Inspirational Trails 21: Sharphaw, Yorkshire Dales
Written By: SportsShoes
In part 21 of our Inspirational Trails series, fell runner Hannah Cairns tells us about how she discovered a love of fell running by climbing to the summit of her most local peak, Sharphaw, in the Yorkshire Dales.
Gasping for breath, I clamber the last few steps to reach the trig point. Because you haven’t really reached the top until you’ve touched the trig point. That’s the rule, isn’t it?
It never gets easier. I’ve run up this hill numerous times, yet the challenge never really relinquishes. Every time I stagger towards the summit, I am greeted with the same familiar feeling, right in the pit of my stomach, and I can guarantee that every single time I wonder if I’ll ever breeze up to the top, without a second thought. But then, it wouldn’t be a challenge and I wouldn’t really have accomplished anything. That’s why I keep coming back for more. I ponder the old adage; ‘it doesn’t get easier, you just get faster’. That saying is true for me, and for the regular summits of my local fell, Sharphaw.
Standing at 357m, my most local fell holds a watchful eye over the bustling market town of Skipton - ‘The Gateway to The Dales’. It’s a prominent feature of the local skyline and it really is ‘sharp’- the pointy top standing tall among the surrounding, rolling hills. Having lived here all my life, you might be fooled into thinking that I had been climbing up Sharphaw since I was a young girl. But actually, this is not the case.
I was never a sporty child. I was often dragged to watch my brother play football on a Sunday morning, and my mum used to ‘time’ me whilst I ran laps of the pitch. I’d scurry around the perimeter, with Winnie the Pooh tucked under my arms and upon my return she would tell me a time and encourage me to go and beat it. It was only a few years ago that I was told she’d made all these times up, I’m now 26 years old!
I only started running in 2017, and I spent my time mainly on the roads. Roads were safe. Pavements were better, and that way, my feet rarely got wet! Then, one day, I was introduced to Sharphaw, and I couldn’t believe my ignorance. I didn’t know this place even existed. I’d never even noticed its pointed summit on the skyline. This same pointed summit now being the reassuring feature I look for, if I can see it, I know I’m nearly home.
The first few ascents of Sharphaw really were tough. It was actually the first fell I had ascended. I needed all the words of encouragement I could get, but I hated the thought that someone was waiting for me at the top, or that I was holding someone up. One day I felt brave enough to go it alone. The conditions were perfect, and I knew the route well enough to give it a whirl. That was nearly three years ago now, and I still remember the feeling of elation washing over me as I touched the trig point and soaked up the views of the surrounding Yorkshire Dales, catching my breath as I did so. On a clear day, you can see towards the Salt and Pepper pots in Sutton-In-Craven, Embsay Crag, Rylstone Cross, Gargrave, Malham and beyond. I often stand for some time at the summit, simply taking in the panorama, but alas, there’s still the descent to conquer.
When lockdown was enforced in March last year, I faced the tough decision of staying at home, or moving in with my partner and his parents. I squeezed my belongings into a couple of bags, knowing that I had made the right decision, and knowing that running would be my daily freedom, my peace, my motivation.
From then, Sharphaw became my go to route. It’s not just the close proximity to Skipton, it really does provide such a great variety of options. I might just do a simple out and back, ascending and descending relatively quickly. I might run up and over the top and down through the adjoining forest, taking in the beauty of the ‘rhododendron tunnel’. If I’m running and I reach the path that takes you to the summit, but I’m just not feeling the climb, there’s always the forest, or ‘the firetrack’ to fall back on. Different routes, all equally as challenging and rewarding for their individual reasons! Sharphaw really can be as tough as you want it to be. Sometimes, and this is mainly a longer, weekend excursion, I might run up Sharphaw, descending into the beautiful hamlet of Flasby, meandering along the riverside footpath into Hetton, then taking the sharp climb up towards Rylstone Cross before finally conquering Crookrise and plodding on back into Skipton for the eagerly awaited cup of tea, and perhaps a bacon sandwich.
An early morning run around the forest, or a sunrise jaunt up to the summit while the world below still sleeps. That, for me, is the simplest of pleasures. I lace up my fell shoes, and I’m out of the door. Not a care in the world, except for wondering how tough the climb will be that day, or whether the peaty bogs will be forgiving.
I’m sat at my laptop writing this and when I picture the routes I take, I can imagine every rock, every tussock and every single patch of bog. This familiarity doesn’t mean that I’m bored of the routes. Not at all! Every single time there’s something new to take in, something else to be mindful of. Cows, walkers, curlews, lapwings, snow, winds, boggier bogs… I’m certainly still not complacent. And the terrain never lets up, changing from day to day, ascent to ascent. I’m still learning to love bogs and the feeling of soggy socks. I’m still learning to turn ‘brakes off, brains off’. I’m always learning, always pushing myself to be that bit better than the last time. It’s addictive, but there’s no better feeling of achievement, it’s simply fantastic!
When I was gifted my first pair of fell shoes (a very risky first Christmas present, if you ask me), I thought he was stupid.
‘What the heck are these?’ I asked.
He smiled, and casually explained that they were shoes for walking up Sharphaw, Embsay Crag, Rylstone Cross. My new ‘adventure shoes’.
The seed had been planted. It took a while, but with some trusty fell shoes, some excellent running companions, and the thrill of the reward every time I reached the summit (no matter how hard the climb), I became a fell runner.
When those fell shoes wore out, I couldn’t bear to part with them. But they’d seen me through many a bog, many fells, many miles.
There are many great fells in Yorkshire, particularly in The Dales, but the first fell I ascended, in my view, is very hard to beat. It’s home. My home. Sharphaw.
You can follow Hannah and all her running adventures here.
Photos: Credit to Hannah Cairns