top of page

Barbondale Fell Race: Helm Hill Winter League

Date: 11/02/2024

Distance: 2.1miles

Ascent: 1,250ft

Organiser: Helm Hill

Time: 00:36:05

Cuisine chosen: Mini Eggs

Route Description

A short, brutal out and back race. There is about 5 metres of flat(ish) grass before the ascent begins on the steep slope. From here on out, it is a hands on thighs, one foot in front of another slow ascent for around 1,100ft before it begins to level out. Once at the top of the slope, there is an undulating run out to the cairn before you turn round and go right back the way you came. The bottom section is so steep it is difficult to run down and you end up going almost sideways. Expect a fall, especially if it is wet underfoot.

Race Report

Imagine a race, designed by a nefarious evil genius, congratulations, you have just imagined the Barbondale Fell Race. Like Sauron crafting his One Ring, the person who first devised the route poured all of their cruelty, malice and desire to dominate all fell runners into its creation. The race lures you in with its relative shortness, only two miles, and the fact it is only 1,200ft of ascent. “That's not too bad” you will say to yourself "I have run further and higher than that”. And that is correct, you have. But, so caught up in your past achievement, you forget the obvious: it's an out and back, meaning there will be 1,200ft of ascent in just one mile. This is made worse, when you find out this is not the most horrifying stat. At the top there is 0.25miles of undulating running knocking off only 100ft of ascent. This means the main climb is a leg burning 1,100ft of ascent in 0.75miles. The formation of this fell just should not have been allowed, a truly forbidden piece of geomorphology. 

I arrived at registration as the junior race was setting off. Already a string of coloured vests (presumably with humans in them) were stretching up the fellside. I crossed the bridge and looked up to the slopes of the fell. How high it looked, towering right above me like a crashing wave in a cheap disaster movie. The youths turned halfway up the slope and returned down, running with the confidence that only comes from being a child who knows they can heal from a shattered ankle on the short drive home. Several children went flying, some tripping each other over, but no serious injuries seemed to have occurred; I wondered if I would be so lucky if I were to fall. At the bottom of the fell, where I soon would be setting off from, there were several children crying, being consoled by their parents. I also felt like crying; I had run the Coledale Horseshoe the previous day with my very fast friend, which had prepared me for this race in the same way that being hit in the face by an anvil would prepare me for a beauty contest. Already my legs were being dominated by DOMS and I wondered the wisdom of what I was doing. 

The race began and we started upwards; already my legs felt lifeless, but I stuck to the tail of the person behind me, hoping to slipstream him to make the climb a bit easier. There is very little to say about the next 20 minutes. I ascended steadily on a climb that was 90% steep grassy slope and 10% steep rocky slope. Next to me, there was a man on all fours, vaguely reminiscent of Shakira in the She Wolf music video. I briefly distracted myself from the horror with the memory of 15 year old me and my crush on Shakira, and subsequent horror when I found out she was married. In my juvenile mind, I truly believed she would give up stardom (and a country where it doesn't rain 70% of the time) to live in Cockermouth with a fat child. The ascent finally petered out and I was onto the 400m of runnable, undulating terrain heading towards the cairn. Well, it should have been runnable, if not for the fact my legs had just been possessed by two particularly unathletic spectors. My legs flapped hopelessly as I lurched towards the cairn, rounded it and began to run back the way I had come.

While my ascent had very much been hindered by the previous days excursions in the fells, the descent was actually helped. As I began moving downhill, I realised I simply did not have enough strength in my legs left to control my speed. While people ahead of me were weaving and slowing themselves, I plunged down, plummeting ungainly like a bag of conkers dropped from a tree. More of a controlled fall than a descent, I managed to stay upright for most of it, falling only four times (although three of these were in quick succession so that's not as bad) and even managing to gain some places from those who had more leg strength or self preservation than me. My final fall of the day came on the steepest section, I slipped backwards, sliding down on my backside. I had hoped to slide all the way down to the bottom of the fell (although I am unsure if this is allowed) but a rock to the tailbone 25m later soon took that option from me. I hopped to my feet and continued down, lurching over the finish line just over half an hour after I had set off. 

I looked back at the fell I had ascended while all around me people chatted, washed in the stream or walked back to their cars. I would love to finish this by saying how beautiful it looked, how I appreciated every foot of ascent and the lessons it taught me, but that would be a lie. It looked massive, and I was sincerely glad I did not have to run up it again.

A big thank you to Helm Hill for a fun and well organised race

barbondale fell race
It looked steeper when you were there
Fell runner
The face of joy. Image credit: Grand Day Out Photography

Fell runner running down hill
Free fall. Image credit: Grand Day Out Photography

Before you go...

My photos are on sale, browse them here:

Or, if you want to support my writing, you can send me a virtual coffee here:

And finally, thank you for reading, if you enjoyed please leave a like or a comment to let me know and check out other posts below.

191 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 comentarios

Obtuvo 0 de 5 estrellas.
Aún no hay calificaciones

Agrega una calificación
19 feb
Obtuvo 4 de 5 estrellas.

I also took part in this race and you have described the experience brilliantly. I was trying not to laugh out loud reading this, whilst waiting for my dentist to see me. Thank you and keep up the good work 👍

Me gusta
Contestando a

Thanks a lot for that, I'm glad you enjoyed it and hope you liked the race. Also, hope the dentist trip went well

Me gusta
bottom of page