The Old Crown Round – Recollections of a beer themed run around the Northern Fells

Written Summer 2020

By Jenny Russell

Photos courtesy of Claire Dickinson

I suspect I’m not the only person to decided on an ambitious plan whilst having an after work beer on a Friday night?  The Old Crown Round seems like a good idea…..it’s local, I know the route and it will be good training, though I don’t know what for. In 2019 I took part in the first FRA registered Old Crown Round fell race. Alas, in 2020 Coronavirus meant there wasn’t a race but this route feels like an annual event as I’ve complete the Old Crown Round in different formats most years.  

The race route starts and finishes in front of The Old Crown in the village of Hesket Newmarket. The pub was the first pub in Britain to become community owned – and is the spiritual home of Northern Fells Running Club. The race takes in the fells that the adjoining brewery named its original beers after; Carrock, Blencathra, Skiddaw, Knott and High Pike.

Jenny and club mate Claire Dickinson at the Old Crown pub in Hesket Newmarket

Today I’m cheating a little,  starting at the parking just up the road at Calebreck.  This avoids having to go through the farm and farm land – which I think is considerate with all the current concerns about Coronavirus. The fact it shortens the route is a happy coincidence. So having bypassed the road run to up to Wood Hall Farm and the foot path through the fields that often contain cattle I set off on the race route.

The section from here to the first summit uses the Carrock Fell race route – heading over to Carrock Beck which is possible to cross without getting your feet wet if you know where.  Then up the first steep climb to the summit of Carrock Fell.  Last year I was in ‘race’ mode trying to go as fast as I could whilst saving something for the many miles still to come.  This year is more reminiscent of previous outings. These were much less formal –  do the tops in any order, at whatever pace you like and record your outing in a book kept by the bar. Though fast times were set and the route completed by many well known runners and walkers, this book is the only record of these outings.

Today I take it steady on the climb, I know I’m out of practice on longer runs having stayed close to home  due to the restrictions over the last few months.  Pacing myself I reach my first summit – Carrock Fell.  From here there are no good lines to the river crossing at Swinside but there are plenty of bad ones.   The direct line to the road below is out of bounds – the steep rocky ground won’t do you any favours.

Jenny on Carrock summit

Once successfully down there’s a choice of three river crossings with corresponding options of which way to ascend Blencathra.  On a sunny day the river at Swinside is a popular swimming and picnic spot with day trippers – though after heavy rain  the river is a raging  torrent. To make sure everyone gets across safely on the race you have to cross at one of the dedicated crossings – these are Swinside, a few hundred metres up stream at the ford or just over a mile up the Cumbria way, where the footpath heads uphill.   I opt for the first option, it’s the shortest  and lets me pick up some paths higher up – I’m not in the mood for going over rough ground today. 

The long ascent gives me opportunity to recall the previous Crown Rounds, intermittently held as events for walkers and runners.  Well supported by the local community with a barrel of beer being taken to each summit. Sadly  the logistical challenge of transporting beer to the high summits has ended, along with it the tales of runners making wobbly legged descents from Blencathra after a quick beer on the top. 

The race is advertised as 36km and 2200m ascent.  How much you actually do depends on your route choice.    On race day there seems to be a split between those taking the direct lines and those choosing more miles for better running.   I distract myself from the long climb to Blencathra by figuring out this race is comparable to Ennerdale in terms of distance and height gain.   The running is probably better, so given the records for OCR are slower I wonder when the records will be broken?

Blencathra summit

There is a difference of opinions amongst my fellow club members of the best way from Blencathra summit to Skiddaw House.  I’m told there are some good lines by the streams heading west, not having reccied these I stick with the main path down Mungrisdale Common. In the 2019  race the low cloud caused some confusion with runners heading off in various directions – those who were familiar with the lesser travelled paths on this popular mountain definitely had an advantage as we all felt we overtook other runners (whether we actually did we will never know – it was to cloudy to see more than a few metres).

On race day there is water at Skiddaw House.  If it’s not race day and the hostel is open you can sometimes get a self service cup of tea and flap jack.  Other options for getting water round these parts  can’t be guaranteed.  Being well grazed the water can have a slight taste of sheep and in hot weather some becks dry up.  There are tales of dehydration  from the 2017 event where the heavy rain turned the becks into liquid mud rendering it totally undrinkable. 

There is not much to say about heading up to Skiddaw – it’s a turn your brain off and get on with it sort of climb – Jelly babies help!

Once on the summit the original route would head over to Cockup (the hill, not a navigation error) but difficulties with access has seen this fell replaced by High Pike via Knott.   

Its not often on a Lakeland fell race the route choice takes you over completely different hills.  From Skiddaw the options are down Bakestall and up Little Calva, or the BG line down Hare Crag and up Great Calva.    I think one is better that the other…but I’m not letting on which – anyway the subject is still under debate – maybe we’ll get a definitive answer at the next race?

Now back on the grassy tracks of the remote Northern Fells I try and pick up my pace, however my legs won’t comply.   I’m glad this isn’t race day I have an ambition to improve my time for this race having got exactly the same time in the past two events. More training required for next year.

At Knott I join the Fellside Race Route passing the Lingy Hut that is more welcoming following its recent renovation by the Mountain Bothys Association.  It still looks to me like a garden shed fallen from the sky.  It reminds me of the house in the Wizard of Oz that lands on the Wicked Witch of the West.  Checking that no red pointy shoes are protruding from underneath I eat a few more jelly babies and refocus on the climb ahead, this ain’t  Kansas anymore Tonto!

High Pike

From here the running is good, on grassy paths, but anyone thinking more about which beer they want first when returning to the pub is likely to go astray on the many options. Today its a beerless extended pub crawl – I head back to my car knowing the current restrictions means the pub can’t open.    It is however thanks to the pub that the route has become an FRA AL fell race. For the pub and its beers led to the creation in 2014 of the Northern Fells Running Club.  Who look forward to being able to welcome you to the next The Old Crown Round Fell Race.

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