Tuesday 28 May 2013

Two days of summer......

Summer passed through Yorkshire last weekend in the form of two days of warm sunshine. We'd hoped it was here to stay. Lambs were frolicking in the fields, mountain pansies were opening their little yellow faces to the sun, seedlings in the garden grew a couple of inches, bluebells flourished in nearby woods, a cuckoo called and I was out running the riverbank in nothing more than shorts and vest. It didn't last and yesterday I'd to wear a warm thermal along that same stretch of riverbank. Whatever happened to those long hot
Another of my poems......
summers of yesteryear? A good friend of mine, now sadly deceased, reckoned it was a bad summer if he hadn't acquired a good healthy tan by the end of May. He'd have little chance now! Nevertheless, over the May Bank Holiday period I stuck another 27 miles into the running bank, though I was flagging a bit over the last six!  After an easy 4 mile run over the gorse clad slopes of Castle Hill on Thursday, Saturday was a shorts and vest day when I set off with my wonderful partner to run 4 miles along the road to Howgill, where I left her, and 4 miles back at a faster pace by the river path. The latter section was teeming with weekend walkers, and their dogs. Most dogs were leashed and under control but one had been allowed to roam loose and chased sheep into the river. The farmer, normally a very quiet and well spoken person, was venting his wrath in language I'd never have previously associated with him - as I told him later. But everything got sorted and he was back to his smiling self two days later. 
Running by that sheep trod in THAT SHIRT.....
Whilst my wonderful partner was patrolling a section of the Yorkshire Dales National Park on Sunday I was revelling in the deserted wide open spaces of Grassington Moor. I chose a tiny sheep trod I haven't used for some time - and neither have any sheep for it has almost disappeared into the rough grass. Not long ago our local gamekeeper set fox snares along this trod but I'm glad to say they've now been removed, making it a safer place to run.  For the benefit of 'The 5K Challenge' running group I took pictures of the free shirt they sent me for being its 100th member, but most of the time I ran shirtless in just a pair of shorts, enjoying the sun, the warm breeze, the plaintive piping of golden plovers and curlews calling. Amazingly, on this well keepered grouse moor, I neither heard nor saw a single grouse. I'd planned to run 8 miles but made a slight deviation that added another mile and was reluctant to go home. I wished I'd taken some lunch and something to drink.
On Monday we did a short recovery run together in deteriorating
Running the Appletreewick loop......
weather round what we call the Appletreewick loop, six miles round the busy campsite, through Woodhouse farm that had all the trouble on Saturday and back by Burnsall where the holiday crowds were starting to gather. There was a sneaky cold wind and we were glad to have been wearing hat, gloves and thermals again. We were home before the weather broke, had a good lunch and settled down by a warm stove as walkers went by, licking their ice creams - in the rain.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Revisiting Iona.....

After the worst wild camp we'd ever experienced at Loch na Keal on the Isle of Mull we decided it
Wild camp at Loch na Keal
was time to move to somewhere more amenable. Horrendous gales blowing from the freezing north, lashing rain and deafening noise had buffetted us all night long, so much so it was impossible to hear each other speak. The tent leapt up and down like some wild pernicious demon hellbent on dragging pegs from the ground and hurtling off into watery space. Come daylight we decided enough was enough. In a period of relative calm we struck camp, piled everything into the car, drove to Fionnphort then hauled our sacks onto the MV Loch Buie, a ferry bound for the beautiful Isle of Iona.
MV Loch Buie arriving at Iona
We were making for the island's only official campsite at Cnoc Oran on the Machair road where we hoped to find a spot sheltered from the wind and quickly put up the tent to dry out; where we'd have the luxury of proper loos, so no need for tramping off into the bog (excuse the pun) wearing full waterproofs, clutching a handful of toilet paper and seeking a convenient hollow well away from prying eyes - away from those eagle spotters with their long telescopes; where we'd be able to wash our hands, or anything else, in wonderful hot water rather than in a cold, rushing river. And all for £6.50 per night - each. However, after recent storms we found much of the site oozing water, including the secluded corner we'd planned on using, but we soon settled in and our tent dried in no time at all. Night fell, the wind bated a little and one of the island's many corncrakes rasped away in the darkness appearing, a bit like me, to have a sleep problem.
We had mornings of glorious sunshine, though the wind was still from the north and blowing cold. 
Morning run by Iona Abbey
Wild geese honked noisily across the sky, skylarks sang their matins while swallows engaged in swift, low level flights in search of sustenance. Starlings were the most common birds, nesting under the eaves of most houses, in our camp toilet block and, most of all, in the confined cloisters of the Abbey where hungry fledglings kept up continuous tweetings. Occasionally, when the sun shone brightest, a cuckoo called from some vantage point across the island. It was a wonderful atmosphere, perfect for running, and we soon worked out a very pleasant route, out towards Clachanach, down by the Abbey, through summery corncrake fields, then back by dazzling white sands at Martyrs Bay and up the Machair road to Cnoc Oran.
Columba's Bay
The Pentecost service in the Abbey on May 19th was a little disappointing. The Iona Community website promised something extra special for their 10.30am service to mark the 1,450th anniversary of Columba's arrival on the island in AD 563. It was also the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Iona Community in 1938. The Mull Gaelic choir were to sing at this service, as were the children from Iona Primary School. In actual fact the powers that be couldn't get rid of the congregation quick enough from the morning Communion service to prepare the Abbey for all the specially invited guests at the 'special' service in the afternoon. I felt quite cheated. Perhaps if I'd told them I was a past resident of the island, way back in 1949, I might have been allowed in?
To conclude. Many years ago, more than I care to remember, I found a wonderful little pebble of Iona
marble at Columba's Bay. Or it found me. I had a ring bolt put in it and wore it for years on a leather thong around my neck. Sadly I lost it, I suspect on a campsite at Arrochar, and have mourned it's loss ever since.  Each time I go to Iona I scour the length and breadth of Columba's Bay, searching for a similar stone, but can never find one. Last week we visited the select gallery of Val MacCormick who fashions wonderful pebble pendants using stones gathered from beaches close to where she lives and works, and where she advised us to go and look. We did but alas, found nothing resembling the striking green and white marble of the one I lost. Nor had Val anything like it in her collection - for which I'd have paid whatever price she asked. That tiny piece of Iona marble was one of my most treasured possessions.  My poem - Iona Stone - encapsulates all that it meant to me and paints a beautiful picture of the Sacred Isle. Enjoy.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Cave Rescue Organisation Challenge.......

A glance at the final report of the CRO Challenge indicates that only 66 people took part in this year's event
The CRO Challenge route......
with equal numbers competing in the 26 mile marathon and the half marathon Clapham circuit. Of the 33 who took part in the marathon 45% of them, 8 walkers and 7 runners, all found it a little too much and were forced to retire. Another marathon participant changed his mind after 4 miles and opted to get the job over with as quickly as possible by joining the shorter Clapham circuit at the first check point.  Others apparently opted to bend the rules to suit themselves, nine of them setting off long before the scheduled mass start for runners at 09.30 hrs, one of them sneaking off as early as 08.25.  However, this wasn't a race as such, it was all about getting round the challenging routes and raising as much money as possible to boost the organization's much needed funds. An early estimate suggests over £2,500 has so far been raised at this event. And even as we battled round, the organizer of the Challenge, Philip Nuttall, was called out to 'an underground incident' and therefore missed many of us finishing.
Gathering for the 09.30 'mass start'......
So how was it for us? Well, pretty horrendous, that's what. The weather was bad enough as the 18 remaining runners lined up for the start in Clapham where my wonderful partner and I had opted for full body cover as protection against a freezing cold blustery wind and increasingly heavy rain. But at least half a dozen runners set off in shorts, much to our amazement. The start of both routes is through a dark tunnel and into a long stony lane that climbs steeply for two miles before depositing us onto the open fell. I found it difficult to maintain any sort of rhythm over the hard uneven surface of the walled lane and found myself relegated to tail end Charlie in the early stages.  Once through the gate and onto a smooth green track across the fell I began to pick it up and clawed back a couple of places.
Conditions grew decidedly worse as I ran towards the flashing headlights of a Land Rover guiding us like a beacon to
The path after Nick Pot check point......
the Nick Pot check point just below cloud level. Wind was doing its best to tear my hood off and rain rattled my waterproof jacket as the marshal clipped my tally before embarking on the muddy, well worn track down Sulber Nick. It was in such a churned up state that running became very difficult indeed. Slimy mud and water covered slippery limestone rocks and filled deep holes. It was difficult to tell whether these holes were ankle deep or knee deep, so care was required to maintain any sort of momentum and stay upright. This muddy morass, made worse by a herd of lumbering cows, continued for 1½ miles to the next check point where a marshal was trying his best to shelter from the horrid conditions in a flapping open tent tucked away in a corner of the rocks.
Slippery conditions in Sulber Nick
I'd passed another two runners, Heather and Clive, on the way to this second checkpoint but they caught me up again as I studied the map to work out the route ahead towards Moughton. Together we got it right for the next ½ mile but became confused as to our next turning where, if my hands hadn't been so numb and useless, I'd have got out my compass and worked it out. As we stood there with heads together gazing at each others maps a guiding light appeared in the form of my wonderful partner who pointed to a stile over the wall and declared "It's that way". And it was! We all ran together, more or less, for the next 2½ miles, through the tiny hamlet of Wharfe and on to the next check point by Wood End farm where I once lived and worked in the late 1940's. The marshal punched our tallies and offered us water before we set off to run the last 3¾ miles.
Heather and Clive had to be shouted back and pointed in the right direction. I dragged a Cadbury's Brunch
The beasties that churn it all up......
Bar from my daysack, tore the paper off with my teeth and awkwardly nibbled at it as I jogged along a back lane I knew so well. A runner came hurtling past us as we ran down a muddy field to Flascoe Bridge. Whoever he was, he took a wrong turning shortly afterwards and missed out the final check point.  Shortly after Flascoe Bridge Heather was reduced to a walk, complaining she'd pulled a muscle, and Clive dropped back to help her over the next section of the route that climbed a strength sapping 400ft over Robin Proctor Scar in the next mile or so - a nasty sting in the tail where I was reduced to a walk up the final steep bit.
Runners at Flascoe Bridge
After that it was more or less all level and downhill along Thwaite Lane and back through the tunnel to the Finish at CRO headquarters in Clapham village. As I ran down the village street, intent on breaking 3 hours, two runners came flying past and beat me to the Finish by a mere two or three seconds. "We were in the lead" they told the Finish marshal, "hoping to finish in 1 hour 40 minutes, but took a wrong turning and got 4 miles off route". The marshal seemed far more interested in their tale of woe than he was about checking us in as we trooped upstairs to his office to be awarded certificates and medals. My recorded time was 2 hours 58 minutes, a minute more than the two who'd sneaked ahead of me. Seconds didn't count and none were recorded in any of our times. 
Meanwhile, my wonderful partner had arrived at the Finish shortly after me but there was no-one around to
.....and all for this!
check her in and no-one responded to her shouts - which she thought was a bit of a shambles!  How was she to know we were all busy chatting in an office hidden away upstairs? And why wasn't there someone permanently on duty at the Finish? After eventually finding her way to the office her time was recorded as 2.59 - a minute after me - so happy with that. Heather and Clive finished 3 minutes later in 3.02. 
After such a battle with the elements and treacherous underfoot conditions I felt totally exhausted. My fingers were so cold I'd great difficulty untying the laces of my shoes and hauling off wet clothes in order to get changed in a cubicle of the National Park toilets. Once I'd fought my way into them, dry clothes were sheer bliss and a hot cup of tea at a friend's cosy house on the way home never tasted better. My wonderful partner was adamant she'll never run the 'Challenge' again whilst I vowed to murder the woman in our village who'd talked us into doing it - just before she shot off for a holiday in Pembrokeshire where the weather was apparently glorious.   Grrrrrr!

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Another milestone......

Maybe a week's supply - a few years ago....
The May Day bank holiday marked another milestone in the chequered life of Old Runningfox when, by God's grace, he reached the grand old age of 81. It's 27 years now since the simple act of running transformed my life. I'd survived 30 years of heavy smoking - cigarettes, pipe, cigars - and every drag inhaled as far down as it would go. Wine, women and song were my specialities - along with strong beer and copious amounts of the hard stuff. I'd sink a couple of bottles of whisky around town and still hit the keyhole with my key - first time - after I'd driven home! Friends who called and sampled my home brew quite often never made it back home. A chap painting the exterior of my house foolishly drank a glass during his lunch break and quietly disappeared for the rest of the day leaving his ladder still leaning against the wall. I drank the stuff copiously, like tea, as my belly was proof!
   Then, in my 54th year, along came 'running' and by some miracle - or because 'someone up there loves
Celandines, anemones and blackthorn on the river path...
me' - my lifestyle changed beyond all belief, my lungs cleared of all their multi-coloured gunge (though much reduced in air capacity) and my grossly abused liver must have totally regenerated. From a debauched, overweight and out of shape body came a slimmed down athlete who'd subsequently run thousands of miles, rise to the top of National Rankings - and even feature in World Rankings, if you looked far enough down the list!  It's my belief, and I say this with the deepest conviction, that had I not stepped out of the door that April day in 1986 for my first tentative steps into the world of running I wouldn't have been around yesterday to celebrate my 81st birthday.  At a recent service Rev David Macha asked the question "When did you first realize that God loves you?"  I could tell him - almost to the hour!
Leaving Mossdale on Saturday....
The weather was kind last week, temperatures reaching a warm 61ºF, enabling me to strip down to shorts and vest for most of my meanderings round the countryside and up into the hills. Spring flowers and bright blossoms had brought out bumble bees and butterflies. Farmers ploughed straight furrows across barren fields, and waved as I loped past. Lambs charged around their broad pastures, every now and then springing straight up into the air, or playing 'king of the castle' - as they do when they feel a bit of sun on their woolly backs! At such times it feels really good to be a runner, belonging to it all, part of the great scheme of things. The ground had dried too, enabling me to maintain a mainly steady pace, except where horses had made hock deep holes through woodland rides. In four runs last week I clocked up 26 miles, the last ten being an enjoyable romp into the wilds of Mossdale for the first time this year.
   A cuckoo calling from the wooded bank opposite woke me before 6am on my birthday, a bit too early for me, but a welcome sound
Where the sand martins live....
nevertheless. The sun was already up, its light through the open curtains ensuring I didn't go back to sleep. After breakfast, and a peek at all my presents, I set off along the riverbank for a 10 mile tempo run to Barden Bridge and back. Being May Day, an official holiday, this beautiful area was swarming with walkers - and their dogs - so it wasn't easy maintaining a steady pace along the sometimes narrow paths. A gi-normous parking field in Burnsall was almost full to capacity, costing £5 per car with lesser charges for pedestrians and picnickers. I reckon the owner must have raked in nearly £2,000 that day. The ice-cream man wouldn't do too badly either.
Fisherman - maybe listening to the sandpiper?
A fisherman had a novel way of escaping the crowds - standing in the middle of the river, serenaded by a chittering sandpiper as he cast his line. From their holes in the far bank sand martins skimmed the surface of the water for flies. Wood anemones, lesser celandines, primroses, and bluebells flowered in profusion beside the hedgerows and under the blosson ladened blackthorns. It was a feel-good sort of day when most people I passed were cheerful and returned my greetings - which is not always the case! The miles passed easily and not too fast, given the 60 gates and stiles to negotiate, and I was able to keep a regular pace between times - up hill, down hill and on the flat - which augers well for next Saturday's CRO Challenge which is only two miles farther though a heck of a lot hillier.
   Then, early on Sunday morning,we travel north for our annual camping holiday to the Inner Hebrides - Mull, Ulva and Iona - so this Blog will be closing down until we get back (makes mental note to put pen and notebook in rucksack, otherwise I'll never remember all the things we do).