Challenge of the Trigs

Last updated: 20-Oct-20

By Oli Johnson


A triangulation station, also known as a trigonometrical point, and sometimes informally as a trig, is a fixed surveying station, used in geodetic surveying and other surveying projects in its vicinity. The nomenclature varies regionally: they are generally known as trigonometrical or triangulation stations in North America, trig points in the United Kingdom, trig pillars in Ireland, trig stations or points in Australia and New Zealand, and trig beacons in South Africa; triangulation pillar is the more formal term for the concrete columns found in the UK, however, the informal term, “trig point”, is used more often.Source: Wikipedia

I am blinking into the driving rain, my headtorch beam bouncing back into my eyes, scouring the gloom for a flash of white. I am on Kinder Plateau in the middle of the night without a compass using a mixture of hope and blind optimism to find Sandy Heys trig. At last, I catch a glimpse of a familiar angular shape. It is an unusual one; there is no summit as such, and the trig teeters atop a rough rock pedestal that elevates it a good metre above the eroded moorland. Trig no. 11. Just 19 more to go.

Photo credit: Chris Randall

As an early coping strategy during lockdown, I developed a compulsive trig habit. A trig a day taking in everything I could make it to including pillars, blocks, surface blocks, buried blocks and intersected stations (landmarks like church spires, flagpoles and so on also used as trig points – see TrigpointingUK for a comprehensive record).

That kept me going for a few weeks with forays as far out from my base in Sheffield as the Hope Valley and Eckington providing motivation to explore a few new socially-distanced trails. The nature of trig points as out-dated and nowadays apparently arbitrary landmarks appealed to me. They serve no useful purpose, just as my running in a year with no races served no useful purpose. Visiting these obsolete concrete monoliths seemed like a nice metaphor for the sheer pointlessness of lockdown training.

Once restrictions eased a little, the Dark Peak 15 Trigs was an obvious local challenge to take on. I ran it clockwise in May chasing Tom Saville’s 2019 record of 8.52 and getting frustratingly close with a time of 8.59. I was impressed by the route, which has a nice mix of faster running, a few tougher sections and includes some quality time up on Kinder and Bleaklow.

Win Hill trig was a particular highlight, having been given a coat of funky Dark Peak colours by a club mate who shall remain anonymous. It was all uplifting stuff after weeks of running from my front door. As a double-traverse of the Peaks, it has a proper long distance feel to it, but is nicely manageable within a daylight window. It scratched my itch…for a time.

Photo credit: Helen Elmore

That was back before FKT fever hit the nation. Since June, every man, woman and their dog have taken on a local challenge of some sort, usually smashing a decades-old unbeatable record in the process. This mass unleashing of the pent-up energy of frustrated runners up and down the country was awesome to behold!

And behold it I did, with many hours of home working devoted to willing a dot to inch across a pixelated OS map. I willed dots over Lakeland peaks, up and then down the Pennine Way, around the big rounds and even up the A Roads and Dual Carriageways of LEJOG. I would go to sleep dreaming of dots and wake up to watch dots over breakfast. It was thrilling in a detached abstract sort of way and it made me crave an adventure of my own.

I quite fancied another go at the Paddy Buckley round, but when that record got smashed by Math Roberts within days of my planned attempt, my thoughts turned to more local challenges. The Peak District, for all its popularity, accessibility and wealth of great fell races, is a bit of a challenge vacuum. It lacks the grand summits and ridge-lines of the other major National Parks.

Photo credit: Simon Walkden

But what it does have is variety. And bags of trig points. I remembered hearing Stu Walker’s fantastic account of his 24-hour Dark and White Peak 27 Trigs outing of 2016 (itself inspired by Pete Simpson’s pioneering 1991 attempt) and wondered if it might be worth a try both to extend the route and remove some of the excess road running.

A bit of map checking later and I came to the conclusion that with a good run, a route taking in 30 of the National Park’s trigs was achievable within 24 hours. By limiting myself to trigs within the National Park, I would also cut an outlier near Buxton (Fairfield) that involved some convoluted running on busy quarry roads.

My additions involved an early detour to Kirk Edge with the other extras (Birchen Edge, Flask Edge, Blacka Plantation and Ox Stones) towards the end with the option to skip them if time was running short. Although Stu admirably ran his attempt without support, I was fortunate to have my folks supporting at several road crossings.

I set off at 2.30pm from the Sportsman sans tracker (sorry to deny a further dot-watching opportunity, but I considered this undertaking too esoteric to be of widespread interest) and with my own surge of pent-up energy. This carried me over the early hills around Rod Moor and High Bradfield delivering me onto Emlin and the Back Tor ridge well up on my 24-hour schedule. Barring a brief dip in a bottomless bog en route to Outer Edge, this section went well and put me almost an hour up by the time I met my folks at Howden.

Photo Credit: Chris Randall

Up onto Alport and I was tiring already, time was crawling along and I was acutely aware of the distance remaining. The run along Alport River took forever, but I reached Shelf Moor in time for a hazy sunset over Manchester with just enough light to flounder my way over to Cock Hill. I was lured off line here by a distant tower in Manchester that was glowing bright white and distinctly trig-like on the horizon, but I corrected soon enough and switched on my lamp for the long descent into Glossop. Now over an hour up on schedule, I met my folks again for a quick restock on the road section over to Harry Hut.

As I reached the Kinder plateau, right on cue the rain started and the wind whipped up. I had a rummage in my pack for a compass to no avail (I later found it on the kitchen counter) so ploughed on, on a wing and a prayer, being super careful with the map reading. Sandy Heys was the trickiest trig to find, but it raised my spirits to see it emerge from the gloom. I had no navigational issues after that, except that Kinder South edge just goes on for ever! It felt very good to drop off to the Win Hill ridge, where I was still feeling OK and able to run the climb to a favourite trig (sadly no longer resplendent in Dark Peak colours).

I made the arbitrary addition of Lose Hill next on the basis that it is a great hill, has something that looks a little like a trig on top, and just should be part of any long circuit of the Peak District. At Mam Tor the weather closed in again and I was nearly blown off the summit. I stumbled my way down and bumped into a small group of youths in jeans and hoodies trying to find their way up (at 2 in the morning?). People are strange. I met my folk again here for a change into more road-friendly footwear before heading off onto the lesser-known part of the route.

The main challenge here was route finding across field systems in the dark. I had planned to avoid much of the road running that Stu had done by taking more direct (but probably slower) routes on public footpaths, but they were often either badly marked, or I was bad at spotting them. Mercifully it was still the middle of the night, so there were no angry farmers to deal with. Just quite a lot of bemused cows and sheep. The trigs themselves in this section (Bradwell Moor, Worm Hill, Wheston, Abney Moor) were well worth the visit, on nice defined hills and accessible without too much trespassing. The road running initially felt like a nice contrast after the bogs and rocks of the past few hours. I met my folks again at Sir William Hill where dawn was finally breaking.

Photo credit: Simon Walkden

I struggled on the next section over to Wardlow and up Longstone Edge, which went on for ages with more road running to hammer my tired legs. My ITB was getting pretty sore, but it was bearable once moving which provided an extra incentive to keep running. I was no longer gaining time on my schedule, but neither was I losing it. The big descent through the quarries off High Rake was particularly horrible, but at least I had some nice gentle uphill running to look forward to on the way to Birchen Edge – an add-on to the original route. I nearly scuppered myself here by taking the wrong turn at the roundabout at Baslow and heading straight up to White Edge, but realised before I had gone too far. I had another brief refuelling stop at the main road and pushed on into familiar territory. 

White Edge came and went, delivering me onto Blacka Moor via some horrible heather bashing. A big down and up to the plantation with a few blackberries providing some welcome real food – nothing else was very palatable by now. Houndkirk Hill, over to Ox Stones and it felt somewhat surreal after twenty hours of running to reach a trig that I visit on training runs from home several times a week.

I took the boggy path across the moor to Burbage Edge rather than the road for aesthetic reasons, then stumbled my way along Stanage trying not to look too odd in front of all the tourists. There was a brief moment of satisfaction at High Neb of bagging the final trig and looking around the skyline knowing that I had been up everything I could see near and far. I went direct on the final descent, which meant more tussocks and less road running, but the final few kms down the tarmac were still deeply unpleasant. I managed to keep running at a decent pace, but more to put a quicker end to the suffering than for any more noble reasons. 

I completed the 30-trig route in 22 hours 13 minutes and 51 seconds, well inside my 24-hour schedule. It’s not really a record, it’s definitely not an FKT, so let’s call it an MKT (most known trigs). My GPS was on power-save mode, so not helpful for calculating distance, but I estimate that the route is around 170km with 4500m of ascent. My time begs the obvious question of whether I could have fitted in another trig or two along the way.

There are several possibilities: Chinley Churn, Lantern Pike (the trig has been toppled from the summit and lies on the flank – both summit and trig should ideally be visited), Cown Edge (the trig is in ruins, but still identifiable), South Nab (just over the Woodhead) are the obvious contenders. There are many more outside the periphery of the National Park, but I feel that the Park boundary provides a logical limit to the challenge. Adding a trig mid-route may have been just about do-able, but only at a stretch, and as I was already running significantly further than I had ever done before, I chose to focus on my goal of 30 plus Lose Hill.

Whilst there has been some scepticism about the Peak District Trigs concept due to the amount of road running involved in the White Peak section, I feel that it provides balance to the bog bashing of the Dark Peak sections and perfectly captures the essence of the contrasting landscapes. Indeed, one of the most memorable moments came on a narrow road up a moonlit dale near Tideswell, where I switched off my torch and basked in the silver limestone landscape.

By taking path options whenever possible I managed to cut the total proportion of road down to a reasonable 20-25%. Comparisons to the big rounds is also unfair – this is its own specific challenge with a unique character. With two possible start and finish points (Pete started at the Royal Hotel in Hayfield; Stu and I started at the Sportsman at Lodge Moor), plenty of opportunities for road support and free choice over trigs and the order in which they are visited, there is plenty of scope to scale the challenge to the challenger. And just like the long-obsolete trigs you’ll be visiting, it’s a wonderfully pointless endeavour!

My full list of trigs and splits:

Start: Sportsman, Lodge Moor

  1. Rod Moor: 0.24
  2. Kirk Edge: 1.04
  3. Emlin: 1.23
  4. Back Tor: 2.20
  5. Margery Hill: 3.01
  6. Outer Edge: 3.14
  7. West End: 4.30
  8. Shelf Moor: 5.10
  9. Cock Hill: 5.38
  10. Harry Hut: 6.45
  11. Sandy Heys: 7.20
  12. Kinder Low: 7.45
  13. Brown Knoll: 8.01
  14. Edale Moor: 9.10
  15. Win Hill: 10.02 (Lose Hill: 10.47)
  16. Mam Tor: 11.17
  17. Bradwell Moor: 12.00
  18. Worm Hill: 12.53
  19. Wheston: 13.34
  20. Abney Moor: 14.32
  21. Sir William Hill: 15.24
  22. Wardlow: 16.19
  23. High Rake: 16.50
  24. Birchen Edge: 18.02
  25. White Edge: 18.37
  26. Flask Edge: 19.23
  27. Blacka Plantation: 19.57
  28. Ox Stones: 20.29
  29. Stanage: 20.59
  30. High Neb: 21.30

Finish: Sportsman: 22.13

If you’d like some more information on the above challenges and information:

British Trig Point history; read more here
TrigpointingUK; read more here
Stu Walker’s 24 hour challenge: read more here
Peter Simpson’s challenge: read more here
Dark Peak 15 Trigs challenge: read more here

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