Montane Cheviot Goat 2019 – A Glance Ahead
The countdown is well under way with less than a month to go until the big off. All is quiet in the sleepy hamlet of Ingram as the weather turns increasingly inclement when autumn peers over the top and sees the steely blue eyes of winter staring back. “Oh no” you might think, but actually it can be more like “oh yes” and work out in your favour. The worst conditions you can get in the Cheviots is hovering just above zero, heavy rain and wind. It’s a recipe for hypothermia and your body will spend copious amounts of energy just keeping warm never mind slogging through the interminable boggy sections. Dipping well below zero however has some major benefits. Firstly the ground firms up and makes running much more pleasant. Have a look at recent pictures of the Pennine Way near the Cheviot and it’s already started to receive a covering of ice. Secondly the rain on the high ground will fall as snow and you’ll be far drier as a result. The latest lightweight Montane jackets won’t even flinch at the thought of taking on snow.
If you haven’t done this before then here’s a little info about the course. I’d recommend searching and reading the many reports out there, they’ll give you a good insight into tackling this beast. Imagine your warm and cosy thoughts of Lake District fells draped in sunshine as you glide down a solid track into a valley. Now take that thought and throw it in the bin. The Cheviots are exposed high fells with high peat levels that make travel tough and testing in the winter. It has beauty in a rugged Northumbrian kind of way and is the least populous place in England per square mile. Just count how many buildings you pass or how many people you bump into and I’ll be surprised if you reach more than one hands worth of digits.
You’ll be setting off from Ingram in darkness. Make sure your head is in the game as setting off on any hard journey begins with a tough first step. The 2 mile climb to commence proceedings veers over towards Prendwick farm and the impressive snake of head torches stretches off into the dark sky. If you are alone then navigation can sometimes be an issue with a couple of indistinct turns. However, being part of a large group with a lot of regulars means everyone gets on to Salters Road safely for some early bog dancing; a light taster of what is to come later. It’s about this time when the first sliver of the suns rays make an appearance and the associated morale boost hits home.
Down the red road to Low Bleakhope farm you’ll hit the first watering point. Golden rule: always fill up at every water point. Low Bleakhope is the farm of Stuart Nelson, son of Edwin Nelson who’s name is on the winners trophy. This remote farm sits astride high sided valleys and the gentle flow of the river Breamish rolling past. It’s a harsh environment and one that had no services at all when Edwin first arrived all those years ago. Imagine being there with no electricity, gas or running water. He and his sons were there through the arrival of all these things and even helped dig the trenches that connect up the various buildings.
A rare stretch of tarmac leads down to the abandoned building of High Bleakhope. Many families have tried living in this building but ultimately succumbed to the oppressive loneliness of the winter and leave in the spring. You’ll get to drift straight by and tackle the first hard section of the course. Salters Road swings west and rears up steeply to butt up against the edge of Uswayford forest. You then follow the fence line down to Kidland and over the impressive summits of Bloodybush and Cushat Law. If the ground is wet then you’re in for a hard few miles. Recent weeks have seen a large volume of rain falling and given the altitude and ambient temperature there is simply no way it’s going to dry out. As mentioned earlier the only way of making things easier underfoot is for the temperatures to drop sub zero and freeze the ground.
Rounding Kidland forest you need to find the right spot to tack off course from the forest or end up with a chunky diversion. Keep an eye on your gps track or have a keen eye for manual nav and you’ll be fine. Contours are your friend. The following grass descent will be traversed with consummate ease as your legs rejoice in a break from the bogs. Rejoice that is until it sees the sharp hill on the other side of the Alwin valley. The next two hills are sent to test your spirits and you know fine well that Barrowburn is not too far away and by then you’ll be half way.
Ah the joy of Barrowburn! Half way and a place to recharge and replenish both nutrition and mental fortitude. Hot soup, coffee, tea, seats and a thoroughly warm temperature will make you evaluate life choices. Don’t linger too long or you’ll never leave. At Barrowburn it is decision time. When you leave here you have a 5km road section and then you’re completely committed to the high ground. There’s no easy way out or shortcut home. This is the section that has drifted into folk lore and to be honest we’ve only lost a few people but we’re confident they will be found sometime in the next 1000 years, perfectly preserved in the peat. We’ll not go on too much about the final bit of the journey as it’s a nice surprise but will give the following tips:
- Fill your water at every opportunity. It’s a long way between water stops.
- Take the right kit at the beginning or in your drop bag. It’s massively exposed up there, place names such as Windy Gyle should give you a clue.
We could mention the fun and frollicks of Cairn Hill, Comb Fell and Hedgehope but we’d rather not ruin the experience for you. Needless to say you’ll be beaming with joy when you are in the middle of it all. Once you get down from there it’s a pretty straightforward jaunt back to Ingram cafe and the finishing post.
No-one knows your body like you do. Have a good hard think about your kit and what it will take to get round a course like this in winter. Please also think about what you will do if you get stuck. The mandatory kit list is checked by North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Team and must include a sealed bag of spare clothes as well as other items. These clothes are not just an extra layer to be thrown on when having a coffee, they are the line of last resort should something really bad happen. It’s well worth getting a good survival bag such as the one from Lifesystems as well.
Now all we can do is hurry up and wait. Your fitness levels should be pretty decent by now and the battle will be one of the mind rather than the body. We look forward to seeing you in our neck of the woods soon and hope the memories will last a life time.