Wednesday 9 September 2020

Conte partiro - time to say goodbye......

Shortly after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 I was climbing in the Lake District with members of the Vibram Mountaineering Club.  No-one knows quite how it came about, I suspect beer was involved, a handful of us talked each other into doing a 5 mile Fun Run 6 weeks hence.  I'd never run in my life, my passion was climbing, being among mountains.
Climbing into Tower Gap, Tower Ridge, on a solo ascent of Ben Nevis. 
(Photo courtesy Stuart Scott)
Click to enlarge all pics.

Winter traverse of Seana Braigh - Northern Scotland
(Photo courtesy Stuart Scott)
To be honest, I didn't take it seriously.  It was just something different to do, a one off diversion.  Nothing could replace my love of mountaineering, summer and winter, snow or shine.

"Just nip up there, it'll make a good shot" Stuart said.  So I did!
On the Clach Glas/Blaven traverse - Isle of Skye
(Photo courtesy Stuart Scott)
In fact, that 'poxy little Fun Run', as someone called it, proved to be the dawn of my running career.  I surprised myself by finishing the hilly 5 miles in 38 minutes with two thirds of the field behind me.  At the age of 55.  Time to do some serious training, I thought, so joined a jogging class at Huddersfield Sports Centre.
The Cross Keys relay winning pub team.  I'm the bearded one.  Alan Taylor is third from left

The class was led by Alan Taylor, a very good marathon runner who very soon told me I was fast enough to start racing.  I suspected it was because he was a man short for the Cross Keys Relay team!   The Mountain Goat, as I was infamously called, was given a 2½ mile fell section to run.  We won and came away with a large silver cup, a Shield and a car boot full of canned beer.
That win sparked a whole series of races and within another few months had a 10K time of 42.34, 10 miles in 68.34 and a ½ marathon time of 85.33    The annoying thing was, I hadn't actually won anything.
My first marathon win - of seven. 
After just 15 months of running I struck luchy in the 1987 Pennine Marathon which seasoned runners told me had around 2,000ft of ascent in its 26.2 mile circuit.  It took place on a blistering July day and many runners fell by the wayside suffering from cramp, hear exhaustion, dehydration or blisters.   Crossing the line in 3.30.04 I was declared winner of the M55 category and called onto the rostrum amid great applause to be handed a silver cup, voucher for £25 and large green bath towel which has since graced many a club changing room during races up and down the country.  The mountain goat had graduated.   
Life would never be the same again.
Setting a new M55 course record - 3.05.47 in my 2nd  Pennine marathon.
In a later 'Pennine' Ron Hill ran the first 10 miles with me and presented prizes at the end.  "Ah, we meet again" he said, as I climbed onto the stage.

I'd become an athlete and from then on I'd have to train, act and behave like one.   Social habits, diet and drinking,, sleep times all changed.   I set myself two goals, to one day win my age category in the Three Peaks of Yorkshire, which became my all time favourite race, and to get my marathon time down to sub 3 hours.   In 1993 I achieved both on consecutive Sundays. 
Unbelievably, just seven days apart!
Me, Ajit and Ranjit all set for the London Marathon

My friend, Ajit Singh, had insisted I run London with him.  "It's the best marathon in the world, like a world championship and you'll beat them all" he said, meaning all the M60's category.  We stayed with wonderful Sikh friends of his at Dagenham East on Saturday night, then got the train to Blackheath early Sunday morning and lined up with Good For Age Veterans in the Red start.

Winning the Mens O/60 category
I was only a few yards from the front and ran the first mile in 6 minutes before settling down to my race pace.   Ajit was right, I did beat them all, taking the British Championship and, I was told, finished 2nd fastest O/60 in the world that year.    
Ajit was over the moon
 The Three Peaks was a different kettle of fish, 24 miles of heather, bog, rocks and stony trails with nearly 5,000ft of ascent over Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.  Friends said I was mad to attempt it only seven days after London, but I was fit and brimming with confidence.   After a couple of easy training runs on the fells I was rarin' to go.
Steep pull up Ingleborough in the Peaks race - white headband.
 My legs felt no after effects of London and I ran the Peaks like a well oiled machine to easily finish first O/60 in 4.09.27.  So far as I know, no other athlete has completed that double before and I doubt if anyone will.  I ran London twice, the Pennine marathon five times and the Yorkshire three Peaks three times, winning my age category in all of them.   
Two winning Peaks medals flanking the English O/70's Fell running Championship medal
Of all my racing trophies the Peaks medals come top of the list along with one Presented to me after winning the inaugural men's O/70 English Fell Running Championship in 2004.  The London medals were absolute crap.   They weren't even engraved but came with a brief letter from Alan Storey saying what I'd achieved.   I was disgusted, especially as it was the most expensive race i'd ever entered.
My wonderful partner - 1st British Lady ahead of Brenda Robinson in the World Mountain Running Championships -  finishing with a circuit of the Track after 5 miles of uphill running, Switzerland

In 1991 I met my wonderful partner and persuaded her to join Longwood Harriers.  Becoming known as the Longwood raiding party we ran, and won, many races from 4 miles to ½ marathon both on the road and on the fells, in Britain and abroad.

She can climb too. Soloing a route in the Swiss Alps

Wherever we went, our running gear went with us.  We ran wonderful trails or climbed together both home and abroad, in Crete, La Palma, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Menorca and the Swiss Alps.  Hot favourites were the Eiger Trail and the run back to Grindelwald from Kleine Scheidegg, the Volcano Route, or the rocky run down from the 8,000ft Rocque de los Muchachos in the mountainous island of La Palma.   In Tenerife we ran up Mount Teide, Spain's highest mountain, but thankfully weren't allowed on the very top.  I was knackered and hyper ventilating!   10,000ft is my limit.
For all those exotic places, her favourite place on earth is the tiny island of Ulva in the Inner Hebrides!
Celebrating my final Munro with a bottle of Long Mountain.  
On the summit of Beinn Fhionlaidh, Glen Etive, May 2002.  
Picture courtesy of the Scottish Mountaineering Club archives

She was with me to run/walk my last 26 Munros (283 Scottish Mountains over 3,000ft) during the fortnight straddling my 70th birthday.  We camped wild with the persistent call of cuckoos.  White hares ran the snowy tops adding interest to our long walks and climbs.   It was a delectable fortnight and I couldn't have wished for better company.  
Not just because she did the cooking!

Cameron McNeish presenting me with trophies for ten unaided crossings of Scotland.   
Park Hotel, Montrose.

She also accompanied me on three of eleven Coast to Coast backpacking walks across the wilder parts of Scotland, (Grest Outdoor Challenges) that take place every May.

    We are the music makers
and we are the dreamers of dreams.
 Wandering by lone sea breakers
 and sitting by desolate streams.

Dr Stuart Scott on Angels Peak during our 38 mile run round Cairngorm tops

Another great running and mountaineering partner was Dr Stuart Scott who lectured at Plymouth University and with whom I did my longest runs.  A memorable Scottish one took us over snow covered mountains from Lairig Leacach bothy, taking in all the Munros of the Great Lochaber Traverse and over Ben Nevis before a joyous 4,00ft run down packed snow fields and the rocky path to Fort William. 
An experience I shall never forget.
On a run up Ben Hope looking across to the huge bulk of Ben Loyal 
(Courtesy Stuart Scott)
He was with me over many Munros and I was glad of his company and navigational skills in wild winter weather.  He loved the mountains as much as me and together we could travel at speed over the roughest terrain often wearing only shorts, studs and a bum bag.
Stuart & Maria, getting high in Italy
 "Gear shops wont make much money out of you two" passers by remarked as we raced over Arkle.  He's now happily married to a charming Dutch lady but has fallen out with bonnie Scotland, ostensibly because of ticks, midges and unpredictable  weather, and now spends holidays getting high in Italy.   I've missed him.
Time to relax, to finally admit to myself those days have gone

Sadly, all such things come to an end.  After more than 40,000 miles of running it's time to relax and indulge myself in all the  incredible memories, and maybe a glass or two of wine.  Looking back, I cannot believe what I've achieved.   I watch runners completing the Peaks with tears in my eyes, wondering how on earth I did it at my time of life. 
The wild moors and high mountains are timeless, you don't venture there for fast times but for long days of pure enjoyment.   Kilian Jornet once said "If you don't enjoy what you're doing, you will never improve".  Well, believe me, I've enjoyed every minute of it, lived my dreams, and can say without hesitation,
Vixi, I have lived

Wednesday 26 August 2020

A fair drop o' watter...

Our weekend activities were somewhat curtailed by inclement weather.  After racking our brains all Saturday, trying to solve a cryptic crossword, we sat twiddling our thumbs, waiting for a dry spell.   Late on Sunday morning it relented sufficiently for us to venture out.    Clad in waterproofs!
Hebden Beck by the Miner's Bridge   (Click to enlarge)
A group of archaeologists seemed oblivious to the weather as they sieved and scraped at the footings of old workings by the rushing waters of Hebden Beck near the Miner's Bridge.
Stepping stones
Higher up the ghyll, stepping stones across the beck were partially submerged so we got wet feet crossing to the other side.
Why couldn't they have set them a little higher?
Plodding up Tinker's Lane
We turned left up Tinker's Lane, a steep, grassy pull at first, then increasingly muddy towards the farm at High Garnshaw.   We turned downhill through the pasture and back to the village.  
We'd be interested to know how Tinker's Lane got its name?
A turbulent River Wharfe at Loup Scar
After a little over 4 miles we were back home for a late lunch.  The heavens opened again, the rain poured, the river rose and we were glad to be back, snug and cosy. by a warm stove.
Now, where's that crossword?

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Runner's high.....

In my early days of running I sat down one night and tried to describe what running meant to me, why I enjoyed it so much. 
The following poem trickled down the page. 
There are days
On paths that zig-zag
High into the hills
We pass beyond the pain,
Catch that tingling in the scalp
That tells us soon
We'll treadmill out of time,
Out of self.

      To rufflings of raven's wings
      We'll rise above the stones,
      Sail in the eye of the wind
      To worlds beyond the womb.
      In that transmigratory state
      That's neither flesh nor blood.
      Male or female, warm or cold,
      We'll run, like disembodied joys,
      The gauntlet of eternity.

Wednesday 12 August 2020

Last fling before the Glorious Twelfth....

Many years ago while in farm service I acquired an old 12-bore shotgun with a kick like a mule. My boss wouldn't allow it in the house or on the premises so I'd to hide it in a hollow oak tree in a nearby field.   Its use was a means of supplementing my meagre income.   The local shopkeeper would pay 4/- for each rabbit I shot.
Years later after leaving the R.A.F. (where I qualified as a Marksman during the Suez crisis) I resumed my shooting activities for very much the same reasons as before.  I was broke and I needed food, so many of my meals came from the land.  Anybody's land.   Folk have jokingly remarked that it was as a poacher I learned to run so fast.  I wasn't shooting for pleasure, only for the pot and only for myself.
Which leads me nicely to something I hate.   The annual slaughter of birds by folk who pay a great deal of money to kill as many as they possibly can.  They call it sport! 
On a local estate pheasant and partridge poults are bought in by the thousand each Spring for trigger happy people to blast from the sky later in the year.
. A video was once posted showing clouds of duck flying in to be fed by a chap rattling a bucket.  It was followed later by a photograph showing carcases of those very same ducks spread on the ground before a group of posing, beaming shooters.
They call it sport.  I call it carnage. 
Once we had a keeper more sympathetic towards all wildlife.  I could chat with him and could accept grouse shooting and the Glorious Twelfth.  We had a lot in common.  In those days it was a pleasure to run the local moor.  Resident ravens were almost friendly. They'd trail me, knowing they were safe. Hen harriers quartered the moor, merlin would flash by, low along some banking.   We'd frequently hear the mewing of buzzard, catch sight of a peregrine, or occasionally a red kite would stop us in our tracks...….
…...until we got a new keeper whose wealthy foreign landowner was only interested in grouse.  Everything else had to be trapped, shot or quietly poisoned.  Frequently I'd catch my foot in one of the hundreds of snares and be brought down heavily, miles from home.  We'd come across 'stink pits' - heaps of rotting carcasses surrounded by a ring of snares to trap unwary foxes. Once trapped their corpses would be added to the disgusting pile.  I've even come across an illegal gin trap and heard rumours of dogs being poisoned.  Every year we hear of raptors being shot or poisoned in various parts of the country.
The B.A.S.C. would have us believe otherwise, claiming shooting activities are all above board and in the interest of conservation.  For someone who never swears, all I can say is bollocks.
Good weather last weekend presented us with an opportunity to walk/run the moors prior to the 'glorious twelfth'.  On our way up it seemed curlews, lapwings, redshank and oyster catchers have all departed, back to their winter quarters.  It was eerily quiet.  Already!
Higher up, heather was in full bloom but there was a stiff breeze that rather killed its sweet smell.  Even when we lay in it.    My wonderful partner would have nothing of the 'stiff breeze' saying it was more a full blown gale.  On reaching the high point at 1,500ft she turned her hood up!
We returned by the 'long wall', one of three measured miles I ran in marathon training days.  Thirty years ago I'd easily run each one sub 6 minutes.  Nowadays it takes rather longer! 
  I can't skip over the grassy tussocks and rocky slopes as I used to do.  Now, my wonderful partner probably copes better than me.
We'd a wonderful weekend but it was nice to get home and relax with a nice glass of wine before the slaughtering guns take over the moor

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Rights of way......

My wonderful partner is currently surveying Public Rights of Way, making sure they're still accessible and all stiles and crossing points still exist so that walkers may pass unhindered.,  It's one of her duties as a Yorkshire Dales National Park volunteer Ranger.  
In mixed weather and lowering skies we set out to do two of these paths.  Judging by their appearance neither had been used for some time though one, from Yarnbury to Hebden Ghyll, had been a favourite of mine in racing days.  The urge to run it again was irresistible.   So I did...
avoiding the reeds
Good stile, poor lambing gate
Getting a bit of speed up
Easy running
Not many runners round here...
Crossing a culvert
Running - with what looks like a tree on my back! 
Sheep thinking "What the hell are they up to?"
The joy of movement
Wait for me...
By heck, I'm enjoying this...a  final sprint as my old body seemed to have taken on a new lease of life.    Just for the day.
That was the end of the first footpath survey.  As anyone can see, it doesn't look much like a right of way but it exists on the map so has to be kept open.

Next day we did the other one, from High Lane to Low Garnshaw, this time as an enjoyable walk for my rickety legs said they'd done enough running.  Occasionally I listen to my body!
Dilapidated building, wall and stile
A bit tight, but accessible 
A muddy cripple 'ole for sheep
View across the Wharfe valley
Continuing, map in hand, along the invisible path
Roe Deer sculpture, a well in the field and we've almost reached the finish. At last, I know where I am.
I'd have run this very pleasant path before but, like many more people, I never knew it existed. Now that it's been surveyed the National Parks people will probably produce a descriptive leaflet to hand out, or sell, to prospective walkers.  I hope not.  
Some places should remain sacred.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Catch up.....

I should re-name this blog "The Occasional  Diary of an ex-runner.    I don't get out very much now, mainly because of failing eyesight, fear of falling and drooping energy levels.    Also because of deteriorating sight, it takes me ages to type, edit and correct what I have to say.  So not much blogging either.
St Michaels & All Angels, Hubberholme   (Click to enlarge)
Shortly after lockdown was eased we made the mistake of motoring to Hubberholme.  On a Sunday!   The world and his wife had turned out too so it was hard work driving along the narrow Dales roads.  We parked by the Norman Church, beloved of J.B.Priestley, and noted for Robert Thomson's trademark mouse carvings on the oak pews. 
 A cacophony of recently separated sheep and lambs  filled the air as we set off following the River Wharfe towards Yockenthwaite.     My wonderful partner, an avid botanist, was in search of a rare Butterfly Orchid that had been known to grow in the vicinity.  
Butterfly Orchid and betony
I'd got some distance ahead when I was shouted back.  From the air of excitement in her voice I suspected she'd found what she was looking for.  I was right.   Growing among the bedstraw, betony and rock roses was a perfect specimen.
I'd spotted a strange pillow of wild thyme I thought would be a wonderful place to rest my head while the botanist went in search of further specimens.  I declined, thinking it might be an ant-hill.   Besides, it was almost time to return and face the ever increasing number of cars and motor cycles on our way home through Buckden, Kettlewell and Conistone.
Some days later I did something that hadn't been possible for quite some time.  My podiatrist agreed to tackle my grossly overgrown toenails which. I said, might easily be used as crampons had I still been a snow and ice climber.  After a 15 minute soak she set about the onerous task using all her strength to cut through the thick growth that had accumulated over the last 6 months.  She did an excellent job.
I felt great afterwards and almost danced home.
Felling almost human again
Next day I tripped lightly down to a new barber's shop in the village, aptly called 'The Gent's Room' on account of it being the site of an old Gent's toilet!  Sticking my head round the door I enquired in true Yorkshire fashion
"How much is it for a pensioner?"
 "£5" was his curt reply.  
That'd do for me, especially as it appeared the most luxurious barber's shop I'd ever set foot inside.   He was an Asian fellow so we didn't have much conversation but he cut my hair exactly as I told him to.   He also cleaned out my hairy ears, trimmed  my eyebrows and sent me home smelling like a bunch of flowers.    The embarrassment I felt about his stated £5, and the time he spent tidying up my dishevelled head,  prompted  me to pay rather more!
I'd a visitor when I got home, a grey squirrel which regularly comes to the bird feeders and tries to steal the nuts.  Not very successfully but he's a tenacious little beggar.
If at first you don't suck seed, try, try again
I've also seen him, or her, paying attention to the Niger seed feeder which seems to empty rather quickly nowadays.  Surely, he's not sucking seeds through those tiny holes?