Races come and races go, but the routes are still out there, waiting to be rediscovered. One such race was the Great Shunner Shuffle, a 30 mile route linking Wensleydale and Swaledale, organised by the Fell Rescue from 1986 to 2000. Although I first heard about this old race a few years ago, I only recently got round to researching it. With the help of Jill King from the Cleveland LDWA I tracked down the checkpoints and some additional route information.
Stu Clarkson and Jan Ilsley were booked as running companions for the day, with a steady run promised as none of us had done much preparation for this distance. Good weather was also booked and shortly after 9.00 on a Saturday in June we left Askrigg. The Great Shunner Shuffle was on!
The route started easily, heading out on a minor road then a footpath through the woods to arrive at Skellgill. After dropping down a track, the route then followed field paths and tracks towards Hardraw. A friendly farmer at West Shaw Cote Farm warned us that the footpath from the lane back into the fields was easy to miss, which was very helpful as it was tucked away in the side wall. We stopped for a shady snack in the lych-gate of Hardraw church, then headed up past the Old School House onto Great Shunner Fell. The race originally started at the (then) Hulme School House but had to move to Askrigg School due to a shortage of parking.
It was cool and clear on the summit of Great Shunner Fell, but the heat was increasing as we dropped into Thwaite, so a cooling ice cream and tea stop in the Kearton Tea Rooms was the order of the day as it was conveniently situated at about half way.
The route then headed up Kisdon on the Pennine Way, for a superb high level traverse above the Swale. Stu and Jan decided that they would take a pleasant short cut back down the valley to Ivelet Bridge, whilst I followed the race route. This took me across the Swale near Keld, onto the C2C route past Crackpot Hall, up Swinner Gill and down ‘the yellow brick road’ to Dyke heads and along the road to meet them at the bridge. I found Stu and Jan standing up to their thighs in the cooling water, so I jumped in to join them.
After another snack we headed up a footpath to skirt Low Oxnop farm, around the side of Kearton Wood, to join the road which eventually reaches Askrigg. There is a short section of undulating road, over a cattle grid, before the route heads off up a short but very eroded track onto the open moor. Stu and Jan decided that fell bashing was not on the agenda at this stage in the day and stuck to the road whilst I set off up the hillside.
This is the only section of the Great Shunner Shuffle that doesn’t follow a public footpath, although it is on Open Access Land. The old track follows a small stream and ends at its source (by a Yorkshire Water manhole cover). Then a simple bearing of 220 degrees over steep moor, bog and heather brings you out at the impressive beacon with great views. A narrow trod leads off along the ridge to a gate through the fence and then it’s a very pleasant run along a reasonable path to eventually pick up a land rover track. This was superb as it had a lovely close cropped strip of grass down the middle, making for very comfortable running. The last section however, was the total opposite as it was over a mile of very steep descent down the road into Askrigg. Although it would make for a speedy finish to the race, it was a bit too much for me after 30 miles of hard, mainly dry ground. I found Stu and Jan getting changed at the cars and we re-hydrated with pints of lemonade sitting in the shade outside the Crown Inn.
A great route, full of variety and with good company it made our re-run of the Great Shunner Shuffle a grand day out.
Here are the grid references for the ‘checkpoints’. If anyone wants further info please ask.
922915 Skell Gill
866912 Old School House, Hardraw (Pennine Way)
849973 Great Shunner Fell (Pennine way)
903985 Kisdon (house) (Pennine Way
898011 Kisdon Force (actually a spot along the far side of the Swale where you can see Kisdon Force from, rather than the falls itself) (On C2C)
935006 Botcher Gill Gate
933978 Ivelet Bridge
924950 Oxnop Beacon