MDC News Summer 1997 Three Peaks Edition

MDC News Summer 1997 Three Peaks Edition

Old Greybeard’s bit at the bows

Avast me hearties and look lively ye lubbers! This edition of the bfp has a distinctly

nautical feel, as we take to the high seas with Cap’n Birdseye Thornley’s account of

how he was persuaded by our revered Chairman to take part in the Three Peaks

Yacht Race and of the fun(?) they had cruising up the west coast and jogging up the

hills (and winning the first veterans prize on the way). It sounds as though this was

one of those events of which increasingly tall tales will be told during the long winter

nights around the fire of the Muddy Dap, and which will inspire all those of us who

have thought ‘that seems like a good race’ to take up snooker instead.

Elsewhere in this summer special you will find an account of the Cribyn race by

Alwyn Nixon: this has to be the toughest short race in Wales and there are

murmurings that it may be considered as a British Championship race next year

The Tuesday night gourmet runs have been generally well supported this year:

those who missed the Cwm LIlwch barbeque evening missed -well, a barbeque at

Cwm Llwch- but good fun was had by all around the old camp fire. The various kids

seemed to enjoy themselves to0: an open fire, a fast flowing river and plenty of sharp

knives to play with- ideal for small children! The remaining runs for this season are:

29 July: Angel Inn, Pontneddfechan (the waterfalls run- not to be missed)

13 August: Ynyshowel Countryside Centre

26 August: Cwmcarn Forest Drive

9 Sept: Maesteg Leisure Centre

22 July: Risca Leisure Centre

5 August: pub in Llanfair Discoed

19 August: Llangeinor Arms

2 Sept: Guto’s Grave, Llanwonno

16 Sept: Blaenavon LC

30 Sept: Blackmill War Memorial

23 Sept: Darren, Risca

7 October: Fagin’s Ale & Chop House, Taff’s Well

14 October: Storey Arms

21 October: Merthyr Mawr Village Green

Bring a torch for the last three: all runs start at 6.30 pm sharp (but you knew that


Speaking of barbies and Cwm Llwch, the post-event nosh was the best part of the

Last Transfan event (not a race though you could have fooled me!) on 13 July. This

was publicised as well as possible by word of mouth, but apologies to anyone who

would have been interested but who we missed. The 21 miles and 8250 feet of mainly

featureless terrain was completed for the most part in low cloud and heavy rain, but

the sun came out for the post-event party. Congratulations to Fast Eddie’ Balfour on

winning the magnificent trophy (4 hrs 55min)- we hope you’ve got a cupboard big

enough to hide it in. It’s your turn to organise the next one- but no need to rush!

Meanwhile, let us return to our salt-stained heroes as they cast off at Barmouth at the

start of their voyage, and set about the first of their arduous tasks – finding the lenmon

to go with the G&T with the boat going up and down..UP and down.. excuse me, I

think I’m going to be…..

The Honeysuckle, The Nightingale And The Hay

The life of a tar is the life I love

The sea is beneath us, the heavens above

Our reign undisputed from the sky to the sea

Whose life can compare to the mariner free?

Tuesday 8 April, 6:15 p.m.

Here, you’re stupid.

I was sitting on the back of my car outside the Forge Hammer, getting changed for another pathetic

attempt to hang on to the rest of MDC on a Tuesday night, this time as they blasted (more likely they

thought jogged) round Machen. Fred approached, and continued with an improbable offer.

You’ve done some daft things before, how do you fancy doing the Three Peaks. I’ve got a yacht

lined up with an entry; you and I could do the running

Fighting back an impulse to prove his initial statement right and say “yes” straightaway, I said Id

think about it and ring him up with an answer. There was really no question, though. I might be a

Crap fell runner, but if I turned it down I would be for ever boring the kids with “I could have done

that. I could have been a contender”.

Wednesday 9 April, 9:00 a.m.

“Yes. Lets do it. Send me the details”.

And just to prove to myself that I meant it, I went out for a run that night. Nothing special, you may

think, but it was the first time in a couple of years that I had run on consecutive days.

Saturday 12 April, 11:00 a.m.

Fred had said that the runing part would be three longish road sections (I knew about the lumpy bits

in the middle of each run) which would have to be done carrying a pack of equipment that would

weigh around 9 1b. I loaded up my ruck sack with 9 1b., and set off to trot a local 20 mile hill course.

It HURT. Stepping up from 20 miles per week to 20 miles per day is not to be recommended for a

training regime. Doubt sets in!

Tuesday 15 April, 6:15 p.m.

Bloody hell Fred gave me the paperwork. 24 miles over Snowdon, 34 miles over Sca Fell Pike, 19

miles over Ben Nevis. That equipment listed looked a lot more than 9 Ib. as well

Over the next few weeks I tried to spend as long as possible out running and I grew to hate my ruck

sack, which now weighed 17 lb. I lost several toe nails and collected more aches, pains and blisters

than ever before; a total wreck, in fact. I swore that, when the race was over, I would never run again.


Friday 13 June, 12:00 noon.

Still knowing nothing about the boat, never having met the crew, and knowing little about

the race, I arrived in Barmouth with Fred. He pointed to a black ketch (nautical term for a boat with two sticks).

There’s the boat. The lads will be in the pub'”. Instead of looking for them, we went to

the scrutineers’ office to register and to get the kit checked.

Name of boat?”.

“Spirit of Casares”

You’re not going to win then, are you? Still, you’ll have good company on board”.

Saturday 14 June, 07:00 a.m.

Woke with a tremendous hangover. We had found the good company the night before

they had been drinking all day, so we joined them all night. After a good greasy breakfast

we went shopping for race provisions. Two case of beer, two bottles of gin, four bottles

of tonic, four lemons, six bottles of wine, six loaves of bread and four packs of bacon.

Seemed fair to me.

As the boats made their way out to the start there was time to weigh up the opposition.

Several multi-hulls costing well into six figures, manned by professional soldiers who had

spent the last year training and recceing the route. Massively expensive land support

units, ranging from several army units to the support team for “Maverick” that boasted

two brand new Bentley Turbos.. About thirty sleek racing yachts manned (or, in one case,

womanned) by teams of five in matching oilskins, lined up doing everything by numbers.

My team looked as if we couldn’t even count. All five of us looking as though we were

equipped by Oxfam, nursing huge hangovers and strong drinks. Sue Parry took pity on us

and we really scored points in the style stakes when she sent a motor boat out to the start

to deliver two bottles of champagne. The race started at 4:15 p.m. I lasted until almost 6

p.m. before being violently sea sick, retiring to my bunk to moan.

“This is the most unpleasant experience of my life”, I thought for the first of four times in

six days

Lounging down below, I was able to take a look at the ships log, which carried the legend

Dr Mengele came on board today, followed by a Mossad agent”. I later discovered that

the skipper was convinced that Fred was actually Dr Mengele on the run from justice, and

that I must be a Mossad agent hot on his trail. I can see his point.


Sunday 15 June, 09:30 a.m.

Approaching Caernarvon. Get ready to run. We’ve given you something to chase”

You must be kidding. After a night like that? (This last bit about something to chase,

was, I was later to discover, a euphemism for “we’ ve been overtaken in the night”).

The boats before us had landed 45 and 40 minutes ahead of us. We ran ourselves ragged

(me still sufering from sea sickness and unable to eat), overtook one of the teams and

finished a couple of minutes behind the other. By the time I had changed my shirt, both

boats were almost out of sight ahead of us again. God, I hate this race.

It looked better in the evening. Calm sea, sun shine and a glass of champagne to celebrate

not wrecking the boat on the Swellies. I suppose

could grow into it.

And so the week went on. The weather settled down (much to the annoyance of the

sailors) and I was able to eat again. Twice more Fred and I were dragged out of our little

stowage locker, like Andy Pandy and Luby-Loo, to go and run some ridiculous distance

before being pushed back inside again. Probably the hardest part of the whole race was

trying to manipulate unbending legs in and out of a sleeping bag whilst constrained within

a rocking wardrobe. Three more times I thought (and really meant) “This is the most

unpleasant experience of my life”. Each time, it got worse. On the return to Ravenglass

clung to the legs of the stiff-upper-lipped yacht-club-type marshal pleading with him not

to let the skipper kidnap me and keep me on a boat to make me run up mountains.

respite, no pity, just several “Hrrmph”‘s.

Thursday 19 June, 11:00 p.m.

We had just arrived at the summit of Ben Nevis. It had been raining all the way up, and

now it turned to snow. I was about brain dead, and was probably inexcusably short with

the squaddies on top who wanted to make conversation. (Not as rude as with the tourist

at the Wasdale Head Inn, though, who had enquired as we took the compulsory 5 minute

check in, how many breaks I was allowed during the race, only to be told that I would

have as many as I bloody well liked)

On the way down, my torch went dead, Fred’s glasses kept misting up, and the path was

covered with wet snow and ice. Fred kept up a commentary which was like an hour and

forty minutes of the start to Four Weddings and a Funeral. I reminded him that it had all

been his bloody idea, and his vocabulary increased from one word to three or four. We

arrived back at Corpach at O1:30 a.m. Friday, when I kicked my bag over the line and

vowed never to run again. We then promptly got blitzed.


Final analysis showed that we finished tenth (from 36 entries) and won the trophy for first veterans

I’ve never won a trophy before (I’ve never won anything before), so not bad

for an entry just about every other competitor and every official thought was a joke. The

professional army team won, and some of the really expensive entries did well, but

Maverick, the one with the Bentley support, was wrecked off Oban (we didn ‘t laugh,

honest), several boats retired, and there were a number of top-class entries following us in.

Many of the memories are unpleasant. Sea-sickness, cramp, pain, tiredness leading to

short temper. Several times I harboured vicious thoughts about my friend and partner for

either (usually) being too fast or (occasionally) being too slow, and hurled a considerable

amount of abuse his way. Constant lack of sleep leads to lack of reason. But thoughts of

the good bits bring me to the explanation of the title of this piece. As we were struggling

back to Ravenglass (run as far as those woods, as far as that sign, just to that house.) on

a clear and quiet moonlit night, Fred pointed out a nightingale singing, and as we

approached the coast, the smell of newly turned hay took over from the wild honeysuckle

in the hedgerow. Fred reckoned they would be the only things he remembered, and that

we should call the write-up by that name. There were other things to provide good

can’t include the dolphins playing round the boat as we approached

Bardsey, because I was sick on them, but amongst the other wildlife we met was a whale

the size of the boat which came up alongside blowing loudly as we were dritting past Jura.

memories too.

There were many good bits and the whole thing was highly memorable, but would I do it

again. Absolutely, definitely, unequivocally, 24 carat, solid gold NOL

Anyway, next time it will be different. I’ll train more, and plan my diet better. I won’t be

sea sick because I’ll be used to it. I’ll invest in some better gear. I’l know what I’m

doing. And most important of all, I won’t embark for the race chewing on a giant greasy

bacon burger….

The relatively small field this year (probably due to an enforced date change resulting in

clashes with other events in the region on the same weekend) does not diminish the fact that

this is a spectacular course, packing more ascent and descent into its 5.5 miles than many

races twice its length ask those who have done it! The piece de resistance is the middle

climb, more than 1,000ft straight up the impressive north face of Cribyn – enjoy the

downward view between your legs as you go! After that little treat, the course also visits the

summit of Pen-y-Fan for good measure. King of the Mountains among the fell-running

connoisseurs this year was MDC’s Eddie Balfour, who gained an advantage over clubmate

Gary Jones, by taking a superior line on the descent after the first checkpoint and didn’t let

t go. Gary, who was also running in the Castles Relay the following day, eventually settled

for second and coasted in a few seconds in front of first veteran Richard Wilson (Mid-Wales

Orienteers). Ann Nixon (MDC) maintained recent form to finish in fifth place overall,

slicing over 2 minutes off the Ladies record in the process, whilst clubmate Alice Bedwell

in seventh position, also beat the old record. Eric Meredith placed well in eighth to head the

Over-50 contingent.

For those who appreciate real fell races (as well as legs like rubber) this course is a must –

come next year and discover a classic!

compares pretty well with some of the best mountain courses that other parts of the British

Isles have to offer.

I may not be completely unbiased, but I reckon it

Many thanks to all those who supported the event, and especially to Kay and Gerry

for their marshalling services.

Alwyn Nixon

Summer Solstice in Snowdonia

Ras Yr Eifl 21*” June 1997

4miles/1850 feet/AS

This will be a really good day out’, said Greybeard to Mrs G. when the Welsh

Championships fixtures were published. “The mountain’s right next to the sea so the views

will be tremendous: we might be able to see Ireland and the Isle of Man. And as it’s the day

before the British championship race on the Carneddau there’1l be lots of good runners from

oop north who will be impressed by the way races are organised in Wales.

Came the day. Woken by the sound of rain driving against the editorial windows. ‘It could be

worse- we could be celebrating the Solstice at Stonehenge. It might be better further north.

Five hours of tractors and caravans on the A470 later. Llithfaen in the rain and hill fog.

Cloud base approx 100 feet above sea level.

Where’s this mountain, then?

Dunno- up in that cloud I suppose. And where’s the sea?

It must be that grey wet bit between the grey wet clouds and the grey wet rocks.

The race. 38 diehards, all of them Welsh apart from Tony B&B (who is Welsh by marriage

so we’ll let him off) and two over-60 Dutch fell runners (I kid you not) stand ankle-deep in

the cold grey wetness of the Irish Sea (I exaggerate only slightly) for the start which for

unexplained reasons was an hour late. Away off the beach and a good fast start up the

steepest road in Wales toward the invisible mountain. So far so good but leaving the tarmac

we were faced with a choice of half a dozen sheep tracks, none of which seemed to be keen

on heading upwards. Followed the studmarks (old back-markers trick) for at least 20 yards to

be faced with another choice of six rather fainter sheep tracks, none of which had any stud

marks. Those Gog sheep are tough, running baa-foot up here. (Loud groans from the

readers). Did the old ‘pretending to tie my shoelace’ trick while waiting for a likely looking

Eryri runner to appear from the mist, who to be fair attacked the hill head-on over some

lethally slippery rocks to reach the summit only 10 yards from the cairn and a rather soggy

Welsh Committee chairman. Trust him to have the cushy job!

Pausing only to check a bearing we plunged, slipped and fell back down the lethally slippery

etc towards the sound of the wet grey wet stuff making the wet grey hard stuff even wetter

than it already was from the wet grey clouds.. A slow but direct descent brought me to the

final checkpoint at the same time as the race organiser, who seemed to be as unsure of where

he was as everyone else. A vicious descent down old mine inclines followed, which were

liberally spread with lengths of rusty wire, sheets of corrugated iron and other nasties that are

best avoided on steep descents. Back to the beach anda sharp final ascent up a muddy bank

to the finish, to find that 15 people had passed me since the summit and I hadn’t seen any of


The sun came out (briefly) as we drove home through Port(h)madoc(g), and there were some

fine views of Cnicht and the Moelwyns….

Results over the page. And no, we didn’t stay for the Carneddau the next day.