Bollihope Carrs – a race with all the route options

Bollihope Carrs is a relatively new fell race, the first edition was held in 2021. It is the creation of my husband, Andy Blackett, who loves to scamper around the tussocky, boggy and more obscure areas of the North Pennines. The route is simple on paper. Start at the carpark by Bollihope Burn, run along by the river, cross the road and head up to the first checkpoint at Carrs Top. Then run along the ridge, back across the road and on to the second checkpoint at Catterick before descending back down to the finish.  

In reality, the route has, in the words of fell running legend Darren Fishwick ‘route choice from the off’. This is always demonstrated in videos of the race start as people scatter in all directions. Here is this year’s start:

In this blog I will explore some of the different route options and lines taken by the runners. So if you would like a little more insight into this race, read on.

This year, in particular, seemed to create a variety of route choice throughout the race which I was able to witness as I was chasing the race around the route (in our car!) with our two boys. As we waited at the first road crossing, I saw race leader (and eventual winner) Hamish Carrick running towards us from the other side of the river, following the purple line on the map below. He had led the race down, across the river and along the road which is a new line for this race. Previously, runners have kept to the north side of the river and contoured into the road crossing. Hamish’s line, crossing the river onto the south side did not lose the runners much height and potentially gave faster running on the flatter ground.

Not everyone followed the crowd across the river though. The turquoise line on this map is Rory Woods, of Durham Fell Runners, who had a route of his own in mind!

Rory stayed high and set off on a much more direct line heading straight for Carrs Top. The advantages of this line are that you don’t lose any height and it is shorter than staying low by the river before starting the ascent of Carrs Top. The disadvantage being the rougher ground – you will be entirely off path all the way with the streams to cross. Whether the advantage outweighs the disadvantage depends on your strengths as a runner. If you are strong and confident over rough ground then it may be worth it. If you are faster and stronger on the flatter, easier running then it may be best to go a little further but stick on the better ground.

As I waited at the second road crossing to see the leaders across, even along this grassy ridge runners came in from quite different lines.

Leader, Hamish Carrick, had taken a lower line

whilst Danny Hope in second place had stayed higher on the grassy track.

On they went following the faint trods to the second checkpoint at Catterick Moss. 

Check point 2 at Catterick

From here, there is again a wide range of options to get you back down the finish which lies tantilisingly close beneath you. I don’t think I have ever taken the same line twice and normally end up cursing by husbands idea of a fun running route as I bash through rough heather and bogs. The map shows that others maybe had similar experiences with some choosing to turn right soon after the summit whilst others were drawn down the nose before turning to drop down to the finish.

Often runners will look at the map and come up with a plan to follow the ridge line to the currick (ancient navigational cairn) then follow the series of paths down to the finish.  In reality the ‘currick’ is a few scattered stones and the ‘paths’ are rough drainage ditches which are quite impossible to run down.

The route choice on this race is quite unique and I love to see the finishers gathering in groups, maps in hands discussing which way they went and which may have been the better option. On a clear day, the navigation to the summit checkpoints is not difficult – although the options for you route to get there is varied. On a day with low visibility, this race could be incredibly challenging in terms of navigation. But that’s all part of the fun! Due to a change in the club racing calendar, Bollihope Carrs is moving to be a spring race. This means we get to do it all again in just a few months time. The next edition of the race will be on Sunday 3rd March 2024. Pre entry is open via SiEntries. There will also be entry on the day available. Further race details are here.

Runners discussing route options after the 2022 race.

If you would love to have a go at a race like this but don’t feel confident in your navigation skills then have a look at www.runlikeahaggis.com. Either the beginner course (for those with very limited navigation experience) or the intermediate course (if you have some experience but your skills are rusty or you’re not confident in following a route) would both give you the skills to give this race a go. If you would like a 1:1 session with a specific goal like this race then please get in touch via the contact me page and we can discuss the options.