Completing number 19 off my list – Keswick to Barrow walk

The Keswick to Barrow (K2B) Walk is a 40 mile sponsored walking and running event in the Lake District. This is probably the toughest thing I have ever done! FACT!! When last years walk was on a friend called Cathy was doing it and I said I’ve always wanted to have a go at that so I foolishly said next year I’ll do it with you. So it made its way onto the list. Dave decided he was going to do it with us despite his dodgy knees. Don’t tell his consultant what he’s been up to!

I was interested to find out how this walk came about. The idea of walking from Keswick to Barrow originated in 1966 as a result of a statement made by the late U.S. President, John F Kennedy, that “every American should be capable of walking 50 miles a day”. In 1966 the first Royal Naval Polaris Submarine, HMS Resolution, was under construction at the Barrow Shipyard where several American experts were involved with the project. The idea of the walk was conceived and plans were soon under way to organise it and build relationships between the submarine crew and the Shipyard workers. The initiative was taken by the Installation Manager (Submarines) to formally challenge the Commanding Officer of HMS Resolution to form a team and walk from Keswick to Barrow, approximately 50 miles, on 1st April 1967.

The Commercial Department of Vickers heard of this challenge and joined in the walk making it a three-way contest with the crew of HMS Resolution and the yard team. The HMS Resolution crew finally won the team contest in the face of severe competition but a Shipyard worker claimed the honour of being the first person back to Barrow.

Although not originally planned as an annual event, the walk gained popularity with the Furness people and soon became an important part of the calendar. This first walk was intended to increase the social relations between the Royal Naval crews and the workers in the shipyard. As the walk is still going strong today thanks to the organisational skills of the companies originally involved, it must have been a success!

Within the space of just 7 years, the walk had grown from 63 participants to 1,500 expected walkers (1974), and people from across the country were taking part. Nowadays, it is common for about 2500 walkers start the walk.

The K2B route starts at Rough How Bridge, three miles south of Keswick, proceeds down the peaceful banks of Thirlmere at the foot of Helvellyn, winds up and over Dunmail Raise, and continues down through the villages of Grasmere and Elterwater.

From there the route passes Yew Tree Tarn before reaching the head of Coniston Water, where the quiet east bank of the lake is followed. There are fine views of Coniston Old Man as the route passes Brantwood, the former home of John Ruskin, then continues through the tranquil village of Nibthwaite before arriving in Lowick.

The most challenging section is the progressive ascent up Kirkby Moor to the highest point of the route. Then it descends through the village of Marton and on via Dalton-in-Furness to the finish at Hawcoat Park Sports Club on the outskirts of Barrow-in-Furness. There are eight official timing checkpoints on this 40 mile walk.

Cathy had asked if I wanted to join Team Alice as part of a 150 strong team. Of course I said! Now for those who don’t know about Team Alice this is what it’s all about. There’s a local Ulverston girl called Alice Pyne and 5 years ago was diagnosed with cancer, after lots of treatment it was sadly diagnosed that the cancer was terminal. I was not luckily enough to meet this very courageous young girl but she achieved so much in her short life. She started a blog about her bucket list and set about completing them in the time she had left. One of her lasting legacies is the Alice escapes caravan, this is for families in the same situation as Alice’s to escape the treadmill of cancer treatment and have some normal family time. The holidays are free and rely on the generosity of local businesses to provide complimentary activities and food to make the stay as enjoyable and cheap as possible. So the fundraising that Alice Escapes do, go towards making Alice’s dream a reality. One of Alice’s dying wishes to Cathy was for the ladies team to win the cup for fastest ladies back in the K2B walk, no pressure!

Alice’s uncle Gary (a fellow Pennington) was team co-ordinator and felt incredibly honoured to be on the team. Gary did the most amazing walk, the day before K2B he walked from Barrow to Keswick and then the following day walked back to Barrow!! Truly an amazing man! We met some of the Team Alice folk on a training walk round Coniston water, that day was very much like the day we had on Saturday, wind, rain and cold!

With doing the marathon only 3 weeks previously my body was still feeling tired but was determined to give the walk my best shot. I think the worse bit is the early start, Cathy had suggested that we stay we them and park our car at the finish in Barrow. So the alarm goes off at 2.45AM, felt a little emotional pulling on my Team Alice shirt. We all forced some porridge down as would be a while till we next ate. Then it was off to get the bus and meet the rest of the team. One of the ladies team had slept in!! If we all didn’t start the walk, then any hope of winning the cup would be dashed. After a power nap I woke to find we were nearly in Keswick at the start. That’s when the desire for a pee was overwhelming. Portaloos were all busy so with Cathy as my modesty I went by a tree! Very ladylike, again must master using my she wee! So we fought our way to the start, the main queue was massive and we were down as registered runners but if we went through that checkpoint we would have to have the start time of 5.30 and it was nearly 5.40. Both looked at each other and said we’ll take the hit. Off we went, the first part was very muddy and with my knee not being 100% didn’t want to slip so took it very gingerly.

Then we were off down the shores of Thirlmere, the rain started. Usually there would be views towards Hellvellyn but not today. Soon we were in our stride chatting away and soon the first milestone of 5 miles done. Then onto Dunmail rise and could see Grasmere in the distance and our first checkpoint. Also more importantly our Alice Escapes support team were there with the welcome sight of mars bars and lucazade. Being part of Team Alice we had the most fantastic support all round the course. Refuelled it was off over Red Bank to Elterwater, I regularly use this road when I’m at work and I must say it’s far easier driving over! It was not that bad and soon we were in Elterwater at the next check point. Then onto Coniston, there was a bacon sandwich and hot coffee with my name on it in the support tent. The weather was getting wetter and changed from my running waterproof to my proper waterproof. Whilst we were on our way to Coniston we saw 2 ladies from “team jake” Cathy whispered they’re our rivals and we secretly gloated that we overheard that the rest of their team was quite a way back!
The rain continued as we passed Yew Tree tarn and was relieved when the path veered to the left. But the path was rock, slate and loose stone and could feel everything through my trainers. It was a very steep descent to Monk Coniston, we thought about running but the road had a torrent of water running down it so decided against it. Soon the checkpoint and our support were in sight. The bacon butty never tasted so good, Cathy looked at her watch and we were ahead of time. Restocked with lucazade, mars bars and the famous nutty flip we were off.
The next part of the walk was familiar as had done it 2 weeks ago on a training walk. Undulating road taking you past Brantwood on the way to Lowick our next checkpoint. Along this road was the halfway point, 20 miles covered. Was starting to feel tired but was elated to have reached that point. Both of our calves had started to cramp so we had a quick pit stop at the St Johns for a massage and freeze spray. Off we set, the side winds off the lake were enough to blow you off your feet. Hood up, head down and just powered on. What really surprised me was how ill prepared people were in the conditions. Some had jogging pants on, no waterproofs with ill fitting trainers. The amount of children too that didn’t have to right kit on. How parents think it’s right to do that is beyond me!
As we were approaching Lowick I said to Cathy my heels were starting to hurt and suspected I had blisters, our support tent was there so could get them attended to there. As I gingerly took off my shoe and sodden sock the look on the ladies face said it all. I didn’t want to see what a state they were in, compeed plasters on, dry socks, pain killers and off we went.
The next part over Kirkby Moor was awful, it just goes on and on. My blisters were so painful but kept thinking of why I was doing this. When we were near the top saw Steph (team Alice cyclist and twitter friend) which was a welcome sight. I never thought I would be so glad to see the sight of Barrow in the distance. The views from the moor were spectacular and could see for miles and the sun had come out! 30 mile marker, inside did a jump for joy, not long to go. Tried having a little jog but the pain was excruciating. Marton 2 miles and our next checkpoint. At the checkpoint was Cathy’s friend Mike, he gave us a big reassuring hug, much needed. We checked in with the support crew to see if all the team had gone through. Yes we were the last 2, it was here I had a bit of a moment. I was in agony and just panicked saying to Cathy I don’t want to let the team down, with a smile, Cathy reassured me that we were doing great, on time and would be ok. So fighting back the tears just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. The words on our team shirt ” grit, courage and determination” going through my head like a mantra.
When it was really bad I just thought about the gruelling treatment that Alice went through, anything that I was feeling would be fixed within days. I just plodded along Cathy checking that I was ok and glancing with a reassuring smile. Dalton our penultimate checkpoint, not far now. My heels felt like they were on fire, the Abbey Road sign YES! Cathy looked at her watch, 2.40pm not as bad as we thought. The last mile seemed to go on forever, walking the last 15 miles with blisters really starting to tell on me. Then there it was the finish, Cathy and I arm in arm mustering the last bit of energy to run across the finish line 9:47 though unofficially 9:40. Such a momentous achievement that we both burst into tears. Medals collected it was off to get our pie and a pint. The meat and potato pie never tasted so good but couldn’t face my pint!
Quick call to Dave to see how he was doing as last time we spoke was at 5.30 am, he was doing well, knees held up and was at the Dalton checkpoint.
Then the patient wait to see if we had done enough to win the cup? Dave crossed the line in 10:43 and nearly passed out, we had just got him sorted and said our goodbyes. Then Cathy came bounding up to us and said we’ve done it we’ve won the cup. Not only had we won it but got a new course record and our nearest rivals were over 2 hours behind us. It was very emotional when Cathy, Sandy and I went up to collect the cup on behalf of the team. Any pain temporarily forgotten as was all worth it. Even more so seeing the teary look in Vicky’s (Alice’s mum) that we had done it for Alice and fulfilled her dream.
I’m currently on antibiotics as a bacteria infection got in through my blister. My leg swelled up to twice the size and was so painful, it’s starting to go down now. I loving the pain relief of Tramadol! We had a team photo with the cup, it was such a proud moment holding the cup and being with our winning team. It has been decided we are all going to get a months custody of the cup!
I would like to say a huge thank you to my walking buddy Cathy, for inspiring me to do the walk, keeping me going when the going got tough and for not putting her iPod on! To uncle Gary for having faith in me and putting me on the team.
Challenge is on for next year to retain our cup and get another course record!
If anyone can help with any donations towards Alice escapes holidays please contact Cathy on 07512722641. It can be anything from discount/complimentary food, beauty treatments, fun activities, entry into attractions, or if you want to donate money please visit http://www.alice-escapes.co.uk
Thank you x
🙂

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One thought on “Completing number 19 off my list – Keswick to Barrow walk

  1. Have had this ‘saved’ to read and finally got around to it. A big fat well done Gina, it was a dreadful days weather, you did amazing and what an achievement winning that trophy x

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