There were definitely no footprints other than those left by sheep. And poo, the sheep had left that too. The few dozen runners racing ahead had either gone another way or floated above the sticky mud. Clearly someone was lost, I strongly suspected that someone was me.
Fortunately, I was bringing up the rear true to form, embarrassingly sporting the number one on my vest, I should have married Mr Zephyr and changed my first name to Zondra. A few hundred metres behind me was the final runner, plus the sweeper. Thank goodness, I thought, we can’t possibly go wrong with the sweeper, if all else failed, he could even carry me, at a pinch.
“Are we going the right way?” I called to the sweeper, the wind whipping my words.
“Oooo,” he pondered, looking at the featureless moorland around us, “I don’t know”, said the sweeper, let’s call him Ron, short for Wrong. So it was official, we were lost up on Ilkley Moor and only one of us had a hat. Catching a death of cold was in the offing.
We were just 2km into the 11km Rombolds Romp multiple choice race. You could do the trails, fells, or just get lost, the third was a destiny rather than a choice. The difference between trails and fells is the accessibility of the route. Trails are supposed to be easier to run on, almost kissing your feet, while fells are more technical and tricky. We’d set off on the trail but were now definitely on the fells, if not the wilderness. There were no markings, no stripey tape and no marshals in sight.
Fortunately I have an inbuilt compass and keen sense of direction, neither function, but it’s good to know they are there. The race briefing described a newly-demolished forest which I could see in the distance, beyond the heather, tussocks, bogs, shooting butts and something that looked like the Slough of Despond. I suggested we made a bee-line for that, as it was a certain landmark, but I was over-ruled. Ron, whose route-finding skills wouldn’t have got him his Scouts’ map-reading badge said we should head for the wall over to the right. It’s not a good idea to be alone on Ilkley Moor wearing nothing more than a tee-shirt and shorts, even if I did have a hat, so the three of us slowly made our way towards the wall. A marshal appeared and looked a little surprised to see we’d taken the scenic route.
I have to confess to being somewhat grumpy at this stage, I can get lost for free, I don’t need to pay for it, even if I do get a bottle of beer at the end. So back on course I put as much distance as I could between me and Ron to prevent the exchange of a few choice words. There was light relief when I hit a very steep stretch of road where the laconic Dave ‘Woodentops’ Woodhead was lying in wait with his camera. ‘Oh it’s you!’ I exclaimed, genuinely happy to see him. ”Tha’d better look as if tha’s running for t’photo’ he said, so I did. Dave and his wife Eileen give so much to the Yorkshire fell-running community and will be crowned monarchs of our fair county come the revolution of devolution.
Noel, who had done the fell race, or rather someone who looked like him, but painted shades of black and brown, greeted me at the end. It turns out he’d fallen full-length four times, probably showing off as usual.
The last runner and Ron followed some time later. I think Ron was presented with a framed map of the route and told never to tail run ever again.