Fr Chris’s Five Summit Challenge for Bolton Hospice


Fr Chris with Rev Roger and Julie

On Saturday 18th of June Fr Chris completed The Five Summit Challenge. This was a 70 kilometres (42 miles) mostly off road run starting at 5.00am going up Winter Hill, then over to Holcombe Tower, then to Darwen Tower, Great Hill, Rivington Pike and finishing at St Thomas of Canterbury Church.

There is a just giving page for Bolton Hospice at If you just type in Fr Chris Gorton on the Just Giving Page search it will come up. Please give generously it is not too late.

Here is Fr Chris’s story of the Five Summit Challenge.


The Five Summit Challenge

Today was the day….

At 3.00am the alarm clock went off. Well three alarms clocks to be precise. Today was the day: Saturday the 18th of June. The day of the Five Summit Challenge. The idea first came to me when I have finished the Castle Howard marathon in July 2019 with the question: what next? One of our parishioners, Edwin Coupe, a very experienced and accomplished fell runner, had talked about a West Pennines route he had put together covering all the summits. That inspired me to think of a route that would challenge me but was achievable! And the idea of the Five Summit Challenge began to formulate in my mind.

I had some favourite routes including an off road, hill marathon I had run twice the year before that took in Rivington Pike, Winter Hill, Great Hill and Darren Tower. And there was another tower in the distance: Holcombe Tower, which I had run a few times from Bury with my nephew. Was it possible to link them all up as a circular route and if so what would the distance be? And so the planning and training began.

Just do it!

The training meant that I ran every day, off road, uphill, five times a week for around two hours and then two longer runs. This was what I had been doing during for some time as a result of lockdown and basically meant going up Winter Hill each day, whatever the weather. The planning was time spent pouring over maps and plotting and re plotting routes. Then I had a route: those five summits. The distance: 70 kilometres or 42 miles. The ascent: around 1500 metres. This would be 22 kilometres further than I had run before, with at least 450 metres more of ascent and was clearly going to take a lot longer to run. But quite how much longer was an unknown.

In the end it was decided that I would start from near Moss Bank Park and ascend Winter Hill and from there pick up the Anglezarke Amble route down the Rake over towards Belmont and then over to the bottom of Turton Heights, around the edge of the top of Entwistle reservoir past the Strawbury Duck and over across Weyoh reservoir and up the lane. Stage One!

The second stage was the ascent of Holcombe Tower. I had two routes depending on whether the firing range was active that day. Both returned to the same stopping point of Stage One on School Lane. The third leg went from there over to Darwen Tower and then down crossing Belmont Road and up Great Hill and down to White Coppice. Stage Three! The fourth stage took in the second part of my favourite route in the area from White coppice along Anglezarke, up Rivington Pike then back over via Walker Fold to St Thomas of Canterbury church. Now all I had to do was to do it!

As part of the preparation I did a reccie of each leg at least a couple of times and put some of the legs together. Normally I run around 120 kilometres a week. In Holy Week I ran 183 kilometres in seven days, but that was over seven days!

Back to the day itself. After all the planning and training including a week of tapering with no running, three alarms sounded at 3.00am. I said the invitatory psalm knelt by my bed as I do each morning and got ready for the day. After some granola and grapefruit I said Morning Prayer very early and spent an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Whatever happened I wanted to give the day ahead to God. At 4.00am I heard another alarm clock go off. This was the alarm of Fr Michael Dease in the guest room who was going to run the first leg with me. Back to my prayers and at 4.45am I went downstairs to put on my running shoes.

Putting your shoes on!

Sometimes it is said that the hardest part of doing a run is putting your shoes on! I was excited and nervous and just wanted to start. At 5.00am sharp we said a short prayer and started to run. To add an extra kilometre on to the first leg to make sure the total was 70k we ran up Smithills Dean Rd way which is a prolonged ascent.

Fr Michael is a very good runner who completed the Manchester marathon the year before in less than three hours and forty-five minutes! Running off road with hills was a new discipline for him but he took on the challenge brilliantly and was a great support. Before long we were at the top of Winter Hill, an old friend for me when I’m out running. We prayed a Glory Be at the trig point and took some photos. I’d decided at each summit I would have a photo of me showing the number of the summits I had covered so far. So I held up one finger, the challenge was really under way. I could also see Darwen Tower, Great Hill and knew that somewhere in the distance one way was Holcombe Tower and the other way was Rivvy Pike. But The plan was to stay focused on each little bit. And so we descended the Rake which I normally run up on a Saturday. As we reached the bottom I switched on my GPS to keep an eye on a couple of turns we needed to make. The terrain can be tough from there. After the descent that continues across Belmont Road the ascent is a challenge and then crossing some moorland which is difficult to navigate and took its toll on the pace. The same was true running parallel to Turton Heights and some bits had to be walked.

People sometimes say did you run every step on a long distance off road event and the answer is always: no! Edwin had already advised me to walk some parts as it would be as quick as running them and save on energy. And he has trained people to run the Bob Graham Round! I also realised that there would be bits that if I was running half the distance I would run but today I would have to walk to make sure I gave it the best shot of finishing.

Summit One: Winter Hill

We had arrived on top of Winter Hill not long after 6.00am and we reached the end of the first leg at 8.00am Michael made the call as we ran past the Strawbury Duck to Rev Roger Petch the vicar at St Paul’s, Haliwell. He was there ready and waiting to run the second leg with me. We arrived at Michael’s car, time for water, bananas and chocolate and we were on our way. Fr Michael was then going back to an ordination the cathedral. He did fantastically well running the first twenty kilometres with me over tough terrain and was a great support.

Fr Chris with Fr Michael at the top of Winter Hill

Now I was running with Roger. I was delighted that he was joining me for the second leg. My nephew was hoping to do the second leg but he was working. He rang me the day before to wish me good luck!

The first three kilometres was gradual uphill ascent, tough in its own way. Then, as there was no firing on the range we could take the better route up Holcombe and four hours into the run we were at Holcombe Tower.


Summit Two: Holcombe Tower

It felt a long way from home! Again I said the Glory Be and time for photos. This time two fingers, two summits completed. A couple who were sat there helped with the photos and were very encouraging. Then we carried on along the tops towards the site of the old pilgrims cross and along before turning back towards Weyoh. Again the terrain is tough there and I could feel it in my right knee. A slight concern in case that was going to become a problem. But only time would tell. As we returned to School Lane after a very enjoyable time sharing stories and supporting each other it was time for Roger to make the call. This time to Tina, a very good friend of mine who was our back up support for the next two legs as I was to run with another very good friend of mine, Julie. And we returned to the same spot where leg one ended. The distance was now 33.7 kilometres, not quite half way but I knew that the second half was over 36 kilometres. Roger did a fantastic job, over tough terrain and was a great support.

Fr Chris with his brother Dominic and Julie


Time for a couple of photos as the water bottles were filled up and more chocolate and bananas and then we were off. Julie and I have run some long distances before, most notably the Lancashire Man which is an off-road marathon that ended up being 48 kilometres. Not long ago she had run The Haworth Hobble which is 52 kilometres. It was great that she was to be my companion for the last two legs with Tina as back up. The Monday before we had driven round checking where the stops would be and where to park the car.

Now I had run the third and fourth leg together in training when a friend of mine dropped me off. So many people have helped in the preparation and behind the scenes. This time it was after nearly 34 kilometres and it was starting to be sunny. I hadn’t expected the sun and I could feel the effect. I had plenty of water and had been training carrying two litres of water but I was hoping that it would cool down. I was on more familiar territory which helped and in my mind once we were near Darwen Tower some big pieces were starting to fall in to place. I was asked afterwards if there was a time when I felt that I couldn’t finish the challenge. I don’t think that there was but as we were moving towards Darwen Tower my watch beeped to mark the marathon distance and there was still 28 kilometres to go. The pace was dropping, I could see that on my watch but I knew that I had to accept that if I was going to finish. Soon I was entering a whole new world beyond the furthest I’ve ever run before.


Summit Three: Darwen Tower

We reached the trig point at Darwen Tower. More prayers and more photos this time holding three fingers aloft.

And then on. In my mind now was Great Hill. I’ve only ascended it three times from the road and it was going to be a grind. But the weather was improving. It was cooler and not much breeze. If I could make it to the top of Great Hill another big piece was in place. I could feel it in my legs, my knee was not getting any worse and now the shift was to how would I cope mentally. I remember on the Camino meeting a man who had run thirty four marathons. He said that the first half of each one was in the legs, the second was in the mind. As we descended my watch ran out of power. I had brought a power pack and charger but it didn’t work. So Strava wasn’t going to give me my full distance. No matter, I knew how far we had gone and what was left.

As we crossed Belmont Road a car I recognised passed by and sounded the horn. It was Edwin. Julie said ‘Shall I go back and tell him all is well?’ So she did and that was encouraging especially as he calculated that was roughly where I should be.






Summit Four: Great Hill

Then we began the ascent. I’ve run it before but we walked more of it this time.

We arrived at the summit. Now there was light at the end of the tunnel. More prayers more pictures and this time I held four fingers aloft. Not there yet by any means yet but now we were 49 kilometres in and the descent which I knew well. But my legs and feet were not reacting in quite the same way as usual which made it tougher. And then I fell! I wear gloves when I am running because sometimes I do fall over. I fell back on a fairly steep stony descent. I was ok but suddenly I got cramp in my left leg. That was unexpected. Julie was there and checking I was ok. Fortunately I was and I could get back up and carry on. A couple more kilometres and we were at White Coppice. The end of the third leg and 18 kilometres to go. Tina was there with our supplies. Julie made me eat some crisps for the salt. She had been carrying an injury and said nothing but was putting some ointment on. Stoic approach!

Now we were on the final leg. I had run 52 kilometres, I was slowing down, the time frames and estimates were changing. The stop had an exciting, different feel about it. The challenge was starting to kick in. When I’ve watched programmes about long distance challenges these were the moments. People checking you are still ok, shovelling down food including midget gems and crisps on automatic pilot, wanting to get going again but needing the break.

The plan now was to run the next six kilometres to Rivington where we were going to meet my big brother who was running with us from there. Family and friend support was wonderful. We’d worked out the logistics. My brother in law was the driver with my brother, sister and sister in law in the car.

The run from White Coppice to Rivington is beautiful along Anglezarke and this time there were lots of young people on Duke of Edinburgh expedition. We wished them all well and they were cheery and wished us well. I knew the route very well from here and in my mind was telling myself that I was on a long Monday run, nothing more, and that I could do it! But I also knew it was taking me a lot longer than normal. So this is what it feels like for me running beyond fifty kilometres. Now I know the feeling. It wasn’t particularly uncomfortable or unpleasant at all but it was slow. No matter, now was the time to keep on going. I was mindful of the sea shanty Keep on Hauling! And I had every intention to. I had promised my sister that I would stop if I had to do which was true but only if I absolutely had to do!

We reached Rivington and this time there were two back up vehicles, Tina and Tom, my brother in law. My sister wanted to make sure I was Ok, my brother was ready to join us. Another exciting short break, fuelling up. And now I started to be aware of a protective ring being formed around me of family and friends. It was a very special feeling.

We began the ascent of Rivington Pike. Even if you start from this point it’s a tough ascent, never mind after 58 kilometres but it needed doing. I ran up the zig zags slowly. Dominic (my brother) and Julie were there keeping an eye on me. Small acts of kindness making all the difference. They could see I was starting to get tired and needed to watch my footing, I nearly fell back a few times over stiles as the day went on that didn’t normally happen but this wasn’t normal!

Summit Five: Rivington Pike

We made it to the top of Rivington Pike, another old friend from running and another big piece in place. More prayers, more photos and this time I held five fingers aloft. I could hardly believe it! A precious moment, but there was still nine kilometres to go and some tough track ahead. We descended along the track. By now I was on automatic pilot: this was the last part of my normal Saturday run, I just had to keep going! And again it was taking a lot longer than it does when you’ve only run 13 kilometres to get to the Pike.

I knew there was one more touch ascent that takes you back towards Two Lads. To complete that part was another big piece in place. And we did it. Now I was on a daily running route. That was what I told myself: you are just on your daily 16k run, keep going, don’t think too far ahead or of just how big this all is, keep focussed. Then we took a right and left up Matchmoor lane, the last bit of any sort of uphill, then Burnt Edge and back round so that we could descend to Walker Fold car park.







The Landmarks were slower arriving!

There would be our two support vehicles and my sister and sister in law were to run the last four kilometres with us. I have run down to Walker Fold car park many times and over the last few weeks imagined what it would feel like on the day. Now I knew. And I saw the car. Another stop, more crisps, more midget gems and a time check. It was getting tight to finish for mass. I said to Tom, my brother in law, to tell them encourage the children to run without me. Now was the last four kilometres. Normally very quick, today the landmarks were slower arriving. Five of us running, past the Bob Smithy, past Bolton Old Links and across the roundabout. We were almost there and it was an extraordinary feeling. As we ran down New Hall Lane we saw families with balloons and running medals! And they cheered! I remember saying to Julie as we turned on to Eastbourne Grove ‘you don’t get many moments like this to the pound!’ Then I saw Tom and Tina at the corner pointing. Then there were some children cheering, and more and more parishioners. My finishing point was the cross outside the church, touching the cross was the end of the run. What an atmosphere! I reached out for the cross, it took two attempts, but I did it and finished with the Glory Be!

Fr Chris with his sister Therese, sister in law Elaine, and Brother Dominic

Fr Chris with Fr Saju, Julie and Dominic


Glory Be!

That was the beginning of the celebration. A short thank you to everyone and then it was nearly time for mass. Fr Saju was there to cover for me which was great so that I could be there but he led the mass. I entered church and people gave me a round of applause and I did my best to genuflect. It was a perfect way to end the run with mass.

After mass we had some more photos with a great banner and then back home for fish and chips with family. So many people to thank at the end of the day and the day ended as it began in my prayer room with an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

‘AMDG ‘ to the greater glory of God. Amen!


Leg One – Part One Map

Leg One – Part Two map

Leg Two Map

Leg Three – Part One map

Leg Three – Part Two map

Leg Four – Part One map

Leg Four – Part Two map