Nigel ran his Round in 1999, on the eve of the millennium. He covered 28 tors, 122km/ 76miles and 4000m/ 13000ft of vertical gain in 18hrs during the winter darkness.
The Round gained interest during Lockdown when people looked closer to home for their challenges. I read about Patrick Devine- Wright and Tim Lenton doing it on the Summer Solstice and thought that is the challenge for me.
The map came out and the recce runs planned. Training had already incorporated long days on Dartmoor as my Lockdown focus was to really get to know the Moor. I arranged to run sections with friends and even got to run a Round section supporting Patrick as he had another go at it. I studied the map obsessively and soon it featured in my dreams!
Driving to the start it was really foggy, the sheep and cattle had all congregated on the road and so it was slalom driving in the dead of night- quite stressful as I was nervous.
I set a date, 15th August, and then got on arranging to be fully supported. Jon, my husband, was my crew at various road junctions and I had company on each leg. I was praying for good weather and visibility!
The Meavy village church bell chimed 0400, my watch was started and we were off. The first section was with Siân where we started from The Royal Oak (tree and pub) and headed up to and around one end of Burrator reservoir and on up to Sheeps Tor (#1). In the dark, drizzle and fog, I was worried about navigating off the Tor using a worn path to hit the track rather than fighting through the head-height bracken but my recce’s paid off and we descended the Tor and on towards the other end of the reservoir.
Climbing up to Sharpitor (#2) was ok but actually finding the peak was harder as the mist and rain obliterated any line of sight. Eventually we stumbled upon the rocks and then turned east to get towards Inga Tor. It was here Paul Waldron had the ingenious thought of parking on the road with his head lights turned on so we had something to aim for in the distant darkness before he ran the next km with us. Inga Tor (#3) was climbed and descended before heading towards Sampford Spiney village and up to Pew Tor (#4).
It was getting lighter as we approached Cox Tor car park which was my first check point with Jon.
I even had cheering support from Jane and Derek Jackson, from here and every checkpoint to the end, which was really appreciated. A smooth transition as rubbish was deposited, more energy taken on board, and my next support runner, Richard Best, collected. James Armstrong was out taking photos; impressively hill sprinting up Cox Tor to get ahead.
Cox Tor (#5) Trig point touched and then down and around to Standon Hill. Straight forward? Nope! In that one section I nearly overshot my crossing point to climb Standon and I lost both Sian and Richard behind me in the mist. I did shout and I did consider waiting but I knew they both had phones and knew the way as well as me as we’d all run that bit before (they were fine). I descended Standon (#6) by listening to where the River Tavy was- loud and in full spate. I missed my intended shallow crossing point and nice path to lead me across the leat up Ger Tor. The consequence meant navigating through the river at waist height, embracing the prickly gorse, crossing the leat, diving through the bracken field and then rock hopping up Ger Tor (#7). I was worried about the next bit because in the recce I had relied on line of sight. Error! I approached a Tor and randomly shouted is anyone there? A miracle!
It was Brat Tor (#8) but I couldn’t even see Widgery Cross a top it until I got really close.
I got a second replen of food and was meant to meet Andy Valance here but I was ahead of schedule. So determinedly I headed off into the mist to Great Links on route to Branscombe Loaf. A few minutes later I was back after realising I had run off in the wrong direction. Doh! Second attempt was in the right direction but not along the straight line route I had planned to take. I had a conversation with myself- you either get on with what you’ve got accepting this challenge wholeheartedly or you whinge and achieve nothing. I so wanted to complete it I cracked on into the fog. Eventually I was climbing Branscombe (#9) and like an apparition Andy appeared from the gloom. I was so happy!
He took me up High Willhays (highest point on Dartmoor #10) superbly considering there is no track just bog and more bog, onto Oke Tor (#11) all the way to Cosdon Beacon
There I was met by Jeremy Tandy and Clare Capper who replenned my energy levels and we all flew off Cosdon to Rippator (#13). I was feeling good despite the wet boggy terrain.
We ran up Thornworthy (#14)
and rounded Fernworthy reservoir
before heading across to Bennetts Cross which was a road crossing and more food.
Through the Bronze Age settlement, Grimspound we continued up to Hameldown Tor (#15) and Beacon (#16) and then all the way down to Wind Tor (#17). This was my lull. I had been running for 8hrs and I knew it.
The misty atmosphere was actually making me feel a bit dozy too, however, after Rowden Ball (#18) we hit some road for a bit and that bought a different focus of attention. Sharp Tor (#19) to climb before descending to Dartmeet.
I was now well up on schedule but still didn’t want to loose time so didn’t stop.
On arrival at Dartmeet I thanked Jeremy and Clare as I swopped them for Paul Crease and Siân, and meet with Jon.
We crossed the West Dart River as it flooded the stepping stones and began the climb up Ryders via Snowdon to Pupers Hill. False crest after false crest, ground that resembled a rice paddy field and rain that made me questioned if I could move fast enough to keep warm.
After Pupers (#20) it was down and around Avon Dam and then I could look forward to another support stop at Shipley Bridge. We caught Jon unaware as I was 2hrs up on schedule.
However, it was all easily accessible as my geeky admin skills had packed it with military precision. The sun had revealed itself and so a nice glass of cool coke was perfect along with lots of friendly encouragement from Jane, Derek, Clare and Jeremy. I picked up all my food, of which Paul kindly carried a lot for me before handing it over to Tim, to take me to the end which was now only 4hrs away. My mouth pretty fed up with all the sweet sugary intake and at times I felt queasy but eating regularly was key and energy levels were good.
We travelled up to Corringdon Gate through some imposing gate posts (from the former Brent Manor) and onto Corringdon Ball (#21) and it’s prehistoric stone row, chambered cairn and nearby burial/ ceremonial sites. Then on up to Butterdon Hill (#22) and Western Beacon which was my furthest point South and reached by an out and back on the Two Moors Way Track.
Arriving at Western Beacon (#23) Paul could hand me over to Patrick, Tim and Nigel Jenkins. We approached…no one….still no one….Paul graciously offered to run with me to the end….and then suddenly Tim emerged at high speed. Fantastic timing. His navigation and running skills over rough ground are absolutely superb and so although I knew the route I could essentially follow on.
Head down back up the track and suddenly Patrick appeared which made me jump. Brilliantly he has recovered well from his Rounds and it was great to run with him again. Thanking Paul as he peeled off to run back to his car we cut down through the bracken, crossed the River Erme and up the steepest of hills, hands on knees, to Hilson’s House (#24) atop the hill. The weather from the morning vastly contrasted to the sun and subsequent views we were getting now. Glorious. I could see across to Penn Beacon but had some bogs and baby’s heads (unforgiving grass tussocks) to contend with first. Through an impressive stone row, past River Yealms’ waterfall, onto Penn Moor and finally reaching Penn Beacon (#25) and there was THE Nigel Jenkins. Hugs, enthusiastic smiles shared and he’d even bought me some cola. From here on in we essentially chased him the whole way back. Now only about 10km to go and all of it was to be in a straight line (no nice tracks!) Rock climbing up Great Trowlesworthy Tor (#26) with knees already scraped from falling over so much I felt like a kid. Down again and on to Gutter Tor (#27) through bogs and rivers. My shoes just about still contained my feet alongside all the sludge and river sediment. Amazingly no blisters or sore spots even after 14+hrs of running.
I tried to pick up the pace as the track was good underfoot but I was beginning to feel heavy legged and my hip flexors were sore from the continued demand to lift my feet higher than usual to retrieve them from the boggy ground.
Homeward bound chasing the group I tried to push. Sheeps Tor (again) (#28) gave me goose bumps especially as Andy Connor, the current holder of the Rounds fastest time (16hrs 11mins) was at the top. We shook hands in true sweaty runners style. The descent wasn’t rapid but as soon as we hit the track and road back to the pub and finish line I really tried to accelerate. The group were fantastic I didn’t even have to open or close a gate!
My finish was special – claps and cheers- my mum, Jon, crew, supporters and fellow runners!
Finish Time: 14hrs 39mins 28secs. 129km. 3720m of elevation.
The pub at the end was bathed in lovely sunshine as we all had a drink and chips. The end was special as I was surrounded by most of the team who’d helped me achieve my ultimate goal of running as fast as I could around The Nigel Jenkins Dartmoor Round. THANK YOU SO MUCH as none of this would have been as possible or half as enjoyable without each and everyone of you.
Jeremy, THE Nigel Jenkins, Clare, Jon, Paul Waldron, Me, Richard Best, Tim Lenton, Siân, Derek, Jane, Patrick. Missing: Andy & Paul Crease
A massive thank you to all my sponsors for your support and the products above.