What else would one want to be doing on a Friday evening than huffing and puffing up hills, galloping along flagstones and inching along narrow verges? Can’t think of anything? Then Salt Cellar is the race for you.
Organised by Steel City Striders, Salt Cellar is an annual fell race starting at Fairholmes in the Derwent Valley, taking in 7 miles of off-road adventure. For the bargain price of £6 you get climbs, stunning views, plenty of marshals showing the way and some cake and cordial at the end. Oh, and also a dip in a bog and some face planting if you’re lucky!
Salt Cellar got added to my race list as part of my ill-planned, rushed attempt to get fit ahead of a 20ish mile trail race I’m doing in September. I figured the more fell races I could do the better, so I’ve been packing them in over the last month (a sensible approach to training I’m sure any coach would (not) agree!). I’ve also been roping others into this master plan so had successfully invited Neal and Claire to join me this evening.
I’d heard rumours that the route was pretty hardcore which were added to by Neal and his research, so I was pretty nervous at the start line, but reminded myself I was just here for a fun time. We set off from the dam wall and after a few metres had to queue to get up the steps. From here we joined the main track around the reservoirs before taking a right and starting the climb up to Derwent edge. This was fairly slow and steady with most people walking (well, maybe the people at the front weren’t but I was nowhere near them!). When the climb settled out I started overtaking people simply because I find it really hard to run in single file with someone right in front of me – I need to be able to see where I’m putting my feet–so I put in a spurt to find myself from free space. I caught up with Claire at this point (who is really strong on hills, don’t let her tell you otherwise) and we had fun darting along the flagstones while keeping an eye on the track to not get lost (another speciality of Claire’s!). We reached the Salt Cellar in what felt like no time, tapping it as we went as part of the official checkpoint.
After this it was a narrow downhill along a stone wall and this is where the fun really started. I heard a man in front of me state ‘this must be the bog they were talking about’ before leaping over it. I followed suit without factoring in that he was a good bit taller than me with much longer legs, so while he made it over in one piece, I promptly sank into the bog. And when I say sank, I mean sank: I was nearly up to my waist in it. Claire witnessed this from behind and had taken a sensibly wider path (while most likely laughing to herself at this ridiculous scene) while I was struggling to pull my legs out. Thankfully someone came to my rescue, but when pulling me out helped me land hands-first back into the mud as my shoes were firmly stuck. After a moment of thinking I was going to lose my shoes to the bog, I eventually got pulled out and carried on my way with a nice layer of brown gunk to cover my legs.
The mud soon dried off as we continued downhill through the ferns. At one point these were head height which was quite a surreal experience, a bit like being in one of those hedge mazes but a slightly more ‘rustic’ (read: dangerous). The downhill adventure continued along an incredibly narrow slanted verge which tested the ankles as required an interesting lean-to-the-right-to-avoid-the-sheer-drop technique. All that hopping Laura has us do for stability certainly came in useful, but I clearly have a little more to learn as I tripped on some heather roots and face planted myself, giving myself a nice bum and elbow scrape and providing more entertainment to the runners behind me, but at least managing to not roll down the verge. After what felt like an endless downhill we were soon climbing back up again, this time to the beautiful scene of the sun starting to set over the valley. One more nasty sting of even more uphill and then we were freewheeling it down a gravel path before taking in a steep grassy downhill which probably would have best descended on one’s bottom!
We popped back on the road then with a last short stretch, picking up the pace as you can hear the finish line through the wood. I overtook the guy who had helped me out of the bog at this point, which I felt a little bad about, but I was just so delighted to be at the end in relatively one piece! The look on Claire’s and Neal’s faces at the end suggested they felt the same!
All in all, a great race for those who are off-road inclined, I’ll definitely be back next year, but this time will be prepared for the bog!