The Challenge is on!

On this the 30th anniversary of the Allendale Challenge, staging and preparative work will have begun at Allendale Village Hall on Friday afternoon, and registration for the fell runners/walkers/participants will be taking place from 7:00 early morning today. I’d bet that the snow we received on Wednesday will have largely dissipated by Saturday morning though. Looking out of the window late Friday afternoon confirms my prediction too — might be some deep drifts still not melted fully in the highest boggy bits yet.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Atkinson writes with a lovely anecdote: “Sandra Leighton and Christine Fraser were the ones to entertain the walkers at the Hotspur after the Challenge when it all began 30 years ago, and I think did the pies and peas even then!” This year at least 800 pie and peas suppers will have to be on hand at the Golden Lion for the starving participants!

Along the way, one constant in particular has been part of the Challenge from the outset, and that is organiser Ian Holland. I had many fine times with Ian helping in facilitating with fresh water supplies and hall access, so that the team could get ready on the Friday afternoon. When I could, I was delighted to be able to offer fresh real ale left over from recent parties, to the workers. But everyone looks forward to dedicated hard work throughout the Saturday Challenge, so not much was ever consumed! Not until the Saturday evening, when the Challenge was finished, all participants accounted for, and the organisers could begin to relax a little once more. Then, it was party time, with full karaoke gear courtesy of Baynes Travel, and capacity crowds in the local pubs. This year is pretty special, too, since Ian is retiring, and no doubt there will be some ceremonial best wishes attending to this as well, though the karaoke is off this year, for a variety of reasons.

The Allendale Challenge was invented as a fund-raising venture for what became the North of Tyne Mountain Rescue (NOTMR) service, and has since grown into an institution in its own right, something that Allendale is very proud to support and encourage. Sometimes the proceeds from the May Fair would go to NOTMR. This volunteer service mobilises at a moment’s notice to search and rescue individuals or groups who have become stranded, or lost on the upper fellsides of the region (even though, actually, of course, we’re physically south of the Tyne — maybe the tributaries of the Tyne, the Rivers East and West Allen, help us squeeze into the NOTMR catchment area).

Anyway, although Saturday has dawned full of fog and mist (we can’t see the end of our field, let along Sparty, from our cottage kitchen!), it looks like the Challenge is on! I love reading the facts and figures on the Challenge facebook page: 100 Marshalls, 850 Competitors, 26 miles . . . and the altitudes, climbs . . . wow, hard work through the beautiful Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, kicking off with the first climb up to the Allendale Chimneys.

There are a few tales of incidents in the Challenge: one a few years ago had it that a pair of competitors decided to call it a day and recessed back into one of the local pubs, only they neglected to tell the event marshalls! So the whole volunteer force was mobilised for anxious hours, until the deserters were found rather the worse for wear, and more sheepish than the woolly jumpers on the fellside. The warnings to check in (or out!) religiously were a lot sterner in subsequent years.

The Challenge is probably life-changing for many participants, and as the sun gradually burns through the mist and the ‘drumlie hills’ are revealed again above the valley where the Eastern Allen runs, simply taking part in the event, finishing in whatever time it takes, can be a transcendent experience.

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