I follow Toby back to Hard Knott Pass, passing the sign at the bottom that says, ‘no vehicles allowed up here in snow’. I’ve never heard of Hard Knott Pass and know nothing about it until I get home and research it on Google. This might be a good thing as to me it is just a steep, twisty road snaking its way up and over the Lakes. The reality is that it’s the equal steepest road in England and one of the toughest to drive on with great historical importance too.
I’m feeling relaxed and in holiday mode at this point. I’m following Toby and doing whatever he says without really taking any notice of him. I’m blindly doing what he says and not really taking any notice of what he’s doing which I should be but that’s me.
We get everything setup ready for Dougie, Kim and Andy to finish their leg. The sun is setting, and the Lakes are looking magical in the dusky light, high peaks still lit by the fading sunlight, others cast in dark shadows, lush green fields and woods still visible before the night consumes everything. Toby goes inside his van for a nap while I remain outside trying to take everything in that surrounds me.
The height of the Lakeland fells becomes apparent now, casting shadows here and letting in a silver of light there. This is in stark contrast to the valleys of Calderdale and Haworth where night comes like a blanket being spread over the land as a whole slowly covering the land as one, no light escaping its all-consuming darkness.
I think about running up to the top of a feel to see if I can see the headtorches coming. I take a few steps and my feet are wet from the bog of the moor. I’m in my road shoes and haven’t the energy to change into my fell shoes and with the light fading fast now I reason that it would be foolish to try and make the short climb which looks strewn with sharp rocks. I turn around and cross over the road to a smaller, more manageable hill where I can stand and take in the beauty of the Lakes for the first time.
I take some photos and head down the road to see if I can get that once in a lifetime shot that many of us dream of. I feel that I can’t today although it is subjective and someone else might feel I have achieved the ‘shot’. I walk towards some sheep who stand and stare at me daring me to come nearer, asking who is this who invades our land? This is my first encounter with the sheep of the Lakelands, but it won’t be my last and as I soon find out the sheep in the Lakes are tough! The sheep I encounter on my runs over the Calder Valley scatter in every direction when I go near them. Here they stand their ground letting you know who’s boss and moving when they’re ready and not when you want them to.
I walk back up the road and over the crest of Hard Knotts Pass to take in the sun setting in the distance, a bright silver of light making one last, defiant stand before night extinguishes everything and black is the only colour to be seen.
Reflecting on that moment that lasted no more than half-an-hour, I consider it my first taste of freedom in years. Free from mobile phones connecting me to the world, free from emails about what I should buy, free from reading about how the world is heading towards oblivion, free from everything. Here I can’t get a phone signal and it’s so incredibly liberating not knowing what is going on. It’s almost like going back to my childhood when I would go and play in the valley without a care in the world and have no worries about whether the USA or Russia would press the big red button and blow the earth and everyone on it to pieces.
Anxiety is gone, lifted in an instance. What’s the point in worrying about things I don’t know about and can’t find out about? I know Dougie is out there but he’s in excellent hands and again there’s nothing I can do about his run apart from wait so there’s no point in worrying unless he’s really late. This is what it means to be free, alone in the dark on a remote pass in the Lakes with no way of communicating with the outside world. Life doesn’t get anymore peaceful than this. I wish I could have more moments like this.
The stillness of the night is broken by the sound of a car engine followed by a pair of headlights. The car stops beside me, and a lass asks if I’m waiting for Dougie? I reply ‘yes’ and then she asks me where she can park. Unbeknown to her this is a pretty pointless question as I have no idea where I am never mind where she can park. She says she will drive up the road and find somewhere to park and come back down and wait for Dougie.
The lass comes back with a bloke. The lass is called Josie Greenhalgh and the bloke is Mark Smith. We start chatting about running and they both say there just average runners although finishing 20 minutes behind Jasmin Paris for Josie and completing the Spine Race three times for Mark makes them both above average in my book, but everyone has their own perspective on what is and isn’t average, so I say nothing and quietly admire two people who I consider above average runners.
Josie and Mark go off for a recce of the start and to loosen up a bit ready for when Dougie arrives. Josie runs up to the top of the fell I thought about running up and comes back down with Dougie, Kim, and Andy. Toby feeds Dougie and I decide to chat with fell running royalty by asking Kim if he would like a lift back to his car. He politely declines by saying ‘no thanks mate’ and then Kim and Andy take off back down Hard Knott Pass to their cars. Josie and Mark are now ready to support Dougie on what is a relatively short leg through the night and with headtorches piercing through the darkness they set off leaving Toby and me to clear everything up and drive to the next location.
Driving down Hard Knott Pass in the dark is a unique experience. The sheep have an evil grin on their faces as they watch us move slowly down the pass. I bump the right rear tyre on carefully placed stones a couple of times stopping me from tumbling over the edge and turning the van into a fireball so the sheep can warm themselves.
The drive is only four or five miles and soon we are parking up beside a car parked where we are going to park. We get out of the vans and go over to the car. Toby opens the back door, I’m not sure why or maybe it’s a habit of his and tells the bloke inside we’re waiting for Dougie. ‘Toby it’s me’ comes the reply from a half-awake Oliver Beaumont. Toby and me leavy Olly to get some more sleep and setup ready for Dougie, Josie, and Mark to arrive.
The night sky is crystal clear and unpolluted by any lights. I can see only one light on away in the distance and this is my first experience of what life is like at night in the Lakes. It’s perfect. So quiet and still. The world seems a much better place here away from all the madness that is going on.
Olly joins Toby and me as we wait for Dougie, Josie, and Mark to arrive and soon we are playing a game of spot the headtorch. It’s there. No, it isn’t. They’re there. No, they aren’t. This goes on for a good half hour before they do arrive and with Dougie fed and watered set off on their next leg through the night. I’m pretty sure Josie and Mark did this leg with Olly joining them.
With the runners gone I follow Toby through the night to the next road support stop. This is where things get tough. The roads are narrow, undulating and twisting every way. I have to be careful driving down these roads as I am inches away from an accident in parts. Sheep still sit in the road moving when they want to and at one point, I stop to watch the disco bunny dance in my headlights before they jump over a wall and back to the darkness.
It seems like hours but I’m sure it wasn’t when we arrive at our next stop at I think Coniston although I may be wrong. We park up and decide to grab some sleep before the runners arrive later in the morning.