Old County Tops Race May 19th 2018

About the race

The 30th running of this classic pairs fell race starting and finishing in the Langdale valley at the fabulously named Dungeon Ghyll. Some would describe the Old County Tops race as a nightmare. 37 miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing and running with a partner for the whole race. The general idea of the race is to take in the highest peaks in the old counties of Cumberland (Helvellyn), Westmoorland (Scafell Pike) and Lancashire (Coniston Old Man) before returning to Dungeon Ghyll.

The race was a sell out with 160 pairs taking part. As I arrived at 7am the car park was filling up fast. A queue for the mandatory kit check and number collection was twenty metres long. I enjoyed a half hour relaxing in the sunny morning knowing my partner Dawn Metcalfe has a deserved reputation of turning up at the last minute. When Dawn arrived the queue had disappeared. We were able to quickly go through the traditional ritual of tipping a bag full of kit onto a table and showing the marshall hat, gloves, compass, emergency food, whistle, map and waterproof body cover.

Only 37 miles to go

At the start we had the usual mix of advice and warning from the race organiser. This was especially in relation to staying hydrated and using the mountain becks for water. The race got underway and we shuffled away along a short road section. Immediately after leaving the road we began to climb and descend. Four miles later we arrived at the A591 and began the serious climbing. Firstly up Helvellyn via Dollywaggon Pike and Nethermost Pike. By now the sun was already hot and a few competitors were feeling the heat. After a steady hour climbing we reached the summit and began the descent toward the checkpoint near Thirlmere. Water and snacks for breakfast were available.
helvelly descent Helvellyn Descent to Thirlmere

Two mountains left to navigate

Between Dunmail and Angle Tarn

Soon after the checkpoint we crossed the road again. The Dreaming of the fells support crew were there to meet us offering supplies, support and encouragement. We began the long trek from Dunmail to Scafell Pike via Angle Tarn. For us this was a three hour long undulating run across open moorland. Offering only a few paths to follow and little shade. We were rewarded with fabulous views, scenery and even patches of snow high on the mountains. The climb to Scafell Pike was complicated by the number of walkers, attracted by the warm weather, who were scurrying up and down the mountain like a swarm of ants. There were no tourists on the extremely steep downhill to a nice shallow stream in which we could cool our feet.

Cockley Beck was our next stop. The prospect of more support keeping me going as we traversed heather and bashed through bogs continuing on our way. At the checkpoint was another food station and much needed water.
Jacob and Kent 19 May 2018 Lake District
Dreaming of the fells support crew

Only a half marathon left

By now every injury I have ever had was starting to flare up and I was sure at least half of my toe nails were falling off but there was still one big climb to go. Coniston Old Man was unchartered territory for me as I had never climbed it before. Instead of steep and rocky it was long and grassy with some runnable tracks in places. I was focused throughout this leg on the decreasing distance to the finish. Only a half marathon was left at Cockley Beck. Dawn was pushing me forward and we began to overtake other pairs on both the uphill and downhill sections. It was a relief reaching Coniston Old Man as the major climbs were over.

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Coniston summit

After the descent back to road level we were 4 miles away from the end of the race. Dawn strongly suggested we should be able to run the 4 miles in less than 27 minutes so we set off at our quickest pace of the day. Despite our good intentions we finished in 10h05m03s. At the finish we found out fell running royalty Rob Jebb and Ricky Lightfoot had beaten the Old County Tops race course record which had stood since 1989.

Coniston descent

Race overview

Overall a magic day out on the fells despite the difficulty of the terrain and the length of the course. Will we be back next year and attempt to get under the ten hours? Watch this space.



We did indeed return in 2019 and took almost an hour off our time, finishing in 9.08.00 winning the mixed veteran 80 team prize. The Old County Tops race has been cancelled in 2020 & 2021. I wouldn’t rule out an attempt at the mixed veteran 90 title in 2022.

Read more posts on our Dreaming of the fells blog page.

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