Ellis Bland takes on what may be the least desirable FKT in the UK;
The Bowland 1500 – The worst round you’ve never heard of.
I’ve been told people spend a fortune at fancy Spa’s just to get their bodies submerged in mud. The “health benefits” include anti-inflammation and exfoliation, or so I’m lead to believe. In future, I’ll just point them in the direction of desolate Bowland fells for a crack at the 1500’s, it’s a damn sight cheaper and you needn’t put cucumber over your eyes.
The act of doing the 1500’s in December was not to flex or show off how tough I am (the latter, at least, I’ve never been accused of) but was in fact to be used as a training run for the Montane Cheviot Goat in January. However, once I started recceing the route in November, I knew this would become a stand alone epic and one which would require my absolute attention and effort.
I remember Rich Mellon saying to me – “that crossing from Fair Snape to Totridge is like the Somme”, I was immediately excited. A few big days on the route and I felt ready, if not a little apprehensive about the state of sludge. The recent snow melting dispersal didn’t help my anxiety.
Bright eyed I made the short drive over Jubilee to Stoops Bridge car park, Abbeystead, for a 07:40 start time. As I drove up Brow Top I was already in thick clag and with rain lashing on the windscreen it’s safe to say I knew I was in for it. I’m fortunate that The OMM provide me with kit and I had an array of jackets on the spare seat, OMM Kamleika being my chosen protection (it wasn’t to come off until Grit Fell, some 8 hours later) and off I went.
I was to run the first leg to Hareden by myself and I quickly found myself at the foot off Hawthornthwaite Track. Of all the Bowland game keepers tracks this has to be the most barbaric. Stupendously steep, it makes Shooters look like Morecambe Prom. Happy to see I made it onto the Strava leaderboard on this effort, though with only 5 people recording attempts on it…
The crossing to Winney Bank went without any major navigational blips and I was pleasantly surprised with how the trod was holding, could I have got away with a good running day I naively muttered to myself? Short answer NO. The next 8 miles to Hareden were comical. Driving rain, high winds, chest high bogs and about 20 metre visibility, I was properly in winter round territory and loving every second of it. Few notable occurrences happened on the first leg, though I was surprised to see a group of 4 walkers at the top of Paddy’s Pole, stood around like it was a blue bird day, hardy folk. I didn’t stop. A helter-skelter descent of Totridge and I was with James Simon in a time of 2hrs 19 for the 14.5 mile leg.
I was pleasantly surprised with how the trod was holding, could I have got away with a good running day I naively muttered to myself? Short answer NO.
After a 2 minute stop to change my gloves and eat some peach rings, the 2 of us put the hammer down and punched our way up the 2 mile climb to Whins Brow. About halfway up James exuberantly made reference to how good the ground was all things considered, a wry smile came across my face, knowing Baxton and White Hill would be cataclysmic. Sure enough they were to be just that. A last minute route change to avoid going round Middle Knoll and instead “abseil” down Whins Fell to Foot Holme was taken. An undoubtably shorter route but with a very long and heathery climb up Baxton. Was it worth it? Unsure. Do I care to find out? No.
Was it worth it? Unsure. Do I care to find out? No.
As expected Baxton and White Hill were rough, with little to no trod, however we made excellent progress here and I was at Cross of Greet (COG) for bang on midday. This is where James was to leave me and get a lift back, however I just want to say a huge thank you for his services. On paper that was a slow 10 mile run and I’m sure the Lakeland runners would scoff, but in reality that was some of the toughest miles I’ve ever done in quite frankly sh*te conditions. Your spirits like on all our adventures were high throughout and company invaluable.
I carried on through and up to Ravens Castle, Great Harlow and Thistle Hill. A frustrating addition of 3 relatively unassuming tops, reminiscent of Fairfield on the Bob, only far worse, Thistle Hill involved a 10m swim for goodness sake. Still with 18 miles to go, I got up and down with a spring in my step knowing the irreplaceable Ian Roberts was waiting with a warm van and with an even warmer soup back at COG. I allowed myself 10 minutes to feed and warm up , I was soaked to the skin and shaking quite uncontrollably. Leg 2 done.
After one last slice of bread, I made the long trudge back up White Hill, I set myself the challenge of running the whole way up. Setting smaller challenges encompassed by the bigger challenge is something I often do, when you’re staring down the barrel I find any little success can lift the spirits. Though woe betide if I don’t succeed. I knew the crossing from White Hill to Wolfhole Crag would be the toughest miles of the day, though spurred on by the fact John Ockenden was waiting for me up there and the fact I would be on my home fells I trundled on. Now noticeably slowing.
I met John just south of summit and despite a quick fire bout of 3 rounds of cramp almost immediately after we joined forces (he must’ve been thinking what a prima donna), we then made good time to the ironically named Brennand Great Hill, picking up Rich Mellon on the way. I was now with 2 of the best nav men in the game, though they were less than impressed with my “fool proof” way of determining the true summit of this unmarked Fell *.
Grit Fell Cairn and my Pete Bland bum bag. In memory of the great man, I dedicated this attempt to his legacy.
Before I knew it we were crossing the track at Tarnbrook and picking up my Coach and friend Rowan Wood. The going was heavy from Long Crag to Grey Crag and despite my fading legs I found enjoyment watching Rich and John tearing through the rough ground whilst holding map and compass. A skill which is at risk of dying out in the sport and which I certainly don’t possess, though one I wholeheartedly appreciate. They (obviously) dropped us right onto the summit. Show offs. Soon after John left us to get back to his vehicle, he kept a cool head when I was struggling to maintain pace and made following his heel just about manageable.
Driving rain, high winds, chest high bogs and about 20 metre visibility, I was properly in winter round territory and loving every second of it
Wards Stone to Grit Fell, a crossing I’ve sequenced a 100 times went without a hiccup and had the added bonus of bumping into Ian again for a quick round of Mince Pies. I finally knew I’d be going under 9 hours, I put on my Bowland vest, unless any disasters the record was coming back to club.
Legs felt good and myself, Rich and Rowan (2 of the best descenders in the business and one lad with a moustache) strode down to Rakehouse, with some 6 minute miles ticked off. After Rich got the gate for me at the track at Lower Lee I knew there was little left to do. Myself and Rowan rolled into Stoops Bridge, my finishing time after 43.69 miles was 8hr 37min 37sec. A new Bowland 1500’s record.
I was humbled to see a number of Bowland members there for the arrival (all respecting social distancing). After what’s been a frustrating year for all clubs it was an honour to provide something for us all to celebrate. Of course the credit must go to the roadside and support runners whom without would’ve made today look like a very different write up and experience. I love this club, I’m proud to wear the orange and green and long may we continue making days like these so very memorable.
*I scuff my foot along the ground, if my toes don’t hit anything solid we’re at the top, if they do, we’re not.
This article originally appeared on the Bowland Fell Runners website and is reposted here with the permission of the author. All photos are courtesy of support runners and Ellis himself.