Grindleford is a small village in the Peak District. It has traditional stone cottages, gardens full of colourful summer flowers, and a cricket club with an immaculate green pitch bordered on one side by the River Derwent. Once a year by special permission, fell runners sprint, splash, or stumble through the river after a 4.5 mile dash up wooded hill and down rocky dale to arrive back where they started, outside the clubhouse.
This year a record 437 runners registered, meaning the start line (which is actually just a mass of runners in a field) was very crowded. The race gets going with a steep climb up a narrow track through Hay Wood. At this point runners are forced into single file, so if you’re feeling competitive you have the opportunity to sprint ahead in an initial circuit of the cricket field.
It hadn’t occurred to me to get tactical so I was caught in the crowds and had to speed walk up the majority of the steeper section. With so many people on the narrow trail there was a lot of panting sweating and jostling along the way. Coming out of the woods we ran down a tussocky field of wild flowers before squelching upwards to reach a dry stone wall at the top of a boggy field. It felt uniquely British to have been racing moments ago only to stop and politely queue to cross a stile.
With the uphill out of the way, there was a chance to gain some speed as a wide track and wooded area with a bright green mossy carpet led down to Padley Gorge. At this point the route crosses Burbage Brook where it is possible to balance carefully over stepping stones, but most went for the faster and more fun option to run through the water. On the other side of the brook is the perfect rocky trail, fast and technical downhill with plenty of uneven boulders and tree routes to skip over.
Before long we were back to the green fields of Grindleford where I narrowly avoided a collision with a startled sheep. The river was imminent, and we crossed at a point maybe 10 meters wide and at least knee deep. I don’t know if there’s a preferred technique, I went for the splash-fest, made even more fun by the spectators shouting encouragement and laughing. I felt like a river racing hero as I tried to muster up a sprint across the cricket field to reach the finish line.
The Grindleford fell race is a really special route with the perfect amount of everything. It has a lovely friendly atmosphere and the shorter distance means it’s a good introduction if you want to try a first fell race. Thank you Grindleford for sharing your fields and river with us!