All good things must come to an end, right? Notice had been given that the 2017 Stoop fell race would be the penultimate event organised by Dave and Eileen Woodhead; perhaps known more widely by their collective pseudonym, The Woodentops. For eons they have jointly hosted and organised a range of friendly, no frills fell races on t’moors above Haworth. Beyond this, the Woodentops regularly head out to other races and selfishly take action shots of runners in full flow – I was tipped early in my fell forays to be cautious if you see them during a race as there’s likely a unsuspecting hazard nearby!
Unable to attend the Auld Lang Syne race on Hogmany, the 2017 Stoop fell race would be my final Woodentops’ race. Worryingly, reports the day before of compacted ice suggested the race might need to be cancelled. On race day though access was possible for organisers, marshals and runners and only small sections of the senior race route were considered dangerous. The route was suitably revised to a simple out and back with a lollipop turn at the Stoop Stone. The bogs would still be there, most likely hidden under a camouflage of ice and heathery frost. Thankfully Dave with his camera wouldn’t be anywhere near!
Nonetheless, Mester W. was soon spotted making final arrangements for both the junior and senior races. He was observed hand-spreading grit salt around the entrance to the portaloos and providing a safe passage to the finish line for runners; the glamour of a Race Organiser, eh?! I complimented Dave for his kindness and suggested that his place in heaven was likely sealed:
“Heaven, HEAVEN? I’d rather be with the devil down below – at least it’d be bloody wa’m!”
Once again, as always, there was little point in disagreeing with the main man. Or maybe he and Eileen had already been promised greater things when they were recognised by Queen Betty?
Eileen, as is usual, was probably working with others inside or near the cricket club; like a ninja to Dave’s samurai – to me Eileen always displayed a quiet, effortlessness as demonstrated during the delivery of the prize awards in t’pub. Mind, Eileen always did seem to perk up during a race when about to capture me on camera:
(usually followed by a wee giggle)
The wave of Santa hats soon dispersed out from the cold quarry after the now familiar cries of ‘Get Back’. As warned the moorland access track was indeed sheet ice and the entire race field was self-guided to the verge on the right. Underfoot conditions were manageable once out on the moorland paths and bogs, although perhaps a tad tricky in spots. As some runners disappeared thigh deep into icy bleakness, those following took diverted routes left and right. But at least we were running and kind of racing. And sort of getting warmer.
The mist intensified with the elevation, and soon two claret and gold vests from my club hurtled past. At best, I was reduced to a shuffle here so was quite happy to encourage all by name who flew by. Amidst the cold slush I looped round the Stoop Stone – manned by Mick Fryer, who must’ve been colder than a polar bear’s unspeakables – and started my return to (relative) warmth. The descent was generally good fun and with modest care could mostly still be approached with some adventure, if not the usual reckless abandon or foolhardiness.
Carefully edging down the icy track and up the finish incline from the toilet block, where juniors enthusiastically cheered and clapped the seniors to the finish. Dave was in familiar territory with camera in hand, instructing runners where to stand and commanding them to look happy. I happily obliged with the obligatory ‘kilt flash’ as this was my final appearance at a Woodentops’ masterclass.
Huge thanks to them both for many memories ranging from fun on the fell to being hurt by Haribo! There is something of irony in being warned pre-race not to do anything silly, only later to be injured by confectionery thrown by same, said person.
The races in 2018 – and beyond – won’t be the same but, while no longer organised by Dave and Eileen, I’m sure there will still be some devil in them somewhere!