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Clough Head Race Report from Ben Abdelnoor

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Here’s Ben’s latest race report:

Clough Head Fell Race, 29th January 2022


The message comes in whilst I’m standing at the stove stirring a pan of butternut squash. The squash, coated in cinnamon, ground coriander seeds and plenty of garlic oil, has been slowly roasting in the oven. It’s deliciously soft, yielding to the wooden spoon as I move it around the pan, to which I add some fresh ginger, chilli flakes and plenty of seasoning. Later I’ll go on to blame the distracting message for a possible over-enthusiastic addition of chilli.


The message is brief: “Tomorrow’s Clough Head race will be on a shortened course, visiting Threlkeld Knotts only.” I give a frustrated grunt and wonder what the decision is based upon. Checking the mountain weather forecast it quickly becomes apparent: hurricane force winds, gusts in excess of 100 mph, mobility tortuous and it will feel as cold as minus 18C directly into the wind. Giving a reluctant nod of acceptance to the race organiser’s decision I throw more cumin and coriander seeds into the mortar and pick up the pestle.


Threlkeld Knotts on a nice day


The race starts a literal stone’s throw from the house although I don’t try this out, given last week’s ‘windscreen and brick-throwing’ incident (see Blake Fell race report). However, this does allow me a more leisurely morning so I take the dog up the race route and along the Old Coach Road above Threlkeld Quarry. I figure he must wonder where I disappear off to on race days and why he gets left behind. The least I can do is show him some of today’s route.


Yesterday’s forecast wasn’t far off as the dog and I are soon clipping along the track at what feels like sub four-minute miles and I’m thinking how sprightly I feel. Then we turn to face the 40 mph winds, I bend double to facilitate moving forward, the dog barks in excitement and we grind to a halt.


The dog on a nice day


Threlkeld Quarry is an intriguing venue for this race and deserves a mention. It opened in 1870 to supply ballast to the Penrith-Keswick railway line and then for the building work involved in Thirlmere Reservoir. It closed in 1982 but still displays a fantastic and eclectic collection of vintage excavators and old quarry machinery, diesel locomotives and an operating narrow gauge railway. The quarry and adjoining mining museum are overseen by owner Ian Hartland, a wonderfully eccentric old character, distinctive in his tweed flat cap, elaborate moustache and ancient Land Rover Defender. His gruff demeanour and menacingly serious look occasionally cracks into a mischievous grin, a slow wink and slight nod of the head to indicate he’s acknowledged you. We have a season ticket that allows me to aimlessly wander between these hulking industrial machines of a bygone era, many of which are rusting in situ with silver birch and varieties of willow growing around them, twisting through broken windows and missing panels. As I go I like to make rumbling noises and replicate the sound of grinding gears, creating a vivid image of what it’d once have been like to wander through this place when it was full of activity and industry.


Down at the start the wind isn’t as strong as on the hill but Scout Adkin (Ambleside AC) is wrapped in layers of clothing and is contemplating how easy it will be to add another layer when she gets colder. Hannah Russell (Helm Hill) stands behind her, visibly shivering and teeth chattering. Even Tom Simpson (Ambleside AC) has donned a pair of mittens and a long-sleeve top.


Both Ambleside and Keswick are well represented, gathered at the front of the start pen. Their positioning is justified, as seven of the first ten runners to the top of the race’s single, continuous, long climb to Threlkeld Knotts are from these two clubs. Harry Bolton of Keswick AC is first to the top of the climb with Scout a close second, and ahead of some very talented men.


Mark Lamb and Matt Atkinson of Keswick AC, and Jack Wright of Ambleside AC, catch Harry on the descent and Scout loses a few more places on the way down. Jack ‘Big Dog’ Wright, despite coming off the fell and into the quarry in the lead, just can’t hold off Mark Lamb who wins by 11 seconds. Matt Atkinson finishes third, holding Harry at bay who finishes in 4th place for the second week running. Thankfully Harry doesn’t have a repeat of his lace malfunction.


Big Dog chasing a Lamb across Threlkeld Common


Scout, by her own admission not a great descender, still keeps herself in the top ten overall and a little over a minute off an overall podium position: “I thought I was descending alright, then we came to the gully!” Hannah has a strong finish, with a faster final split than Scout, and takes a top twenty place. Less than 90 seconds behind Scout it’s certainly not quite the “long way behind” she claims to have been.


L-R: Holly Wootten (Keswick AC) 3rd, Scout Adkin (Ambleside AC) 1st, Hannah Russell (Helm Hill) 2nd


The closest and most exciting battle of the day, according to Paul Tierney and myself, was between the Ambleside pair of Ben Abdelnoor and Paul Tierney. Off the fell, to hear the two of us talking you’d be forgiven for thinking we do nothing but argue and bicker like teenage siblings, but in fact we get on reasonably well.


Descending towards the quarry

Our race splits show that Paul led at the summit checkpoint by one second. During this climb I did at one point catch him, where upon we exchanged ‘Irish pleasantries’ before I briefly moved ahead. At the top of the gully, the second checkpoint, our times are recorded as being exactly the same. By the time we reached the quarry we were still neck-and-neck, and coming into the finish… anyway, like I was saying, we’re the best of friends most of the time.


A handful of Ambleside folk head to mine after the race to enjoy a warming bowl of butternut squash soup, lovingly prepared the day before, along with a pot of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge. There’s plenty of post-race discussion, talk of up-coming races, analysis of the performances of various folks, and a general agreement that the soup is tasty but a little spicy for some.


I try to finish my reports on a light note, but for those of you that followed the exciting adventures of my cheap Casio watch last week (see Blake Fell race report) with it’s last gasp reprieve from imminent destruction, I am afraid the news that follows is not good. Not one of us knows when our time will come and the same can be said for inanimate objects. There’s no easy way to say this: the watch has carked it.


Ben Abdelnoor

RIP my dearest Casio watch

Photos: Britta Sendlhofer

Lou Osborn