Race Report by Simon Roberts
Sticklepath Horseshoe Fell Race, Dartmoor, Devon
You might expect the landscape that inspired the Hound of the Baskervilles to play host to some decent fell races. You would be right, and the Sticklepath Horseshoe is perhaps the best and longest established of all the Dartmoor events.
By sheer coincidence, it happened to be starting just as we drove back from Western Cornwall at the end of our family holiday. I know, you’d almost think I planned it that way….
The route is a classic horseshoe, just shy of 10 miles, over four distinct summits. It doesn’t have much climbing in comparison to a typical Welsh or Lake District mountain race, but this Devon terrain is surprisingly awkward: a mixture of bog and boulders in places.
I’d accidentally reccied some of it already, as we’d stayed for a weekend on the edge of Dartmoor on our way down to Cornwall a fortnight before – I’d already run sections of it, and enjoyed a bit of rock climbing on the famous granite tors.
The local runners and organisers were a very welcoming bunch, and the event had the uncommercial, not-for-profit, friendly vibe that is so cherished by all true fell runners. The field was small, but drawn from a good range of South-West English clubs. Rest assured, I was the only one in a Buckley vest.
After a loop around fields near the picture-postcard thatched village of Sticklepath, we headed up steep tracks to the equally scenic Devon village of Belstone and the first checkpoint. A group of five of us broke away from the rest of the field after half a mile. At Belstone, this little group also began to fragment. Two lead runners, much quicker than me, flew up the first real summit (Belstone Tor) with me hanging on to the back of two slightly slower local runners. I stayed with a guy from the local Oakhampton club until the top of Belstone Tor, desperately trying to stick with him as he knew all the best lines. But at the summit he pelted away and I couldn’t match his pace so reverted to my usual ponderous plod, with nobody visible behind.
Only then did I notice that the four runners in front of me had all dispensed with map and kit: I suddenly felt handicapped by my old bumbag, full waterproofs, map and compass.
A superbly runnable ridge followed, all the way to the top of the remote Steeperton Tor. As its name seems to suggest, a sharp descent into a gorge follows, before a hands-and-knees climb to the top of the next peak. I momentarily thought I might catch the two lads in front at this point, but soon conceded defeat as I slowed for the long final climb over the highpoint of Cosdon Beacon.
The final descent was confusing for a non-local, and I made two minor errors, but they didn’t cost me too much time and I finished in fifth place in 1:25. I finished in a similar position in the big-field Tywardraeth Trotter race during our last Cornish holiday two years ago, which leads me to conclude that running in Devon and Cornwall is a bit less competitive than at home in North Wales and the Borders!
No chance of staying for prize giving or enjoying the homemade flapjacks though. My impatient offspring then insisted I get straight in the car and drive five hours home to Flintshire in my running shorts, Devonian mud still plastered to my legs.