British Fell Relays

Each year a fell running club volunteers to host the British Fell Relays. This is an event where clubs from across the country have the opportunity to come together and run as a team to test themselves against each other. Teams have 6 members running 4 legs; 2 individual and 2 paired, with one of the paired legs being a test of navigation (the others are always very well flagged).

The relays are always a great day out with the big clubs putting out their best runners to compete for the win. This year Helm Hill hosted in the Howgills, just south of Tebay. Carnethy (next year’s hosts) took the win for the men and the hosts took the ladies’ title. This year DFR put out two teams; a men’s team who finished 66th overall and a mixed team (3 ladies, 3 men) who finished 13th of 30 in their category.

Mixed Team Report

Members: Meghan McCarthy, Fran Blackett, Denise Tunstall, Steve Lumb, Martyn Farnsworth, Andrew Stimpson

Leg 1 – Meghan McCarthy

Leg 1 was an opportunity to go up what my sister and I used to call ‘the sucker-boot sheep hill’ when we were small because we didn’t understand how the sheep could stay stuck to the side of something that steep! The climb was calf-busting and the descent complete guesswork in terms of ankle-breaking stones lurking under the slippery grass.

Leg 2 – Fran Blackett and Denise Tunstall

  • 10km 700m ascent

This was the navigation leg. As we arrived in the event field the clag was definitely down over the tops of the fells which got the nerves going – this could be tricky. However, as we waited in the holding pen for Meghan to speed down the hill and into the changeover area the cloud began to lift. In the end, the cloud stayed high enough and the navigation was pretty straightforward. With such large numbers of people there was a trail of people the whole way round. However, we were careful not to fall into the trap of just following the person in front (they don’t always know where they are going!) and kept our eye on the map and our thinking heads on. As Andy was also on the same leg for the men’s team it was pleasing to compare our routes afterwards and see that our route was 400m shorter with 80m less climbing (I take any small win I can get in our household!). The ground was rough, tussocky and boggy with a few steep ascents and descents which tested the legs. As we ran into the finishing area we had expected leg 3 to have left already in a mass start (organisers took a last minute decision delay this) so it was a very last minute sprint when we saw Steve and Martyn waiting to be tagged!

Leg 3 – Martyn Farnsworth and Steve Lumb

  • 10km, 930m ascent

Leg 3 was good fun but brutal. Anyone who knows the Tebay fell race knows the climbs. Basically this was a condensed version with all the climbs and descents and none of the flat bits!

Leg 4 – Andrew Stimpson

Andrew brought the mixed team home on the final leg of the day with a good run round the short but steep route.

Men’s team report

Leg 1 – Rory Woods

Rory had a strong start, in 2nd place for a short while! Positioning himself well for the first climb to avoid any traffic. In 50th place after the first climb and holding his position well on the descent to finish 51st and hand over to James and Andy for Leg 2.

Leg 2 – Andy Blackett and James Osborn

There had been a certain amount of pre-race negotiation between Andy and James. It was decided that if James had 2 beers on Friday evening and Andy had 3 we would be fairly evenly paced. However, Andy cheated and only had 1 beer meaning he was quicker out of the blocks than James. The nav leg has in previous years had some interesting route choice and some challenging navigation. This year it was very much a case of follow the leader with minor choices which either saved or cost a few seconds here and there. We set an aggressive pace on the first climb, James’ contribution to the nav was an out of breath ‘are you ok for me just to follow?’. Overall, we were well matched with James pushing on in the 2nd half as we passed several teams who had one member who looked to have broken down on the fell for one reason or another and leading a flat out – full beans – run into the field for the changeover to leg 3.

Leg 3 – Max Wilkinson and Dan Hoyle

Fast start, got passed on first climb to CP1, Max bringing up the rear, claggy and warm. Steady climb onwards to CP2, very steep descent to CP3 followed by hands and feet mega steep ascent to CP4. Long steady run off, passed by a few more teams. Steep climb to final CP5. Finish in sight in valley below. Sketchy, slippery bum sliding descent to finish. Handover to Tom. Dan towed Max around.

Leg 4 – Tom Dobbing

I was very cold even after warmup but decided to give it the beans on the way out, I settled down on the climb and soon warmed through nicely. The climb, steady at first, then super steep and then steady again. The ‘steady’ was an annoying gradient that didn’t quite let you run at times. Took 3 places back on the climb but unable to close any further gaps on the descent, which was a greasy steep one with little rocks ready to give you a good whack if you fell! Into the finish and whacked! About 5 and a bit K in 33mins.

Leg 23 – Andy B and Rory

‘Don’t run the legs off each other on the first climb!’ Was the instruction ringing in our ears as we left the carpark below Rannerdale Knots on a calm and sunny Monday morning, to depart on leg 23 out of 24.  Myself and Rory wouldn’t claim to specialist in the ‘long stuff’, and we both enjoy a short blast.  This leg at around 20km, was somewhere between a short blast and the long stuff so we had to be careful how we went.  


We had both recced the leg well and knew every grassy ramp and trod, discussing each junction before we approached and always taking the right course.  On the first climb we discussed the pacing, held ourselves back as instructed and planned to give it everything if we still had anything for the last hour or so.  The leg is almost all on good runnable paths except the really steep and fun descent from Causey Pike directly towards Barrow, which 50% of our party enjoyed.


The last hour approached, and some quick calculations showed we were on to finish in under 3 hours, our best estimate had been 3:20, we didn’t know if the tracker was working due to poor mobile coverage, so were concerned leg 24 might not be ready for us.  Rory fired off a WhatApp message on the last descent “down in 5”, which got through to the waiting team a minute or so before us, leading to a somewhat rushed changeover.

Throughout the leg Rory was faster on the runnable sections and I was faster on the steep stuff, meaning at all points we each had someone to chase – the pace was brilliantly furious.  Not what everyone would enjoy, but 24 hours later and i’m still smiling about it.  One of the best mornings out I’ve ever had on the fells.



Leg 24, Newlands to Moot Hall; Steve Lumb and Stan

A leisurely start for the final leg. Stan and Steve waiting at Newlands Hause with 2 dogs who couldn’t work out why we had driven there and were just standing around and were not running. The absence of a signal meant we had no idea of what time to expect Rory and Andy then sudden panic as they appear off the summit of Knott Rigg 30 mins early. Just enough time to get final preparations ready, strap on the tracker and off up the very steep climb to the side of Moss Force.

The small sheep trod that leads directly to the summit of Robinson was found and a steady climb saw us at summit number 209 in just over 20 minutes. From there it was great running to Hindsgarth and Dale Head. We found a good direct line down to Dalehead tarn and then the lovely descent fom High Spy. It was quiet until we hit Catbells, summit number 214, where we met the hoards and dodged through them until we reached the road.

Followed the Cumbria Way to Portinscale where we were met by a large contingent of DFR members and family with pushchairs and even cowbells which was a great boost to morale and put a bit of a spring back into tired legs.

The cowbells proved very effective in clearing a route along the narrow path into Keswick, helpful on a bank holiday Monday and the Moot Hall was reached at 1450. 4 days, 6 hours, 50 mins and 15 seconds, 214 summits, 27 runners and 2 dogs. Fantastic weekend. Chapeau Fran and Andy.