VERY few can doubt that 2021 has been a weird and mixed up year but for the summer season of fell running at least, there was the “usual” dramatic finale race accompanying the Wasdale Shepherd’s Meet at Wasdale Head.

The race itself is a lung inverting, thigh straining, struggle to the top of Kirk Fell, taking only the hardiest of runners 2330 feet above the start line.

At about one and a quarter miles to the top, it is one of the steepest and longest continual ascents of the season, even described by Wainwright as “a relentless and unremitting treadmill, a turf clutching crawl, not a walk.”

As if the challenge of climbing a near vertical mountain side isn’t enough, the route takes in some tricky scree sections including very loose boulders that slide underfoot, slowing even the fastest of runners and unnerving the unwary. The very welcome sight of the summit is further enhanced by the even more welcome Wasdale Mountain Rescue volunteer who patiently waits to count in all racers.

The descent follows the same route as the ascent but personal route choices can take you down any way you like, with some interesting choices by some. Whichever route a competitor uses, it is generally much faster than the ascent and includes some exhilarating scree riding for the brave. For the not so brave, it is a nail biting trial by boulder until the grass is once again met.

This year though, the grass was best described as greasy making it slippery underfoot. Despite the apparent dangers of the race, the only real risk is that of getting lost on the top as perception can make the unwary take the wrong return path. This year the chance of getting lost or taking a varied route to the finish was greatly enhanced by very low cloud which disoriented even the most experienced of runners.

Thus, navigation skills were a must this year, adding to the excitement and exhilaration of the challenge.

58 seasoned and slightly mad seniors and 46 equally afflicted juniors toed the start line and made the mad dash to the broad stile over the wall, to commence their varying ascents of Kirk Fell.

During the struggle to the summit, there was a lot of shuffling of the order but the one constant was that Buxton’s Finlay Grant was first to the summit and then first through the finish funnel to win the race (39.41) from Cumberland’s Brian Pennington, 2nd, (41.41) and Moorfoot runners’ Andrew Cox, 3rd, (42.29). In a similar fashion, the ladies race enjoyed some shuffling of order but was again dominated by Howgill Harriers’ Elsie Butler who finished in 4th place overall, to win the ladies race (42.44) from Wharfedale Harriers’ Kirsty Hall, 2nd, (48.19) and club mate Jean Powell, 3rd, (51.58).

Climbing to the base of the screes and just inside this year’s generous helping of low cloud, the U17 race is a challenge for even the hardiest of young runners. This year’s winner was Wharfedale’s Nathan Hird (19.54) from Preston Harriers’ Vladimir Wiggins, 2nd, (20.37) and Bowland’s Alex Matthew, 3rd, (20.52). The girls’ race was won by Wharfedale’s Olivia Aldham (24.26) making it a double win for the club. 2nd girl was Bowland’s Cate Matthew (30.09) ensuring a full house of junior podium finishes for the junior Matthew’s.

The U14 race ascends to and round a convenient large protruding rock in the fell side and was won by Settle Harriers’ Jack Sanderson (7.27) to finish an outstanding season for him. 2nd and 3rd boys were Keighley and Craven duo Archie Peaker (7.49) and Ewen Wilkinson (8.08). The Keighley girls dominated the U14 race as Katie Buckley won (9.25) from Charlotte Chambers (9.42). 3rd girl was Wharfedale’s Betsy Willis (12.56).

The U12 race climbs part way up the hill before turning right for a loop through the bracken and then returning over the wall to the finish line. Ambleside’s Zeke Sumner won the boys race (4.23) from Furness Fell Runners’ Noah Cook, 2nd, (4.52) and Keighley’s William Oakden, 3rd (4.59). As often happens in junior races, the girls show the boys how it’s done and this race was no exception. Keighley’s Bethan Buckley won the girls’ race (4.37), finishing second overall and continuing a family trend of race winning. Keswick’s Daisy Woodcock was 2nd girl (5.11) from Wigan Harriers’ Holly Nicholls, 3rd, (5.24).