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Lisa MacDermid’s Naylor Challenge

A Pacer’s Report

from Styhead to Greendale by Eddie Dealtry

on Saturday 30th August 2008

in the company of Bob Hughes and Dave Murray, pacers the whole way, and Carol Murray as road support

This cold soup is a big success: Carrot and Coriander. After a tentative tasting, Lisa, Dave and Bob clear the lot. Some things are not what they used to be.

Nonetheless, some things don’t change. After Lisa’s approach with a welcome-wave from under Great End, things are quietening down. You can sense the body temperatures falling and metabolism slowing up. Bob, lugging the family luggage, is beginning to look relieved to be free of those salty shoulder straps. Dave, the character who’s as fit as a butcher’s dog along the final road run at Jura, chest out chasing the competition, is standing straight and upright alright. On second glance, he’s developed a pair of popped-out eyeballs. Lisa’s quiet. The only person around the Styhead stretcher-box who’s sitting down, she’s beginning to take on aspects of a forlorn waif, dangling the soup carton.

We’re off up Great Gable.

The wristwatch says 40 minutes behind the schedule. That works out to arriving at Greendale 20 minutes past the time-limit deadline at eight o’clock.

On the good side, I know a few things this lot don’t. Despite that ominous black sky along the coast, it hasn’t moved any nearer in the last hour. There’s just not enough wind around the western giants, of all places, to stir up anything much more than a shower. Surveying Mosedale from the path up from Wasdale, nearly all the tops from here to Greendale were clear of mist. The single exception was Pillar. Just the summit of Pillar was in the clag.

Two requirements to get back within schedule are: somebody who knows where they’re going and a contender who can keep running. In theory, this fresh body ought to be able to fulfil the first requirement. And, he’s paced a few Bob Grahams and ran more Ennerdale Fell Races in the 80’s. I just hope that Lisa can fulfil the second requirement.

Lisa’s winding her way up the stone steps of the tourist route. She’s developed some technique of drinking whilst keeping a constant gait, a kind of Naylor-forward-lean. All the while those white, knee supports keep a constant winding motion upwards. The butcher’s dog runs forwards and backwards, from the luggage van at the back to Leek and Maris Piper soup in the navigator’s bag at the front. Hey, every attempt’s different: this looks promising.

I ain’t hanging around summits. Leaving the rest to touch the Westmorland Cairn, I’m off to identify the line down to Beckhead. Listen-up you hill baggers out there, I’m counting that as another repeat. There was urgent business.

What do you know: those clockwork knee supports are pushing me down the boulders and scree. Wake up lad, you’ve got to change up a gear and keep these folks on the right road.

That was a satisfactory route down Gable. But as my old headmaster lectured me, ‘Satisfactory’ is a bit disappointing. Let’s see about Kirkfell. The luggage is coming with us apparently. For sure, I’d have grabbed the offer and sodded off around the trod to Black sail.

I know it’s leftwards at the top but don’t go quite far enough. Nevertheless, it’s a bit better than satisfactory: saving twenty of the thirty seconds to be gained. A mental anxiety sets in about finding the top of Red Screes. A minute ahead of the clockwork caravan I’m off from the summit, down the re-entrant, avoiding the stones and thinking “Keep those rusty old fence stakes in sight just in case”. At the last moment, before running away to the old fence, the red scree-shoot down a narrow ghyll pops up underfoot.

And again, clockwork knee supports are pushing me down the boulders. Wake up lad, you’ve got to stay in gear. A little bit of anxiety evidently speeds up your running. Bob bundles the luggage up to the front to express elation with the navigational lines. Ah, it’s nothing Bob, anytime, anytime.

The Leek and Maris Piper goes down a treat. By Black Sail, even the navigator’s into this tasty sustenance.

Lisa winds upwards. Now though, there’s a time bomb set ticking. Oblivious to that clag still hanging onto Pillar’s summit, the butcher’s dog and the navigator start chin wagging. Out of the mist a rock turret resolves. “No, this ain’t the summit. The summit’s got a trig. Where’s Lisa?” Dave reconnects the two of us with Lisa and Bob climbing behind. I grow up and show my age by unpacking the map and the compass. Well, not quite show my age: there’s no time for the specs. Tell me about it. So, the time bomb’s still ticking.

Bob announces at the trig column that we’re three minutes within schedule. I take it that the ‘schedule’ must be the absolute time limit from now on. Nevertheless, three minutes is enough. The show’s on the road. These ‘satisfactory’ lines may have retrieved five minutes from Styhead but it’s now evident is that Lisa will keep us within the time limit if she keeps up her constant pace.

The compass says nearly a right angle. The cairns say less of an acute angle. For some reason, I ignore the compass. The detonator’s triggered. The bomb goes off when Pillar Man appears under the cloud. The expected Mosedale turns into Ennerdale’s green lined river.

“Stop”. Turning leftwards, we can see our destination, Wind Gap, half way around Pillar’s slopes. In for a penny in for a pound: “But, you might have to climb Lisa”.

I’m not answering any more questions. Nobody’s saying much anyway. This will throw those three minutes out the window together with at least another five. Managing to keeping to the contour without climbing, from over the scree and rocks we emerge above the final drop to Wind Gap. I hope that Lisa doesn’t take it badly and lose her spirit; I look back around the crags.

With that characteristic, unvarying pace, clockwork knee supports wind around the fell side.

“We’ll pick up a wall in a minute that’ll take you all the way to Haycock”, I offer. Given the loss of a decent navigator, a dry stonewall might prove some reassurance.

The fact that such a wall materialises up on Scoat Fell starts folk talking again. Dave thinks we’re just over the schedule. I mentally calculate half an hour then, realising that I’ve been on my feet a bit, correct it to 16 minutes over the time limit. As long as it’s not a near miss. Otherwise, rescue four suicides from Wast Water tonight.

The out-and-back to Steeple gives the navigator a chance to stay put and scan the route up to Haycock, out to Seatallan and over Middlefell. The deserving luggage carrier doesn’t even consider such an opportunity for, what is really, a rest. The butcher’s dog’s away and, like some mechanical toy, those white knee supports run down, up, down and back up.

Now it’s close. Up on Haycock it’s becoming evident we’re within the suicide range of ten minutes over time.

Going left of the southern cairn, the start across to Seatallan goes well but the marshy bottom is energy sapping through the centre of the col. Lisa emerges, takes a drink and continues on up the fell.

I’m not going to look at my watch. It’s frightening. I look. No comment.

The butcher’s dog reaches the top first and waits for directions as to which of the many sheep trods. Conscious of mentioning the subject of yet one more fell, I shout to everybody: “Left of Middlefell”, turn and run. I’m assuming that the clockwork legs and the luggage will follow without stopping. Just do not look anybody in the eye.

Nor can you look back under this pressure. As Dave was to say, “All you can do is keep going”. Half way up Middlefell I’m thinking that Lisa can’t keep up this pace and we’ll miss it by half an hour. I look back.

Lisa winds upwards.

Over the top watch unexpectedly magics between 15 and 20 minutes remaining from somewhere. Looking downwards, you can’t get down here in less than a half an hour. I’ve clearly got to keep to the indistinct path and avoid all the rocks, marsh and ferns.

Lisa’s still up for this as she winds over the top and downwards. Moments of stress are not without a comedy. At one point, for some unknown reason, I’m in a shallow gulley. Guiding Lisa down I hear Bob ironically calling, “Stay with Eddie”.

Dave’s in front and the first to hit the pebble path: “We can do this”. I concur for psychological reinforcement. A moment later, after a glance at the watch and a consideration, I realise: yes, we really could just do this. Lisa’s right behind, pushing downhill.

As though we needed another comedy while under fire, I confess to Dave that I’ve never actually run directly to the bridge from the bottom. “It looks like that grass break goes around the garden walls and directly to the bridge”. Dave’s nonplussed. I have a desperate plan. “I’ll run ahead. If there’s no way around the wall, we’re through somebody’s garden”.

Around the corner of the stonewall, a grassy, riverside bank opens up clear to the bridge. Carol and Joss Naylor stand anxiously across the path. My watch still displays a seven without looking at the minutes.

Lisa winds down and up a final ditch. “You’ve done it Lisa – just a bit faster”! Evidently, Faster and Slower are total strangers to Lisa. Unvarying, as constant as the previous four and a half hours, she winds along the grass and up onto Greendale Bridge. Bob’s appeared from nowhere, with the luggage. Carol’s expressing something that sounds cheerful. Dave displays a stopwatch with 59 on it. Joss utters the words “Okay ... you’re alright”. Lisa’s done it.

Lisa has run the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge.

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