Merit Race #8: Breca Buttermere
By Ben de Rivaz
Imagine a land of extremes, the home of England’s highest mountain and its deepest lake; an ancient landscape of craggy hilltops, mountain tarns, rugged trails and glittering lakes. This place is the Lake District National Park and, for centuries, it has captivated the imagination of adventurers, explorers and intellectuals alike.
As the heartland of the UK fell running scene, the Lakes – a mecca for endurance sports –play host to some of the UK’s most arduous challenges, attracted by its peaks, glaciated valleys and unparalleled network of trails.
When deciding where to host the UK’s first swimrun race in 2015, I was looking for a place that encapsulated my understanding of the swimrun ethos: wild, exploratory, removed from artificial surfaces and structures: a setting where the challenges of the natural landscape would be central to the experience.
I found that place in the Lakes’ Buttermere Valley, with its unique topographical features that make a perfect swimrun destination. There is a horseshoe of lakes to explore – Loweswater, Crummock Water, Buttermere and Derwent Water – linked by a spidery network of paths and trails, while the valley is awash with history and natural wonders.
I hope that you too will one day join us in the hills to forge your own connection with this extraordinary place.
For example, Crummock Water is fed by Scale Force, the highest falls in the Lake District. The trees at the southern tip of Buttermere, known as The Sentinels, are said to be the most photographed in the country. Rannerdale Knotts fell is thought to be the site of battle in which the Vikings and Cumbrians defeated an army of Norman invaders – the bluebells that flower there in spring grow from their blood, or so they say. It’s also home to the Honister Pass – one of the highest passes in the region, and one of the steepest, with gradients of up to 25 percent in places.
This year, we have a new course that links the four lakes together and solved the ecological puzzle that previously limited us to Buttermere and Crummock Water. It’s a linear route that progresses from the low hills flanking the Cumbrian Coastal Plain into the high fells of Buttermere, before dropping into the Borrowdale Valley to the finish in Keswick. It’s a journey that will test you on many levels: the lakes are cold and deep; the ascents are savage and the descents are technical. It’s a course that favours the complete athlete.
Alfred Wainwright wrote of the Western Fells: “The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits.”
I hope that you too will one day join us in the hills to forge your own connection with this extraordinary place. This year’s race is July 29.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue # 3 (July 2017)