“MEN IN PINK”
The 2018 Great Kinder Beer Barrel Challenge…no, Race..
through the eyes of the Gladioli
2018 will be a year full of memories: the long wet winter; the long hot summer; the World Cup; a royal wedding (the ginger guy and the American, if you’d already forgotten); and the 20th anniversary of the epic journey by a dozen Edale locals over Kinder Scout to bring back a barrel of beer from The Snake Inn when the pump ran dry at the Nag’s Head.
So what better way to celebrate this heroic feat than by having a new course record set at the Great Kinder Beer Barrel Challenge / Race.
First, please accept my apologies for any bias which may be detectable in my memoir of the event. I’ve believed for years that knocking the 2010 record of 45.52 set by Dark Peak into second place has been on the cards and have pursued the idea year on year.
It wasn’t without its problems though, most of them being a long time before the 8 September race date. Sorry, done it again – Challenge date.
The Gladioli team was first put together when the race was a mere sprog – I mean challenge – comprising hardy souls from the area over the hill from Matlock around Lea. It was always a team to be reckoned with and over the years underwent various morphings as the original eight packed it in for reasons such as ageing, losing their senses of adventure / gaining a sense of self-preservation or suddenly developing an inexplicable fear of flinging oneself down a steep, rough mountainside sometimes pursued by, and trying to outrun, a very hard and heavy lump of metal with a liquid ballast. As folk dropped off new ones moved in and the current team bears as much resemblance to the original one as Sven Goran Ericsson’s men do to Gareth Southgate’s.
I first came on board the Gladioli vessel in 2011 and have somehow become the guy who rounds up the team and does all the faffing on everyone else’s behalf to ensure eight well prepared men are at the Snake Inn at 11.30 on race day…I mean Challenge day. One big problem, though, for me is that there’s enough good young stock eager to get involved and I’ve found myself struggling to justify a place on the team. Never mind, I thought. Let’s ask if we can have another team – the Gladi-Old-Guys.
The name Gladioli was actually derived from that 90s Saturday evening TV staple Gladiators, but those guy on the telly were a lot bigger and meaner so the name was varied slightly, and since then the botanical taxonomists have named a beautiful flower after the team.
But back to the problems. The organisers Morgan, Geoff and friends were happy for another pink team, but then I was faced with the dilemma that there were, on a good day, eight blokes from the developing squad who were actually knocking out race results better than mine. I was relying on losses of form, minor niggles, inexperience, nervousness and all sorts of other things to justify being in a team with the capability of cracking the course record. I was beginning to realise I was either beginning to display early symptoms of megalomania, or maybe just a simple obsession, and eventually drew on grandfather rights to put myself in the team. Whether those others equally or more worthy of that place will ever forgive me, I don’t know, but I seem to be getting away with it so far.
Another thing was that I only had the kit to build one barrel carrying device so the quest for a second perfectly proportioned ladder began, along with all the pipework and straps to construct a dream pair of rigs. This too got the better of me and I soon found myself as the one man research and design department of Gladioli adding such finishing touches as extended handle tubes and skid pipes on the back of each one to add stability and speed to the all-important descent. It is perhaps worth noting that my 1986 O level in physics and 30-odd years of bodging and fixing is the extent of my engineering expertise.
Eventually, race day came and I was relieved when 16 men made it to The Snake at the appointed time with all the necessary equipment and enthusiasm. Our 17th team member was Captain Morgan who took us through a brief warm-up routine. Some fire in the belly never did anyone any harm.
As winners of the previous year’s race Gladioli were to set off last of the 17 teams, with the Gladi-Old-Guys slipped in at 13th, and the excitement crescendo-ed every three minutes as another team set off on its journey to Edale. We all looked lovely in our pink t-shirts: a rich deep pink worn by the Gs and a soft baby pink for the G-O-Gs.
It is only right to point out that the Gladi-Old-Guys were not necessarily older individuals than those in Gladioli, although their combined age was certainly greater. Under the expert direction of their captain Chris Hallas they moved into place and boldly toed the line at 1.06pm, and to the cheers of the damp crowd hurtled off down the slope through the woods in perfect synchronicity; well, nearly. As they disappeared amongst the trees I wondered: who’s that bloke in the pink shirt chasing them? Oh, that’s Colin Davenport desperately trying to get a hand on the rig at the rear left position. Picking his way over roots and rocks I wondered if he’d ever catch them, such was their speed.
As 1.18pm approached we Gladioli took our place on the start line. It was actually quite a lonely place to be for a moment with only the three ladies managing the start there to cheer us on our way, but they did a great job imitating a big crowd and set us off in pursuit of glory.
We actually had a cracking team with some of the finest fell running talent around: Ian Phillips; Billy Cartwright; his older brother and chaperone Ben; late replacement Stuart Bond who had stepped up in place of the equally worthy Dan Haworth; Andrew Sheldon; Colin Nadin providing muscle at the back; veteran barreller Richard Bradbury; and me, the old git.
I could tell from the first steps that the desire was there. It was like being part of a pack of hungry hyenas with the sniff of a distant prey, although there was not much laughing. In fact, it was almost alarming to witness the instincts being unleashed until I thought: that’s why I chose them.
It seems weird to say, but the ascent up to Seal Stones through Gate Side Clough was rather unremarkable. It was just pure hard work keeping that barrel moving up towards the grey sky above the Kinder plateau with everyone playing his part beautifully. The only mini drama was Sheldon somehow managing to entwine himself in a wire fence then suspend himself from a wooden post by his shirt as he crossed a stile. It was nothing a shove from behind wouldn’t solve, and he made an ungracious landing on the other side with his shirt in tatters.
It then fell to the front pairing of Phillips and Sheldon to steer us across the plateau which, again, seemed a breeze, albeit a very stiff one. Underfoot conditions were kind, thanks to the dryness of the summer, and it was like having Stig Blomqvist up front guiding us expertly along the path of least resistance towards the southern edge of Kinder.
As the view ahead opened out into our peripheral vision we moved along to choose our optimum line of descent and off we went.
Now, this is where it can all go very wrong but, equally likely, very right. Our downhill-barely-in-control technique has served Gladioli very well in the past, making up minutes at times over close rivals, and this time it was difficult to assess where along that scale of rightness to wrongness we actually were. There were moments of absolute brilliance interspersed with long seconds of a static barrel lying amongst the undergrowth as another pair fumbled into position to take up the charge. The light rain on the coarse bilberry and heather had lessened the friction and the new-fangled “skis” fitted to the rear end of the rig only served to emphasize this. Maybe by the bottom the time difference was comparable to a more controlled and efficient descent, but it was certainly much scarier, or exhilarating, depending on one’s viewpoint. Either way, it was a relief, and we joined the Pennine Way path at Grindsbrook and quickly took up or positions around the rig for the final section of the race…no, challenge.
Finding myself at front right position with Ben at the opposite end of the pole I had that lean-forward-and-pull-as-hard-as-you-can sensation which only comes with being up front. Unfortunately, though, with increasing stride length comes an increasing likelihood of treading on the heels of the guy in front and we hadn’t gone many steps before my right heel had been wrenched out of my shoe. There was not much to be done about it, but I took the opportunity to nominate myself as the person to run ahead and open the next gate, hoping for a few seconds to sort out my shoe as I got there. As I held the gate open it quickly became clear that my fingers were far too wide to slide into the back of my shoe, so that was abandoned making a mental note to consider a shoe horn on next year’s rig!
The mix of anticipation, determination and desperation was overwhelming as we hurtled along the path to the village; the feeling which, if it could be bottled, would leave many a Columbian and Afghan looking for a new way to make a living. The tricky negotiation of the steps and footbridge leading up to the final run for the line caused us no problems, and as we rounded the bend with the finish banner coming into view we almost threw ourselves under it. It felt good. It felt like a heroic effort had been made by us all. It felt even better as stopwatches were examined.
Our Gladi-Old-Guys were there to greet us, along with the crowd of spectators and other teams. Their race had been just as tough as ours and everybody else’s. No-one crosses Kinder with a beer barrel and gets an easy time, and that sense of achievement has been – and will continue to be – replicated time and time again by those daring to dabble in this amazing sporting occasion.
The beer flowed freely for the rest of the afternoon and recognition was given to each team as the Peak Ales commemorative bottles were presented by the race committee and thanks go to them all and everyone who helped and gave their time to put together a brilliant event. We had secured a clear victory with our Gladi-Old-Guys taking 4th. Some great performances had been put in by plenty of the other teams with the ladies’ team record falling that day too. The mix of characters there was just superb and conviviality was the order of the day.
The inevitable race post-mortems were carried out with techniques scrutinized, anecdotes shared and much piss taken and, at the time of writing, the only photographic evidence I have seen of the Gladi-Old-Guys’ performance is a picture taken just short of the finish line. The usual grimacing can be seen on the faces of Messrs. Hallas, Wood, Grant, Croft, Pollak, Hodgkinson and Curtis as they summon every last bit of strength, with Ricky Wood even lurching forward with a pole in his hand in the style of Ian Botham about to be run out. Count the names in the last sentence and you’ll find just seven. I am reliant on the testimony of those seven that Davenport did actually catch up with the barrel after his stumbling start, and the reason he didn’t make the frame taken at the finish was due to the loss of a spectacle lens – an expensive prescription spectacle lens – which he commendably retrieved from amongst the undergrowth somewhere on the slopes above Grindsbrook. A later conflict with gravity on the flagstones leading to the village further contributed being late to the party but at least he made it to the finish before the other pink shirts caught him.
And our time: 45.36. A new course record.
Thank you, Gents, for a fabulous day. It was an honour to serve with you all.
Various accounts of the event from the Gladi-Old-Guys’ perspectives have been heard, some more credible than others, but I will draw upon the skewed memories of their captain Chris Hallas and pick out the highlights.
I had seen Chris as a natural candidate for the role having been on the receiving end of his order-barking in previous barrel races, not that anyone took any notice, but a tendency towards leadership was definitely there. He’d been talking for months about carrying out a detailed reconnaissance of the route but never quite made it and eventually relied on watching repeats of last year’s barrel-cam footage over and over again. He even disclosed to me that the responsibility being placed upon him was keeping him awake at night a few days before, so I was heartened to see that even a criminal defence lawyer was actually demonstrating he had something approaching a conscience. Moreover, he was the only one who had handed over his race entry fee tenner in advance of race day.
Of the eight G-O-Gs only four had previously experienced the event: Chris; Colin Davenport; Eugene Grant; and Zak Hodgkinson, with Simon Croft being the only other who had been along to join in a bit of rig training the week before down the side of Oker Hill. The rest were absolute novices: Mark Pollak; Jon Curtis; and Ricky Wood, so it was no surprise that they were surprised by the way reality seems to become lost as the barrel charges off through the woods at the start and doesn’t really return until the shakes begin to subside sometime after the finish.
It sounds as if Chris hadn’t quite grasped the nettle and told his team what they were expected to do either. In fact, he left some of the important issues to be debated as they progressed. Had the barrel not seemed to have a mind of its own and keep going – as they often do – it might have reached the point where votes were cast at points like deciding where the beginning of the descent might be. It was pointed out to him on the start line that, as captain, navigation wasn’t necessarily his job which was a great relief to him, but the pressure was back on when he realised he had no-one to delegate that task to as no-one else knew the route in detail either. He’d had the foresight, however, to draw a north-south line on an OS map of Kinder on his phone almost directly from the Snake to the Nag’s. At 5-by-3 inches it didn’t contain a lot of detail and the line was a quarter-inch thick, but it was more than anyone else on his team had done.
Some of the aforementioned debate high above Grindsbrook while staring down the mountain side revolved around the best line to take. Maybe it was a subliminal tribute to the recently departed Barry Chuckle that there was some “to-me-to-you” as, between them, they tried to wrangle it one way then the other. Towards the path or past the rocks? However they managed it, they reached the bottom with only Mark suffering a barrel strike to the head somewhere amongst the bracken. Details of Colin’s descent are very sketchy at the moment, but I’m sure that once witness accounts have slowly filtered through a final version of events will be published.
Eugene, it is reported, came perilously close to being impaled by a gate after they took the chance of passing through a gate being held open by a kind member of the public who didn’t realised that his voluntary duty extended beyond the back end of the rig.
It was a great effort, though, and only 49 seconds separated 2nd from 4th. Well done!
Some recently discovered footage believed to have been taken a short time after the Gladi-Old-Guys had crossed the final bridge shows a blurred figure in pink crossing that very same bridge. Experts are of the opinion that there is a high probability of it being a rare sighting of the species Colinus Davenporteus.