20 Mile Trail Run | Ilam & Dovedale

We had planned to run the Yorkshire Three Peaks with a group of friends at the end of April. The week of the planned run we discovered it was the actual Yorkshire Three Peaks running race, so we decided to cancel and looked elsewhere for a long run.

As we’ve spent no end of time at the Castleton/Hope/Hathersage end of the Peak District we headed to the area near Ashbourne for a change of scenery.

True to form the Peak District in April was colder for camping than the Lake District has been in January which led to a leisurely morning of warming up around the campsite, cooking bacon and throwing in a few yoga moves for stretching those hips.

I was still cold.

The route we found on the Suunto Movescount website started at Ilam Hall. We were camping at Common End Farm near Swinscoe which added around an extra couple of miles onto the beginning of the route and it was all downhill to Ilam. All downhill on the way there obviously means uphill at the end of 20 miles. More of that later…

After feeling like I would never warm up (as I usually do at the start of these things) by the time we got the Ilam Hall the the beanie, the buff and the softshell were all stuffed in the bag and this was the beginning of the route.

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It went straight uphill through some fields with uneven ground, a good way to warm the ankles and the lungs up. I can’t deny that at this point I was a little concerned about how difficult 20 miles of this could actually be. But I plodded on up through the fields and actually, my stamina has greatly improved so that there was no stopping for a rest or walk, I found that I could just keep going.

The route then joined the road for a very long time and it continued going uphill. We did stop briefly to chat to a couple of walkers who had said that what we were doing ‘didn’t look like much fun!’ After thanking them for the brief rest we continued on past Wetton and I finally settle into a pace that was comfortable and then we just kept going and going and going.

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Up until Ecton the ground underfoot was either tarmac or very well laid trails, so a bit harder on the feet than the usual boggy ground in the north of the Peak District. After leaving the tarmac for another uphill plod over grassy fields, it was quickly back down on to the road until we reached Beresford Dale at around the 10 mile mark.

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We made a bit of a trail running mistake here. We ate proper food for lunch. Up until this point we had got by on the odd Snickers or homemade granola or energy gels. Obviously eating a ham, cheese and pesto wrap is a recipe for a stitch or cramps when running so we were resigned to walking a couple of miles while the food digested. And it was bloody freezing by this point.

The path through Beresford Dale all the way to Milldale follows a winding stream through a valley and it’s pretty good looking. I imagine in the sunshine it’s even better but on that day the valley was one very long wind tunnel and pretty cold. This part of the route was a lot more popular with walkers than the first part of the route so there was a lot of slowing down to get past people when we were running again.

Near Milldale the run took us back up a steep hillside and we came out above the start of the Dovedale Valley. It was nice to be finally rewarded with some views of the Peak District having been in valleys since Wetton. And, after the wind tunnel from Beresford it was surprising sheltered along the tops.

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After a quick dash across the tops the path took us down into Dovedale. 14 miles in and I was still running, I was still going. This was a huge surprise considering the furthest I have ever run is 10 miles. Even more of a huge surprise was how reasonably comfortable I was feeling considering the distance we had covered.

So we carried on, weaving around the hundreds of people that had descended on Dovedale (although it was still never as busy the day one of the trail runs took us along the Mam Tor ridge). I kept looking at the miles clocked up on the Suunto watch by this point and I kept plodding on and the hip flexors began to get tighter.

When we got to the famous Dovedale stepping stones the end was in sight… Well, kind of. The route BG had uploaded to his watch didn’t take us past the stepping stones, we turned off left and there it was, Thorpe Cloud. Thorpe Cloud is a mere 287m of hill. 17 miles of running makes Thorpe Cloud feel like the worst hill in the world. The legs hated every minute of it. By the top of this tiny little hill my body was done. The run down and back to Ilam everything just ached. I swear even my core muscles ached every time each foot landed on the ground. By Ilam itself I’m not even sure the speed I was going at could even be classed as jogging but whatever it was I kept it up until we got to the gates of Ilam Hall.

20 miles. Done.

We headed back through the grounds of Ilam Hall and back up the hills to the campsite. At this point walking was more uncomfortable than running and the climbing of stiles was a chore although proved great for stretching those damn hip flexors.

The day was finished in the local pub where we ate everything, followed by sitting around a fire pit at the campsite and drinking red wine.

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Fantastic Alps training if nothing else!

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