Rombalds Stride Winter Challenge – 3rd February 2018
By Mark George
Rombalds Stride is a Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) event covering a distance of around 23 Miles taking in Baildon, Rombalds and Ilkley Moors. LDWA events are generally billed as “a walk on mostly footpaths and other Public Rights of Way, across open fields and moors, avoiding tarmac as much as possible”.
Marathon training is starting to ramp up now and the date of this event coincided quite nicely with my scheduled long run. It was an opportunity to complete one of those 20+ mile training runs everyone says you must do before attempting to run a marathon. And since I’d much rather suffer the 20+ miles along with other people this was ideal.
Fellow club member Martyn and his work colleague Simon were already entered into this event and kindly agreed I could tag along. These events are self navigated and since I am seriously navigationally challenged (I have history of heading towards Hull on the M62 when my destination is Manchester) being able to follow someone around the course who had already completed it numerous times was definitely an advantage. Not to mention safer.
On the run up to the weekend, I’d been constantly checking the weather forecast as much as I could for places along the route. It didn’t look good. Freezing temperatures and a mixture of rain, sleet and snow. The only positive from this was pretty much no wind. This turned out to be a pretty accurate forecast.
Registration is between 07:30 – 08:30 at St Oswalds Junior school in Guiseley ahead of a 09:00 start. This meant having to get out of bed pretty early. Luckily I have a rather reliable 5 year old “alarm clock” called Harry and sure enough at 06:45 on the dot Harry comes running into my bedroom with the energy only a child can have at that time on a Saturday morning, loudly announcing “it’s time to get up!”
A quick breakfast, along with last minute kit check and I’m in the car for the 45 minute drive to Guiseley. Park the car and short walk to the school and I’m in the queue to register at 08:10. perfect timing. After collecting my tally card and finding a quite corner to leave my bag I’m ready to go. I even manage to find Martyn and Simon before we leave the school for the start line.
We all make our way to the start, which is a short walk to a side road by a retail park. I’m told in previous years, the event started outside the school, however, shortly after the school is a busy road which causes all sorts of problems when 600 eager runners and walkers try and cross it all at once. So the decision was made to move the start line across the road.
The clock ticks round to 09:00 and off we go. It’s only a few hundred yards down the road before we encounter the first mud of the day. It’s into open fields before entering Esholt Woods. As we enter the woods, the runners all spread out as they choose their own route through before reaching the village of Esholt itself. It’s too early for a pint in the Woolpack, so it’s along a small road by the side of the canal we go. Oncoming cars don’t really know what to do with all the runners bearing down on them so thankfully most just stop until we have passed.
At this point I’m running with Simon and Martyn catches up and loudly asks “where’s the fire?” It’s his way of saying we may have started a little too quickly. To be fair, he’s probably right, there’s still almost 20 miles to go and they are not the easiest of miles either.
Before long we arrive at the first check point. This one consists of a bucket into which you drop a token containing your entry number. This sounds straight forward, only I couldn’t remember which pocket I’d put mine in and since it was (very) cold I had plenty of clothing with pockets. After frantically searching all pockets with gloved hands and coming up empty, I remove the gloves and search again finally locating the small disc in the far corner of the pocket in the back of my shorts. Doh! It then takes me almost a mile to catch up with Martyn and Simon.
It’s at this point we arrive at the first real climb and it’s up a half descent path/trail up onto Baildon Moor and along side the golf course. This climb is relentless and continues for about 2 full miles. Knowing full well there is still a very long way to go, we jog/walk the hill passing through another couple of checkpoints. These check points are manned and involves getting your tally card punched, thankfully no more token hunting. Also one of these checkpoints has very welcome refreshments, consisting of juice or water and a selections of cake, biscuits and sweets.
Eventually we reach the top of Baildon Moor. Shortly after, both Martyn and Simon declare that the runners in front are going the wrong way and we follow a track to the right when everyone else has gone straight on. Soon we have a steep descent to a road with lots of runners approaching from the left. As we get closer to the road, a few of the runners shout that we have missed a check point which was further back up the road. I think Martyn and Simon decided they were “kidding us on”. We continued along the road and soon arrived at the next checkpoint You’ve probably guessed that this turned out to be checkpoint 5 and we had managed to miss out 4. Ah well, it will still be a good run out even if we didn’t fully complete the course. So much for tagging along with someone who “knows” the route!
Next up is the climb up to Rombald’s Moor. If I thought the previous climb was relentless, this one was doubly so. 4 Miles of uphill trail stretching out ahead and the further up we went, the colder it got and the more it snowed. The fog also started to close in so visibility was really reduced. I imagine on a clear day, the views from up there would be stunning.
We reach the top and continue along the paved track (the paving makes it very slippery and we need to be careful to stay upright), past the 12 Apostles Stone Circle (though we could barely see it) and to another checkpoint.
Following more checkpoint refreshments (jaffa cakes) we are warned to keep the wall on our left as the landowner has refused permission for us to use land on the right of the wall. I soon learn that the right side of the wall is preferred as it is less of a bog! The left side of the wall appeared to be one huge freezing bog containing plenty of standing muddy water (did I mention it was freezing?) and a few clumps of grass or heather. This reduced us to attempting to hop or jump from grass tuft to grass tuft. Often jumping the distance between these tufts was not possible so the only option was to plough straight through the (freezing) water and mud.
We are now about 10 miles in and this is the first time I find myself thinking I’d rather be somewhere else. However, we continue bog hopping until I attempt to leap across one expanse of water and fall a little short of dry land. Accepting my already freezing, sodden feet can’t get any wetter it’s not a problem. Until that is, my foot enters the water and doesn’t stop going deeper into the mud until I’m almost waist deep in it. I’m able to lean forward onto dryish land and attempt to extricate myself from the bog. But to my surprise the bog doesn’t want to let go. It eventually takes a huge effort to drag my legs out from the mud. This part of the course will cause me to fall over twice more before we are finally free of it.
Thankfully we finally begin to descend again and the temperature rises a little. I have to remove my gloves as they are holding so much freezing water they are making my hands colder than not wearing any at all. The route goes up the aptly named “Rocky Valley” (unsurprisingly it really is very rocky) as we pass close to the Cow & Calf rocks. Once out of the top of “Rocky Valley” there is a sharp descent followed by mirror image ascent. However nestling in the bottom is Backstone Beck which needs to be crossed. This wouldn’t be a problem if the beck wasn’t down a sheer 10 foot drop on each side. The choice was to attempt to jump across the 4 foot gap (which looked at least 15 feet to my eyes) knowing failure would be at best painful, or follow the path of the beck, until an easier crossing presented itself. Watching Simon and Martyn leap across successfully I had no choice, the ribbing would have been unbearable. I take a few steps back so I have a bit of momentum and launch myself across. Made it. Easy! Looking back over my shoulder that gap looks much smaller than it did a few seconds ago!
We now have a mile or so of quite steep descent and the Fell running experience of Simon shows as he lets gravity do it’s thing and makes very short work of reaching the next checkpoint at Burley Woodhead. I’m now a little more familiar with the area and know it’s not far to Menston, then Otley before returning to the start in Guiseley. I also know that whilst a steep climb up the Chevin awaits us, the hard running is pretty much all behind us now.
The terrain now is mostly open fields, but still the amount of mud makes progress very slow, seeming to slip back as much as move forwards. It’s definitely warmer now and the snow has all gone. I’m feeling quite good as we jog through Menston always approaching “that climb” up the Chevin.
Before too long, we are looking up the hill to the Chevin which is covered in thick mud. We were never going to run up this anyway but I never dreamed that walking up it would be quite this difficult. The mud just made it like climbing up a slide in your socks. Unless you had hardcore footwear on, you were always going to struggle. Indeed, it ended up very slow going and only the presence of the trees to grab onto every now and again, prevented me from falling down (again). Looking back at Strava, this mile took 20 minutes (and the first half of that mile was down a road!)
Eventually we arrive at the top where there is the final checkpoint before the finish awaits us. Card punched, it’s now just a couple of miles mostly on road and pretty much all down hill before we end up back at the school to finish.
Just under 22 Miles, over 3400 Feet of climbing and an official time of 03:57:00. Happy Days!
The day is finished with a hot meal of pie, potatoes and peas (and gravy!)
All in all, a great day and a great event, even in very testing conditions. I can definitely recommend trying one of the LDWA events if you get chance. They are billed as challenges not races so just get round however you need to. And the cost to enter this event? Just £15. A bargain by any standards.
If you’d like to see the route or even download it, you can do that by clicking here.
Special thanks to Martyn Hewitt and his video skills.