Those of you who read my blog should know by now that I have got into ‘tabbing’ in a big way. Just to remind you, ‘tabbing’ is a military term (‘tactical advance to battle’) which essentially means moving quickly while carrying weight. Of course, I do not travel as quickly or with as much weight as the military, but the events I am currently drawn to are worked on this basis. With that in mind, you need to know a few more things before I continue with this particular blog.
I first got into tabbing through an event called the Paras’ 10, which is currently held over the 10 mile Parachute Regiment courses in Colchester and Catterick. You can read about my first attempt at Colchester here (and at Catterick here), and this weekend I was expecting to be returning to Colchester to give it another go, despite not being where I want to be in terms of training and fitness. However, in the shadow of the ongoing inquest into the tragic deaths of the guys on SAS (R) Selection, the very hot weather had given the organisers little choice but to postpone the event at short notice, which had left a number of us disappointed and at a loose end. I say ‘us’ because the second thing you need to know is that through the Paras’ 10, and similar events with Avalanche Endurance Events, over the last year I have met and formed strong friendships with a number of similar nutters who like to tab. The third thing you need to know is Karl Rushen, one of said nutters. Karl has a very compelling reason to do what he does because it is as a tribute to and to honour the memory of his little brother, Lloyd Newell, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on 16 June 2011. I first met Karl for real when I was doing Point To Point with Avalanche Endurance Events (which you can read about here) and it has been great to get to know him better ever since. You should go and read his blog here. He is such an inspiration that you would follow him to the four corners of the UK…which takes me on to the fourth thing you need to know, which is The 100 Peaks Challenge, the brainchild of Karl, and a daunting endeavour which aims to tab the 100 peaks above 610m in the UK and Ireland, with cycling and kayaking inbetween, from 23 May 2017 until 16 June 2017. I am determined to be one of those who does the full event, and have volunteered to be its legal officer. The final thing you need to know is Sean Linehan, who ties in with all the above. I first met Sean when he was organising Dark 15, and you can read about one of our training tabs together here. Since then I have found it is impossible to say no to Sean’s suggestions of training tabs, and that is how this blog comes to be written, because once the postponement of the Paras’ 10 had been confirmed, Karl and Sean were coming up with an alternative plan to take place at Ivinghoe Beacon, which is practically on my doorstep.
I think the weather had decided to mock us overnight as thunder and lightning storms brought forth a deluge of rain which seemed to be the opposite to the forecasted weather which had caused the postponement of the main event, and as I got ready in the morning it was misty outside. In fact, the overnight rain had been so heavy that I had to divert part of my route over to Ivinghoe Beacon because of flooding, leaving me perilously close to being late, which would have been terrible given that I was probably the closest to the location from those who were coming along for the tab. Fortunately, I arrived in good time, and as we were still waiting for a few others I had put on my Aku Pilgrim boots, taped up any hanging straps on my bergen before they were seen by Sean, and changed into my new 100 Peaks Challenge technical tshirt, which Karl had brought with him. A brilliant product from Scimitar, and one which I know will get a lot of wear.
I had my bergen loaded to 25lbs with all the essentials I might need if I got stranded in the wilds of Ivinghoe – a compass, 2 headtorches, spare laces, wooly hat, ruff, 2 pairs of gloves, mountain first aid kit, Fitzroy jacket, Rab Vapour-rise Lite Alpine jacket, bivi bag, sleeping bag, gaiters, towel, knee brace, a couple of packets of jelly babies, and in a separate waterproof bag in my bergen a short sleeved zipped base layer, long sleeved base layer, two fleeces, a pair of hiking trousers, long johns and socks – plus 3 litres of water in the internal bladder. I was ready to go.
There were seventeen of us once everyone had arrived, with twelve of us going load bearing, three going clean fatigue, one photographer and one supporter. This had turned into a proper event ! We set off from the top of the National Trust car park, already going at pace and following a track through the trees which eventually turned to the left to bring us out into the open hills. I was already feeling it and had dropped back from those at the front. I have had injury issues down my right hand side since the end of February and I do wonder when they are all going to clear up so that I can get back to fitness again. However, my biggest problem at the moment seems to be my digestion and even at this early part of the tab I was feeling real discomfort across my stomach, my right hip and round to the small of my back, which is hardly ideal.
The ground was firm underfoot, making it great to tab on, taking us down to a gate then back up again on the other side, but I was now at a speed march rather than a tab, and the group were waiting for me and the others at the back after each section. I was passed by everyone else at the back as we went up another slope, with Sean bringing up the rear because no-one was being left behind. The sun was fully out by now and it was beginning to heat up. We went round to the left and up another slope which the group at the front ran up to start with, and the route continued pushing along until it eventually brought us to the summit where I found the rest of the group were chatting with some cyclists. So here we were at 233m above sea level. It is not one of the 100 Peaks. It is not quite a mountain. It had still taken me some effort to get here.
I took some photographs as I got my breath back, and then we were ready to go again. As we set off, Adam asked where I was, and as I had already moved round to the other side of the summit, to the track we were going to be taking, I was able to tell him I was ahead of him ! We set off down the track, across undulating ground I had on previous occasions to make an ascent to the summit, and I was glad I had not come up this way this time. My right knee was beginning to ache. The pace had really got to me. We reached the road at the bottom and Andy of Manannan Images was waiting for us to take some photographs.
As we continued up the slope the other side of the road I voiced my doubts to Sean about whether I could keep going. I was concerned about how long it had taken me to get down the other side, let alone go up this one. Already I had had to take a halt. I kept going, but I was going so slowly. I did not want to hold back the others, and even if they pushed on I would be holding back Sean, and, anyway, my knee continued to ache. I did not want to damage it again. As Sean said to me right there, the right decisions are often the hardest to take, and I realised that me stopping was easily the best option all round. I agreed that I would head back to where the track crossed the road and then turn right on the road to follow it round to the car park. I would wait there for everyone to return.
Of course, I did not do that. I had come out this morning for a tab and at this stage had not gone nearly far enough, either in terms of length or time. I knew I had some time to get some more in at my pace and still be back at the car park before the others. I headed back to the summit, along the track I had not so long ago been very pleased I had not used to get to the summit, and as I chomped on a Chia Charge bar it was a long, hard slog. I reached the summit and it was deserted. I caught my breath and headed off the summit using a path to the left and then contoured round to the right through the brambles. I began to wish I had a map of the terrain with me because this was looking like I could hit a dead end of impenetrable undergrowth at any time. So, of course, I just kept going. I knew I was heading back towards the track we had come in on, and knew the direction to get back to the car park, so it was all good. I dropped down and carried on through a glade of trees, then headed down some more while thinking I was probably on the wrong side of a hedge to be able to take a direct route back to the car park, so I carried on around until I reached the hedge and then headed straight down to what may have once been a stile.
I very carefully went over it and reached the road, turning left to follow it around to the next left turning, then headed up and around to follow the road across the track crossing where I had left Sean, continuing to go up to get back to the car park where I found Andy eagerly waiting. He thought I was at the front of the group coming back, and after I had laughed at the very thought I told him I was not. He took my photograph anyway, which was nice of him, and then we set about waiting for the others. When we had left Andy at the road crossing point, Sean had indicated that he thought they would be coming back through the top of the car park, so we stood around waiting for them there…until they came back through the bottom of the car park, which meant Andy had to rush off to get some photographs of them, while Jason continued running past me, looking at whatever he was recording the run on and saying he had to make sure it got to 7 miles. My own tab had taken me to 4.3 miles and over 1,000 feet of elevation.
You can see a video of the route here
It was now that my local knowledge came into play because while most of the group had a long way to travel back and so were setting off for home straight away, there were a few who wanted to get something to eat, and I suggested we went to the cafe by the Bridgewater Monument at the Ashridge Estate. As I recalled, and as Sean and I confirmed on the map, it was not far away, and I knew the cafe served food, but I was winging it a little because I did not know if they served breakfasts, which is what we all wanted !
It was only a short drive to get there and fortunately they served the most excellent breakfasts, big enough that Sean was able to share an egg with Billy, whose accent seemed to have resulted in his egg being removed from his order ! It was a great way to finish an excellent morning with like-minded friends. And just a first step towards The 100 Peaks Challenge – there will be a lot more to come from me about that.
The Paras’ 10 has been rescheduled to 15 November 2015, so I would hope to be fit again by then and ready to give it a proper go to beat the 2 hour mark.
You can see more of my photographs from the morning here.