That mountain glow: the worm has turned

In 1907 the police at Newnes arrested a local who was running naked through the bush shouting he was Jesus Christ come to deliver justice to the bustling little mining community in the wild Wolgan Valley, in New South Wales, Australia.

68 (2) Never heard of Newnes and its nudie run? Apart from the old pub, which still operates as a kiosk serving campers and bushwalkers on weekends, old Newnes is now a collection of haunting industrial ruins abandoned to nature. In the towering cliffs above the town, the legacy of a railway line bravely built into the valley is a 600m tunnel that is now home to a colony of glow worms so brilliant it looks like a subterranean Milky Way.

It is a place where nature now utterly dominates man, part of the vast Wollemi National Park that is part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

But back when Ted English made his naked bush bolt, it was home to many hard-working souls. Beneath the narrow valley’s sandstone escarpment, they manned the Wolgan’s oil-shale mining and refining operation, which was established in 1906 and continued until the 1930s, producing products like paraffin and kerosene.

That same wild valley, with its stunning scenery and fascinating industrial history, is now the host of a unique trail running weekend in 15-16 June. Sean Greenhill, from Blue Mountains-based Mountain Sports, loves the way the Glow Worm Tunnel Running Weekend combines his passions for tough trail running, unique landscapes and fascinating history.

And in honour of Ted English – ”a prime example of a pioneer of trail running in the Newnes area at the turn of the century” – Greenhill is now offering the inaugural Ted English Bolt as part of this year’s Glow Worm Tunnel Running Weekend: a 6km fun run through the extensive industrial ruins of Newnes, where you can see the likes of the beautiful old coke ovens and the brick terracing needed to house the industrial complex on the steep valley side.

The Ted English Bolt is a way for runners to see the sights and stretch their legs ahead of the nexTake Offt day’s marathon and half marathon.

Greenhill organised the first Glow Worm Tunnel Running Weekend in 2012, attracting 276 runners. It is back again this year with a bigger program of events (see the breakout on the Mystery Mountain Dash). The marathon – which starts and finishes at the Newnes Hotel – is a magical run through the bush on narrow tracks including the bed of the old Wolgan Valley railway, through the glow worm tunnel and across the high Pipeline Pass along a track which follows the old pipeline route to another oil-shale industrial relic, the town of Glen Davis.

Glen Davis lies in the neighbouring Capertee Valley, a giant canyon recognised internationally as one of the world’s top bird-watching places.

Brendan Davies, one of Australia’s (and now the world’s) top male trail runners having just won The North Face 100 (and beating Kilian Jornet’s record time), said of last year’s Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon: ”This is definitely one of the most beautiful and physically challenging courses I’ve ever done.”

The marathon course, however, has changed. Last year’s runners found the race beautiful but brutal in parts and this year the punishing passages of Pipeline Pass will come at the start of the race rather than at the end.

”We’re turning the marathon around,” Greenhill said. ”Last year the marathon ran up through the tunnel first then the second half of the marathon was up over Pipeline Pass to Glen Davis. Pipeline Pass is extremely steep and hard and we found that people who were slow or were injured were coming back down Pipeline Pass and it was already almost dark because it’s winter, so for safety reasons this year we’ve turned it around so first they are coming up over the pass and back and then they run up to the tunnel afterwards. Pipeline Pass is now the first thing they’ll tackle rather than the last thing.”

Runners must carry a head torch with them to tackle the glow worm tunnel and can only walk through it, not run, to ensure they don’t disturb the thousands of glow worms that line its walls. There’s a 10-minute time penalty for anyone breaking the rule. If the weather turns bad there is other compulsory gear runners must also carry with them because they will be in a remote mountainous region in winter.

glow worm runnersAnd some people don’t like being told what to run with.

”You hear plenty of people complain about it … people saying ‘we don’t have to carry all this stuff, we’re serious runners’,” Greenhill says. But he doesn’t agree with them. “The compulsory gear is to keep people warm and dry and alive when something goes wrong and they are forced to stop running.

”In the mountains, once you get a sweat up on a cool day, once you stop [running] you could get cold really easily and become incapacitated quite easily. I’ve gotten hypothermic in mountain runs a couple of times and let me assure you at that point you are glad you are carrying [protective clothing].”

Luckily Ted English did his naked bolt in April, when the weather is more balmy.

For more information about the Glow Worm Tunnel Trail Running Weekend (June 15-16) and to enter go to

It was the fabled Greek soldier Pheidippides who ran the 42.195 kilometres from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to establish the ancient legend that made the distance the most celebrated in world running. Horizontal running, that is.
These days in the trail running scene the ”vertical” kilometre is developing its own mystique. It involves a course that rises by an elevation of 1000m in as short a horizontal distance as possible. In other words, the steeper the better. While some vertical kilometre (VK) races in Europe and North America cover as much as five horizontal kilometres, the prestigious VK race at Fully in Switzerland boasts just 1920m of horizontal distance.

The Australian landscape doesn’t have the topography necessary to stage a decent vertical kilometre race, but the Glow Worm Tunnel Trail Running Weekend boasts a pretty good compromise. When you stand on the wooden balcony of the Newnes Hotel – the last building from its industrial heydey still standing – you look across the Wolgan River and need to crane your neck to see the top of Mystery Mountain, an imposing edifice that rises steeply from the river bank. Running the rough trail to the top from the pub balcony represents a 370m elevation gain over a horizontal distance of just 2.4km. The fastest recorded time for running the mountain is 22 minutes. Runners will tackle the course two at a time and the fastest male and female to get from the hotel to the top and back will win $200 each.