The Teesdale Way is a 92 mile trail which follows the River Tees from it’s source at Dufton in Cumbria to the sea at South Gare in Teeside. The trail runs through the remote high moorlands of Cumbria and Durham to the industrial landscapes of Teeside and the coast.
The journey is comprehensively waymarked; wooden signposts for the Pennine Way are in charge as far Middleton-in-Teesdale (20 miles) after which they are signposted as the Teesdale Way.
It was back in February when Ian and I discussed the idea of running the trail as part of our training plan for the Lakes in a Day ultramarathon in October. Although not part of an official race, we planned to run the route over 3 days, Friday through to Sunday, covering approximately 30 miles a day. With Ian living in Darlington, we’d use that as our base and be supported by Naomi, his wife (my sister-in-law), to ensure we were dropped off and picked up at the start and end of each day. At least then we could enjoy the home comforts of a warm shower, a decent meal and a good nights sleep at the end of each day.
|The plotted route|
When Ian first planted the seed, I must admit I was sceptical. I’ve only ever run 30 miles once before, the Stort 30 in 2017 and I’ve certainly never run back-to-back of any great distance. Now I’d be running 30 miles a day consecutively for 3 days! What could go wrong? I remember Ian sending me the route profile, “it’s all downhill” he said, but what he failed to mention was that the route covers approximately 5,240 feet of ascent – the majority of which, all being on the first day!
Needless to say, I accepted the challenge and built it into my training plan. As much as the distance concerned me, I like an adventure and I like to challenge myself. That’s what life’s about. We’d agreed to stick to a sensible pace, hike the hills, jog the downhill and flats sections, walk if necessary. We were both coming into this off the back of recent injuries so it was more a test of stamina and mental strength rather than pace and time targets.
Although not part of an official race, I treated this as a recce for the LiaD and decided to carry the majority of the mandatory kit list, at least then I could get a gauge on the weight of the bag. I have a 12 litre Saloman bag which proved sufficient for my needs.
✅ Waterproof jacket with a hood and taped seams
✅ Long sleeve top
✅ Insulated layer – fleece / lightweight duvet jacket
✅ Hat and gloves
✅ Torch and spare batteries (or spare torch)
✅ Bivy bag
✅ First Aid Kit
✅ Mobile phone
|3 days worth of kit…|
The alarm went off at 6am. I didn’t want to get up. It went off again at 6.10am, I still didn’t want to move. Whether I was restless or anxious I don’t know but I was definitely nervous about what lay ahead. We’d left Bromsgrove later than planned the night before, and with Ruth and the boys in tow, arrived in Darlington just after 10pm. We got the pleasantries out the way then headed straight to bed. I’d packed my running bag the day before so all I had to do in the morning was shower, grab some breakfast then head out the door.
I find eating breakfast difficult at that time of the morning but managed to force down some bagels with a cup of tea. I grabbed a bottle of Lucozade for the journey and off we went. We left the house at 7.30am for what turned out to be an hours drive to Dufton; the start of the Teesdale Way in Cumbria.
We were dropped off in the picturesque village of Dufton. It was a short jog out of the village before turning up a dirt track towards the foot of High Cup Gill, our first and toughest climb of the entire route. Covering a distance of 4 miles with over 1,900 feet of elevation, High Cup Gill is a U-shaped glaciated valley seen from its head at High Cup Nick. Although a long, hard slog, it was truly spectacular and once at the peak, we were not only rewarded with amazing views but we also knew it was downhill almost all of the way to the North Sea some 88 miles away.
|High Cup Gill|
Once on the peak, the following 4 miles were mainly through soggy moorland which we found very slow going in places. I was also mindful of each foot placement trying to protect the ankle. At mile 5 we passed the watershed at High Cup Plain where, to the west High Cup Gill is a tributary of the River Eden, to the east – the River Teesdale, which we would be following as its winds its way down to the sea in South Gare in Teeside.
At mile 8 we reached Cauldron Snout, a dam of the Cow Green Reservoir with its cascading waterfalls. It was here that I felt my trail shoes starting to rub on both heels so I stopped to apply some Compeed plasters. That was a good shout and I had no issues with my footwear thereafter – other than there lack of grip over wet rock, which I would find out at mile 10.
By mile 10, the pace had slowed right down as the terrain was unrunnable. We were running alongside the River Tees and in front of us we were confronted by large, wet boulders which we had no choice but to navigate through. They were ankle breakers. Ian was more confident and went on ahead whereas I more mindful about a) my ankle and b) the distinct lack of grip my Rocklite 285’s had over wet rock. It was a long, slow slog which went on for a couple of miles. I must admit, I had serious doubts on this section. I didn’t know the terrain ahead and had little confidence in both my ankle and choice of footwear. Eventually the terrain changed to wet grass and we had chance to run a few miles and make up a bit of time.
I’d felt some slight discomfort in my ankle by mile 12. The boulders section had put a lot of strain on the area and hopping from one rock to another had taken it’s toll. I managed to run the next 3 miles but was aware that the pain was getting worse. Every slight rock or tree route was causing me issues. By mile 15 we had reached High Force Waterfalls so I decided to stop and take some Ibuprofen. I don’t necessarily agree with taking painkillers mid run – I’d much rather know about any pain or niggles developing rather than mask them but I still had an awful long way to go. We took some photo’s, grabbed a drink and went on our way.
|High Force Waterfalls|
The next 6 miles were lovely. The painkillers had kicked in and the terrain was relatively flat. The boulders and soggy moorlands had been replaced with hard packed trails and fields, and although undulating, the miles ticked away. There were a few fields to cross with some rather inquisitive cows but thankfully they soon lost interest in us and let us on our way.
We took a slight detour at mile 20 and stopped off in Middleton-in-Teeside to replenish our fluids. As we were self supported, our hydration flasks were now empty and in need of topping up. Temperatures were in the high teens and although the pace had been slow we’d got though a litre of fluids between us. We found the local newsagents within the village, replenished our fluids and took a ten minute rest to recharge the batteries.
The remaining 12 miles were pretty uneventful but enjoyable and runnable. We kept the pace steady and the trails, whether they crossed fields or woodlands were quiet and undulating. The route profile may read as being flat but in reality there were lots of ups and downs. We jogged the flats, walked the hills but kept on moving. By mile 30.01 I high-fived Ian as I’d reached a milestone moment – my furthest ever run. If I’m being honest I felt fine at that stage, my legs were a little heavy but I felt I had more in the tank.
By mile 32 we reached Barnard Castle which signified the end of day 1. Naomi and my eldest son, James were there to greet us which was lovely and drove us home. We ordered pizza, drank copious amounts of liquid, of the non alcoholic variety of cause, stretched, groaned, ached, moaned then hit our beds by 9am. We’d be doing it all again tomorrow.
|Reward and carb loading for day 2|
|Happy with HRZ’s though…|
Day 2: Barnard Castle to Middleton One Row
The alarm was set for 7am. Barnard Castle was only a 20 minute drive away so we didn’t have such a long drive to the start. I hadn’t slept well again and rolled out of bed at 7:15am. Showered and fed, we left the house at 8am for an 8:30 start.
Ian had recce’d the route beforehand and with the absence of any wet rock on this section, I decided to stick with the Roclites. Despite their distinct lack of grip, they were well suited to trails and farmland tracks and I had no issues with my feet at the end of day 1, other than a few blisters developing which plasters soon rectified. The other option was to change into my Mudclaws but as they’re brand new I thought it would be a gamble to run 30+ miles in them before breaking them in.
Mile 33 was beautiful trail running alongside the River Tees. It was muddy in places due to the recent bad weather in this part of the country but the sort of trail I love; jumping over tree roots, dodging puddles and ducking under tree branches. By the second mile however, we’d left the trail and found ourselves running through unkept, overgrown farmland and fields. The going was slow as we found ourself wading through overgrown grass, bramble, thistles and corn fields. We were forced to walk large sections; the terrain was unrunnable and our legs were taking a beating from the brambles and stinging nettles. A machete would have come in handy for this section. This went on for approximately 6 miles.
|Slightly overgrown footpaths|
|Massively overgrown footpaths – machete anyone?|
We eventually reached Gainford at mile 42, a small village which we had planned to stop at to refuel. We refilled our water flasks, grabbed some food and then went on our way. The next ten miles were the complete opposite in contrast to the opening ten miles. We found ourselves running alongside the River Tees again but in well maintained fields, well trodden tracks and woodland areas. We got our head down and recorded some fairly fast miles (we were still mindful of day 3 so never went crazy) to try and make up some time and generally just enjoy a bit of running – only stopping for stiles, gates and the occasional field full of cows.
We soon reached mile 52 and our next scheduled stop in Blackwell, Darlington. We found the local shop, refuelled and filled our water flasks up. The temperature was a lot warmer than yesterday and we were getting through a lot more water, mainly due to the heat but also due to there being a lot more runnable sections compared to yesterday.
It was here that Ian presented me with my ‘Busta Barney 20 Mile Challenge’ badge. The story behind it was that following a fatal cycling accident of a club member a few years back, Ian had devised a 20 mile route for his local running club, the Darlington Harriers in a bid to raise awareness and funds for a local charity who were at the scene of the accident. Anyone who completes the challenge is awarded a badge and asked to donate a small sum to charity. Coincidentally, the 20 mile route, from Barnard Castle to Darlington was the section I had just run so I became part of an elite group. The name ‘Busta Barney’ came from catching a ‘bus to Barnard Castle’ (Busta Barney) then running back to Darlington. I respectfully made my donation.
|My Busta Barney badge|
I attached the badge to my bag and we left Blackwell before rejoining the trail alongside the River Tees. The remaining ten miles were undulating but runnable. For a route profile that looks like it’s all downhill we’d covered another 1,234 ft in elevation gain, on top of 3,314 ft yesterday. After running so many miles any slight hill becomes a mountain and after 20+ miles in the legs, the mind just gives up and refuses to accept any elevation. Subconsciously you are forced to walk. I was struggling between miles 54-56 and we found ourselves walking more than we were running. At mile 56 we passed a family with ice-creams and checking the map, noticed there was a small village within a small diversion of our route. We both agreed that any additional mileage was outweighed by the prospect of an ice lolly so we made the small detour and stumbled upon a shop shortly after. We both bought Calippo’s which was the boost I needed to keep going. It was still hot with little to no breeze but we managed to run in the remaining 6 miles until we reached Middleton One Row whereby Naomi and my son, Oliver this time, were there to greet us. Tired and feeling slightly broken, we arrived home, showered, stretched, grabbed some food and got another early night.
Tomorrow was the last day.
|Day 2 complete|
|Again, as per yesterday, happy with HRZ’s considering the distance|
The final day and the toughest by far.
The alarm was set for 7am. I’d been awake for most of the night unable to switch off. I was restless and my feet were in a bad way. I stumbled out of bed, showered then had some breakfast. We’d agreed to leave slightly earlier than yesterday as thunder and lightning had been forecast for 2pm so wanted to be out of the door by 7:45am. I taped my feet up, applied some plasters and before we knew it, we were off.
Naomi had agreed to join us for the first 20 minutes of the run which was a lovely boost. It had rained overnight so the terrain was wet, uneven, overgrown grass and trail. Not ideal but it meant it was a slow, steady start to the morning which Ian and I were thankful for. The first couple of miles are always the hardest as the legs are still stiff, your calves and hamstrings are tight and you have difficulty bending your knees. You then start to get some motion back and can settle into a rhythm.
After 20 minutes, we said goodbye to Naomi who retraced her steps back to the car. Ian and I continued for another half mile or so across fields and farmland. By mile 63 we found ourselves running though some muddy woodland trails which were slippy and massively overgrown with nettles and brambles. The trails soon became non existent and more difficult to follow due to the overgrowth and it wasn’t long before we were at walking pace, making our way though the foliage.
We had passed warning signs for Giant Hogweed which was growing in the area. We’d seen it down by the river but not actually on the trail as yet. Heracleum Mantegazzianum, commonly known as giant hogweed, contains toxic chemicals which when they come into contact with the skin, and in presence of sunlight, cause a condition called phyto-photodermatatis: a reddening of the skin often followed by severe burns and blistering. The burns can last for months and in some cases, the skin can remain sensitive to light for many years. Its a very dangerous plant that can grow up to 20ft in height and is very invasive.
We continued to make our way slowly through the overgrown jungle and it wasn’t long before we noticed giant hogweed next to, and on the trail. Ian, thankfully, was very clued on to it and would warn me when we approached it. By this time it was very slow going and we were concerned less with the brambles and thorn bushes and just making sure we stayed out of contact of the giant hogweed – easier said than done when we were wading though overgrowth up to 8ft tall. It was the scariest section of the route and in all honesty, without Ian I would have just turned around and called it a day! It went on for over 5 miles until we reached Yarm at mile 69, some two hours later.
|Ian pointing out the Giant Hogweed growing in and around the trail – scary, dangerous plant|
|Wading through rapeseed fields as the ‘trail’ had had been taken over by giant hogweed plants|
We eventually made our way out of the giant hogweed jungle and into Yarm, a small town and back to civilisation. Miles 69-73 were runnable and although it felt good to stretch the legs, I was feeling mentally and physically tired. For the first time in 69 miles I was battling with myself mentally, and even though the pace was slow, I kept trying to convince myself to stop. I managed to slowly jog it out to mile 73, whereby I needed to refill my flasks. We left the trail and asked a local for the nearest shop. It was half a mile out of our way but I needed fluid so we took the detour. We refilled our flasks, took some food on board then made our way back to the trail.
Miles 73-79 were all on hard trail and concrete paths. My mood had changed again and although I was tired and hot, I enjoyed this section of the route. We ran through parks and nature reserves which were busy with dog walkers and runners and it felt good to be back into civilisation. As much as I enjoyed Ian’s conversation and company, (I couldn’t have done this without him) there were large sections of the route where we’d be running on single file tracks and would not see another person for hours on end. Greeting and acknowledging other people en-route gives you a mini boost, similar to thanking Marshall’s at races or parkrun.
By mile 80 Ian decided to change his footwear from trail shoes to roadies which he had been carrying in his race pack. I welcomed the rest and a chance to hydrate. Despite the weather forecast of thunder and lightning, we were greeted with blue skies and an average temperature of 28 degrees. It felt hotter. We’d left the shelter of the trails and were now running in the open, alongside the River Tees. The landscape had changed; it was now more chemical and industrial as we approached Middlesbrough and Redcar.
At mile 82, we reached the Riverside Stadium, home to Middlesbrough Football Club. There was 10 miles to go. As a football fan I thought this would be a welcome boost to the system but in all honesty, it was Sunday, there was no-one about and was a real anti-climax. We plodded on straight past. I say plodded as by this stage I was controlling the pace and I had very little left in the tank. I was finding each step to be a struggle and as much as Ian encouraged me I was finding it hard going. I’d lived by the motto “if it hurts to run, walk. If it hurts to walk then you may as well run” for the past couple of days but I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other.
|The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough|
The last ten miles or so we found ourselves running on a single file track, with a train track on our left and overgrown hedgerow to our right. I felt claustrophobic and penned in. I had adopted a walk/run strategy but the miles were ticking off very slowly! It was hard work but I knew the finish line was within my grasp. We stopped for the occasional blackberry, raspberry or apples which we foraged on route but mainly kept on moving forward.
It had been an on-going joke all weekend between Ian and I about the route profile being downhill. Every time we approached a hill I’d shout “another hill” and Ian’s response would be “it’s all downhill from here”. Checking my Strava elevation at the end of each day I’d note the amount of inclines, much to Ian’s amusement. By the final day, I was convinced we had been running mostly uphill which Strava confirmed as being true!
|“It’s all downhill….” he said|
At mile 91 we reached Redcar and before we reached the North Sea we had to pass through Cleveland Golf Club. The Teesdale Way weaved its way through the centre of the course. We were crossing what we thought was an empty fairway when we heard a shout of “fore” coming from some golfers followed by the thud of a golf ball landing a little too close for comfort. The irony of running 91 out of 92 miles then getting knocked out by a wayward golf ball.Mile 92. We made it! We crossed some sand dunes then straight onto the beach at Redcar. The sense of achievement was amazing. For a second the pain disappeared and I became a little overwhelmed at what we had achieved. True to form, we both ran straight into the sea, trainers still on for a few selfies, much to the amusement of a few locals!2 blokes. 3 days. 92 miles. 5,240 ft of ascent. 1.5 miles of vertical ascent. 3 counties. What a brilliant adventure…
|I’ve never been so happy to see the sea!|
|Love this guy!|
My next challenge is the Lakes in a Day in October. With our 14,000 ft of elevation and 50 miles of fell to conquer, it’s a different kind of challenge but one I’m feeling slightly more confident about now.Finally, if someone ever tells you “it’s all downhill from here…”, don’t believe them!