Race Recce – The Dark Peaks Trail 14

Hearing some chatter on Facebook about the new Dark Peak 14 from Langsett reservoir in December, and having a weekend to kill, we stocked up the campervan and took ourselves off to do a race recce and have some fun.

The race details are here http://www.peakrunners.co.uk/dark-peaks-trail-14.html

The race starts from the car park of Langsett reservoir visitor centre in a rather pretty village right next to the local pub. It’s a but like Rutland Water with a low dam at one end but slightly more bleak looking – but that’s the local gritstone that everythings made of. The pub is really excellent – serving speciality pies and great beer but does need booking on a weekend, and the weekend of the race is unlikely to have any tables free.

We got hold of a copy of the route from the website and set off from the car park in reasonably hot sunny weather (remember that folks ? its when theres no rain) and jogged through the woodlands on the north side of the reservoir. Its very pretty with good gravel or hard pack paths and little chance of going the wrong way; which we promptly did. I imagine with a few hundred other runners on race day theres little chance of this though.

Crossing southbound across a small brook over a weir (equipped with a Salmon Ladder) it’s a stiff climb up a well made path full of sharp rocks and plenty of tripping opportunities. It was dry and followed the insanely hot summer so was arid underfoot; but this is not normal. In the car park was a leaflet encouraging mountain bikers and runners to avoid the mountain trail to prevent excessive erosion in bad weather, ominously referring to the central section of our run as ‘the Bog of Doom’.

Right ….

A mountain biker coming downslope towards us gave a cheery assessment of the conditions on this day “oh aye, bog’o’doom is like a sandpit, never seen it so dry” (you’ll have to imaging the accent there).

Upwards we toiled following an obvious and heavily eroded path across the top of the moorland to Bull Clough with peat cloughs and hags surrounding us, with the sun blazing and all well with the world. The uphill section levels out for a 3 mile stretch onto Margery Hill before plunging down a series of sharp slopes full of tricky rock staircases down Cranberry Clough (the guide calls it a ‘technical descent’) to the level of Howden Reservoir in the next valley. The reservoir itself was shockingly empty on the day we visited, testament to the long dry summer.

The Bog Of Doom section was like a dry riverbed – sandy and full of boulders. On a wet day this would be extremely exposed and likely to be thick with mud and water draining off the surrounding peat bogs.

A short section of road running down Cold Side by the reservoir lets your legs recover from the descent and then up Howden Clough and up onto the high moors again. This section is much less eroded and consequently the path is less distinct, but still obvious and easy to follow. In howling rain or in snow … not so much.

The route then splits off from the obvious path at Penistone Stile and up to the ridge of Featherbed Moss which was covered in low scudding and ominous looking clouds by this time. Being wimps we kept to the lower path to loop back onto Margery Hill again. On race day this will probably be the only marshall point, as it’s the only place where a wrong turn would give you an advantage by cutting off a steep climb.

Once back onto Margery Hill its back through the Bog Of Doom again to the top of Midhope Moor where we split from the original path to descend down a very rocky and uneven path to the abandoned settlement of America Farm. The going here is very tough – large sharp stones, loose gravel and a descent that could easily get you into trouble unless you are really concentrating on where you are putting your feet. Consequently we both fell over.

Once past America Farm the trail hits the road just near the dam at Upper Midhope and a about a mile later the pub, and the car park once more.

Good Points

The obvious point needs to be made; this was a challenging run in summer conditions, and just over 14 miles of steep moorland running was not easy for flatlanders like us. In the winter with the possibility of low cloud, high winds and driving rain (or one of those spectacular blue-sky winter days – who knows ?) it has the possibility of being a really grim experience unless you are mentally prepared for the conditions. The navigation was not difficult, again on a clear day, but in a race you’d also expect to be surrounded by others all heading the same way, so I wouldn’t expect it to be a problem unless it was a whiteout or fog.

Because it’s a new race there is no previous results to measure ourselves by, but it took us around 4 hours at “Sunday Run” pace to complete the course. It was really enjoyable and if you are up that way I’d certainly recommend giving the route a go, just be certain to take sensible trail shoes, map, compass, whistle, mobile phone and a waterproof in your running sack. For us its probably a bit ambitious to attempt it as a race, but don’t let that put you off.

Of course, there is always the Bog Of Doom ….