Fossils, A Rick Ansell Adventure

“Where’s Dad?” My wife asked my son amongst the melee in the Coniston Sports and Social Club.

“I don’t know, probably talking to another fossil” was the reply.

I reminded my son to have a bit more respect for his elders and betters when I found out. 

“But I’m better than you Dad” was the reply.  Somewhere along the line my parenting skills seem to have been lacking.

In fact I was deep in conversation with an old acquaintance, Darren Parker who was telling me about the previous day’s Black Coombe Race which he had done.  Darren is absolutely not a fossil and still runs in the youngsters’ age category (V50) which is probably why he was able to contemplate two major races in two days. 

It was disappointing that I was the only representative of Tring.  Most of the other Club’s fell running community was pottering about the beach in South Devon pretending to be bears or something, I didn’t quite get the gist of it.

As an experiment for this year’s Kong Mini Mountain Marathons the map is being given at registration so routes can be planned in advance rather than as part of the race time.  Not an improvement in my view.  We wended our way up to the start at the Miners Bridge with our noses in our maps.

I was really not feeling confident at all.  On the Wednesday run I had had to pull up in Tring High Street and walk back to the Club with pain down my hamstring, a recurrence of an issue that has plagued me all year.  On Thursday it was noticeably uncomfortable walking to work.  We were sort of committed to the weekend, though, as Max’s car (actually my car, which he appropriated) had expired so he was reliant on us picking him up from Liverpool (not) on our way to Coniston and a campsite had been booked.  I reasoned that whatever, I could do some kind of a walk and at least collect a few points and have a bit of a day in the hills.

We started together and Max bid me a cheery/cheeky “See you later, Dad” and disappeared off up the hill.  I followed at a more sedate pace.  The control we had both opted to visit first looked potentially tricky and I was confident that I would catch him as he dithered about looking for it.

I soon caught an old mate, Roger Ashby.  Roger is roughly the same age as those ammonites you find on the beach in Dorset.  He isn’t too sure of his age and I think race organisers tend to use Carbon 14 dating to ascertain his category.  Roger gets about the hills with walking sticks these days and is inevitably late back incurring enormous penalties in every event he does.  I have to say I find him a huge inspiration.  Our conversation was interrupted by Darren hurtling back down the path.  “Whatever are you doing” I called.  “I’ve lost my compass” was the reply.  The day was clear and we didn’t really need a compass but he was gone before I could make this point.  He never found it either….  Perhaps age is catching up with him.

When I got to the first control, a rather insignificant stream junction in an area of marsh, Max, disappointingly, was nowhere to be seen, he must have got it quickly.  Secretly I was rather pleased.  Having produced a son who is able to use a map and compass properly is one of my better achievements, I think.  I found that I was able to manage a slow jog but as soon as I increased the pace my hamstring threatened to go into spasm.  It was very frustrating as I felt quite lively and able to push the pace on a little where the terrain allowed but this wasn’t often and probably I wasn’t losing much time.  Certainly I was keeping pace with another guy who looked  a bit younger and was not quite getting the lines.  From the stream junction I made my way to a small but obvious knoll and then to the top of a craggy hill which was worth 40 points..  The fourth control on my list was at an old mine in the next valley.  A good path ran down beside a wall to the valley bottom from where I could follow the stream up to the ruin.  A guy in front followed what looked like a clear trod that traversed the hillside and seemed a more direct line and didn’t require any loss of height so I followed along but soon regretted it as the trod was horribly rocky and not at all runnable.  Although I cursed the guy for leading me astray, in hindsight it was probably a good option as I wasn’t really doing too well at the running anyway.  From the ruin it was just a hop across a low ridge to a very desirable 50 pointer below Wrynose Pass. 

My shoe was cutting into me badly.  I knew it had given me blisters in the past but I couldn’t remember where the blister formed so had put some Compeed in my bum bag to use when I found out.  A brief stop to patch up my foot helped only a little and I decided to plan to avoid any contours where my left leg was uppermost as this was exacerbating the problem.

From the sheepfold, the only way was up.  Those in front seemed to have formed a line up the stream which to me looked a bit of a roundabout route.  I double checked the map to see if they had spotted something I hadn’t but if they had I couldn’t see what it might be.  The only place any of us could sensibly be going was the top of the ridge above.  My more direct route entailed a lot of dead bracken and steep ground which I didn’t enjoy but I did pop out on the ridge ahead of most of the line.  I was just congratulating myself when a voice behind called:  “I’ve been hunting you down on that climb, Rick” and there was Geoff Briggs.

Geoff is a fellow V60.  We have run against each other for at least 30 years and he was always better than me.  A while ago he had his ankle bones fused and so now is not able to run but he has trained himself to walk at a prodigious speed and last year he won the V60 category.  That was not going to happen again.  If Sherlock had Moriarty, I have Geoff.

We dibbed at the control on the cairn and discussed options.  There was a very tempting 50 pointer down on the hillside towards Cockley Beck but after considering it we both agreed it was too much of a commitment and headed around Swirl How for another 50 point control on a little knoll on the ridge to the south.  Geoff had started about 20 minutes before me so I was wondering what he had been doing to get behind me but I had a clear strategy with a lot of in built safety.  On the hills above the mines there were two 40, two 30 and a 20 point control, so 160 points altogether.  I reckoned there should just about be time for them all but if I couldn’t there was always an option of a direct run down to the finish.

Geoff continued south while I backtracked and found a cunning line below Swirl How and onto the Prison Band Ridge.  Here I met Roger grunting his way up sticks flailing at the rocks.  “Don’t be late, now Roger”, I said.  “I won’t”.  But I knew he would be.  He was heading up hill and away from the finish with not much more than an hour to go.

My next target was on Black Sails a small top between Wetherlam and Swirl How.  The description was knoll and there were any number of knolls in the complex ground to choose from.  Three people had just come past me and I allowed them to lead me in to the right one. Then there should have been a lovely fast run down to a small pond on the Wetherlam ridge.  I hobbled down as best I could and was pleased to find that I still had 40 minutes to get the last three controls and run in.   A steep descent got me the first 30 point at a sheepfold in the valley.  The next one was on a(nother) small knoll on the ridge above.  Did I have time?  It was a bit of a climb and the legs were tired.    Go for it.  I climbed a bit and looked up, a little tuft of bog grass on the lip of the ridge seemed very close.  Good decision.  Hope it’s the right knoll.  It was.  20 minutes to get back and find that stream junction on the way.

It took a little while to realise that what I thought was a patch of forest on the map was actually mine workings.  My brain went into retirement and I dithered about trying to work out exactly which stream junction I was looking for.  Time was ticking.  Suddenly the Legend that is Mark Seddon came flying by.  Mark was unbeatable at Mountain Marathons for ten years back in the Jurassic Period.” Have you found that stream junction?” I enquired in a voice that I hoped suggested that us oldies need to stick together and support each other.  “Yeah, it’s just there” and so it was, 30m away.

I trotted back to the finish with a bit les than five minutes in hand.  And there was Max sitting looking very smug.  “I had a really good run, I must have got over 400 points”  And he started to tell me where he had been.  It sounded like he had visited most of the Lake District, certainly most of the bit that was shown on our map.   We made our way to download.  “370 points, he said.  A shame I messed up that one at Blind Tarn, I would have got that extra 30.  So what do you get Dad?”

“430 as it happens”.   I replied.  Do you remember when you were young I once read you story about a hare and tortoise?  


  1. Steve Birkenshaw    647 points

20   Mark Seddon           467 points (1st V 60)

      29   Rick Ansell             430 (2nd V 60)

      42  Geoff Briggs              400

      51   Max Ansell              370 (10th Senior)

      106 Darren Parker           270 (having lost 150 points and a compass)

      157 Roger Ashby           100 (having lost 170 points)

163 ran.