DALE HEAD RACE REPORT
by Tim Coburn
I’ve never been to Narnia, but I have been fell-running.
As I reflected on the day that just unfolded, the magic of that wonderland metaphor revealed the true beauty of fell-running. Early that morning, in the lull of the storm that was both Babet and the Relays, the Borrowdale Valley was soaked again with rain and expectation. Clouds scudded away and rainbows broke free – full arches, as intense and close as they get. I had to stop. This is a magical kingdom.
In the last of the light rain, shepherds ceremoniously combed the fleece of their prized herdwick stock, scrubbing their foreheads and hoping for a rosette. Strong and proud, like a mythical half-bear/half-goat, they stamp their ground with a defiant thump if you stare too long. You wouldn’t, would you. By their blessing, we’ll be on their land, today.
In the ritual of registration, it dawned on me. This is threshold we cross, the doorway, the wardrobe we squeeze through to reach our land of make-believe. Only, it’s real. We go there to come alive. The sheriff blows and thundering hooves make hay for the world above. As one, at first, they leave the gate and plunge the Derwent ford. Then wet and thinning out, they go alone, a private voyage through mud, boulders and bracken, each one their own triumphant, dawn-treader. Have you felt it? I guess you have.
As a walk to work, the ascent to Rigg Head must have been murder. It’s no fairy tale, now. But if you close your eyes by the tunnels and sheds, you feel the miners’ presence. Once, they hauled the best of British slate. Now, the slate’s hauling you. Thankfully, there’s a breather as they reach Dalehead Tarn. If there was a place for a Narnian lamp-post, it would be here, flexing in the wind, shouting ‘Up!’ for the summit and ‘Down!’ for home.
On they go. The sun shines brightly on that heavenward stairway of stone. As guardians of the summit plinth, our runners find no-one more fitting than Sue and Clive to vouch they were there. They turn. In private pleasure of a mountain slain, they hurl their chariots back to earth for Steve and Dan to see them breach the stile. At a break-neck blast, they head for the hut and scorch turf on down to the gate. Lyn sees them through, a winner once, too, she hails them on to the beck.
It’s Harry, then Matt! A few seconds gap – it’s that photo Lou caught at the splash. With a ‘welcome back’ cheer, Kerry holds the gate clear, and they’re back in the field with a lung-filled lunge for the line. It’s everyone’s race. There’s Chloe (Helm Hill), and Sarah (Glossopdale), and there’s Gill! who tops off the day in championship way, taking honours, with Harry, for their dash.
Crossing the line, Steve takes down their time and Gav makes a mark with a cross. The numbers are passed and entered real fast by Kerrie and Matt with his thing. Soon, we were done, the prizes were won and given by John, the Borrowdale Shepherds’ true Man of the Match.
The banter, the crack, a collop of cyak, they bring home great stories to tell, to light again the private flame, the love we have for the fell. As smiles abound, they all hang around and slowly turn to go. They take their gift, a day well-lived, and squeeze back through that wardrobe door. What a day.
I love the heritage of our sport and its historic origin in rural life. We sensed a bit of that on Sunday and I’d like to keep it alive. It’s part of the magic. And it’s serious magic.
Finally, as ever, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who came along to run, volunteer and marshal, to the Borrowdale Shepherds who equally want us to be part of their show, and to Ann Bland, a former Dale Head Race Organiser, who came out to cheer folk in. What a delight. Thank you, to you all.
I’d never been to Narnia, but I have, now.
“Our sun is high, you stars are in the sky, and the views around our parish are beauty to behold.”
Tim Coburn, Race Organiser, Dale Head 2023