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Eddie’s Naylor Challenge, (or a good excuse to do the conga in Stake Beck !)

A pacer’s report by Dave Scott (legs 3 and 4)

on Saturday 15th August 2009

The 18 hours allowed for someone of Eddie’s vintage on this challenge seemed like a doddle given his propensity for epic hill days and past long distance successes. However, as the weekend drew closer and the forecast got worse (south westerly gales and heavy rain, not to mention persistent low cloud), it was clear that Eddie’s resolve was going to be tested to the limit, assuming he even made the attempt at all ! I gather Eddie himself was having doubts on Friday evening when he drew back the curtains at his B&B and saw a nearby tree bent double in the wind !

Craig and I were to be pacers on legs 3 and 4, starting at Dunmail at the civilised time of 1025 on Saturday am, and coincidentally just as the weather was forecast to improve. Dave Murray was also persuaded (remarkably easily) to join us, having previously committed to going the whole way ! I have to admit to the thought that we might be spared having to venture out at all, given the chances of everyone being blown and/or washed off the hill during the night.....That however was to underestimate the determination and navigational proficiency of the first half pacers, Bob, Alan, Gary, Mairi, and Westies guest star Steff (complete with road running shoes, having left his Walshes at home...). At 0318 precisely (chosen to coincide with earlier epic starting times and therefore with propitious omens) the gang left Pooley Bridge and soon made just about the only route finding error of the day ..... chief navigator Bob, struggling to put his head torch together (shades of Lisa’s challenge ?!), allowed the rest of the party to romp off ahead and get lost in the sprawling camp site just up the road. Cue various expletives from Eddie !

What followed on the hill has yet to be fully recounted, but the wind was clearly awesome. Eddie’s thoughts of abandonment via Howtown were soon however dispelled by Bob, who resolutely drove the team on. Other issues were Steff’s shoes, little better than roller blades going downhill on wet grass, and the fact that all the pacers except Mairi had conveniently chosen to wear bum bags rather than rucksacks; guess who ended up carrying most of Eddie’s goods and chattels .... As the rest of us enjoyed the comforts of our beds, but aware of the storm outside (especially Craig in his tent !) we could only wonder at the hardship facing those on the hill.

Lisa was up early to give support with tea and egg sandwiches at the first road crossing at Kirkstone, ETA 0713, only just getting the tea brewed before the first bedraggled apparitions appeared out of the mist. By this time Bob, wearing only T shirt, shorts and a cag, no doubt trying to prove his hard man image, was reduced to a shivering hypothermic wreck and decided to bow out after a gallant effort. Gary, having apparently prepared with quadruple Dumyats two days before, also called it a day. Alan, Mairi and Steff gamely carried on over Fairfield to bring Eddie into Dunmail ahead of schedule at around 1000, all looking remarkably cheery, despite having had to hold hands to avoid being blown off Hart Crag. Wind and driving rain blowing through the pass played havoc with the contents of Lisa’s support car, which had to be parked open tailgate into the wind, and the newly acquired boot liner soon turned into a swimming pool, with cake and sandwiches turning to mush.

Having expected Eddie to be somewhat down hearted after the rigours of the night and perhaps ready to call it quits, we were encouraged (disappointed ?!) to note that Eddie was his usual cheery self and still looked full of life, improved still further by a change into dry clothes and a mug of hot tea. It appeared that the next batch of pacers were not to be spared after all, and with no sign of the promised improvement in the weather we all set off up Steel Fell at the scheduled time of 1025. Steel Fell was gained 5 minutes ahead of schedule and with Eddie nattering away with his usual gusto he was still clearly up for it.

The section between High Raise and Rossett Pike produced the only real “incident” of the second half, when Stake Beck, swollen with all the rain, had to be crossed. The beck appeared to be just a little too wide to jump, so buoyed by our success with the “ring of roses” river crossing method in a much bigger burn in the Fisherfields on a previous club weekend, we got ready to wade across. Craig however had other ideas, confidently asserting that he had a better way, the “conga”, proven through half a day practising on a mountain leadership course, no less. How could we refuse ?! It so happened that yours truly ended up at the front facing upstream and Craig at the back, which was fortuitous for Craig, as will be revealed. So we grabbed each others waists and edged our way sideways into the beck. It soon became clear however that with nothing to hang onto the leader (myself), being hung onto by the person behind (Eddie), would be wallowing around like a ship in a storm in imminent danger of capsize. And so it turned out .... as we got to half way I made my first attempt at submersion, shortly followed by another. Dave claims to have saved me from a total ducking by grabbing my rucksack from two places back. As we emerged on the other side, Craig (having been conveniently protected at the end of the line) pipes up “Well that worked OK, I’m still dry !!!”. Assessing my own dripping state, I reckoned I would have been better off jumping the beck after all. Later referral to a mountain craft guide recommended that the conga is best done with the leader steadying himself with a stick ..... that bit had obviously slipped Craig’s memory ! If the truth be told, we were all pretty wet anyway, but the soaking of our nether regions only served to hasten the onset of the dreaded chaffing. Craig then had his comeuppance, suffering worse than anyone and becoming more and more bow legged as the day went on ! Dave later admitted to hanging onto his vaseline stick until he couldn’t bear to watch Craig suffering any more ...!

The rain and wind continued incessantly, but by Great End we were fifteen minutes up on schedule. Somehow however the half hour allowed for the descent to Styhead, the end of leg 3, turned into 45 minutes, and so we came in on time at 1515. John Macewan joined us here for the last leg, bringing such goodies as the much touted carrot and coriander soup, which Eddie grabbed and headed off with up the stairway to Great Gable whilst the rest of us paused for breath. John had also brought with him an improvement in the weather � the rain stopped, the cloud lifted intermittently, and the day became altogether more bearable. By Kirkfell we were 20 minutes up and things were looking good. From here on however the pace slowed, Eddie stopped talking (!!!), and it was clear he was having to dig deep. Descending to Black Sail Pass, we were pleased to see a rejuvenated Bob, John (Lisa’s son in law) and son. They brought more egg sandwiches and bananas, which went down a treat.

A good line off Haycock got us to Seatallon on time and we finally enjoyed some decent views as the weather cleared. A minor glitch coming off Middlefell saw some of us retrace our steps to find the path, but Greendale was now in sight and Eddie had enough energy left to summon up his now famous hat, reaching Greendale Bridge at 2102, completing his Challenge in 17 hours and 44 minutes. Jos wasn’t there as usual to welcome the Challenger home, perhaps having doubted his chance of success in the conditions, but he later phoned Eddie to congratulate him.

Then it was off to The Strand in Nether Wasdale for a well earned meal to round off an epic day. The drama wasn’t over yet however. Eddie scared us by fainting on the way to the gents, collapsing in a heap in the lobby. We dragged him into the games room away from the pub mob and settled him on the floor with some pillows. Luckily he soon came round, a concerned waitress provided tea and comfort, and fifteen minutes later he was back at table eating supper !

Copyright Alex King (Ochil Hill Runners) V4.2.5 (Feb 2019)