Wednesday 28 December 2011

Christmas frolics

Carol singing round the village
     Christmas comes but once a year, and thank goodness for that a lot of us might say. Any more of them and we'd be positively obese! Things started to hot up in Hebden on the evening of the 23rd when a group of us braved the bleak mid-winter to traditionally sing carols round the village, thus proclaiming to anyone who didn't already know that Christmas had officially begun. Time for some ding dong merrily on high! Our scattered congregation were all very appreciative and a grand total of £118 was raised for Manorlands, a well deserving hospice in the West Yorkshire village of Oxenhope. The evening was rounded off with an alfresco gathering around a brazier where the stars shone brightly as we quaffed mulled wine and stuffed our faces with some rather more-ish mince pies.
     It rained most of Christmas Eve but a brief weather window around 2pm had me reaching for my studs and nipping out the door for a seasonal run up the ghyll and over into Mossdale. It was bordering on dark when I got back two hours later, but I'd packed a head torch in my bumbag - just in case. Later, it rained harder than ever, rattling the west facing windows and seeping under the back door. Outside, the wind chimes jangled madly, like some grand crescendo to a Messiaenic masterpiece, almost drowning the Church bells calling the faithful to midnight mass.

Choccies and malt whisky
     It rained throughout Christmas day too, but we didn't care. We didn't have to go out and besides, we'd a few other interesting things to do. I'll unashamedly admit that, apart from one cup of tea at breakfast time the rest of my fluid intake for the day consisted entirely of alcohol. It began before lunch when a charming elderly neighbour invited us into her cottage for champagne and 'nibbles' around her brightly decorated tree. It's essential  to have a man around on these occasions because her fingers are not strong enough to uncork the champagne. I'm more than happy to oblige!
     Then it was back home to delve under the tree and pluck out our own presents while consuming yet more lunchtime nibbles and another bottle of choice bubbly. Our many presents from many friends required many digital pictures to email to said friends displaying our ecstatic faces and exceeding pleasure at receiving such thoughtful gifts. Among mine were three bottles of single malt whisky! Also, an exceedingly expensive Paramo mountain shirt from my wonderful partner which suggests to me we might be spending less time running in 2012 and more time wandering the hills together at a more sedate pace. Curiously, I 'd been thinking along roughly similar lines when I gave her a lightweight Salomon rucksack, a lightweight waterproof jacket and lightweight headtorch. But what I had in mind was RUNNING the hills as opposed to other touristy means of getting to the top!
That bright new jacket
     A bottle of excellent Chardonnay, suitably chilled, accompanied the traditional Christmas dinner, preceded by a mouthwatering salmon and prawn starter and concluded with some rather rich Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. I barely remember washing up, or at what time we crawled up to bed, but I do remember waking in the wee small hours feeling exceedingly dehydrated and in need of some fluid other than alcohol.
     Boxing day was dull and cloudy but mercifully the rain had stopped. We ran up the ghyll together before parting company at Cupola Corner to go our different ways, my wonderful partner heading towards Yarnbury to return home by a shorter route, me continuing on an eight mile circuit of Grassington Moor and Bycliffe Hill to burn off more calories. My choice was a huge mistake. At 1,500ft the umpteen miles per hour gale was raging like a mad thing, all very well when bowling me along from behind, but sheer hell when I turned to face it on the way home. I progressed in fits and starts and a few short jogs over Bycliffe, but it was impossible to run with my eyes streaming water and the wind tearing my breath away.
Stone man - a cairn high on Grassington Moor
      It was the same for the next mile, along the Mossdale track and past the Stone Man (cairn) until I'd dropped a couple of hundred feet to the long wall below Howgill Nick where it was only slightly less exposed.  I stood for a couple of minutes beside the wall, totally knackered, getting my breath back and waiting for some strength to seep back into my old legs for the long run down.  Then, as I set off running again, an amazing thing happened. A raven cronked overhead, riding the wind majestically, perhaps showing me how clever he was at handling the maelstrom. That raven stayed with me like some guardian angel for the next three miles, almost until I was back in the village. It joined me at almost exactly the same place on a previous occasion but left me after a mile or so. On Boxing Day it stayed with me until I'd run over all the rougher, stonier parts of the ghyll, crossed the swollen beck on submerged stepping stones and all the way down to the final ½ mile of smooth tarmac where it gave a final 'cronk' and sailed away.
    I seem to recall reading somewhere (was it Gavin Maxwell?) there's something unlucky about ravens, but I've always regarded them as friendly birds and give them a cheery wave when I come across them up on the moor. They're particularly delightful in display mode, flying together at speed and flipping over onto their backs as they flash through the air like avian answers to the Red Arrows. No, I can't believe a bird that gives so much pleasure can be a harbinger of evil. Quite the reverse, I tell myself, hurtling towards my 80th birthday, occasionally flipping over onto my back as I trip over some projection and go flashing through the air.......... Ho hum!

Sunday 18 December 2011

More snow

White landscape below my house
     It snowed again this week, then the sun shone and the frozen landscape glittered like diamonds under a blue benign sky. Ice crackled underfoot as I ran through familiar fields, past holly bushes bright with Christmas berries, past horses in winter blankets contentedly scrunching dry hay from their rack in a field below the Castle. Sorry I forgot the Polos!
    On days like these it feels like running is the most natural thing to do, the easiest and most enjoyable form of exercise, energizing the body while filling the lungs with the purest of air.  In buoyant mood inspired by the weather I churned out another twenty glorious miles this week. I dread the day when I can no longer run. 
     After recent ten mile jaunts, interspersed with shorter ones of three or four miles, my old legs are starting to regain some strength and I get the feeling it will soon be time to introduce a bit of speed work again. The post Christmas period, following the inevitable wining and dining indulgences, should be an ideal time to start. Father Christmas might even have brought me some foul weather training gear, in which case I'll have less reasons to procrastinate. 
    A quick glance at ClustrMaps today revealed my Blog had visitors from all sorts of interesting places, from Spain, Austria, Australia, Taiwan and various US States - Oklahoma, Indiana and Maryland. Some are regulars and visit every week but I haven't a clue who most of them are. I wish I knew.  Anyhow, to all of you, thankyou for dropping in. I wish you a Happy, peaceful Christmas and a wonderful New Year. If you're runners, train well, enjoy your racing and celebrate lots of new PB's (or PR's if you live in the States).
     PS. There's currently a huge shambling bull in the field you see in this picture who, along with his cows and heifers, snuggles under my garden wall in the wee small hours. It took me a while to work out it's this hot-blooded bovine family that are responsible for my security light constantly switching on and off - depriving me of sleep! 

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Getting in the mood for Christmas

Christmas starts here
    The first snows inevitably turned our thoughts towards the joys of Christmas, so we've been pretty busy this past week. To set the scene, and get us into the right mood, the tree was hauled out of the loft and duly adorned with sparkly glass baubles and multi-coloured lights. Windows were polished and secondary glazing installed to keep out Jack Frost, making the cottage more cosy for forthcoming celebrations. Seasonal messages were scribbled on festive cards and sent hurtling off to friends and relations all over the world. A few presents were bought and wrapped, though many more have still to be decided upon. There is still ivy to collect, to curl around the overhead creel, and holly to brighten spare corners, but we're almost there.
The desolate track into Mossdale....
    In rare weather windows we also found time to run, over Castle Hill, around Burnsall and even through a snow dappled landscape into the wilds of Mossdale where, in no uncertain manner, the window slammed firmly shut. Rain and hail, driven by gale force wind, rattled the hood of my lightweight cagoule as I trundled along the track towards the huge bulk of Great Whernside which was totally hidden in thick, drifting cloud. The landscape was totally desolate, not a tree nor a sheep, not a rabbit or wild bird; only the bare rocks, tangled heather, mist, patches of snow, moss and weathered walls.
                          ...and the muddy way out 
    I was glad to reach the high point at four miles and 1,540ft where I'd shortly afterwards turn for home. Unfortunately I was also turning into the path of the oncoming storm that slowed my pace considerably for the next couple of miles until reaching lower ground. Near Bare House I passed Nigel, a local dry stone waller, bald headed and hatless, repairing a fair sized gap on quite a high and exposed part of the moor. A real hard man! We flung greetings through the wind, but I didn't stop. There were three more miles to go. 
    It was quite a relief to drop into the more sheltered confines of Hebden Ghyll, cross the overflowing beck and run back into the village where, naturally, I put on an extra spurt for the benefit of anyone who might happen to be peeping through their window! My Garmin registered an exact ten miles. After a few stretches while the kettle boiled I flung a couple more logs on the stove, then slapped my hands round a welcome mug of tea. The animal was happy. Very happy!

Monday 5 December 2011


Raging River Wharfe
    After a couple of short steady runs during the week, come Saturday I decided it was time to lay the ghost by repeating the 10 mile route on which I came to grief some eight weeks ago.  Time has healed the damaged ribs, the pain has gone, I can take deep breaths again, I can even sing and do press-ups - though not all at the same time, you understand.
    It was cold, windy and showery as I set off alongside a raging River Wharfe en route for the five mile turn-around point at Barden Bridge. The path was slippery and slutchy and at one point my feet went flying from under me - yet again - but luckily no harm was done. I sprang up and continued running with nothing more than a bruised ego. I was back in Hebden (just as my wonderful partner was setting out to look for me!) in two hours and two minutes. My Garmin registered 10.47 miles, so I was happy with that. After all there are 28 gates to open and shut on the path to Barden Bridge and the same to be repeated on the way back. Plus, I'd stopped to take photographs of various interesting features en route, as I do, to illustrate my Blog. I ached a little, particularly my Rt knee, but it felt wonderful to be back up to ten miles again. From henceforth it will be a matter of build, build, build all through the winter, getting strength back into the old body ready for racing again next year.
Pico Deseada, on the volcanic island of La Palma
    Talking of next year we recently decided that, God willing, we'll celebrate my 80th birthday on the beautiful island of La Palma, off the north west coast of Africa, staying at the same wonderful hotel that fed and watered us so well last February. So, we were a little concerned on reading a news report yesterday which said that just across the water beside a neighbouring island, El Hierro, a volcano has been continuously erupting under the sea for over a month. According to the report, it could even form a new island, or add new territory to the south coast of El Hierro. In spite of around 11,000 tremors over the last four months most of the islanders are not too concerned, though some have suitcases standing by the door packed with emergency food, blankets, changes of clothing, battery radios and torches. The worst scenario, one supposes, is that it could eventually rise out of the water and start spewing volcanic ash all over the place. May God forbid!
First snow of winter
    In total contrast, we awoke this morning to the first snows of winter, blizzarding across the landscape forcing sheep and other livestock to cower under walls for shelter while on the roads traffic was brought to a virtual standstill or, in the case of a local coach we suspected should be crossing the Pennines with a group of geologists, sliding backwards down the hill in front of us! Could make for some interesting running!