Isthmus Cottage sits on the north shore of Derwentwater in the Lake District, a stone’s throw from the charming town of Keswick and flanked by the imposing fells of Castlerigg and Cat Bells. The views are spectacular and it was certainly an inspiring place for the Hunt to base its pre-season training camp for four days before the start of the Lent term.
Ten boys and four girls made the journey north following a light 8km down the Severn at Shrewsbury before departure, with a number perhaps not having enjoyed a great deal of sleep the night before on New Year's Eve! Conditions on arrival were fairly wild to say the least, with lacerating rain and wind greeting us upon arrival at Isthmus Bay. With the minibuses unloaded, however, we were able to settle in for the evening and await the culinary delights of the first group’s dinner efforts; Head Chef Jake Samuel and team preparing a superb spag bol with particularly impressive chopping from the apprentice Sous Chef Monty Hardcastle, who chopped approximately eight and a half onions without crying. Thursday evening was concluded with the ‘2014 Quiz of the Year’ won by Team Hengelo (the same team who were on cooking duty that evening) with Team Berlin (headed up by Huntsman Theo Clarke) sadly ending up bottom with the ‘booby prize’ of comedy hats to be worn in the following day’s run.
Porridge awaited us on arrival at breakfast on Friday (thank you Mrs Weston!) which provided the perfect start to the day and excellent energy for the training sessions ahead. The senior boys would run in the morning and swim in the afternoon, with the girls’ sessions the other way round. The morning run was a loop around Derwentwater, though as you will know if you have been to the area, this is not a small lake! In fact, the entire loop was 17km which was a really good post-Christmas tester and the guys ran extremely well, packing in as a group for the first three quarters before a lead pack of Charlie Tait-Harris, Theo Clarke, Oscar Dickins and Will Hayward pressing the pace in the final few kilometres, bringing it down to 3.30min/km which provided a swift end to a long and testing run, one that involved rather a lot of water, often up to the knees, and on one or two occasions, up to the waist!
Despite the cold weather, there were many hillwalkers out on the trails with us, most of whom looked at us rather strangely (and one of whom barked out, ‘You’re mad!’), though we were unsure whether this was due to the fact we were out running in these conditions or due to the sight of comedy hats worn by Theo ‘Meow’ Clarke (cat’s ears), Charlie ‘Mustafa’ Rogers (fez cap), and Oscar ‘Infinity’ Dickins (Buzz Lightyear cap). At least they were not alone, unlike fellow team member Tati Watt who was the only girl in their group and therefore would later in the afternoon head out on a 10km run in a cat’s mask. She seemed strangely enthusiastic about it, though, and it didn’t hinder her in what was by all accounts a pretty swift final half of their out-and-back route. Harvard Fellow Miss Paine, in her first visit to the Lake District, made light work of the rocky sections with some swift canyoning and scrambling. The boys meanwhile headed up to Penrith for some post-run swimming and managed to put in 30 lengths (girls swam 40 in the morning) and concluded their training day by burning considerable calories, making way for Team Berlin’s dinner of chicken stuffed with goat’s cheese, wrapped in parma ham, served with a pesto and natural yoghurt sauce followed by stewed cinnamon apples. If we don’t win any trophies this season, Masterchef surely beckons…
The following day saw the group tackle a tough 6x1km reps session with the lead group knocking out 3.20-3.25 min/km, which was very encouraging given the somewhat tricky terrain and the impact of the long run the day before. The group worked hard and looked strong. A lazy afternoon followed with some time at the cottage or a stroll into Keswick, with some even opting for an icy dip in the lake to ease their muscles in readiness for the tough core session later in the afternoon. Sadly there was little enthusiasm for a visit to the world-famous Keswick Pencil Museum, much to the dismay of Mr Haworth and Mr Middleton who were hoping to revisit this important part of their childhoods. Their mood was lifted, however, with some fine grub at a local pizzeria and the evening was concluded with an extremely vigorously contested game of Articulate. Once Theo Clarke had realised that El Salvador was not a person, the game produced some inventive and creative performances, with a particularly memorable impersonation of a toad from Charlie Tait-Harris (pictured right doing his Usain Bolt impression).
After the hilarity of the evening before, it was back to business the following morning for the final key session of the training camp: a time trial around Buttermere Lake. After an early start and a somewhat precarious drive up the Honister Pass, the group jogged a warm-up lap around the lake just as the sun started to peep over the mountain-tops and then we were ready for some racing. The girls ran a 5km section of the loop with the boys covering a lap and a half to total 10km. This provided useful preparation for the following week’s national Knole Run where the runners will tackle similar distances over similar terrain. First home for the girls was Olivia Papaioannou with Oscar Dickins holding off Huntsman Theo Clarke to come through the finish in just over 38 minutes, an excellent time over the course and following some gruelling sessions in the preceding days. With the run completed it was back to the cottage for a welcome slap-up brunch and another lazy afternoon for some, and even a spot of work for a number of the group. An evening visit to the Alhambra cinema to see ‘The Theory of Everything’ which was enjoyed by all, though one of the boys conceded that he had cried ‘at least twice’ during the film so perhaps it had all been a little emotional.
The final morning involved a light 5km loosener and a short core session before some brunch, a final clean and a briefing on the season ahead. With the Lent term the Hunt’s major competitive season, we are in a strong position to go into the races ahead and with considerable depth and strength in the squad, we are anticipating a strong season to follow. The group worked hard over the course of the trip and were a pleasure to be with. My thanks go to Mr Haworth, Mrs Weston and Miss Paine for giving up the final few days of their holiday to assist with the camp and to the pupils themselves for committing to the training camp. Roll on the races!