that are dorm was right above the kitchen.  Interestingly couldn’t hear anything from kitchen, but squeaky pipes and door opening and shutting, woke me up at 6am.  It was near impossible to get back to sleep as the light was crashing through the window, so I just lay dozing in bed.  Got-up at 8am after they’d left and wandered down for breakfast, it was an amazing day, blue sky, light northerly wind and warm.  There I meet the ‘bikers from North-East’ over for a birthday weekend.  I had a leisurely breakfast including half a glass of the Mountain Fuel energy drink, decanting the rest into my handheld, before going back to my room to get ready.  The unexpected weather, made me glad I’d bought my TNF  skort as I’d have overheated in the capri’s.  So an hour later, 9:30am I left the Hostel and walked down to the start off the road up to Stockgyhll force, my starting point.

Ambleside to Glenridding; one struggle, a mass of boulders and a bog

The first 5K takes you from Ambleside to the Car Park (and CP1) at Kirkstone Pass, it’s a relentless uphill stomp and my aim was to reach the Car Park in under an hour.  The first part takes you on the road up to Stockghyll Force and past Wansfell Pike.  Its a twisty, steep road and I managed a combination of slow running and fast walking.  I was keeping a check on my heart rate and even the fast walking was pushing it high into the threshold zone.  I also had my handheld filled with Mountain Fuel, and kept sipping on this all the way up.

The road, eventually become a lane and then a grassy track, and the path contours along to meet the final part of the struggle to Kirskstone Pass. This section of gravel and grass, finally gives a chance to stretch the legs out before a last effort of power walking and a happy run into the Car Park.   I checked my watch, 50 mins to this point, really happy as aimed to reach it in under 1 hour and plus my legs felt good.

It’s now downhill all the way to Ullswater, ‘Downhill’ I hear you say, that will be fun.  It just happens that the first third of the path down to Ullswater is boulder-strewn and multiple opportunities for twisted ankles.  I’d also read that it’s a good idea not to run every downhill, and as the biggest and longest climb was still to come, I was quite happy to shuffle-hop this first section with my short legs.  I was passed by 2 other UT55km running it but I was keeping to my strategy as I knew that more runable conditions were approaching.  Eventually the boulders give way to grassy fields and open running, what I love.  Perhaps I could call the former conditions ‘running claustrophobia’ and now I’d opened the door, stepped outside and could breathe (and run).  I happily kept running to my long run pace; and I will be honest totally lost track of my whereabouts, and just kept following the track ahead until ‘sloop, splash‘ into a boggy field.  I’d found myself in a boggy meadow, road on one side and ahead of me a stone wall with no sign of a stile on it. I took out my phone, that had the  route downloaded onto it, my initial thoughts about their route trace were confirmed, as climbing over stone walls isn’t part of the route (and is also not something you do ref:countryside code).  After 5-10 mins head scratching, I was left with no choice to splodge through the bog and follow the wall, until finally I came to the gap in the wall I was looking for.  Looking back I could see I’d gone the wrong side of a grassy hillock.

At least it was warm and sunny; so my super wet feet quickly dried out, and I found myself running along more grassy tracks until I reached Hartsop Hall and the bridleway past Brotherswater, a nice gravel track that takes you to the Car Park.  It had taken me just over an hour to get down from the pass, including standing in a bog looking lost, and I’d completely failed to note the time taken.  As I headed over to Hartsop and onto the footpath towards Patterdale, the time taken would hit me as I’d also failed to top up my energy and as I crossed over the dry beck  and made my way along the path, my energy levels crashed.  I quickly reduced to a slow walk and grabbed a chia charge flapjack and bounce ball from my side pocket and had a good drink of water to wash them down, thankfully within 5 minutes my energy levels picked up and I could run again.


The battered ‘Storm Desmond’ path to Patterdale, just after the broken bridge.  Not a drop of Water today

I’d clearly not taken into account how much energy the first 5k had used up and I made a note to myself not to be so absent-minded about this again.  The rest of the run to Patterdale and onto Glenridding went without issue, Glenridding marked the 12 mile point and CP2, it was busy with tourists (good to see) and getting back to normal life.  At this point my plan had been to eat my mini pork pie, but I abandoned this as the warmer weather and my stomach was telling me no, stick to the flapjacks. It had taken me about 40 mins to get here from Brotherswater despite an energy crash, and I’d know been on my feet for about 2hr25mins.

A Tale of two Tarns and one lake (or mere)

My Trail Running magazine training plan had 3hrs saturday/3hr sunday, I’m fairly sure when they draw these up they have no concept of reality, as I know had to choose to keep going and accept a much longer day or stop and wait for a bus; I choose the former, simply as it was 2 hours before the next bus.  I shuffled along past the beck, before stopping to remove my long-sleeve top and stuffing another flapjack in my mouth before the climb to Lantys Tarn, again here the GPX trace is questionable as doesn’t follow the permitted path but suggests walking up through someones private grounds, I kept to the RoW (again ref: countryside code and Right to Roam).  I then took the steep (and incorrect) route to the tarn, simply as it’s what seemed logical from their route trace, I should have taken the less steep and slightly longer track and saved my legs from the torture, I stopped briefly at a rock to ask myself ‘why’ and another flapjack before an enjoyable run past the tarn and to the gravel track down into Grisedale.


It was exceptionally dry on all the paths, and descending the path into Grisedale my foot hit a loose rock and I turned my ankle slightly, I didn’t panic, I just sat down for 2 minutes and had a drink and let the initial pain go.  On getting back up it felt fine and I kept going, again I took the wrong path so had to retrace my tracks to the right one.  At least its a marked course on the day.  It had taken me 2hr 45 mins to get into Grisedale Valley, and what lay ahead was a long valley and steep climb upto the Tarn.  The first section of the valley was fairly runable, I choose to walk/run it and this was a good choice as what was to come was hard.  Like most valleys, Grisedale lures you in gently with a nice gravel track before spitting you out at a quad and calf busting climb to Ruthwaite Lodge

I got to the Lodge, sat down on a wooden log and ate another flapjack and half a pack of my GU caffeinated energy chews.  My plan was to use caffinated products at those points when you need your mind switched fully on to focus, I knew from walking to the tarn before that the next section was a bit of a scramble in places and the climb was relentless. However my legs felt good, I was now feeling the benefits of my regular Yoga practice and also not hammering it on the runable sections.  It had taken me about 50 mins to get this bit of the valley done, 3hrs 35mins to this point, next stop the tarn.  The final climb to Grisedale Tarn is relatively steep with a number of rock bands to scramble over, it feels like your never going to get there because it is hidden from view until you reach it.  You also think you’ve got another section to walk because what you can see is the path ahead to Grisedale Hause, and no tarn in sight.  So it was the happiest sight in the world when there in front of me was the Tarn, I did an air high-five and little happy dance before running to the shore for some photos.  4 hours to this point, 16 mile (or so).

From the Tarn, its a slow runnable climb to a hole in a wall and the descent to the A591 and Grasmere.  The initial path down is of cobble flagging, the ones just to small and at a steep angle, that scream ankle twisting.  I decided to be cautious and shuffle-step down until I reached the gravel track, that winds its way down to Mill Bridge.  The path take a slight diversion  just before the bridge and the photo below shows why, another case of Strom Desmond rewriting the landscape.


From Mill Bridge, the bridleway reaches the path alongside the a591 and then its a slow run down to a stile that takes you to Grasmere and CP3 and for me the end of my day. 18.5 miles and just over 5hours on my feet.  My aim had been to finish feeling as if I could keep going at the same effort, and I certainly felt happy I could.  All that was left to do was to buy a bottle of water to make up my MF recovery shake and catch the bus back to Ambleside, for a shower and much deserved pizza.


Postscript: If you want the quiet life, really don’t stay in a hostel

So Saturday evening consisted of a couple of beers in the lounge, watching the trainee solicitors from Essex, do tequila shots. They managed to get 4 of the ladies who’s done a reduced 12 peaks challenge to join in.  The ones who completed the full 12 made it back at 11pm.  It’s fair to say, stairs for all of us were going  to be a laugh in the morning.  I plodded of to bed at 1030, the other lady was already asleep.  I’d caught her earlier, she too had done more than planned, we blamed the weather.

Sunday: Taking the wrong route down, and feeling relieved it was


It was another early start, the curtains have limited blackout ability so I was awake at 6am (again), I dozed in bed and listened to some music until 8am and had breakfast.  Yes, the quads felt sore but not tired, and my calves were fine.  Walking down the stairs wasn’t great but otherwise I felt good.  After 5 hours on day 1, I planned no more than 60-90 minutes today, bus to Grasmere and check out the route over past Silver How down into Langdale.

Its was another stunning day as I got on the bus, we were slightly delayed as myself and the driver convinced a Chinese contingent not to try a walk to Wastwater from Old Dungeon Ghyll, they had no map, dressed in casual clothes, no rucksacks.  Instead I suggested Blea Tarn and that if they wanted to go to Wastwater, looking up the Mountain Goat tour service instead.  I hopped of the bus at Grasmere, and started a slow run along Red Bank Road to meet the footpath up past Silver Howe:  My legs felt okay, I could run with a John Wayne swagger, but no real tiredness; on going through the gate onto the path I slowed to a fast walk, even better to feel I could push a fast walk on the ascent, and made it to the saddle below Silver How in 30 mins.

From here it was a descent into Langdale; the first section traversed a gully via a narrow scree path, more ‘running claustrophobia’ and lots of calming myself due to an attack of exposure (the drop down into the gully was horrendous).  I then reached a junction and here it went wrong: I should’ve stopped, taken out phone and checked route to realise I need to keep traversing on a sensible path to Harry farm; instead I let my mind convince me I was heading straight down to Chapel Stile, on the worst possible path that my shoes had zero grip on, and I think I used more bum than feet, posting some magnificent 1hr/mile paces at times.


The relief of releasing this is not the route down was immense

Of course on getting down to the bottom, it was only on checking the route on phone I realised I’d messed up, but the relief of knowing I wouldn’t have to repeat that descent put a smile on my face.  I continued down into the village and ran along the back of the beck to Elterwater.  This was meant to be the end of my training..but

So I’m sitting waiting for the 515 to Ambleside, the bus in the past has always stopped for a minute, so even though I was sitting under the tree with my sight of the bus obscured I wasn’t worried, then it came straight round the corner and straight back up to the road.  I stood for a few minutes, stunned thinking what now, my plan was to get bus back to Ambleside, then catch the bus to Keswick to get Carrick his new bag and generally mill about, but the next bus was over an hour away.  I did a quick leg check, time check and worked out that I could get back over to Grasmere in time to catch the 555..and that’s what I did, my legs felt quite happy with fast walking and I enjoyed a nice run back along the track through Redbank Woods and into a now very busy Grasmere.  On getting to the bus stop, I found a mangled ticket in my back skort pocket, thankfully the date could still be read.  After lunch in Abraham’s Cafe and buying Carricks bag in George Fisher, and some Fineliners in the Derwent Pencil shop, I headed back to the hostel for a shower and to relax.  By this point, it was just me in the room and the 12 peakers in the hostel.  I also found out that the 60-year-old man, I’d seen at breakfast was in-fact a member of the 100 marathon club and had also completed over 130 ultras, his aim was to reach 200 by the time he was 70.  Inspirational Yes, but also a case of never judging a book by its cover, as I’d never even thought of it when I saw him.

So to sum the weekend up:

  1. I feel happy I can complete the full 55km.  I never felt overly tired or lacking in energy
  2. My hydration startegy worked, and I just need to readjust the fueling to make sure I eat after reaching kirkstone Pass
  3. Life without a TV and WIFI is possible, and surprisingly refreshing
  4. Never to judge a book by its cover
  5. And never to rely on the human brain, it frequently gets confused and this can lead to standing in a bog, scrambling up a hillside and indeed sliding down one.






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