Trip Report: The 3 Shires

Trip Report: The 3 Shires

First ran in 1983, the Three Shires fell race route is a serious undertaking. Covering around 18km of rough, steep fell side and taking in the summits of Wetherlam, Swirl How, Pike oBlisco and Lingmoor, it’s the perfect test of both technical running ability and kit. 

With a small crew assembled we took advantage of a break in the rain and the arrival of some new trail running kit from the likes of Adidas Terrex, Arc’teryx and Scott to put it and ourselves to the test on this Lakeland classic.

We met at the Three Shires Inn, the start point of the race route but we definitely didn’t depart at race pace. A couple of easy kilometres followed with us all catching up and discussing the route. We’d occasionally be lit up by the pockets of light bouncing around the valley, a product of the clouds racing over the tops of the fells surrounding us. 

“It might be blowing a bit up there”

The gentle gradient soon became a lot less gentle as we moved off the established path and on to ‘the racing line’, a phrase that would be repeated throughout the day whenever the navigation was questioned. We climbed up sharply through the dead bracken collecting cuts as we went, the stillness of the valley disappeared as we neared the top of the climb, an extra layer was added here and there in preparation for facing the wind head on. 

As we came over the rocky crest and joined the main path up to the summit of Wetherlam the wind made itself known. It jostled us as we moved between the larger boulders that litter the summit plateau whilst providing us with welcomed, albeit brief respite from the now almost gale force winds.

We settled quickly behind a bigger formation and added our windproof layers, some of the caps were also swapped for beanies to avoid them blowing off and back down into the valley. With some food and water taken on we moved off again, bodies pitched forward into the wind. The ground opened up and we made our advance off Wetherlam and were soon stood with a view of Leavers Water off to our left and the might of Swirl Howe, the highest point of the route, to the right. We made good progress up Prison Band, its craggy structure providing more relief from the wind. This was short lived, as soon we were on the summit and back to testing how strong the wind was by seeing how far we could lean into it. 

The descent from Swirl Howe to the Three Shires Stone offered our first sustained downhill of the day. The temperature rose and so did our speed as we dropped down the fell side, the soft, pathless grass providing a nice change to the mainly rocky terrain underfoot we’d encountered so far. The Three Shires Stone, which marks the old meeting point of the historic counties of Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland was the spot for a slightly longer break and some solid food. 

The climb up Pike O’Blisco was relatively uneventful. As we cut off the footpath and up between the crags we looked back and could see most of the route we’d done so far and also where we had to go, the first part of that being quite satisfying and the second being quite intimidating. We hit the summit of Blisco and planned our line down to Blea Tarn, the Langdale Pikes watching over us. The steep, rocky ground provided the most technical running of the day, with hands often getting involved and dogs being passed down small chimneys.

The terrain swapped back to grass as we got our first view of Blea Tarn, we’d arranged to meet Andy who was planning on doing a section of the route with us somewhere here and right on cue he emerged through the trees. We headed down to the Tarn and the started the relatively short but steep climb up our final fell, Lingmoor. 

Although relatively small in size, Lingmoor offers stunning views of the Langdale Valleys and beyond. We made good progress up to the summit, then heaved our way through the heather and bogs on the maze of paths that cut across the fell. With the right one chosen we started our final descent back to the Three Shires pub, discussing our choice of post-run food as we go. The final kilometre offers relatively flat, very runnable terrain so we took advantage of this and produced one of our fastest kilometres of the day. Arriving back at the pub we were met with the slight disappointment of being told they’d stopped serving food but also the giant satisfaction of completing a route steeped in Lakeland history.  

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