Cold Brew Events | Cheviot Goat 2019 – Wild Wanderings
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Cheviot Goat

Cheviot Goat 2019 – Wild Wanderings

Sun 8th Dec approx 2am

The North of Tyne mountain rescue radio buzzed in control, voices muffled due to the high winds and torrential rain all around the team on the hillside.
“Key control key control key five over.”
“Key five key control send over”
“Key control key five we’ve got three, I repeat 3 hypothermia cases with us now on Bloodybush summit.”

Fri 6th Dec

It’s the day before the race and the entire team is up early to make final preparations before descending on Ingram. In the days and weeks prior it’s been a cacophony of phone calls, messages, emails and conversations to co-ordinate all the intricate moving parts. Staging an event like this with the increased risk levels brought on by terrain and weather requires immense planning. As the saying goes “proper planning prevents p poor performance”. No prizes for guessing what the middle p means.

Cheviot Goat

The army of volunteers are like gold dust such is their importance in executing a great experience. The support and guidance of Ingram cafe alongside the rest of the Breamish valley helps move the various pieces of the jigsaw in to place before everything kicks off. It’s been raining pretty hard for weeks but eventually the days leading up the event it eases off, if only by a small amount. The tape is set out to denote camping areas and parking areas. It’s inevitable that cars will get stuck due to wet ground but we just need to get on with it now.

All the attention from the organisers in the recent hours has focused intently on the weather forecast. Sat night is predicting howling 88mph gusts on the highest and most exposed part of the course and is causing consternation from a safety perspective. Up on Hedgehope, Comb Fell and Cheviot there is simply nowhere to hide and the safety of the marshals and mountain rescue needs to be considered alongside that of the runners. It was James Thurlow of Open Tracking who had the eureka moment and suggested running the course in reverse. By doing so the upland areas would be tackled first with maximum energy. The main area of attention in terms of course safety then turned to the twin peaks of Cushat Law and Bloodyboosh Edge which are still bog-strewn, high and tough fells but have the positive note of being able to get a safety team closer if needed.

With the car parking/camping field marked out it wasn’t long until an expectant queue had quickly formed in the village hall and out the door. It was clear people wanted to be in and away to try and get some shut eye before an amazingly early start. Nervous anticipation hung in the air amongst the buzz of chatter in the hall. Have you done it before? Would the winds really be that bad? Afterwards some people drifted down to the cafe to grab some fuel before slinking off to the comfort of a bed.

Night time descended and people bedded down wherever they could. It didn’t matter if you were involved in running the event or taking part it in, the next 28-30 hours would be a pressure cooker. Those choosing to stay in the field adjacent to the village hall had to contend with the breeze. It’s a peculiar geographical trait of the hamlet that westerly winds will always funnel into the area. Tents were blown around and vans gently rocked as valuable hours were clocked up before sticking a toe on the line.

Sat 7th Dec

Alarms ping into life all around as the event team wake for a restless slumber in preparation for the morning registrations. Those people who didn’t choose to sign in the night before had a couple of hours to get it all sorted. This included the mandatory kit check to ensure everyone could look after themselves on the hill. There’s zippo point in skimping on kit when you could get stuck out in this environment. Runners were making final alterations and determining those last details that could make all the difference. All those months of training now coming to a focal point, a release of energy to get the job done.

Drew dished out the safety talk to a crammed village hall. Outside the stars twinkled brightly and runners left in the dark could only look in through the windows as if they were watching a silent movie. Once complete the mass of human bodies relocated to the start line on the road just outside the front door. In pitch darkness each person affixed their headtorches and one by one they blinked in to life. The countdown began and heart rates rose as Adrenalin kicked in. They’re off! A torrent of life heading away down the road. As the last headtorches bob away round the corner the darkness returns and envelopes the village.

Cheviot Goat

For runners it’s now all very real and probably for many a massive relief to be finally under way. Due to the reversed route it’s now a case of a small road section to get the legs warmed up before heading off up to the abandoned house of Reavley Hill. This first section proves to be a navigational hazard when it’s the end of a race but at the start there is such density of runners that they all snake up the correct path. Rising to Cunyan Crags runners are beginning to get a sense of ground conditions as incessant rain has saturated the water table. Up on to the rise of Dunmoor and any thoughts of maintaining dry feet have been thoroughly dismissed.

The first big peak of the day presents itself as Hedgehope standard at over 700 metres and dome topped with no shelter to be found except the haven of the cairn placed on the summit. Three Vango Force 10 tents had been placed on the summit in anticipation of this being the end of the race and it was delightful to see that they were still standing as the runners passed through. Strong winds with gusts around 60mph buffeted people so much it was hard to maintain a constant direction. Just imagine that these would be no way near as strong as the back end the race. It was around Hedgehope when the bulk of the group would have been treated to the sunrise burning on the horizon with orange and red hues. A spectacular sight for those who took the time to stop and look.

The increased light levels only revealed what many had dreaded in the days leading up to the event. Folklore from prior events whispers of horror bogs of eternal doom. It turns out that the folklore runs true and Comb Fell looks to suck your shoes off whilst simultaneously draw energy away from your spirit. Transitioning through here and onwards to Cairn Hill is a huge milestone ticked off. Bagging the top of Cheviot as the highest point is a Brucey Bonus and for those who studied the map will know that it’s pretty much down hill from here all the way the half way point at Barrowburn. Yes there are undulations but the overall direction is down and you’ve got over 15 miles of it.

Cheviot Goat

The border ridge is an imperious stretch of the Pennine Way that stands astride England and Scotland. It’s open fell landscape leaves interlopers at the behest of whatever the weather has got in store. Today it was a joyous mix of mist and light rain with some pretty strong winds. Finding a rhythm wasn’t easy which led to exponentional energy output compared to what should have been expended on this section. Trekking up to Windy Gyle runners were met by cheery marshals who kept a close eye on people. Only a few people pulled out at this point and made their own way down to Barrowburn to be extracted back to Ingram.

From Windy Gyle down to the road at Buckhams Bridge is prime Cheviot goat territory. This is where you’re most likely to come across the feral animals whose name has been tagged on to the event. A bit like the runners by this point the goats can be smelled before they can be seen and can quickly disappear in to a passing whisp of cloud like they were never there. A gps device of some kind is a great idea to stay on track here as the route veers away from the Pennine Way after the refuge hut and it’s indistinct. Once you pick up the farmers tracks they take you all the way down to the road. The 5km tarmac descent to Barrowburn is like a glorious rest after the mud plugging on the tops and minds can then drift to start planning for the next section.

The Barrowburn crew of Brian and Yvonne arrived Friday night to prepare for the next day. Fresh soup had been transported up from Cafe Bar One in Jesmond, Newcastle. It all needed organised to be ready in time alongside the copious amounts of coffee, tea, flapjacks etc. Drop bags came round in convoy, delivered by 4×4 Response North East and a team from North of Tyne Mountain Rescue were embedded for the ensuring action. The missing ingredient was the runners but soon enough the first passed through, stopping over fleetingly before getting right back on it. It wouldn’t be long before more weary legs took five and rested for a while.

Cheviot Goat

Inside the stone camping barn was a large gas heater which kept the place suitably toasty. Adjacent to the heater was the sofa of doom, thus named because it’s so warm and comfortable that people linger too long and resolve has been known to dissipate into the ether. Stay away from the sofa. It didn’t take long for the mid pack to start filling the place and then every corner was filled with shivering bodies, clothing changes and audible slurps of hearty soup. Many people decided this was enough and took the decision to pull out rather than push their bodies beyond their limits. These people were transported safely back to Ingram in heated vehicles.

Barrowburn is viewed as a key staging point. If you’ve made it here then you’ve won half the battle. The next section is viewed by those of previous years as the easier part of the course. It’s funny how exhausted legs can change peoples perceptions. The subsequent hills from Barrowburn to the finish are punchy affairs that lift people via steep sides before dumping them back down at the height they started. This repetition becomes draining and what became noticeable from the tracking was an increase in navigational errors as tiredness crept in. Vitality levels were diminished and clear thinking along with it. After pushing over Shillhope Law and Copper Snout runners dropped in to the red road of the Alwin valley.

When the organisers discussed the route direction alterations it was immediately identified that the problem area would switch from being the Windy Gyle to Hedgehope stretch and be replaced by the Cushat Law and Bloodybush route. These two peaks both stand at over 600m, the tracks leading to, through and following are all bog filled with tussocks and is basically very tough going. Those runners who started up The Dodd would be right in amongst it and would have to push on through until they came to the marshals and MR team on Bloodybsh Edge several miles later. Needless to say it was a very tough section.

The lead runners practically lept through the high peaks, jumping from rut to rut to cut a swathe through the damp ground before jettisoning themselves out on to the track at the abandoned farm of High Bleakehope. As these leaders drifted onwards the predicted decline in weather conditions manifested themselves. After steady incremental increases in wind speed there was a sudden jump of some 15mph and things were getting tasty. The lead runners went past the front of Stuart Nelson’s farm at Low Bleakehope and tracked old Salters Road before turning east then north to end with a 2 mile descend back in to Ingram.

Cheviot Goat

Finishers were greeted at the cafe by a team of very excited cheerleaders. Hands shaken, hugs issued and then quickly glanced over by watching medical staff before taking a well earned soup and hot drink. Winners were:

1. Galen Reynolds
2. Adam Potter
3. Simon Roberts

For the women the results were:

1. Nicky Spinks
2. Elaine Bisson
3. Fiona Lynch

Hats off to those winners and everyone who managed to complete the course. Whilst these people had made it back to the cafe and safety, there were a large number of people still out there battling the vehement elements.

Sunday 8th Dec

Tick tock tick tock. Time is perpetual, it can’t be stopped, yet occasionally time seems to slow. It’s just gone midnight and the weather has turned angry with 80mph gusts and driving rain. There are still runners yet to start, or are currently going over, the high and exposed section of Chushat Law and Bloodybush Edge. It’s times like this when fortitude, determination and sheer grit come to the fore. The runners who were mid to back of the pack were now sticking it all on the line to get the job done. Energy supplies are low and the darkness combined with howling wind can play tricks with the mind. Some people couldn’t take another step beyond Bloodybush as the cold touched their bones.

The North of Tyne mountain rescue radio buzzed in control, voices muffled due to the high winds and torrential rain all around the team on the hillside.
“Key control key control key five over.”
“Key five key control send over”
“Key control key five we’ve got three, I repeat 3 hypothermia cases with us now on Bloodybush summit.”

The team were out and on it in a flash. Runners were placed in tents, clothes were changed and quad bikes dispatched to fetch people. Local farmer Stuart Nelson knew exactly which way to go. Just for reference, these areas are equally hard to access on a quad as they are on foot. Cold participants were plucked from the top and delivered in to the valley many metres below to waiting vehicles then checked over by medical staff. Some of these runners could barely stand up and couldn’t lift their legs over the bike. The main thing is they were safe and sound and can heal up enough to get out there and take on the next challenge. There would be several more rescues before the night was done.

When the final stragglers came down off high via Salters Road it was just a matter of digging in and finding the ultimate conclusion to the adventure. Slogging through mud, soaked to the skin and chilled to the bones but did they give up? No, they had enough in the tank and in the mind to get moving forward. During those final miles there were probably some eyes peering at the bobbing head torches moving through the night. The eyes of the mysterious and hardy Cheviot goat going about it’s life with no-one herding it, farming it or disturbing it. The synergy between the goat and the runners reaching near perfection as onward journeys abound during whatever the storm throws at them. Become the environment. Become the goat.

The the dark hours of Sunday morning the final warriors of the night came to the cafe and the place fell silent as one by one people left to recover. Event staff, mountain rescue people, runners, spectators, locals and the tireless people working in the cafe got that well deserved rest. For another year a hardy group of runners took on the Cheviots to test themselves. For some it was a test too far but for others it was a personal triumph. It takes a lot of courage to put it on the line like that and from all of us at Cold Brew Events we thank you for being part of it and doff our hats to you. Now for 2020…

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