Tuesday 13 November 2012

Lest we forget.......

Castle Hill dominating the horizon on my Thursday run
   Each year, around November time, I make a mental note to stop running the fields around my home until March winds and Spring sunshine have dried out the muddy paths to make them more runnable. And each year I find myself going back time and again to suss out its current state - for in truth I love this wild landscape - but invariably I return in an incredibly filthy state vowing, for the umpteenth time, never again! 
   Last Wednesday was another such day when I took the shortest route to Castle Hill for a bit of 'altitude training' as I call it - because it's 900ft above sea level. By the time I'd dragged my sliding feet through the churned up morass my enthusiasm for hard repetitions had begun to wane a little. Nevertheless, 16 x 200m is what I'd planned so that's what I'd jolly well do, even if it meant dropping down a gear. The first rep running into a biting wind took 48 seconds and the second 46 before levelling off at 45's and finishing with a 42.  It was a tired old Runningfox that jogged home after a strenuous eight miles, but feeling quite chuffed with myself for accomplishing what I set out to do.
Running towards the Cracoe War Memorial
   On Thursday I opted for a gentle five mile tempo run, half of it on tarmac, circumnavigating the scene of the previous day's activities. The sun shone benevolently as I rustled through fallen leaves amid glorious autumn scenery with Castle Hill dominating the horizon for much of the way. In spite of some long hills and heavy breathing my spirits rose to well over 90% on the feel-good factor scale and, for a nice change, I got home positively clean.
   Sunday's ten mile saunter, reccying a wild route round Barden Moor that the Skipton branch of U3A planned to walk four days later, was the hardest thing I've done for quite some time. It was cloudless and sunny with the temperature hovering around freezing when we parked the car in the quaint little hamlet of Thorpe around 10am and set off running southwards up a steep stony lane onto the open moor. After following a wall westwards, climbing all the time, we cut off left up a shallow gully to the top of Rolling Gate Crag.
Listening to the silence.....
   The great Obelisk of Cracoe War memorial came into view a mile ahead over shining bogs and still a couple of hundred feet above us. It was the eleventh day of the eleventh month and I'd hoped we'd reach it around the eleventh hour. We failed by only a few minutes. Not surprisingly perhaps, no-one from the village of Cracoe, a thousand feet below, had braved the boggy ascent to honour their dead on this remote, rocky outcrop. We were alone among the poppies, the names of the dead and a murmuring wind that made the long silence the more profound.
   We climbed back over the wall and ran as best we could, dodging hither and thither among slimy pools, jumping from one raised clump to another so as not to sink too far into the mire, following the long wall to Rylstone Cross. In my mounting exhaustion it seemed much further than the mile or so on the map and I breathed a sigh of relief when the Cross eventually came into view silhouetted against the green landscape on a high rocky spur. 
Rylstone Cross
   I'm not sure whether it was the spiritual significance of the Cross or the knowledge that the route became easier after joining a bridleway half a mile ahead, but from henceforth my legs found new life as they launched into a steady rhythm past Rylstone Out Fell and across the moor towards Upper Barden Reservoir. We decided it was time for lunch in a wall corner by the reservoir but a cold wind that ruffled the water had us quickly moving again. We crossed the weir and jogged over Standard Hill, past the wee tarn where Canada Geese nest in Springtime, then left up the steep track to the prominent shooting hut high on Thorpe Fell. From hereon it was a 750ft, mainly grassy, descent to the stony lane back into Thorpe - a place which always seems strangely deserted and void of life.
   Back home it took a long time to clear away the peaty evidence of our activities. Between the top of my trainer socks and the bottom of my running tights a black band had formed round my ankle and all my toenails were stained black. My feet tingled as a result of all the scrubbing in the shower. Socks had totally disintegrated and were no longer wearable. My New Balance trail shoes had changed from their striking black and green colour to a uniform peaty brown - and were reluctant to change back!
The descent from Rylstone Cross
   After all the enforced cleaning duties there was no time to feed the inner man before dashing off to the afternoon service at 3pm.  Although I'd had nothing to drink since breakfast my singing voice was remarkably clear and strong for Remembrance Day hymns - which was just as well for our organist seemed intent on pulling out all the stops! A two minute silence after the Roll Call sent my mind floating back to that Obelisk high on the moor, to names engraved on the faded plaque, those initials carved later into weathered stone, the dutifully placed poppies, a little note wrapped in plastic and pushed into a little niche where it wouldn't blow away. But most of all I remembered the sweet and incredible silence of that desolate place, that long, long silence - of eternity.


  1. Too bad about the mud, but I can tell you found it was worth it. I enjoyed both the writing and the photos of today's post!

  2. That was absolutely beautiful...and so endearing! your words are written like a lovely song. Very moving indeed...and the pictures...that cross, Wow! I got the chills just reading it...thanks for sharing!

  3. What beautifully rough country. And it looks like you still have autumn there too! Impressed you almost made it to the spot for a perfect armistice remembrance. Gone, but not forgotten.

  4. You are flyin at the moment... i wish it were so for the man who occupies my own running shoes. There's a great quality in the photos at this time of year - beautiful golden browns.

  5. Your words are as inspiring as the lovely country you run on.

  6. Beautiful post!
    I kind of like getting filthy when I'm running. Not all the time! But every now and then :)