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Running The Gauntlet!

Daim cake. Quality nosh 🙂

It’s seems like ages since I sat down and wrote a new post. (Indeed it is ages now I’ve just checked the date of the last one) I’ll bet most of you are glad about that, not having to sit through another Cottam’esque epic-ramble-about-nonsense! 😀
I’ve been Running The Gauntlet in all kinds of ways in the last couple of weeks; it’s an exciting life this blogging malarkey.
Since the last proper post a few things have moved on a bit, we’ve now joined the Twitterati as @HimalayaQuest as you may have seen on the blog; I’ve completely changed the route of my regular 10k run after some lovely free advice from the guys at Torq Fitness and Ikea have stopped selling Daim Cake! (It’s an outrage! Luckily Sainbury’s and Tesco’s sell it too so that’s a relief for sure, phew!) 🙂

I’ve been doing plenty of Swimming, averaging 100 lengths; plenty of Running with lots more hills (Boo!), some splendid Mountain Biking in the lovely Peak District NP, a bit of Slacklining and Mountain Boarding in Darley Park at Derby, and entertaining my lovely friends Stumpy & Kitty from Norfolk for a few days too. I’m a Busy-Bee me.
As for this “Running The Gauntlet” nonsense, I’ve had a few mishaps along the way as you have now probably come to expect. More of which later, I suppose.
Now for the running, my old route was a pleasant if somewhat sedentary amble; comprising of a couple of awkward hill climbs and a largely flat circuit around the local country lanes and villages. Unfortunately I emailed the guys at Torq Fitness, one of the sponsors of The Yak-Attack, and foolishly asked for a bit of advice. Oh the joy! “You really need to include quite a lot of hill running in your training Neil” said the very nice man. Yeah? Well thanks for that thought I. Bummer! 🙁 And so I have.
My new route now includes a rough split of 50% uphill and 50% downhill (A bit like Mountain Biking in the Peak District except that that feels like 90% uphill and 10% downhill; good downhill though) and is now just over 10km door to door. It has an altitude gain of about 210m; which is about the best I can get on a circular route from home. The hills generally aren’t that big but they are steep. The two longest climbs are about 1.44km and 1.36km respectively; which is quite enough for me I can assure you.
It is a much nicer run now though as it takes in much more secluded woodland, bridleways, public footpaths and pasture.
It starts with a climb immediately, which lifts me nicely out of the village, then I head down Lady Lea Road and through Horsley before starting the longest climb up Sandy Lane towards Brackley Gate. At the top I turn hard right and climb up a bridleway in to the very beautiful Horsley wood; running my first gauntlet of, how shall I put it?, erm… Horse Apples; yes that’s a nice phrase for poo! My god! How big are the horses around here? I nearly ran home for my climbing harness. And what with the dog kennels at the other end; well you can just imagine! If I grew roses I’d know where to go for a bit of fertiliser that’s for sure.
Excrement aside (for now), Horsley wood is one of my favourite places. It’s a haven of tranquility; and that’s saying something from someone who lives in Derbyshire, because we are spoilt with endless beautiful countryside. In the spring it is carpeted with a stunning blanket of fine English Bluebells and the surrounding views are a joy to behold, truly a paradise found. It’s amazing that the place is so quiet, I guess it’s because it’s just a bit too far off the beaten track. I spent a lot of time up there as a teenager camping with friends and occasionally getting ejected by the farmer. Getting girls up there was the main priority, not getting permission to camp!
It also has the remains of an old Norman, motte & bailey, earthwork fortress which was later rebuilt as a stone castle by King John no less, in the 1200’s. Sadly all that remains are a few crumbling remnants of The Keep, but it’s still an adventure to go and play around and pretend I am a knight of olde. I like to be an Archer of Agincourt best of all and shoot the marauding French Armies with my bow and arrow.
It also has the remains of an ancient quarry and the sheer cliffs that remain are my secret spot for a bit of climbing from time to time. The rock is very bare though and the few possible climbs are pretty difficult; perhaps I’ll tell you about “The Virgins Crack” one day. (Don’t worry, it’s the name of a climb not one of my distractions).
The other “Gauntlet” of the woods is the most enormous population of gigantic wood-ants I’ve ever seen (and as you know, I’m not prone to exaggerating). I tell you, they are nearly big as the horse apples. I’ve taken to carrying a cricket bat just so that I can fight them off! The bloody things are everywhere, you can’t stand still for a second in some places without having a shoe full, and the buggers bite too. But they are a mere trifling distraction from the wonder of the place itself.

Me fending off the giant ants.

I like to go up there on my mountain bike too from time to time because it has a couple of really fun runs, one of which has a steep drop into a bomb-hole with a wicked kick out of the other side for getting a bit of air and a nice little rock step-down just after. Yeah, that’s the stuff 🙂
I’ve got distracted again haven’t I? Sorry about that, my mind has a tendency to wander.
So, after the woods is a short up and down climb in the village of Coxbench followed by a longish climb up through a pasture meadow. I tell you what; if I thought the horses could drop bombs then the bull’s in this field must have been abducted by aliens. Cow-pats the size of radioactive mushrooms! (And I don’t exaggerate remember). Talk about taking your life into your own hands, I could be sucked alive into one of those things.
The rest of the run is pretty straight forward you’ll be pleased to know with no further life threatening hazards, except for the longest climb which almost kills me and last short sharp one which I foolishly added right at the end. So that’s that.
My lovely friends Stumpy & Kitty came to stay for a few days and we met up with Matt Haynes, Dave Slater, Debbie Slater, Louise Feeney and Charlotte Phillips in the also lovely Darley Park near Derby for a very nice picnic and a spot of Slacklining and Mountain Boarding. It went very well and we even had an interloping drunken man join in on the line for a while before he realised that balancing on a length of 50mm nylon whilst inebriated wasn’t a very good idea. Stumpy had a stab at the Mountain Boarding and proved to be very good at falling off, in fact he was one of the best faller-offers I’ve ever seen.
I was treated to some wonderful Thai cooking by Kitty (she’s from Thailand) and was sorry to see them go home a day early due to Kitty not feeling well (that wasn’t caused by my cooking before you all think the worst of me). Onwards and Upwards.
Monday the 8th saw Mitch Bryan and myself heading off to the Peak District National Park at a very unwelcome hour in the morning for a bit of an epic ride on the bikes. Roughly 60k all off road with a climbing total of about 2500m. You know you’ve done that when you get back to the car.
It turned out to be a day positively filled with “Gauntlets”. Starting from the minute we got out of the car and were blown half way down the street by a seemingly gale force wind. The initial climb out of Castleton up to and over Mam Tor was a veritable pleasure-dome in that headwind. I almost got blown off twice (and not the kind you lot are thinking about either, saucy!). When we got to top Mitch hinted at a slight deviation of the planned route and suggested we take in the punishing climb up to Rushup Edge (in this wind) so that we could enjoy one of the best technical descents in The Peaks; Chapel Gate. What an idiot. So we did… sigh.
And to top it all off with a lovely cherry we discovered that this fantastic, difficult, technical path had been “restored” somewhat since our last visit by The National Parks Authority. Long, fast and very smooth was not what we expected. These things have to be done of course for the benefit of everyone who visits the park so it’s no good me bemoaning its demise. At least I won’t be doing that bloody climb in a headwind again 😀
We soldiered on. Up and over Jaggers Clough, which is still in fine mountain biking condition, a long, tough climb to Hope Cross and the mouth-watering descent of The Beast (last mentioned in “The 5 Musketeers” post). This is followed by the crippling ascent of Hagg Side and a traverse across a ridge before we detoured once again down a new (for us) descent down to the Derwent Valley Reservoirs, and what a truly good descent it was too; worth the day out just for that.Then, as if by magic, it started to rain. Just in time for us to take shelter at the Fairholmes Visitor Centre for a nice cup of coffee and a generous portion of the finest trail food known to man… Soreen Malt Loaf (which I just happened to have stashed in my pack for just such an occasion). The aroma of bacon sandwiches then drifted upon the breeze and all of a sudden Mitch remembered reading somewhere that a lean bacon sandwich was a good source of protein and was verily acceptable as trail sustenance. What a miracle! “Where do you get these nuggets of joy?” I asked him. Such important information should be widely spread.

We ordered one each, oh yes we did. Unfortunately for Mitch, and very fortunately for me, my sandwich held twice as much lean protein as Mitch’s! That was my godly reward for going up Rushup Edge. The sun always shines on the virtuous, oh yes it does 🙂
After such a splendid interlude we once again mounted our trusty steeds and pointed them down the trail. The climb to Hurkling Stones from the reservoir is a merciless one and neither of us has ever made it to the top without pushing. Today was no exception. We then pedaled the upward traverse to the top of Whinstone Lee Tor for a long and glorious descent all the way down to The Ladybower public house. We jumped, popped and hollered all the way to the bottom. That climb is worth it every time. I was pretty much ready for home by this time having endured that infernal wind for long enough; Mitch, however, had one more trick up his sleeve, the varmint. As we pedaled through the village of Aston he suggested that we take in the climb up Win Hill so that we could enjoy one last descent back to the car. “But isn’t it really steep?” I questioned, seeming to remember that it was the last time we rode it. “Oh no” replies Mitch “It’s only the first bit up the road, the rest is a pretty easy traverse if I remember rightly”.
“Oh… OK then, we might as well now we’re here. Are you sure?” I asked. “Oh yes definitely” Mitch assured me. The sneaky rat! Half way up with me now realising I had been conned, yet again, it started to rain. Clearly I’m not that virtuous. And not normal rain, oh no. Horizontal face-stinging gale-force-rain. And the descent back down was hampered somewhat by a Landrover 4×4 trundling down slower than Seigfreid the snail! We stopped and waited for a few minutes before blasting down and catching it up again; a few times. Still fun though 🙂 We stopped at the car, stretched our aching limbs and guzzled down a “For Goodness Shakes” Superberry, my favourite.
In the last few days I’ve been mostly at work. (What? You actually have a job? How do you find the time?)
A bit of slacklining in the park today with Matt and the nice people from Tri-Slacklining and tomorrow I’m off to Tamworth Snowdome to fire up my (t)rusty board and carve, pop and grab until my legs hurt!

Thanks for reading. See you soon 🙂

Mitch wondering why I had more “Lean protein” than him!

The view down to Ladybower in a wet & windy Peak District.

Neil Cottam on the way up to Whinstone Lee Tor.

About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

1 Comment

  1. Neil

    Cheers dude. Is that a compliment or a complaint? 😀

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