Chapelfell Top Fell Race

River Wear at Ireshopeburn

13 July 2021

We parked by the Mart in St John’s Chapel. My husband, the race photographer, headed off up the lane behind the Golden Lion. The evening sun was still warm as I walked west along the road out of the village passing a driveway and a sign for a Bed and Breakfast with a fierce looking alpaca on it. In Ireshopeburn there was a plaque in a shady garden commemorating John Wesley, who often visited this area. Perhaps he had preached under these very trees on a balmy July evening like this surrounded by the local lead miners after their long hot day of work. The fire of his words must have both revived and inspired those weary souls as the local High House Chapel had a congregation of over 250 members by 1772.

I crossed the River Wear on the side road here looking down at the pattern of the clear shallow water running over rocks and stones with sunlight bouncing off its surface. The trees were in their summer glory, green goddesses of the riverbank. I turned down the steps to the riverside path, much drier than when I had last walked here before the long winter lockdown. As I walked along the Weardale Way there were splurges of wild flowers: vetch, cow parsley, red campion, purple cranesbill. Birds called but they were playing hide and seek with me along the tree lined path and I couldn’t see them.

Wild flowers

By the time I reached a road I had gained a little height. Across the valley through my binoculars I could see the fell runners on a steep enclosed path heading towards a white farmhouse, the marshalls waiting at the fell gate and the photographer beyond them at a wall corner. The runners’ vests were a moving paintbox of bright colours. Those at the front of the field were going strong, those at the back were moving more slowly bent forward with their hands on their knees to assist their climb. Once out on the open fell it was every runner for themselves, choosing their own path over the uneven grassy slope to the summit before descending to the finish.

Walking on I had a choice of footbridge or stepping stones at a ford. I took the bridge just as a farmer on his tractor splashed through the ford giving me a wave as he passed. I turned left and headed to Daddry Shield the path running between the river and fields of pungent, moaning sheep. A juvenile grey wagtail posed on a rock in the river, its feathers fluffed up after a quick dip.

Cross the Wear by stepping stones or bridge

I returned to St John’s Chapel via the road. At the finish small groups of runners stood talking, some with pints of beer from the Golden Lion, others with hot drinks from Chatterbox Cafe.

The photographer returned with the marshalls and sweepers. We bought spicy soup, sweet cakes and cups of tea from Chatterbox. Then we sat on a bench by the church eating and drinking our feast as the crescent moon rose in the sky and the whirling and calling swifts became darting shadows against the sunset.

Chatterbox Cafe

Walk length: Just over 3 miles

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