The Bowland Ultra
The inaugural Bowland Ultra, a 43-mile circular route with 1,700m of ascent showcasing the some of the best parts of the beautiful Forest of Bowland. The route had it all from sublime fell tracks, dainty trails, fell tops and quaint country roads.
I came across the event on social media, it certainly caught my eye and captured my imagination. Having trapsed around parts of the Forest of Bowland over the years, I felt like I had to be involved, so why not? My entry was submitted a smidge over two weeks before race day.
The route started at the small village of Slaidburn nestled within the Ribble Valley district of Lancashire. The picturesque surrounding villages of Abbeystead, Bleasdale and Dunsop Bridge played a pivotal part of the event before returning to Slaidburn.
Race day was here! Less than an hour’s drive to Slaidburn from the other end of Lancashire. A very handy car park in the village was a huge plus point, only a stones throw away from HQ, Slaidburn village hall was a hub of activity, serving as the race headquarters. The kit check was thorough and rather efficient. Any per-race nerves had settled after a catch up with some familiar ultra running faces. Seth, the race director briefed the 70 or so runners before guiding everyone to the start line.
On the start line of the Bowland Ultra © Andy Milton Photography
Three, two, one, GO! Out of Slaidburn and onto the meandering country roads following Seth on his bike. A nice warm up on the roads led to the Hornby Road, running heaven for most. The track continued past Croasdale Fell and Salter Fell. The first of four checkpoints came about 12k into the race, situated on the Horny Road at Salter Fell. I grabbed a handful of jelly babies before continuing of my way.
The next section of the route was 15k of undulating fell track towards checkpoint two at Abbeystead. So far, conditions had been rather settled, although running through thick pea-soup mist. On route there was a break in the cloud below Wards Stone, revealing the beauty of Bowland. Bowland is such a vast, untouched open space. On arriving at checkpoint two, a few jam butties and banana was consumed, I left CP2 in good spirts.
A big thumbs up © Andy Milton Photography
The terrain started to get mixed over the next 16k to checkpoint three. Country roads, muddy forest tracks and a lovely fell-side trail below Harrisend Fell. Off the fellside and onto the tarmac for about 8k. This section felt like a bit of a trudge, suffering a few niggling cramps on the relentless road section. It was heads down towards the next checkpoint at Bleasdale. On reaching Bleasdale, we underwent a quick mid-race kit check before having some delightful pasta and another banana.
On leaving Bleasdale, the weather started to dip. Light drizzle had arrived, and the wind started to pick up too. I decided to put my full waterproof jacket, replacing a windproof shell. The next section of the route was by far the best, the ascent and descent over Fiendsdale Nab was delightful. The route continued along the Langden valley, following Langden Brook all the way towards checkpoint four at Dunsop Bridge.
At checkpoint four, a much-needed cup of vegetable soup was devoured along with some other savoury snacks. All the checkpoints had been perfectly positioned, well stocked and had the most wonderful volunteers who couldn’t have done anymore for all the runners. Having previously walked around the Dunsop Bridge area, I knew exactly what the next section had to offer. A long valley road heading north, following the River Dunsop.
Heading out of the Langden Valley © Andy Milton Photography
Along the valley road it was nice to chat to various people enjoying the great outdoors. Most folk was curious to find out what event I was taking part in. Flabbergasted by the distance that us mere mortals was undertaking on a cold January day.
Out of the valley bottom and back onto the trails, a small diversion around a local shoot! I certainly didn’t want to be mistaken for a pheasant! A lovely single-track trail led to the final big climb of the day. A zig-zagged track led to a section of peat-bog mess, wonderful! Over the top of Dunsop Head, here the headtorch came out for the final section as the light began to fade. The final decent off Dunsop Fell was a joy with a mere 5k or so back to the finish line.
The final few miles flew by with a nice gradual drop into Slaidburn where I was greeted at the finish line with a round of applause and a lovely race memento, a Bowland Ultra finisher mug. I’ll certainly enjoy a brew or two in it.
There was a lovely post-race hot meal back at the village hall, with hot/cold drinks and ample tasty treats on offer. The whole event was amazingly organised, with every bit of detail planned out well. Runners even got entries into a raffle for car-sharing and litter picking along the route.
If I could change one thing it would be my choice of shoe. I opted for grip, expecting more bogs and squelchy ground. The week leading up to the race saw a prolonged period of dry weather, meaning the trails was unseasonably dry. A trail shoe with added cushioning would have been the better option on this occasion.
My race goal was to get around in one piece, having not taken part in an ultra since August 2023. The plan of keeping the heart rate low worked a treat, never really going out of my comfort zone. Fuelling was great in between checkpoints. I finished the race in 9.03hrs, 13th male and 17thoverall. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and will certainly return for another taste of Bowland in the future.
Find out more about the Bowland Ultra