The Gisborough Moors Race

by Mick Garratt




The Route

The Gisborough Moors Race takes place generally the Sunday after Easter. It starts from Guisborough Rugby Club and takes in the “summits” of Gisborough Moor, Easby Moor, Roseberry Topping and Highcliffe Nab. The accepted distance is 12½ miles with 2,600 feet of climb; this places it as a BL in the F.R.A. categorization.

From the Rugby Club the race proceeds south along the ancient trackway of Belmangate and climbs through the forestry onto Gisborough Moor before dropping to Sleddale Farm (*but see note below). From Sleddale the farm track is followed onto Percy Cross Rigg, through Lounsdale Plantation, which has recently been partly felled, and down past Lonsdale Farm. A climb now beckons up to Captain Cooks Monument on Easby Moor. This is the highest point of the race and is generally considered to be half way.

The route then follows the Cleveland Way long distance footpath through Gribdale and onto what’s been described as Cleveland’s Matterhorn: Roseberry Topping. At Roseberry the race doubles back on itself following the Cleveland Way to Highcliffe Nab. To avoid any head on collisions the descent off Roseberry and up Little Roseberry is a marked route 50m north of the outward path.

From Highcliffe Nab the route continues to follow the Cleveland Way for about 500m before dropping rapidly on a marked path through Guisborough Woods to Belmangate. About half a kilometer of road running remains until the finish back at the Rugby Club.

*Note: there is no public right of way through Sleddale Farm so, please, no reconnoitering of the route through here. Permission is obtained for the day of the race only.   However since the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 the route has avoided Sleddale Farm  i.e. at the Belmangate stile 622148 you can take any route you like to the gate at 616138. Go through this gate and follow the minor path south until it joins the main path at 615219. Continue south on the main path to the Sleddale farm entrance at 618120 where you are now back on the classic route.




The inaugural Gisborough Moors Race was planned to take place in February 1978 but heavy snowfalls in the days leading up the to race meant Guisborough was cut off by the Friday. A new date of 12 March 1978 was hastily arranged which proved to be a clear spring day.

The race was the inspiration of Mick Garratt, the organiser for the first four races before Dave Parry took over in 1982. It was felt there was a need to a fell race in the North East. It was intended originally to follow the training route of the Guisborough contingent of Mandale Harriers. This route over Codhill Heights would have been somewhat shorter but more rugged using less paths and tracks. However permissions were not successful and the longer route over Gisborough Moor accepted.

The current route varies a little from the original 1978 route. During the first few races only a few locals knew of the now established path climbing up through Guisborough Woods. This by-passed the muddy forest track. Roseberry Topping was run up and down by the same route. The one-way system is a modern variation. And of course we did a lap of the Rugby Field at the start in 1978. The going has changed dramatically in recent years with the “improvement” of footpaths by the park authorities. This must have lead to faster running. So, is the current route faster than in 1984 when the men’s record was set? I leave you to decide.

There have been some major changes to the route in particular years. In 1988 and 1990 the route was reversed and in 1991 and 1992, at the request of the National Trust, Roseberry was ”rested”. The alternative route involved convoluted ascents of Capt. Cooks (from the Kildale side) and Hanging Stone (after dropping off Little Roseberry). The winning times during these two years are some ten minutes longer than normal.

One of the headaches for the organisers has been that of course marking. Although the North York Moors do not compare with the mountains of Cumbria and Scotland the race is a fell race and has been given a ‘B’ category by the Fell Runners Association. Fell races test the competitors’ ability to traverse mountainous (or in our case moorland) terrain at speed. These skills comprise strength of ascent, agility on the descent, the speed and stamina over rugged terrain and the ability to navigate. Different fell races place different emphasis on different skills and different conditions will test different skills. With this in mind the Moors Race course is marked where not obvious but competitors will receive little sympathy if they haven’t bothered to familiarize themselves with the route.

In 1980 the Ladies, who then ran the “short course”, ended up in Commondale (3 miles off course) in spite of clear weather. In 1988, the year the course was reversed, M Leigma of Elswick, lying in 6th, failed to cross Gisborough Moor and lost 20 places. In 1990, also a reverse year, Robin Bergstrand made almost exactly the same mistake which probably cost him the record. The Roseberry Topping marshall in 1993 reported the leading runners climbing from all directions. The following year Charles Stead had a 30 second lead at Roseberry but came off the wrong way finally finishing 52nd. It was to be another 4 years before Stead was to secure his victory in spite of unusual routes across Gisborough Moor and on the final descent from Highcliffe.

Some years ago there was a well known local runner  from Commondale who some three hours after he had set off on a misty Gisborough  Moors Race was noted to be missing at the finish. A little later and in something of a bad mood (no change there then!) he arrived at the finish area. Later it transpired he had gone off course at Captain Cook’s Monument ending up at Gribdale Terrace to enquire where he was. Unfortunately he then managed to set off in the wrong direction again and finally ended up at the start of the Captain Cook's New Years Day Race in Great Ayton. Having made such a mess of his navigation so far, he decided the best thing to do would be to run back to Guisborough via the road, which he subsequently did. The longest Gisborough Moors route on record!
You might think that was outrageous enough but you would need to think back to when the women’s race was shorter and separate in the early days of ‘The Moors’ race. They set off up hill towards Belmangate top. Unfortunately when they reached this point they did not turn towards Sleddale but ran on at a ninety degree angle to reach Commondale. As they ascended out of Commondale they were caught by a marshall who had chased them for several miles and turned back only to be disqualified at the finish, for not visiting all the checkpoints. 

A 'low key' Gisborough Moors race was just squeezed in before the year 2001 ended having been earlier cancelled through the Foot & Mouth restrictions. This used a slightly shorter route avoiding Sleddale Farm as did the 2002 and 2003 races

Course Records*







Steve Sutcliffe

Mandale H. & A.C.




Carol Haigh

Holmfirth Harriers



Veterans O/40

Ben Grant

Harrogate A.C.



Veterans O/50

Jeff Coulson

Calder Valley Harr.



Veterans O/60

P Lancaster

North Shields Poly



Lady Vets O/35*

Glynda Cook

Rochdale Harriers



Lady Vets O/45

Sandra Jemson

New Marske Harr.



* N.B. Brenda Yule was 41 when she ran 108:42 in 1986
* These do not include results from 2001 onwards which were run on a slightly shorter course

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