ARTICLE: The Capital of Fell-Running

Anyone who has read Richard Askwith's recent "Feet in the Clouds" or Bill Smith's legendary, if hard to obtain, "Studmarks on the Summits" will be familiar with names such as "Borrowdale", "Grasmere", "Keswick", "Wasdale", "Scafell" and many many more.

These names have almost mythical stature for the followers and athletes of English Fell Running and they are all located in the Lake District, the most mountainous part of England, located in Cumbria (the North-East). Here you will find Wastwater, the deepest lake in England, as well as the Roof of England, Scafell Pike, which overlooks the former from 978m, a good bit taller than Lugnacoille but less impressive than the Scottish Peaks, Snowdon and the Irish Reeks in Kerry.

The area itself dwarfs the Irish ranges, however, with well more than 400 peaks of note, and an amazing number of fells towering over the height of Djouce, a peak that with its 725m is impressive in Wicklow. It would not stand out in the Lakelands.

The Lakes are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland and sport an impressive website where you can enjoy an interactive overview of the full grandour of the mountain area:

It is here that the town of Keswick, with some 4000 inhabitants, is sited, just North of the Derwentwater and Borrowdale. If any town in the world can make claim to be the capital of hill running, it would be Keswick. It's here that two of England's most successful fell-running clubs "Borrowdale Fell Runners" and "Keswick AC" make their home, but the town's true claim to fame comes from the fact that the Bob Graham Round starts and ends at the Moot Hall, once the Town Hall of Keswick, but now relegated to the status of tourist office.

And it's here that Aoife and I have decided to spend our Bank Holiday weekend rather than going to the West and join our IMRA comrades for the Rough Running Champoinships more often known as the "Connacht Championship" with the two battling days of hardship up Croagh Patrick and Ben Gorm, the Holy and Blue Mountain respectively.

With her current injury and my new-found discipline of saving myself for the "main events", it was a natural exclusion, and with RyanAir currently throwing tickest at you (before ripping you off for paying with a credit card, what other form of payment would you use on the internet per chance? A cheque?) we seized the opportunity.

We'll fly into Leeds Bradford airport before taking a rental car the 2h15min drive North. Keswick seems a visitors paradise with scores of cosy BnBs catering for you as you try to decide one of the hundreds of fells surrounding town to choose!

I haven't quite decided yet, except that I want to visit as many classic fell racing routes as possible, and I certainly want to set foot on both Scafell Pike and its smaller neighbour Scafell.

Visitors can read all about Keswick here.

Notable Races
One race that I have vowed to set aside time to go and do, is the Grasmere Guide's Race.

This race is conducted in connection the Grasmere Sports Show, one of the traditional "Lakeland Shows", which are sporting and agricultural shows, featuring competition in fell running, Cumberland wrestling, mountain biking and more.

The Grasmere Show may be the most famous because of its Guide's Race, now publicised under BOFRA, the lesser known of the two English fell-running associations, which keeps the fire alive of the old professional guides races.

That this is my race of choice may surprise some, for this is a avery short race of only but I find it the most fascinating, along with the similar race at Burnsall. The list of former winners and record holders from Grasmere is star-studded including Dalzell, of Keswick, Bill Teasdale, Fred Reeves and current record holder Kenny Stuart whose amazing time of 12min 1sec still stands.

The race starts out in Grasmere itself and runs to the top of Butter Crags, a 900-foot fell. I have looked long and hard for a distance on this race, but couldn't find it. Richard Askwith describes it was being almost the same distance as Burnsall (1.6miles/2.6km) which means the winners run the race in around 05:00min/km pace. Doesn't sound like much, but these races look very steep on picture and are not as runnable as one would expect on the descent if the FRA boards are to be believed.

They are my great "side-ambitions" for the coming year since I've gotten my new-found appreciation for speedier running. These two races represent, to me, the purest way to express raw fell running pace, fool-hardiness more than hardiness.

But there's much research to be done, so stay posted as I look further into the Cumbrian fell-running scene...