Bolton Abbey Trail Running Festival,

Saturday, 3 February, 2018.

Over the course of the weekend, the group which is affectionately known as It’s Grim Up North, staged their latest extravaganza. Termed ‘The Bolton Abbey Trail Running Festival’ it was held over two days, with the shorter distances reserved for the Saturday, and the longer events – half-marathon, marathon and Ultra (32 miles) races – set for Sunday.

The event caught the eye of two of our Pumas, Andrew Mellor and his good friend Rachael Hawkins, the pair perhaps being drawn to the phrase ‘festival’. This normally lends itself to the thought of lights, singing and dancing, and while Rachael has been known to skip a light fandango and Andrew has recently been seen doing cartwheels across the floor, I’m not sure this is the sort of thing the organisers were looking for.

Pre-race, and Andrew Mellor looks in mean mood, whilst Rachael Hawkins’ smile disguises a devilish streak.

Nevertheless, Andrew and Rachael were so mad keen for this that they set off on Saturday at the crack of dawn, either to make a full day of it, or perhaps just to make sure they got a car parking spot. Either way, they arrived at Bolton Abbey before the bread man and duly soaked up everything while the atmosphere gradually built to a crescendo as they were called to order.

There were two main events on the Saturday, the 5k and the obviously longer 10k, which is what Andrew and Rachael had put themselves down for. As the organisers had pre-warned, it wasn’t one for the faint-hearted (which trail races are these days?), offering, among other delights, tough hills, mud, steep descents, and if that wasn’t enough, then there were always the freakish fiends lurking in the woods, if folklore is to be believed that is. Apparently, an apparition of an Augustan monk in a brown robe has been witnessed on many occasions walking through the rectory towards the ruined abbey, whilst along the Bolton Strid, one of the most fearsome stretches of water in the British Isles, there’s the legendary tale of the lovers who tried to leap across the waters, only to be drowned. Passers-by – and Festival runners, perhaps – may hear to this day the girl’s desperate cries as she went under. And finally, there’s the Barguest of Troller’s Gill, a gigantic long haired hound from hell, whose eyes are like red saucers and razor sharp teeth which drip with blood.

None of the 128 runners seemed put off at all by any or all of the above, and despite the nasty cold weather which saw rain turn to sleet, they set off on their merry way. It was a two-lapped course beginning on the other side of the bridge from the café and, unsurprisingly, Andrew and Rachael were never too far from each other. The trail took them up through the woods following the path, down the steps across the river bridge, out into muddy fields towards Bolton Abbey itself, around the abbey, following the road round before descending steps into more mud, through the car park and back to the café, to start the second lap.

Andrew was destined to finish some twenty-six seconds ahead of Rachael, coming home 53rd in 1:01:32. Of the event, he said, “It was a nice change of scenery, very cold and wet, but I would do it again.” Meanwhile, Rachael, who finished two places behind him, had a dramatic tale to tell of her own from the closing stages of the race. Rachael, pray tell us what happened? “Ok, so today whilst wearing my Pumas vest, I was on the home stretch, running for my life, when I heard someone running behind me. I thought ‘Not a chance you’re beating me, mate!’ I shouted to some people watching, ‘Is he on my tail?’ to which they replied ‘Yes!’, so I upped my game and ran quicker, got to a gate and opened it, then shut it behind me really quickly so he had to stop and open it himself.” Skulduggery at its best. You could almost imagine Pumas’ chairman Andy Haslam looking out from his broadsheet and beaming, “That’s ma girl.” With adrenalin flowing, Rachael would not be caught and finished in 1:01:58.

“Your medals are in the post.” Andrew and Rachael pose with these generic medals, provided the medal company by way of an apology. Said Andrew glumly, “They’re nothing like the nice bespoke ones.”

Upon finishing, the runners received their goodie bag which included a bottle of King Goblin, a Mars Bar (which Rachael ever so kindly gave to a frozen crying little boy stood with his dad taking photos) and a bright orange T-shirt, though Andrew and Rachael left the Bolton Abbey estate medal-less, with the words from the organisers that “they’ll be in the post” ringing in their ears.

Meanwhile, no one’s really sure who Rachael’s would-be pursuer was – apparently he’s keen to join the Pumas – though word has it (and whisper this quietly to Rachael) that it may just have been the Barguest of Troller’s Gill.