Sunday, 29 June 2014

Flora Focus: Cotton Grass

Common cotton-grass isn't actually a grass, it's a sedge (a flowering plant which resembles grass or rush). It's unmistakable white fluffy heads fluttering in the wind look beautiful as you run across the moorland in the Peak District, or as shown above in Snowdonia, Wales.  The two photos below are of cotton grass seen in Switzerland last year:

The plant typically flowers from May to June and loves to grow in boggy, wet marsh or acidic peat land. The white fluffy heads are actually the seeds, so as they fall or are blow off the plant disperses it's seeds. During the First World War the white heads were used to dress wounds, and they have been known to be used in stuffing pillows and for making candle wicks. It is apparently too brittle to make actual cotton from it - something I learned while researching for this blog.

A similar species is the Hare's-tail cotton grass which grows in the form of tussocks with densely tufted stems. This type also loves the damp peat bog environment but can tolerate higher acidity and is found at higher altitudes than common cotton grass.

Cotton grass (both common and Hare’s-tail cotton-grass) is being planted by the Moors For Future and National Trust projects in the Bleaklow and Kinder areas as part of their blanket bog restoration programmes. 
"This plant has special attributes which stabilise the friable peat surface allowing other species including its cousin hares' tail cotton grass to colonise naturally. Each single plant introduced as a small "plug" sends out runners into the surrounding peat in the same way marram grass does in coastal sand dunes." (
Cotton grass seen on the southern edge of Kinder on my run round the Edale Skyline yesterday

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Edale Skyline

This one has been on my list to do for some time. I could analyse why it's not happened before, but in short it was mainly the distance that scared me a little, along with not quite getting enough long training runs done. Then came winter and wet weather and I didn't fancy slogging my way up Brown Knoll. Having never run beyond 29km the whole thing felt like a big step, and while not being precious about waiting for perfect conditions I really wanted to enjoy the run.

I penciled in the end of June this year to complete the route in one go. The past few months and weeks have been spent on training for longer distance, more ascent and generally being on my feet for longer. It felt like the time had come to put a big fat tick against this one, so today was the day and today I did it. I ran the whole 34km Edale Skyline (with 1435m ascent), superbly led and pulled along (mentally, not literally) by my wonderful other half, Tim.

Grindsbrook from part way up to Ringing Roger
Descending off from Kinder south edge towards Crookstone Barn.
Win Hill off in the distance at the left
Summit trig point of Win Hill (462m)
The steep climb up to Lose Hill
Nearing the top of Lose Hill, looking across to Back Tor, Mam Tor, Rushup Edge and Brown Knoll
Mam Tor summit trig (517m) with Lose Hill now behind us
Heading up onto Rushup Edge, looking back to Mam Tor and The Great Ridge
Looking across the Grindslow Knoll
Pagoda stones on the south edge of Kinder
The final descent back down to Edale with Grindslow Knoll across the valley
Leaving Ringing Roger
Rocky underfoot....this was starting to hurt my feet now as we descended the zig-zags!
Made it to the finish field, and continued to run back to the van
After making it back to the van we enjoyed an iced lolly, milk, bananas and topped up with plenty of water. The run had been mostly overcast with a slight breeze which was very welcome but it was really warm. I ate 3 chocolate geobars and drank about 1ltr of water. I suppose I could have done with more water, but having practiced my eating and drinking on all my runs I knew I'd be ok. I'd secretly hoped for a sub 5hr run on this route having done the first half of the skyline in just under 2.5hrs last year I thought it should be possible. So, with a finish time for the whole run (incl the short bit from and to the van) of 4:24:40 I'm really chuffed. I had to force myself to keep going from about Brown Knoll, and from Grindslow Knoll I started to think a sub 4:30 was possible. Strava moving time reckons 4:16:42, but either way I'm super happy and will enjoy a well earned beer tonight.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Welsh Mountain adventure

Yesterday was glorious. Sunshine, a breeze to keep me cool as I ascended another Welsh mountain, and I was in for a lovely surprise as I bumped into a couple of friends making their way up the same mountain as me. It turned out we were doing the same route, so my plan for a solo run along the tops (after a steep scramble up) changed to a social walk, and it was delightful. Here's a few photos:

looking up the steep side of Pen Yr Ole Wen
part way up Pen Yr Ole Wen looking across Llyn Ogwen to the unmistakable Tryfan
Looking west towards Y Garn and Foel Goch (where I'd been a few days earlier)
Still ascending and looking back down the scree/rocks/heather I've climbed up; Llyn Ogwen getting smaller below me
Steep heather section....why do photos never show just how steep it is!
the summit of Carnedd Dafydd at the far right in cloud
Looking to the now cloud free summit of Carnedd Dafydd from Pen yr Ole Wen
Carnedd Dafydd getting closer, the path clearly visible
Me and Claire at the summit of Carnedd Dafydd 
and looking from Carnedd Dafydd back to Tryfan  which looks tiny now!
Heading over the rocky ridge path to Craig Lluygwy
Nearing the end....with Pen yr Ole Wen bathed in sunshine

Global Therapies cake & coffee shop....waiting for Tim to descend Tryfan

My route started at the campsite nearest Llyn Ogwen and the plan to head up a path on the south-west corner of Pen yr Ole Wen was soon changed as I decided to make the route up 'interesting'. I picked a line up the rock and heather to avoid the craggy sections on the steep south face and made my way slowly up the scrambly-clambering route. As I picked up the path on nearing the top, on the eastern approach, I met my friends, and we summited Pen yr Ole Wen (978m) together. From there we headed round to Carnedd Dafydd (1044m) and then eastwards before descending from Craig Lluygwy back to the campsite.

Welsh Mountain running

Another week in the summer holidays and another trip to Wales was planned. This time our base was Nant Peris for two nights. Tim was doing some Welsh 3000s guiding work and he headed off from Pen-y-pass to have a recce of Crib Goch and the route down to Nant Peris.

Heading up to Foel Goch with Elidir Fawr still cloud free
Meanwhile, I headed up the north side of the valley to Foel Goch (831m). The climb from the campsite is brutal - starting at about 120m that makes for 700m+ of ascent in a little over 3km. There are sections where the angle is touching 50degrees, and it is mostly above 25degrees of steep, tufty-grassy-ness. I also did a spectacular job of completely missing a trod lower down and found myself battling amongst some seriously big soft rush grass. But, I made it up to the ridge just north-west of Y Garn (where I'd been last week with Tim) and the views  down into the Ogwen Valley and across to Snowdon were spectacular.

View down to Ogwen valley with Y Garn to the right
The summit of Foel Goch is an impressive lump with a seriously steep drop off a corner - thankfully a fence prevents you from getting too close, but the 'vista' is a little airy for me!

Descending rocky section off Foel Goch with  Mynedd Perfedd in view
and looking back to the summit of Foel Goch
Next was a downhill rocky section to a lovely path, across the saddle and up to Mynydd Perfedd (812m), then onwards to Carnedd Filiast (821m). It was delightful to be able to run across the tops, hopping from rock to rock and picking up a decent trod.

Summit of Mynedd Perfedd with Carnedd Filiast in the distance
The summit of Carnedd Filiast is a jumble of rocks that made progress slow and the descent even slower. I'm not sure if I missed a path, but looking at satellite images I can't pick out any decent way down.

Descending Carnedd Filiast in the jumble of rocks, 721m north summit just visible through the cloud
Descending to the Marchlyn Mawr reservoir - Elidir Fach should in the cloud somewhere!

The lower north summit of Cardedd Filiast (721m) was reached easily enough once I left the rocks behind and from there I dropped down to the Marchlyn Mawr reservoir. A pair of stonechats kept me company for a while with their unmistakable song as I made my way along the tarmac track under the reservoir, and there was a buzzard soaring overhead. These were my only company for most of the run, not another soul in sight otherwise.

All along the route so far I could keep an eye on my final two peaks....Elidir Fach (795m) and Elidir Fawr (923m). Trouble was, the cloud base kept rolling in and out and as I headed northwards both summits completely disappeared into cloud. I reckoned cloud base was around 750m as I left the reservoir behind. I've never run in this area, so, out came the compass and a bearing was taken to the summit of Elidir Fach. I found a decent line to climb up and reached the summit with no issue - well apart from the 20m visibility! I'm sure the view up there must be spectacular.

Summit of Elidir Fach

From Elidir Fach I continued round and up to Elidir Fawr. Tim was making his way up from Nant Peris and we met at the summit shelter in the clag. No view to be had here either so we made a direct descent south west on a good path back to the campsite 800m below.

Summit ridge of Elidir Fawr

I was really chuffed to make it all the way round this route. It was my first big mountain exploration on my own (though company from Elidir Fawr where I met Tim) and although I didn't run a lot of the route due to the steepness or rough ground, I feel that I had a good adventure. Total distance was just short of 15km in about 3.5hrs (strava says 2.5hrs moving time) but with 1251m of ascent the slow pace is understandable.

Final part of the descent to the east of the slate mines

Monday, 16 June 2014

Fell running at Cwm Pennant

Saturday morning and we're packing the van after a couple of days relaxing in the Rhinogs. We are heading up to the Cwm Pennant valley for a fell race, but I'm distracted slightly, as the resident wild bunny rabbit is allowing me to get very close as it munches on grass.

With the van packed we set off and find the magnificant Cwm Pennant hostel in glorious sunshine. We're early so we join a couple of other Glossopdale Harriers for second breakfast and have a walking recce of the first few, and last few kilometres of the race. Tim raced, but I chose not to after deciding there was a very steep-airy section on a ridge and a little too much rough ground for my liking on a 25km run. But, I had a plan for a decent long-ish run.

View of the ridges and hills in the distance on the race from our recce wander
Me, heading off before the race start
At around 10.30am, half hour before the race started, I set off....along the race route. My aim was to reach the summit of Moel Hebog (782m) before the racers....and my plan just about worked. I was overtaken by first and second runners about 500m from the summit and then Tim and the guy in 4th place guy soon after.

Looking down Moel Hebog from about 2/3rds up...runners coming into view

Start of the descent off Moel Hebog.....Tim is one of the distance white specks!
After the long steep climb up Moel Hebog I paused to see a few other runners come past, then I continued along the race route. First down steeply, then up Moelyr Ogof (655m) and then down again to the saddle and up onto Moel Lefn (638m). The views along the race route and around to Garnedd-goch (the racers final summit) were spectacular.

Steeper rocky section dropping off Moel Hebog....Moel Ogof looms up ahead
Through the rock gap up onto Moel Ogof
I kept pausing to take in the views and snap photos, but also frequently to let runners in the race get past me. My average pace for the run was slow....but it was too lovely to be rushing. There were a good few steep descents for me to practice technique on, and then a few rocky sections where I just didn't rush at all.

Descending off Moel Lefn with Mynydd Tal-Y-mignedd rising up to the left
As I reached the furthest point on my run (just short of the racers check point 5) I picked up a lovely track down through the mine workings and along the fields on a dismantled railway (including having to jump across a couple of rotten bridges). The ground was boggy and marshy for a lot of the track, but well defined and easy undulating running.

Moel Lefn

Dropping down to pick up the track back to the hostel - Garnedd-goch in cloud
At Isaf farm I picked up the road and made my way to the point where the racers would be joining it, about 2km lower down the valley. I made a rough calculation that I might just make it back to the finish before the leader came in....but it wasn't to be. Simon Harding passed me at the final farm, and I'd been back at the hostel only a short time when the second place runner came in. Tim had a great run coming in 9th place (his race report is on his blog). We enjoyed the post race banter and a very welcome shower at the hostel - thanks to Math the race organiser and the hostel for their hospitality - tea and delicious cakes were most appreciated.

I'd managed a shorter run than I wanted but it was a hot humid day and the slow pace tagging along the race route made up for the deficit in distance. I'd wanted a run of 25km at least, but being out for 19km in 3hrs15 made for a lovely Long Steady Distance. I also had a big 'stroll' up Y Garn, and scrambling only a few days earlier so my legs were feeling the radical increase in height gain this week! This run accumulated about 1000m of ascent taking my weekly ascent to 3248m - about double my usual.