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Ben’s Buttermere Report

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Here’s our latest race report from Ben Abdelnoor!

Buttermere Horseshoe Fell Race, 25th June 2022


Two weeks ago the Ennerdale Horseshoe race was cancelled due to the forecast of adverse weather conditions. An emergency meeting was convened by those of us at Ambleside who had intended to race at Ennerdale. We quickly hatched a new plan. A few ideas were thrown into the ring, reccies of Wasdale Horseshoe or Great Lakes being popular options, before it was settled on a trot around the upcoming Buttermere Horseshoe route. Seven of us turned up at Newlands Hause, along with special invitee, Matt Atkinson of Keswick. As Matt got into the car I politely explained: “You’ve only been invited because you might know some good lines.”


The forecast was for strong winds, gusting up to 50 mph, with wind chill dropping the temperature to around zero. James Harris (Ambleside) had brought his anemometer to take some wind speed readings. Suffice to say it was, at times, tricky to stay upright but we stayed dry, wet our whistles on a pint at the Kirkstile Inn halfway round and got back in just under six hours.


Two weeks later we arrived at Loweswater to be greeted with clear skies and warm weather, although a biting wind still swept across the tops. At registration I picked up my dibber and race number. I should explain that there are a number of minor irritants in races that can, over time, become rather irksome: a flappy race number; laces that are potentially long enough to trip me up, despite being double-knotted; gels and jelly babies that play hide-and-seek when I unzip my bumbag; wearing a watch that I didn’t intend to take; someone running too close behind me; my bumbag riding up around my waist. Also on that list is having to have a dibber on a wrist band or a thumb strap. I can just about cope with a dibber on a lanyard. Today’s dibber is issued with a strap that is stuck around my wrist. It swings and dangles about, irritating me. I could cover it with a buff, but then my wrist gets hot, which interferes with my thermoregulation. People think fell running is a simple sport, but it’s complicated, similar to cardiothoracic neurosurgery. However, I’ve found a simple solution, I snapped the wrist strapping and shoved the dibber in my bumbag mesh pocket. I pushed it deep down. It was not going to fall out of my bumbag and it was not going to irritate me.


On the start line Tom Simpson (Ambleside) notices I don’t have a dibber on my wrist. I tell him that I don’t like them so have removed it, won’t be taking it with me and will simply tell the marshals I’ve lost it. Of course, dear reader, you’ll know that I’m joking with Tom. I am taking it with me and I won’t actually lose it.


An hour into the race and Philip Rutter (Helm Hill) leads a string of seven runners on the out-and-back to Grasmoor. I’d spotted Philip before the race perusing a map and he admitted he didn’t even know what the checkpoints were before he arrived at registration and saw the exact route. For someone who won the Mountain Trial in 2021, held over a lot of similar ground to today’s route, I don’t think this will pose a problem to him.


By Honister Pass Philip has a three minute lead on Matt Atkinson (Keswick) in second with Sam Holding (CFR) and James Harris (Ambleside) not too far behind. By the time I reach Honister in around tenth place there’s no one in sight either ahead of me or behind. Heading for Innominate Tarn I’m wondering whether I’ll end up running the second half of the race entirely alone, when young Jack Walton (Keighley) bounces onto the scene, appearing over my shoulder. He’s good company; he says very little and doesn’t run too close behind me.


I’ve tried unsuccessfully in many races to have a song in my head to spur me on, if not to victory, at least to a deeply satisfying result. I usually end up with some dreadful contribution from the likes of The Lighthouse Family or M People. Today, however, I have managed to rummage around my mind’s Wurlitzer and come up with one of my favourite bands of the 1990s, Carter USM. They’re an odd-ball indie punk band and the choice of song I’ve got on a loop in my head is a little disappointing:


“Come down and see me
And I’ll take you to
The alleyways and avenues
The longitude and latitude
Of my defeatist attitude”


It can’t be a coincidence that I’ve chosen a chorus that talks of a defeatist attitude. At least it refers to the geographic coordinate system. I tell myself that by starting the race I’ve proved not to have a defeatist attitude. An exhausting internal monologue continues as I drag myself up the final climb to the checkpoint of Melbreak where, fumbling in my bumbag, I realise I really have lost my dibber. Arriving at the finish I explain the situation. Inside the village hall Andrew Bradley is busy processing the results on his laptop and my absent dibber clearly gives him a headache. Andrew organises the annual Mountain Trial and so I try to improve matters by telling him that I have entered September’s event. Andrew explains that I’ll have to pay for the lost dibber and tells me how much a replacement costs. I don’t think he included a discount for having entered the Mountain Trial.


Basking in the sunshine at the end of the race, whilst carrying out the usual post-race discussion and analysis, and with a seemingly endless supply of cake, cups of tea and pies, I’m reminded of the fact that this is one of my favourite corners of the Lake District. Loweswater sits in a quiet spot, away from the relative bustle of Buttermere, yet commands impressive views of an imposing Grasmoor and Buttermere Fells, and the raggedy northern face of Mellbreak. With deft verbal manoeuvrings I steer the conversation towards the compostable plates we’re eating off. They’re made of palm leaf, not bamboo as I’d initially thought. I’m surprised they’re compostable, and given their robustness it seems a shame they’re discarded after a single use. I’m politely interrupted by race organiser Paul Jennings; he tells me there’s someone in the hall I probably want to meet.


By an unbelievable stroke of good fortune, fellow team mate Ben Turner has found, in amongst the deep heather and an intermittent trod, my lost dibber. Having descended off Red Pike and headed down Scale Beck, he chose to cross the beck quite early on, an option not taken by many but one which proved quite fortuitous for me. I hand Ben the bottle of beer I’ve just received for being in the winning team. It’s a small finders reward. I head back to the car with Matt, but not before I make a quick detour into a bin bag of rubbish to pull out some of those lovely palm leaf plates and bowls.