Way back in 1973 Cynan Davies who was a Constable in the North Wales Police Training Department decided it would be a good idea if the young shiny Cadets were to indulge in some ‘adventure training’ as it was then called. Being blessed with the Snowdonia National Park on the doorstep he chose the mountain environment as the location to develop them.
Having got the Cadets learning about the mountains, equipment, map reading and hiking long distances, he decided that it would be a good idea challenge other force’s Cadets to a mountain test, an event that would test their fitness, teamwork and mountaincraft.
He devised a seven summit route that they must complete which would truly test them physically, ensuring that they would need big helping of the above three attributes.
Invitations went out, and fully supported by their Chief Constables most forces entered a team of 4 Cadets to take on the challenge.
The race was thus born in the summer of ‘74, and was named the Snowdonia Seven Mountain Trial.
The rules were simple, each team had to consist of 4 male Cadets (females were not allowed in those days!), and each team had to remain together whilst traversing the route and visiting seven named summits. They had to carry a specific list of equipment and wear mountain boots, of a minimum weight of 2lbs each!
The route took teams from the start Pen y Gwryd; traversing the Glyders, before descending down Elidir Fawr to the valley floor and then up the punishing ascent of Cwm Glas Mawr, to Crib Y Ddysgl and Snowdon summit. The descent took them to the finish at Rhyd Ddu.
The first event took place in shocking conditions, with West Midlands Police Cadets overcoming storm conditions to win overall from the field of 44 teams in total, witnessed by amongst others the then Chief Constable Sir Philip Myers. It was interesting to note that the winning team turned up wearing shorts, and subsequently had to don police trousers cut down into breeches; hence older readers will recall that in later editions of the rules it used to mention that police trousers or breeches were acceptable!
The conditions endured by the Cadets that first year were such that it was reported upon by the media of the day, with the headline ‘Plucked from the jaws of hell’, referring to the helicopter rescues of some. For those that survived to complete the event, a great many suffered, mainly due to a lack of experience, fitness and mountain knowledge. Cynan recalls that the rain fell so hard that no one could hear the words spoken at the under canvass prizegiving ceremony!
Sir Phillip countered the negative reports with a positive spin the following day, reporting what a great success it had been, showing with his own words how much he valued the experience it gave the young men and future police officers of the day.
Having been deemed a great success, i.e. nobody was dead, the event was repeated the following year when Warwickshire won, and again the next when Norfolk took the honours.
It was repeated each year until 1983 when it became clear that many forces were abolishing the recruitment of Cadets, making the race no longer viable as a cadet only event. So the race was opened up to also include regular officers who wanted to take on the challenge. The winners of this first senior category race were West Yorkshire.
This format of Cadets alongside Seniors continued for some years, until sadly the last Cadet team raced in 1994.
It was a nice ending for the cadets section as West Midlands Cadets rallied to make them winners of both the first and last cadet race.
In 1986 the race included a new Veteran category, no doubt following pressure from those who had been competing since the beginning, but now 22 years on were turning a bit grey! Having to be all aged 40 or over to be eligible, Hampshire took the honours that first time.
In 1993 the unthinkable happened, the race was opened up to Women! Yes, you guessed it, finally it had become clear that women were actually capable of competing on the same terms as the men; and all Ladies team category was formed. And guess who won yet again and for the next two races afterwards, none other than West Midlands Ladies.
In 2003 following representations from some Ladies who struggled to get a full team together yet wanted to compete we formed a new Mixed category; made up of either two or three Ladies it created an interesting dynamic. North Wales won this first one.
From the 1974 until 1994 the race was actually organised by the entire force training department, using both force time and equipment. Officers who were competing for the force were actually given the duty time with the Chief Constable’s permission, with the new Chief Constable David Owen following this lead, thereby reinforcing the value of event. Race marshals were equally allowed to take part in ‘job time’. The marshal’s task was however sometimes an arduous one, with many a marshal waking up the worse for wear after a night’s hard planning and preparation at Capel Curig Army Camp where the event was based. Sometimes more serious planning took place at either Cobdens or the Tyn Y Coed Hotels. It would not have been uncommon for some marshals (and the odd runner) to be setting out up the mountain whilst still unsteady on their feet, due to the… er… lack of sleep.
From the beginning the event was sponsored by the Police Mutual Assurance Society, with a magnificent trophy being supplied.
Still starting at Pen Y Gwryd, the route was also altered, no longer using the ascent of Cwm Glas Mawr, much to many competitors’ grateful thanks. Instead the ascent of Snowdon went via the Llanberis Path, and now involved the torturous mid-race route through the power station, before still finishing at Rhyd Ddu on the other side of the mountain.
In 1995 it was decided that it was no longer appropriate for the event to be organised under the auspices of the Police Authority, so the event was effectively shelved and didn’t run at all.
However in 1996 the by then retired Inspector, now Mr Cynan Davies, along with a number of other members of the Sports Association, in particular Inspector Iwan Jones, took on the running of the event once again. Now funded by members’ money, and with some borrowed force equipment, the event was re-started.
In getting it off the ground Cynan was joined by long standing volunteers including recently retired Insp Dave Curtis and retired Supt Peter Williams, plus a relative newcomer to the force and veteran of a mere two ‘Sevens races, a young PC Craig Jones. This upstart had the temerity to suggest that the race was modernised and that competitors be allowed to use shorts and running shoes. He was promptly rebuked and told that it would be far too dangerous for officers to move in the mountains wearing such minimal equipment! The following year he even suggested sports leg massage following the race, the others fell about laughing with various jokes about parlours, etc…
In 1997 North Wales eventually won their own event for the first ever time, and repeated the feat in 1998. Up to this recent point the regular front runners had been multiple winners Warwickshire, Nuclear Constabulary and Northumbria.
The race continued on, with the older organisers gradually retiring completely, and Craig Jones gradually taking on the organisation in general, with the help of an outstanding band of race administrators and volunteers who have come and gone. Sandra Davies and Michelle McBreeze, and now Dave Owens stand out amongst these. The race hasn’t been without setbacks; in 2000 the race wascancelledaltogetherwithasingleday’snoticeduetoanationalpetrolshortage. Strikingtanker drivers had brought the country to its knees and not even mountain running police officers could find the fuel to get to Snowdonia.
With the race weakened the year before, more upset was to come. Between February and April 2001 the foot and mouth disease crisis spread across the country, and caused the unnecessary closure of every footpath. Not knowing when it would abate, at the eleventh hour before cancellation of the planning process the event went ahead, though not without a considerably reduced entry list.
These setbacks also caused considerable financial pressure on the event which was and still is self- financing.
The route was altered once again, to start now at Rhyd Ddu, the route tackled the Snowdon section first, before traversing the Glyders next and finishing at Ty Gwyn, at the end of the lake.
In 2004, the last year using the starting point at Rhyd Ddu, North Wales Police achieved only their third ever win overall, and in doing so smashed the existing course record at that time by about 32 minutes at 4 hours 42 minutes.
The Rhyd Ddu start worked well for a number of years until it was decided that the start and finish being in different locations was becoming a logistical nightmare. Joined by current administrator Dave Owens, the route was changed to start and finish at Llanberis, the traditional home of Welsh fellrunning.
Unfortunately for some this also lengthened the route slightly making it 22 miles and 8000 feet of ascent, and also took us through the power station once again, with the generous consent of the owners First Hydro Company.
The event has gradually modernised into the event it is today. Competitors whilst sticking to the original ethos of the event are now allowed to wear fellrunning shoes, shorts and vests if they choose to do so. However if they choose shorts and vests they must continue to carry the long clothing as well as the full equipment list as stipulated in the original rules, sticking to original aim of encouraging each person to move quickly in the mountains with proper full kit.
Traditionalists might say the kit has become somewhat lighter over the years, with the old 2lb boot rule long gone, and thick woolly jumpers being exchanged for lightweight wicking layers. However the event hasn’t changed in some ways, the need for teamwork, fitness and mountaincraft is still there, and many a team has been taken to task by the mountain, having been found lacking in at least one of the three!
Dave Curtis and Peter Williams are still involved; Dave marshalling out there somewhere along with his long suffering wife Christine, and Pete in charge of the time keeping, although we don’t let him near the control of the electronic time clock!
Known by the runners under a few different names, the mad doc, the flying doc, Doctor Hugh Nicholson will be known to almost everyone who has taken part in the race as the Race Doctor. He came to the event in 1984 whilst working as a local casualty doctor in the nearby Ysbyty Gwynedd (Gwynedd Hospital), and doing some helping out with mountain casualties with the RAF Search & Rescue. He was asked by his boss to help out at the race that year and has attended every year since.
Even Hugh’s daughter has been roped in; with Jenne attending since she was a little ’un and now attending as a young mother herself and providing post race sports therapy to many tired legs.
In 2004 the 30th anniversary event took place. We celebrated the milestone with an invitation to the two Chief Constables who supported the event in its earlier years, namely Sir Philip Myers and David Owen CBE QPM. Both gentlemen attended the prizegiving at the Ty’n Y Coed Hotel, Capel Curig, where they said a few words to the appreciative gathering.
It was remarkable to note that at that anniversary race there were a number of competitors who had competed in the very first race 1974, and were either retired or were about to retire.
Particularly of note were the Warwickshire team whose youngest member at that time was in his mid-fifties and the oldest late 60’s, still going strong.
One thing that comes to a race veteran’s mind when you think of the Snowdonia Seven is the event mugs. Introduced in 1993 the event sponsors at the time Police Mutual Assurance Society actually came up with the idea, but it’s an idea that has endured. With a different design each year they have become collector’s items amongst the longer standing competitors. Even the year of the fuel strike a mug was produced, and we decided to send them out anyway as a consolation to those who had entered. So that year’s mug is unique, the race that never was. Sadly the author of this piece had his pinched a couple of years ago after taking his entire mug collection to the race. So if you have a year 2000 one you can spare me please get in touch and make my collection intact once again!
Over the years we’ve had some memorable moments, with each and every individual having a story to tell; whether they are competitors or marshals, or were just making the tea, the event has had a positive impact on their lives in some way.
We’ve managed to secure some interesting attendees too, with guest speakers such as ex-SAS member and author Andy McNab, another ex-SAS member and first soldier to ascend Everest, Bronco Lane.
And with any ‘extreme sport’ there will always be the odd incident, and the ‘Sevens is no exception, with Ysbyty Gwynedd enjoying its fair share of limping or stretcher borne victims of the mountain. There have been some cracking injuries (literally) and even exciting helicopter rescues, but thankfully nothing that those involved haven’t been able to smile some time later, albeit quite some time for one or two!
So where are we now and where do we go from here? Well we’re still going strong with the event’s popularity seeming to remain as high as ever. It doesn’t get any easier to organise, with limited help coming from the organisation other than the very useful loan of a caravan and radios without which we’d struggle. Getting new volunteers and marshals is like pulling teeth and we rely on the same bunch of hardy stalwarts’ year in year out, for which I am eternally grateful to each and every one of you.
The 40th anniversary race in 2014 is the next milestone. It seems that there’s every chance we’ll get there. The most difficult question is how to celebrate its arrival?!
It would appear that Cynan’s original aim of encouraging ‘fitness, teamwork and mountaincraft’ has stood the test of time.
Craig Jones December 2012