The Exmoor Stagger has been going for a long time, but it’s as glorious now as it ever was, says Sam Murphy
The Exmoor Stagger: a race that never goes out of style
The Exmoor Stagger was held for the 20th time this year. I’m told as many as half of the field are ‘ loyal addicts’, who tackle its 15+ miles year after year. Anyone familiar with the wild beauty of Exmoor (and the cakes at the race finish) will understand the draw.
But you’ll certainly earn that Cherry Bakewell. The mostly off-road route encompasses over 1,100m of climb, taking in the moor’s highest point – Dunkery Beacon – before returning to the start point in Minehead on the Somerset coast.
The race kicked off from a cul-de-sac but it wasn’t long before we were running through wooded Alcombe Combe on good, firm trail. At first we climbed gradually, but soon we were scaling the formidable slope of Periton Hill (300m).
We emerged onto open moor, where the bracken was signalling autumn, with saffron flames bursting from a mauve expanse of heather. You could call me biased about Exmoor, since I once lived there; it’s where I found my trail-running feet on many meanders across the moor. But James Baker, winner last year and on six other occasions, is equally smitten. ‘It’s such a stunning course and the scenery is
at its best at this time of year – you have a good chance of spotting red deer,’ the Sussex-based runner said afterwards.
Any deer had scarpered by the time I found myself on the level terrain of Wootton Common, but there were Exmoor ponies to admire and a drinks station to provide an excuse for a breather. Four miles in, the route divided. Go right and you’re on your way to Dunkery Beacon, with an invigorating single-track climb; turn left and you’ve opted for the Stagger’s little brother, The Stumble, which will have you home after a tad under seven miles.
For both Staggerers and Stumblers, the last mile of the race is an exhilarating downhill cruise that really lets you take the brakes off. I careened to the finish, where my time was hand-recorded. This is an old-school race of the best kind – well organised by a running club who know the area well ( great route, easy parking, hot showers, well-priced refreshments) and marshalled by enthusiastic club members, friends and family. For £16 it’s a steal and I was happy to get back to the race HQ before all the cakes were gone. Run It The next Exmoor Stagger is on Oct. 23. mineheadrunningclub.co.uk