hen the opportunity came up to head down to the North Yorkshire Moors for a Hardmoors 55 Route recce I decided this was too good to miss. Putting aside all the nonsense that people post on Facebook these days, it does have some good uses and chatting to fellow runners on some of the ultra pages is one of them. A conversation over the summer had led to a tentative plan to meet at the end of January for a recee of the race. The plan was to split the entire 55 mile route over two days by utilising cars at the start and finish. Day one would start in Guisborough and finish in Osmotherley and day two would continue from Osmotherley and conclude at the race finish in Helmsley.
Saturday – Guisborough to Osmotherley
We had arranged to meet in Osmotherley at 8am on the Saturday and drive a car to Guisborough for a 9am start. I decided to head down the evening before and enjoyed a pleasant journey to a Premier Inn in Stockton-on-Tees. At 7am the following in morning I was once in my car and heading down the A19. The weather, which had looked promising when I left deteriorated the further I drove. By the time I exited the A19 and headed down the narrow country lanes the snow was fairly deep. Looks like this was going to be a fun weekend.
I parked up and met up with two of my weekend running colleagues; Charlotte and Sarah. We loaded my car up and set off back up the A19 towards Guisborough. With my in car Sat Nav still awaiting to be fixed by Audi, there was a few navigational issues but eventually we arrived at the Rugby Club where we met up with Rick, Nikki and Jane. Game on!
Unfortunately, the weather had not improved and after a little discussion it was decided that to give us a chance of finishing in daylight, we would omit the first section from the Rugby Club to Roseberry Topping and instead start at the foot of the hill. This would reduce our effort today to about the distance of a marathon. Good stuff! We parked in a car park on the A173 directly at the bottom of the hills and kitted up. Jane’s mum had come along and she was going to drive her car and meet us at points along the route with hot tea and coffee and other refreshments. We had a group photograph took and set off up towards Roseberry Topping. This peak is only 320 metres but what it lacks in height it gains in character. There was a good footpath to the top and in no time at all we were on the summit. It was windy on the top and pretty chilly so we did not hang about. The good news was that the cloud was above the summit so there was a decent view over to our next location at Captain Cook’s monument.
The Hardmoors 55 follows the Cleveland Way and as this is a National Trail, the path is decent and well signposted. We settled into a routine; run downhills and flats and walk the uphills. Rich was darting here, there and everywhere taking loads of photographs. From Captain Cook’s monument we continued along the path and dropped into Kildale where Jane’s mum was waiting for us. We stopped for a quick pit stop and then continued on towards Bloworth Crossing.
I wondered if the name Bloworth had anything to do with the wind because by the time we arrived it was blowing a gale and absolutely freezing. Apparently, Bloworth Crossing is the crossroads of the Rosedale Ironstone Railway which was constructed to transport iron products from the Rosedale mines to the main railway lines that ran from Battersby to iron works in North East England. On race day there will be a ‘self-clip’ here. I guess this is to prevent people taking short cuts. We continued along the path and through a boggy section before dropping down towards Clay Bank on the B1257. By now, my hands were so cold, there were numb and I cursed myself for not bringing my second pair of gloves out of the car. Fortunately Jane’s mum was waiting for us and what a life-saver she was. A combination of a cup of red hot black tea and a sandwich soon had me feeling significantly better and by the time we set off again my hands were pretty much back to normal. Lesson to be learnt, do not skimp on kit!
The next ten miles was trail running at it’s best. The path meandered up, down and across moorland. The views were amazing. We made good progress even though the paths were covered in snow. I guess that on race day with no snow at all you would really be able to motor on the descents. We passed through Kirby Bank and Lord Stones and then over Carlton Moor where we headed up the tv mast station where there will be another “self-clip” on race day. From here it was a straight-forward descent into Osmotherley and the finish of day one.
It was time to say goodbye to Jane, Rich and Nikki. They were only running the one day, tomorrow Charlotte, Sarah and I would be meeting up with a new group of guys to run the second section. We jumped into Charlotte’s car and headed back to Guisborough to collect my car. I reflected on the route we had run. If the section from Osmotherley to Helmsley was anything like the section we had run today then the race was going to be an epic. Although there was a fair amount of ascent, there was no climbs of any significance which meant there could be plenty of opportunities to run. Charlotte had booked us into a bunkhouse for the evening and after an enjoyable evening meal, a large chunk of carrot cake and some home made beer we headed off to bed for an early start the following day.
Sunday – Helmsley to White Horse (there and back)
The plan was similar to the first day. Drive to Helmsley, drop a car off, head back to Osmotherley and then run to Helmsley. We had allowed thirty minutes to get over to Helmsley and my thoughts were that we were going to struggle to meet at 8am. As the A170 headed up through Sutton Bank the weather had took a turn for the worse. The wind was whipping violently across the moor and there was patches of deep snow on the road. Every time the car went through one of these patch, it would slide about and feel really unresponsive. It was not pleasant driving and the gap between my car and Charlotte’s opened as I slowed down. Just as I was wondering when we would be descending back down, I was halted in my tracks. A large articulated lorry had jack knifed and blocked the entire road. This had happened just moments earlier and Charlotte had taken evasive action in a huge drift of snow. I will not deny the fact that my nerves were a little frayed it did not help that our passage to Helmsley was blocked with the only alternative to turn around and take a huge detour through a series of minor roads. We eventually arrived about ninety minutes late. On route we witnessed one car crashed into a wall, another embedded in a hedge and finally a car upside down on it’s roof!
There was three guys waiting for us in the car park. We had a quick discussion about the plan for the day. If we were to drive back to Osmotherley then there was no doubt we would not be running until close to noon which would guarantee a late finish. With a long journey back to Scotland, I was not keen on that and I do not think anyone else was either. There was suggestions of cancelling the run entirely but fortunately, this was quickly dismissed. In the end we compromised on a ‘there and back’ run to the White Horse or turn around at 1pm, which ever was the earliest.
The actual weather was looking good. It was still windy but the skies were blue so that was good news. We set off up the Cleveland Way. There was a gentle ascent as we headed up into Blackdale Howl Wood. Of course, on the race I would be running in the opposite direction so a gentle decline will be a great way to finish. The path undulated through the wood and then headed onto the Scawton road for just over a mile. From here we were back on the trails and up through the village of Cold Kirby. Such a beautiful place but it felt really desolate. I wondered if the name had anything to do with the wind? The wind was whipping snow across the road and it numbed you face.
We headed up the road and then followed the path towards Hambleton House. On Cote Moor Road, the drifts had caused huge banks of snow and in some places you sunk to your thighs. It quickly became obvious that the quickest way of progress was to stand in the holes left by the person in front of you. There was a disused area that had once been a race course for horses. Like Cold Kirby, it had an eerie feel, the kind of place that Stephen King would set a novel. It was good to run this section. There are a couple of turns where at night towards the end of the run when you are tired, it would be easy to make a mistake.
From here we headed up through the plantation and across the road where we had been blocked by the lorry earlier in the morning. The good news was that the traffic seemed to be running well in both directions which meant I would not have to take some huge detour on the way home. We had made good progress but it was decided that we would call it a day and turn around after completing the loop that takes you to the checkpoint at the White Horse car park. With this completed, it was just a case of retracing our steps back along the Cleveland Way to Helmsley. Although I had not managed to recee the entire route I would at least run the last section twice. I had felt strong all day and decided to put a good run in on the way back. Sarah tagged along and we ran together in front back to the car.
By just after 3pm I was changed and back in the car, heading north back home. It was a shame that weather had prevented me from running the entire route but Charlotte had told me that the sections I had missed out were pretty straightforward and I had covered all the important parts. The route was amazing. It has everything; some decent climbs, some fast running sections and amazing views. Let’s hope I run well on the race and enjoy it!
What is the Hardmoors 55?
Is one of a series events located in the North Yorks Moors and Cleveland Hills
Is a 55 mile ultra marathon
Is ran along the Cleveland Way starting in Guisborough and finishing in Helmsley
Is awarded two UTMB points