Monday 26 April 2010

A good weekend


In a little under three weeks time my wonderful partner is scheduled to lead a group of U3A walkers over some exceedingly rough country along the Wharfedale/Nidderdale border. In order to acquaint herself with some of the more complex parts of this wild route there was a suggestion that we might just 'nip round it' last Friday afternoon. So, a little before 2 o'clock, we parked the car by Grimwith reservoir, stripped down to our running gear and set off at a gentle pace across the dam wall.

Poor Pheasant!
The weather was cool with a slight breeze, making it ideal for running. A welcoming call of wild geese drifted across the water whilst Plovers and Curlews filled adjacent pastures with their Springtime melodies. A crag high above us on the horizon, Great Wolfrey, was our first objective. We left the track and made our way uphill through tussocky terrain, bouldery in parts, squelchy in others. Considering the land around us was all part of a prime shooting estate we saw very little in the way of game birds - other than one unfortunate pheasant that had got it's head caught in an open trap. Had the pheasant not got there before me I might well be nursing a badly bruised foot!
At Great Wolfrey Crag
From Great Wolfrey, known locally as Wuffler, we headed roughly northwards, upstream, to eventually pick up a line of white topped posts which mark the Hebden Parish boundary. It was hard running over flattened reed beds, boulders and mainly dried up peat hags. Soon we reached the fence that marks the Nidderdale boundary where we turned west for around one mile to Henstone Band to pause for a drink and a bite to eat. From here on our route was mainly downhill all the way back to the reservoir though we'd to take care negotiating a couple of boggy sections.
Pause for rest, Henstone band
We crossed Blea Beck, picked up a sheep trod, then a farm track, and were soon re-crossing the dam wall over which we'd set off. My Garmin said 9.47 miles in 2 hours 24 minutes, but it tells lies. We'd actually been running for just over three hours and we both agreed it was easily 11 miles in distance. Trouble was, when we were floundering through some of the really rough stuff, my Garmin had stopped, failing to register anything because we weren't running fast enough. Ho Hmmm!


Start of 3 Peaks race
..was the day of my favourite race - The Three Peaks of Yorkshire. This 24 mile circuit starts and finishes at Horton-in-Ribblesdale taking in the summits of Penyghent (2,268ft), Whernside (2,406ft) and Ingleborough (2,373ft) through some of the most beautiful scenery in England. Long before I started racing I walked this route around 30 times, usually to get a measure of fitness into my body prior to some longer mountaineering or hill walking expedition, but it wasn't until 1991, when I was 59 years old, that I actually qualified to take part in this long established classic. Just prior to my first race Clayton-le-Moors Harriers had presented an elaborate Rosebowl trophy to be competed for annually by anyone over the age of sixty. In forthcoming years I went on to win it three times the most memorable of which was achieved only one week after winning the MV60 category in the London Marathon. On Saturday I was only spectating, but the passion and emotion felt by runners, mainly as they came within sight of the finishing line with the crowds clapping them on, inevitably got to me producing a lump in my throat and the odd tear in my eye. I cannot cheer or praise them enough. In truth, every one is a winner.

Anna Lupton, 1st lady.
Photo by 'Ady in Accy'
Conditions this year were perhaps more suited to spectators than runners for it was a little on the warm side. Some took precautions and lathered themselves with sun cream - only to be half blinded when it mingled with sweat running into their eyes. At 10 o'clock exactly shot guns were fired and the earth rumbled with the sound of pounding feet that took ages to cross the 'Start' line. An injured runner next to me, Andy Hauser, who'd previously run every Three Peaks race since 1980, remarked "They must be coming out of a hole in the ground". Soon the multi-coloured vests had disappeared into the hills and were streaming towards Penyghent. We set off in the opposite direction, to the summit of Ingleborough where we'd shout and encourage runners over their third and final peak.
Vicky's knees
There were some spectacular falls but no serious injuries. Victoria Wilkinson, a one time neighbour of ours, badly gashed both her knees and was streaming blood when she passed us, but battled on regardless to finish second lady in 33rd place overall in a time of 3.37.58. First lady was Anna Lupton in the yellow vest of Radcliffe A.C. in a time of 3.30.45. Of the 705 starters 602 made it to the finish line. Forty four of the non finishers were newcomers, perhaps having under estimated the severity of the course.Outright winner was the purple vested Morgan Donnelly of Borrowdale Fell Runners in a splendid 3.02.34.

Morgan Donnelly on Ingleborough
We jogged the 5 miles back to Horton with hundreds of runners streaming behind us and continued to clap them on their way to the 'Finish'. An old running friend of mine, Bill Wade who is well into his sixties completed his 40th running of the race in 5.46.41. One of my MV70 contemporaries, Mike Breslin of the Fell Runners Association, crossed the line in an incredible 4.57.50, one of only three MV70's ever to complete the race. Results here.

Passing through Settle we called at Booth's Supermarket on the way home for a little alcoholic beverage. We decided the blood, sweat and tears of all those wonderful competitors was worthy of a little celebration. Cheers!

Friday 16 April 2010


Yesterday, the funeral took place of an old acquaintance of mine, one of my mentors whom I regard as something of a legend, one of those wonderful people you always feel better for having met. He was Stan Bradshaw, a name revered throughout the fell-running world and a highly respected life member of Clayton-le-Moors Harriers. He was 97 years old.
We weren't really close enough to be called friends, but we had many shared interests and experiences in our mountaineering and fell-running lives. I regularly came across him at the annual Three Peaks of Yorkshire race where he once shouted encouragement as I negotiated a swollen stream near God's bridge, where I turned to acknowledge him and slipped in up to my thighs.
In 1993 I recall him running in both the Northern Veterans and British Veterans X-Country Championships - taking the Men's Over 80's title in both.
He features in Bill Smith's much sort after book 'Stud Marks on the Summits' which is full of inspirational characters I tried my best to emulate when I first started fell-running, but failed miserably in the shadow of such legendary giants as Stan.
Rest in Peace Stan, we will treasure your memory.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

A favourite run

Mossdale shooting hut
Last Saturday I re-acquainted myself with Mossdale, a wild and remote valley that lies in the shadow of Great Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales. Years ago when venturing around here I'd always inform my partner where I was going, or leave a note on the table describing my route. I'd stuff spare clothes into my bum-bag and, later, I was even persuaded to carry a mobile phone. Nowadays, A lightweight windproof and tiny camera are all I usually take. It feels so friendly and there is no longer a sense of danger.
It is a delectable place where Red Grouse feed and nest among the heather shoots. In the Springtime Curlews come skirling out of the sky in gentle descents to the grassy river banks while Plovers twist and whirl in joyous acrobatic displays. Ring Ouzels rear their young by the shooting hut and Wheatears bob and call from the old stone walls. Sometimes a Peregrine goes hurtling past and once, in September, a pair of Red Kites stopped me in my tracks as they rode a thermal high above in the boundless blue. But it is a place of tragedy too. Where the Mossdale beck disappears under the Scar a plaque is fixed to the wall commemorating six cavers who were trapped, drowned and entombed by a flash flood 43 years ago. There is also a memorial cairn high up on the moor above their exact resting place. I know it's illogical, but I always give them a wave as I run past. You can read more of the tragedy in this more recent newspaper report.
My route, measuring 10 miles with 1,144ft ascent, was the farthest I'd run since racing a half marathon in Spain last November. The pain caused by a whiplash injury acquired in a road accident in early 2009 had become progressively worse, cramping my style, and was much aggravated by running. Pain-killers, anti-inflammatories and short, slow runs became the order of the day. I'm not sure whether the pain is subsiding slightly, or whether I'm just getting used to it, but I can now run further without too much hassle. All I've got to do is re-train my old legs and cardio-vascular system to let them know I haven't quite finished with them yet. Who knows, there might even be more races to come!

Wednesday 7 April 2010

A Happy Easter

EASTER SATURDAY was a 'go it alone day' when I set off for a gentle run round Grassington Moor, desperate to get my old legs working again and, hopefully, back into racing mode within the next few months. The problem with this run is that the first three miles are all steeply uphill, so I was huffing and puffing from the start. I stopped to investigate the frog pond up the long wall, not that I was interested in overrated froggy activities but more because I needed the rest.
Half a mile further along, I took the track that cuts across to Hebden Ghyll, where the crow trap used to be, and where I discovered an old unfenced mine shaft I thought might interest one of my speleological friends. Naturally, I stopped, rummaged in my bum-bag, took out the camera and assessed the best setting for a photograph, then switched on the GPS for a Grid Reference before fishing out my notebook and pen to record it. All of this took time, the more, the better, because my old bones jolly well needed REST.
After ten minutes or so I jogged merrily on, eyes peeled for some of the many snares set by our over-zealous gamekeeper. I climbed the wall into the ghyll, increasing my pace down the wonderful springy turf into Ring Ouzel country where I stopped, looked, and listened - and of course RESTED which was the main thing! But as yet, the Ouzels have not yet returned to their customary nesting sites.
From hereon it was all downhill. I'd had the whole moor to myself. The Curlews, Plovers and Skylarks had sung their wondrous songs for me alone. I was trotting happily back down the ghyll when a smiling girl came gliding towards me, moving easily at a good pace, her dark hair bouncing in the breeze, and full of that infectious vitality that made me intensely aware that SPRING is here.


The world sleeps
Deep in winter hills

Vernal youth
Folds back her blanket

Earth pants, and
Ah love, Spring has come.

EASTER SUNDAY was the day we intended to park the car at Starbotton, run over Buckden Pike, down into Buckden, steeply up onto Old Cote Moor, along its boggy top, then back down into Starbotton. But it didn't quite work out like that.
In spite of a coolish breeze it was otherwise a beautiful day but we were struggling from the start. Initially the track was steep and stony, then gave way to parts that had been mashed into a muddy morass by the passage of modern day giant tractors with their wide chevron tyres. There is a Fox staring from a memorial on Buckden Pike to commemorate one of it's kind that reputedly saved the life of a Polish airman whose plane crashed in a snowstorm during the 2nd world war. Nothing to do with Old Runningfox, you understand! The summit of Buckden Pike was a veritable swamp churned by the boots of a million walkers - and runners - but, joy of joys, a Skylark was pouring out his heart over the cairn.
We trod gingerly past a bank of snow down the man-made steps, then squelched down the Pike's flooded flanks to the more hospitable path that led us gently down to Buckden. After jogging/running/walking through such a hostile environment we were both totally knackered! As we sat on a stone in the car park for a quick bite to eat and a swig of juice we unanimously agreed that High Cote Moor would have to wait until another day, or perhaps another year! So, ignoring the track that climbed into the clouds, we jogged along the more gentle path that meandered beside the River Wharfe, along the Dales Way, back to the welcome sight of our car, and blessed rest, at Starbotton. According to my Garmin we'd run 7.61 miles with 2,102 ft ascent in a time I'm too embarrassed to record. Back in 2004 I think (and no doubt someone will correct me if I'm wrong) I set an MV70 course record when I ran up and down Buckden Pike in 53.02 on my way to winning the inaugural English MV70 Fell Running Championship for that year. How the mighty are fallen!

EASTER MONDAY was the feeding of the five thousand, give or take a few, in the Village Institute. Every year on this day villagers rally round to donate soup, sandwiches, cakes, buns, pies, tea, coffee, etc.. to feed hungry tourists and visitors to raise funds in support of our local Chapel. Folk arrive from far and wide on what has become, for many, an annual pilgrimage, the same faces, year after year, chattering away and queueing for tables at this Dales Mecca. And their generosity is overwhelming. I'm told that catering alone this Easter Monday raised £800 whilst another £600 was given in donations.
But the sad thing is that in a village surrounded by so much beauty so few people venture through our Chapel doors to express their praise or gratitude for God's wonderful and boundless creation. We have so much to be thankful for, so many blessings to count, but in this modern age people take it all for granted. Spiritual values have become lost in cyber space. On many Sundays a minister who has spent hours preparing his/her sermon, and having arrived from many miles away, will find themselves preaching to a congregation of just six people - most of whom are sat at the back! It's very embarrassing having to regularly apologize to preachers about low attendances.
We left the packed village with its scores of cars parked at jaunty angles and drove to the more secluded area of Grimwith for a 4 mile run round the reservoir. It was cloudy and there was a chill wind driving white horses across the water. It urged us to run faster to generate heat and warmth. The usual masses of Mallard, Teal and Canada Geese were conspicuous by their absense. The only birdsong, if we could call it that, came from a noisy flock of Oystercatchers that crossed our path along the dam wall. Kestrels have long since deserted their nest site in the old thatched cottage and in a section of land at the bottom of Blea Gill, where Partridge and Pheasant are bred in their thousands, there was no sign of life. Perhaps many were sat on eggs, deeply hidden in cover. Or perhaps they were sheltering from the fierce wind that rattled the trees. But the place seemed utterly deserted, strangely reminiscent of Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring'.
We enjoyed our run, finishing happy and refreshed, unlike after yesterday's battle with the underfoot miseries.

TUESDAY was another 'go it alone' day, running up the ghyll whilst my wonderful partner was in Linton auditioning for another part in the great play that is called 'Life'.
Again, it was one of those stop/start days when, ostensibly, I was looking for Ring Ouzels, but with plenty opportunities to stand and stare and listen, breaking up the running into enjoyable little stints. Normally, the Ouzels are here before the end of March, and I've done my duty by reporting their arrival to the BTO. Not this year. Another gentleman was lurking around their potential breeding grounds too, equipped with both camera and sound recording equipment. He too was disappointed, having heard of their arrival in Britain some time ago and certain they should have been in the Dale by early April. Perhaps they've reverted to Dales timing! Whatever, they're grossly overdue.
I ran farther up the ghyll, serenaded by resident upland birds, climbed up onto the moor (where I noted Great Whernside still had patches of snow lingering on its flanks), then turned and ran gently back home where I silently proclaimed to no-one other than myself that Easter was officially over. Funnily enough, I'd intended finalising matters in the evening with a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor's excellent beer in the Clarendon, but finished up too tired to celebrate!