On the night of Thursday 22nd February Sue Davies and I were amongst 24 intrepid runners who tackled the ‘Dash to the pole’ race organised by Jim Timmion and Mercia Fell Runners. The event is of time-trial format from Ragleth Inn in Little Stretton to the Pole Bank trig point high on the Long Mynd ‘by any reasonable route’. The two principal choices of route are by the valley of Ashes Hollow or open hill side via Small Batch and Barrister’s Plain. Both are about 3 miles in length with 1000feet of ascent. Over the preceding week I noticed the Mercia boys and girls discussing various combinations and variations thereof.
‘Dash to the pole’ has historically been applied to the ‘race’ between Scott and Amundsen to the South Pole (not really a race but an unfortunate competition between a professional explorer and a lumbering multi-faceted scientific expedition) or between Peary and Old Father Time to attain the North Pole (or not, depending on your viewpoint). Perhaps the Long Mynd event should be referred to as the ‘Dash to the pole’
So, on a clear, cold frosty if not Polar night we were amongst the early starters. We chose the Ashes Hollow route: navigationally easier but technically more demanding, and in hind-sight the slower of the two routes. Heading out of Little Stretton a brook was crossed by means of a footbridge adjacent to the ford, then the route led across the flat grass of the campsite by way of a couple of styles, then over another footbridge by Ashes house and finally into the valley proper for its relentless 3 mile ascent. Stretches of open grass, usually wet but tonight frozen, punctuate narrow, worn track and sections of rock polished smooth by water and foot. Scattered low-slung hawthorn bushes need to be ducked under and gorse bushes shoulder their way onto the path in determined attempt to tip you off the side and into the stream below.
Part way up the valley, my head torch illuminated a fleeting patch of grey in the distance, which as we continued to climb manifest as the lead of a group of six hill ponies making their way to the sanctuary of the stream side for the night. Not quite Scott’s Manchurian ponies but an apt encounter given the context. They glanced nonchalantly as we passed as if it was an every-night occurrence. Given the pace and panache of some of the other runners, maybe it is as they hone their craft in the darkness.
As Ashes Hollow reaches its top it fans out into open moorland. We planned to make way by a shallow depression off to the left which we knew had a faint path in order to cut off a corner. However, under the light of a head torch the depression lost definition, the path faded away and we were left to ‘heather bash’ for a couple of hundred meters before hitting the track and heading to the trig point finish where it was a chill minus 4 degrees.
About 700 metres down from the trig point finish drinks and cakes were served in a marquee at Pole Cottage, before we jogged leisurely down the Small Batch-Barrister’s Plain route back to Ragleth Inn.
The Amundsen prize for attaining priority at the pole went to K McKenna in 25:44. First lady was K Whitfield in 33:44. The Scott prise for gallant runner up went to C Atherton in 26:48. 2nd lady R Bateman in 34:40. 3rd man was J Agnew in 26:55, 3rd lady was A Cadman-Gibb in 38:45. The Peary prize for ‘right distance, wrong direction’ (should it have existed) was not awarded as all arrived at the pole and returned safely.