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The Tour de Ponderosa – A Bonanza of Ponds – Saturday 17/12/22

Alongside my friend and training partner ( Ian Fraser ) we took part in the Pennine Fell Runners Xmas Handicap event, for whom we compete on the fells as second claim members.

Over the course of the year we are regularly beasted over and around the Kinder plateau by the largely Hayfield based contingent in a series of orienteering events where they take every opportunity to demonstrate local knowledge and superior route choice.

However the Xmas event as part of a winter series is staged from the Bulls Head in Tintwistle, allowing us an opportunity to balance the books as it’s regarded as closer to our own patch.

This year visiting the inhospitable wilderness of Featherbed Moss, a handicap based on three small ponds ( collectively known as the Cartwrights ), only one of which is really close to a path, another is close to a fence and the third is rather in the middle of nowhere.

Start & Finish Bulls Head/Tintwistle Grid Ref 023973, visit three check points in any order, stake and punch at each one, punch your map at each.

Pond 1 Windgate Edge, ref 032007, small pond 100m north / north east of gate in fence.

Pond 2 Laddow, ref 056019, small pond 50m east of fence.

Pond 3 Robinson’s Spring, ref 044996, small pond between two larger ponds.

Optimum-ish route about 10 miles with 1380 feet of ascent, wild swimming discouraged, but those who can’t help themselves not penalised, unless they post on social media in which case they are disqualified.

Again looking to ensure we did not disgrace ourselves we conducted a number of recce’s, some did not end well, given the frozen conditions rendering the moss something akin to the arctic tundra, along with the swirling mist and fog which swept in on a number of occasions, in the couple of weeks preceding the event.

It took three separate attempts to locate the trig point situated on the moss itself, and Hollins Clough to the rear of Lad’s Leap proved another unique challenge of it’s own.

Ian wanted conditions on the day to be as challenging as possible and he certainly got his wish, overnight snow eliminating all signs of possible tracks, and visibility beyond the shooting cabin on Arnfield Moor none existent, with patches of ice on the run out to the moor lurking for the unwary-what could be better?

A number of stalwart runners gathered, comprising those already certified and having escaped Ward 22, the remainder the usual masochistic fell running obsessive.

Some elected for a clockwise route, others headed off anti clock wise.

I set off clock wise, Pond 1 was relatively straight forward provided you knew where you were headed as you were already enveloped in swirling mist and drifting snow.

After which it was decision time, cross Featherbed via the trig point or straight north looking for Chew Reservoir and the track which skirts same.

I bottled out on crossing the moor via the trig, as I didn’t have the confidence to read the ground in the conditions, hit the track okay and headed for the back of Laddow and pond 2.

Located easily enough, but in the snow I circled the pond desperately trying to locate the punch, a runner appeared from the gloom went straight to it, punched his map and disappeared again as quickly as he had appeared, almost as if I had seen an apparition.

Map punched I turned around and headed for the trig this time on route to Pond 3, confident I could read the moor from that direction and locate same. Trig found, now on to the head of Hollins Clough to descend to Lads Leap, conditions now fully on snow stinging the eyes, I managed to faceplant twice down the clough.

Appearing at Lads Leap in really dark and foreboding light, dropping down to swing round the contour line to Robinsons Spring, a repeat of pond 2 a struggle to locate the punch in the conditions.

Just as I located same, a runner caught me from behind so had the luxury of picking up on the punch immediately. Descending now together toward the stile below, leading to the quarry and forest headed back to Tintwistle, I managed one further faceplant tripping over snowy heather which allowed him to nip over the stile ahead of me. Chased hard down through the forest, managed to get back ahead toward the bottom of the descent and hung on for home just getting the better of him to arrive back first.

Followed almost immediately by Ian hurtling home in third place with the fastest round of the day in a fabulous 1hr 39mins given the conditions.

The reputation of the green and gold our first claim allegiance preserved for another year.

All bar one runner returned wet through but triumphant at having successfully found all three ponds in what must rate as the toughest Xmas Handicap I have competed in!

A good route worth exploring but save it for a fair weather day.

Saul (left) and Ian (right) pictured in a previous event together (please click on image to enlarge- apologies for the editing issues!)