The 2017 Great Kinder Beer Barrel Challenge
Memories here recounted by Karl Webster of Gladioli (and believed to be accurate).
I’ll get right on with writing this having just arrived home from the Great Kinder Beer Barrel Challenge 2017 while still suffering, or benefitting, from the boozy aftermath.
For those unfamiliar with the event, I’ll explain. Folklore tells of a winter’s night in The Nag’s Head pub in the sleepy northern Derbyshire village of Edale when the barrels ran dry. Nothing short of a local catastrophe, the answer to this was for some of the hardcore locals to set off up Kinder Scout – the 2000 foot flat-topped mountain behind the pub – and drop down the other side into the Woodlands Valley where the Snake Pass Inn stands at the roadside. Their mission: to return with a barrel of beer to keep the residents of the Vale of Edale happy.
Whether legend or reality, this feat laid the foundations for the event which had its first edition in 1998, the return trip performed by that intrepid bunch becoming what is now known as the barrel race.
Race? That depends who you are and, of course, its official title is “Challenge”. However, with 72 pints of beer being the prize, for many it is most definitely a race.
Teams are made up of eight and the rules are simple. The barrel weighing something like three sacks of spuds must be carried, somehow, from the Snake to the Nag’s. The obvious best route straight over the Kinder plateau measures around 3.2 miles but involves over 1000 feet of climb and over 1200 feet of descent. The climb is steep, the crossing of the plateau is treacherous underfoot and the descent is not much short of suicidal especially when trying to keep control of a barrel. And that’s very important. The barrel must be under complete control and not just be allowed to freefall down the mountainside. Were that to happen, the consequences could well prove disastrous as the Pennine Way long distance footpath runs along the valley at the bottom. Barnes Wallis tested his bouncing bombs on the dams just off the Snake Pass over seventy years ago and they were pretty effective, so we don’t need to see all that again.
Many different carrying rigs turn out, some with the barrel strapped on top, others underslung, but most resemble a kind of stretcher. Ladders form many of these devices and other rigs appear specially engineered for barrel carrying purposes.
So, Saturday 16th September was the date, 12.30pm was the time for the first of a dozen teams to set off on the journey from the Snake to Edale. Three minute intervals separated the teams with a starting order loosely based on the reverse finishing order from the previous year.
Our lot – Team Gladioli, comprising Richard Bradbury, Dan Haworth, Colin Nadin, Andrew Sheldon, Eugene Grant, Chris Hallas, Ben Cartwright and me - were off at 12.57 with team number 10 stuck to our barrel.
Incidentally, the barrels were full of water, not beer. Beer would most likely have led to the mountain rescue being called out during the night to nearly 100 drunken people on the top of Kinder Scout!
Checking out the first section.
Our preparation had been meticulous. Selection was based on fell running prowess, permission of the wives and general madness; five of us had previous barrel racing experience; we had trained; we had been inspired; and we were nervous, excited and focussed on winning.
And we were all dressed in lovely pink t-shirts.
Just a note about that, by the way: the Gladioli name had come from the 1998 race when the team decided Gladiators was perhaps a little too audacious. That team has since morphed year on year to its current membership as age and sensibility has taken its toll. The Trigger’s brush of barrel racing, one might say.
We saw and cheered nine teams off before taking our place on the start line ready for hopefully no more than 50 minutes of pain. Taking off through the woods alongside the river, we were soon through the water, three gates and into the climb. Then the really hard work started.
The ascent is fairly friendly to start with. It’s steep, admittedly, but the ground is firm and the track is open and clear of obstacles. It carries on up the hillside round a right-hand bend with ample space either side to dig in and work hard. Then, after a bit further, it all changes. The track narrows, there’s a steep drop-off to the left, rocks litter the path and it only gets worse from there onwards. About two-thirds of the way up there is no longer a track and route choice becomes critical. We chose to take our barrel up through the moorland vegetation with all its humps and hollows which throw everyone left and right, and not necessarily at the same time. We handled it well and overtook our first opposition around here before the gradient then kicked up even more. It was then just a massive grunt up to the edge of the plateau and, surprisingly, the few words which could be spluttered out contained no profanities. Mind you, we had attached Chris’ video camera to our rig which did have audio capabilities.
(Picture to illustrate the terrain. Ignore the people in it – this was taken on the way back.)
Once onto the plateau there is a path to follow. It’s the type of path which meanders gently through the various gritstone rocks and blanket bog peat groughs so typical of this Dark Peak landscape and, on a sunny day with a flask and box of sandwiches, makes for an idyllic walk where one can see across to the neighbouring counties with the sound of red grouse chattering in the background.
Chuck a barrel strapped to a ladder carried by eight blokes (or ladies – there were two teams of the fairer sex) into the equation and the characteristics of the path tend to change. It becomes this black menace doing everything it can to batter, break and swallow you up. The ladder doesn’t bend, the rocks don’t step aside to allow you past and the bogs lie in wait to ambush those legs unfortunate enough to step on them.
The crossing of the plateau is referred to in many ways. The race route traverses the narrowest part and is known as the “two minute crossing”, the “three minute crossing”, the seven minute crossing”, ad nauseam, depending on who you speak to. I reckon ours was about six.
(Again, ignore the weirdos walking. This is also on the way home.)
Across here we passed another couple of teams before emerging through the peat groughs at the south edge of Kinder. From here the views are stunning, and the only improvement to what Mother Nature has provided is the sight of beer barrels being skilfully steered down the precipitous slopes by finely tuned athletes. Well, we did our best Mother, but we’ll hand it to you.
This descent is where experience certainly plays a massive part. Technique is everything and I reckon ours is near perfect, even if I do say so myself. Not wishing to give too much away I’ll just say that we absolutely nailed it and reached the bottom with only one other team ahead of us, and they were not that far ahead either.
Once on the Pennine Way path it’s eyeballs out to Edale along a firm path with a slight downhill. There’s still a tricky combination of gates, steps and a narrow bridge to negotiate on reaching the village and we were doing our very best to reach this ahead of the team in front. As it turned out we didn’t quite catch them and – hats off to them – their technique through this bit was just as good as ours, and they crossed the line at the side of the Nag’s Head just ahead of us. But it was the stopwatch which told the final tale which was all revealed in the convivial setting of the Nag’s garden a couple of hours later.
The twelve tired teams, now somewhat revived by the flow of real ale and hot dogs, gathered round in the afternoon sunshine to receive their rewards. Every team was presented with eight bottles of special edition beer from the Peak Ales Brewery with Gladioli receiving theirs last along with the silver trophy as the fastest team. Recording just over 50 minutes it was outside the course record by about three minutes, but we were happy, very happy.
So after sharing out our winnings of 72 pints with those others whose efforts were by all means equal to ours we enjoyed a leisurely stroll back over Kinder in the evening sunshine to the Snake – the perfect way to round off yet another GKBBC.
Our thanks go to Morgan Jackson and his team of organisers and marshals, the pubs at either end of the race (yes, the race!) and to everyone as daft as us for making it one of the greatest events of the local sporting calendar.