April – night run in the demon valley

By Mary Jones (This article was originally posted in Mary’s Blog)

At the head of the Goyt Valley, towering above Buxton, lies Shining Tor. The Goyt Valley drops down to the east of the Tor. The Goyt Valley has always been a busy place, once it was a place of mining and industry; now it is a place for tourism and sailing. Families come to walk the paths around the two reservoirs which fill the valley, explore the ruins of Errwood Hall and buy ice creams from the vans which park in the many car parks.  If you drop down the western side of Shining Tor, the Cheshire side, you enter a very different valley. The hidden valley of Thursbitch, a quieter place; the demon valley; A place steeped in myth and legend. Made famous by the Alan Garner novel of the same name this is a place where, according to Garner, farmers lock their doors at dusk and the local vicar refuses to enter. It is a place of standing stones, ancient magic and pagan ritual. Thurs is the Old English word for demon so Thursbitch is quite literally the Demon Valley, according to the 14th century people who named it. 

Garner’s novel is based around the true tale of Jack Turner, a young salt jagger, who died in the snow near Thursbitch on Christmas Eve in 1735, or possibly 1755 – the confusion about dates is part of the mystery. He should have been heading home to Saltersford but was actually heading uphill towards Thursbitch when he died. A single woman’s footprint was found by his body. A memorial stone marks the spot. Garner spins a tale of an isolated community still bound up in the ‘old ways’ – strange rituals devoted to ancient deities.

I am fascinated by folklore and the ancient history of the land under our feet. We walk on a landscape that has been walked for thousands of years and the ghosts that frightened our ancestors still haunt us today. So when someone suggested a Friday evening run in to the valley how could I refuse?

We meet up near the Cat and Fiddle, which used to be the highest pub in the country until it closed down and has been turned in to a gin distillery. It may now be the highest gin distillery in the country. It is a calm, warm evening in early spring and we have a short run up to the summit of Shining Tor. 

Pete’s selfie at the Shining Tor trig point

At the top of Shining Tor we pause to take in the view. How many counties can we see from up here? From Hereford and Worcestershire in the south, to Lancashire and Yorkshire in the North and East. The view of the Cheshire Peak District hills include the alpine point of Shutlingsloe, and on this clear, bright evening we could see the Mersey estuary glinting in the sun. 

We enjoyed the easy descent in to the Thursbitch valley. In reality, Thursbitch is a tranquil, verdant valley. It is warm and peaceful in the spring evening sunshine. If this place is has been special for generations, maybe it is because it is a fertile valley sheltered from the worst of the prevailing weather by the ridges of hills.

We looked out for the standing stones which, according to Alan Garner, align with the Pole Star. We couldn’t find them although some people claim that many ancient sacred stones have been repurposed as gateposts in the valley. As we run along the valley we spot the ruins of old homesteads. Small dwellings with even smaller outbuildings for livestock. These are a reminder of the generations who have lived in this remote valley which is still farmed today. I recall Garner’s stories of local farmers who lock their doors at dusk and won’t so much as cross the yard in the dark. I am not sure any sheep farmer would be able to sustain his flock if fear kept him inside after dark at lambing time.

We come across John Turner’s memorial stone. Garner describes how he came across it while running in the area in the 1950s. He describes getting his arm trapped as he looked at it. He panicked, and his panic increased when he read the back of the memorial which describes the footprint in the snow near the body. The experience stayed with him for years and inspired the novel. We tried to work out whether it was possible to get your arm trapped in the 6 inches between the stone and the wall. Are we seeing evidence of a modern myth maker? Much of the reported mythology of Thursbitch that I find online, references a talk Alan Garner delivered at Knutsford Literary Festival in 2003. A talk which marked the publication of the book. 

So the myth of Thursbitch is a modern one, spun by a master story teller with a book to sell. Or is it?

On the climb back up to Shining Tor I speed up the steep hill gaining a PR in the process. I tell myself it is because a cold wind has picked up and I am keen to get back to the car; but as the sun sets in to a blood red sky over the Cheshire/Manchester conurbation in the distance, maybe, just maybe, I do not want to linger in the valley of the demon for too long after dusk.

References and further reading

Garner, A. (2003): The Valley of the Demon: The writing of Thursbitch 

Lewis-Lycett, E. (The Local Mythstorian: Death of the Jagger: John Turner and the mysterious birth of Jenkin Chapel

FRA Outdoor First Aid Course

By Helen Parry

Last weekend I completed the FRA recommended 2 day (16 hours) Outdoor First Aid course and I would highly recommend anyone who organises or marshals at fell races. In fact, I would recommend it to anyone who gets out and about ,enjoying the hills and mountains – running, walking, biking, horse riding, hang gliding………the list is endless. Whether you are on top of Kinder or a high Lake District fell, or just having a stroll up the Goyt valley, it can be invaluable. I was also not the only Strider on the course ….hello to Mark Richards who came all the way up from Oxford.

“Does my arm look bug in this?”

I decided to do the course at first purely because I often marshal and was involved in an incident on the Whaley Waltz about 4 years ago on the top of Windgather. The incident turned out fine thankfully, but it did leave me the thought of what could I have done differently. I also then thought about what I would do if I came across an injured or ill person while just out by myself. Or if someone with me became ill or injured. What if my phone has no signal? I do have some degree of knowledge being a nurse, but the situation is so much different on a bleak hilltop when the wind is blowing a hooley and mountain rescue could potentially be more than an hour away. I also wanted to know what the best kit is to have with you if an incident arises. That led me to discovering the FRA Outdoor First Aid course.

I first completed it in Feb 2018 (last weekend’s course was a 3-year update). It was held at Woodhead MRTs centre. A lovely place inside but, being February, we had rain, sleet, hail and snow. All ideal conditions to lie outside on a cold hill playing at being injured while another person tried to help you. My overriding memory was trying to save an “injured” Nicky Spinks. However, it did bring home the reality of how difficult a situation can be if you are in more remote locations. This year’s course was held in the more lovely and user-friendly setting of Youlgreave and it was a lovely warm June weekend. The outdoor scenarios this time were held near to Youlgreave cricket pitch/park.

Resus mannequins

The course itself involves a mix of class-based discussions,(Covid secure) hands on sessions using resus mannequins, and then practising moving and positioning skills on each other. It is informative and interactive and very sociable. It seems a little perverse to say this about a first aid course, but it was fun. On the second day, we moved to the outdoors and practiced the learnt skills on scenarios. There is no exam at the end (hurrah). The course is an ongoing assessment with an extremely easy short multiple-choice question at end of day one. You are assessed by the instructor throughout the course. The course is ideal for any mountain/outdoor education leader.

You can do a lot with a buff!

If you want to do a course like this then I would encourage you to do so. It does not mean that you should feel obliged to be a designated first aider on a race if you do not want to. What it does mean is that you will feel more confident in dealing with a situation if you are out on the hills regardless of whether you are marshalling or running a fell race. This course is not just about how to patch up cuts and bruises to injured runners at the end of a fell race (you do not really need a first aid course to stick a plaster on) nor is it wholly like a work based first aid course even though much of that is covered too. In fact, one of the reasons Nicky Spinks did the course was not only because she is a hard fell runner; she is also did it because she is a farmer, and dangerous situations can come with the territory. For me, it is about trying to keep an injured/sick person (and yourself) safe/alive until help arrives. It is about using what kit you have to hand to help a person that is not necessarily in comprehensive first aid kit. (Although ideal personal kit is discussed) It is amazing how useful roll mats and bike inner tubes can be when you do not have bandages or sling. Or what you can use a buff for (no not a hat). I really hope I never have to use the skills but at least Ill be more confident now if an incident does arise.

For more info on the course The FRA first aid coordinator and course facilitator is Ian Winterburn (everythingoutdoor@btinternet.com). The course costs £85 currently

February – The Long and the Short of it. A not quite race report

By Mary Jones (This article was originally posted in Mary’s Blog)

February is too short.

Our running club has set a championship challenge (in lieu of races) to run a fast 5k during February. The route choice is your own. Hence lots of Goyt Valley Striders have been throwing themselves off the top of big hills and hurtling down in an attempt to break the land speed record.

My first attempt was misjudged. I found a big hill, ran down it: I won’t bore you with the details but I still had a lot of 5km left when I got to the bottom. I ended up running back through the village at 6pm on a Friday night, dodging the socially distanced chippy queue, which must have cost valuable seconds. It was still my fastest ever 5k but I thought I could do better.

The shortness of February meant that I didn’t have time to recover properly before having to do another attempt.

Attempting a route tried and tested by my better (at least at running) half, I took myself up another hill on a fine early spring day. I stood for a moment at the top of the hill and looked across the valley. The sun glinted on the reservoir. My other option for this morning was to go for a swim – why didn’t I choose the swim?

I started to run down hill. I tried to increase both my stride and my cadence until it felt like I was flying – I remember this feeling as a child – running down hill without a care in the world. Running faster and faster. Leaning in to the descent like superman.

I tried to keep up the momentum, even when the road took a slight upwards trajectory briefly, but my legs and lungs were burning. My breath was noisy in my throat. I know the next descent is shorter and soon my route will turn flat and I will no longer be able to rely on gravity to keep me going.

I turn on to the trail. The second half of my 5k will be flat. Now it’s my legs, not the gradient of the path that must keep up the momentum. There are no runners ahead of me, no runners behind me, and no-one waiting to cheer me over the finish line, but this is still a race. This is the club championship, lockdown style.

One mile to go. My body wants to give up but I have come this far and I am not doing this again! The pace no longer feels free and easy. I come to the end of the trail and drop down on the the canal. A moment of descent but it is not enough to gain any more momentum. Nearly there… and stop. My legs shake and I cough as my lungs try to recover. The coughing attracts stares from the families walking along the canal. I start to walk, I can’t run any more, my heart rate needs to return to normal. My legs need to stop shaking.

I walk along the canal in the spring sunshine. A man walking in front of me in green wellies sings along to Frank Sinatra playing in his headphones: “Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars”. I don’t want to start running again and break the reverie of this moment. I listen a minute and then I start to jog again and overtake him as he sings along to ‘The Girl from Ipenema: “She stares ahead but not at me”

I get home, download my run to Strava and run it through this website which will calculate the fastest 5k in the route. I was 7 seconds slower than last week’s run.

February has also been too long.

We have been in lockdown for what seems like years. This is lockdown number 2 or 3, depending on how you count – and I don’t count the not-lockdown before Christmas because I was still going to work and my children were still going to school.

The government have finally released the long awaited road map out of lockdown. Now anyone who knows me will know that I am not good with maps but even I have noticed the ominous words ‘no sooner than…’ before every date where things might get released. ‘No sooner than’, which means that if it all goes tits up after any of the previous dates, and the dreaded R rate starts to climb, then it ain’t going to happen.

England Athletics' roadmap back to normality
England Athletics’ roadmap back to normality

England Athletics have kindly translated the roadmap for the running community:

I dream of summer fell races. The ‘turn up – pay a fiver – run up a big hill – run down a big hill – pray you don’t come last’ kind of races. I hope they can go ahead. I have entered the Manchester Marathon in October. The atmosphere at the first few big events will be amazing. I am looking forward to a summer of parkrun, gigs, music festivals, theatre. I am trying to remain optimistic but I am glad I am not the organiser of a summer event (any more).

AGM 2021: Club Championships Report

by Chris Bowen

2020 got off to a good start with three races taking place. We did the Meltham Tough 10k, the Marple Park Run, and the Haworth Hobble, and we had no idea that this would be the last of the championship races for the year. The committee started putting on a few challenges, suggested by various members, and asked people to record when they had taken part, the time taken not being important. The idea was to keep people running even when we couldn’t have club runs.

It gradually became apparent that races were not going to be held for the rest of 2020 and so we finished the year with 20 of our own challenges in all. These included some relay events, some local race routes, and some navigation challenges. Some of these challenges were charity events, with members being very generous in their donations – thank you everyone! A lot of people enjoyed searching the Goyt Valley for Joe Brown’s Numbers, and testing themselves on the 5 Trigs route – thanks to Pete Ambrose for suggesting these. Also thanks to Chris Tetley for designing the August navigation event, where we had to find the green ‘Peak and Northern’ footpath signs; and to Brian Holland for encouraging us to run Every Day in May (and November!), and for planning various relays.

We are delighted with the number of members who took part in the challenges, some of whom do not like the pressure of normal championship races, but they have enjoyed taking part in these challenges. A number of children and young people took part in the challenges as well.

Zoom AGM 2021

(Click on the picture to see some of the prize winners with their prizes)

7 members completed all 20 challenges, with 10 people completing over 15 but less than 20, and 10 more completing over 10. All these people were presented with a T-shirt this morning, thanks to another piece of relay planning mastery by Brian. These T-shirts have “Lockdown Championship” on the back and are gold – yellow actually – for 20 challenges, silver – grey – for 15 and bronze – orange – for 10. They also say “Tier 20”, “Tier 15” and “Tier 10” depending on the number of challenges achieved. (You may wonder where this came from – originally when we planned these prizes we were going to have Tiers 3, 2 and 1, but then Tier 4 was introduced so we had to change our plan! The three juniors who did lots of these challenges also received prizes today. Well done Magnus, Efan and Wilf.

So, on to 2021. We hope that racing will start again later this year, and we have decided to try to have a more traditional championship, with different gender and age categories as normal. The three races from last year have been carried forward, and we hope that some of the rest of the races that were planned for 2020 will take place this year, and these will be included – especially as some of us have deferred entries for some these. Other races maybe added if things get back to normal.

In the meantime, while there is no racing, there is a new series of homegrown challenges for members to take part in, for which championship points will be awarded. We’ve already had the Fastest Mile, and for February we have the Fastest 5k. Eventually, we plan that there will be 18 races/challenges as in a normal year with a variety of terrains and distances as in a normal year. A tentative plan is on the website but this will change as things become clearer.

We very much hope that those members who don’t normally take part in championship races will continue to take part this year, as this increased participation has been an unexpected benefit of the Covid restrictions. If you do a challenge but you don’t want to post a time, you will still get recognition for having taken part. Once racing does start, there will be an option to do the race route on a different day to the race proper, and again get recognition (but not championship points). You could still get a T shirt at the next AGM if you do a set of qualifying events without having taken part in a proper race at all!

AGM 2021: Chairman’s Report

By Lucas Jones

The Chairman’s Prize: well done Brian!

I don’t need to tell you all how strange 2020 was!

Since March we’ve been missing a lot:
• races (although Aidan and me somehow managed to do a half ironman triathlon)
• parkruns
• our usual, brilliantly informal Tuesday and Saturday club runs
• and of course the pubs!

However, I am very proud of how the club came together in these difficult times. Starting with the relay in May, and continuing with the Mob Match, and all the events that comprised the Lockdown Championship. Thanks to everyone who suggested or helped to organise those events: I know they helped just about save my sanity last year.

Despite the lack of races and the ever-changing lockdown conditions, there were still many notable individual running achievements and I just want to quickly mention a few that spring to mind:

Nathan – the ridiculous Eccles Pike Marathon (just about!) followed by a 35 minute 10k (at a very rare race); followed up earlier today with a sub-17 minute 5k!

Mark Richards – attempt at “60 at 60” Bob Graham Round – the traditional 42 summits, plus an extra 18! He didn’t quite manage the 24 hour limit (ended up 32 hours 45 mins), but it was awe -inspiring to see Mark persevere; I don’t think stopping was ever on his agenda, despite looking in need of an air ambulance on more than one occasion.

Robin Leathley – as well as many stupidly fast local runs, Robin completed a very swift unofficial Bullock Smithy (he wasn’t the only Strider to run the course this year despite the race having been cancelled).

Julia Carter – Building on her V40 win in 2019, Julia has very impressively started dipping her toes into the murky waters of ultra-running; Bullock Smithy later this year!

Louise with the ‘Keep on Running (around your garden)’ award

Louise Smith – refusal to let shielding get in the way of joining in with our lockdown challenges, doing them on her own improvised back-garden running track instead

On of course Rusty, and his wonderfully demented Eccles Pike ultra-marathon for Thomas Theyer Foundation: 25 ascents, 36 miles and 13.5 thousand feet of elevation, which is nearly halfway up Everest!