Tuesday 27 May 2014

A right hole to be in....

      We decided to run somewhere different during the Spring Bank Holiday period, a route we'd never run
The long up-hill past Threshfield quarry (click to enlarge hole)
before. Of all the beautiful places we could have chosen in the Yorkshire Dales we opted to run around and through a 100 year old abandoned quarry! My little brain can't conceive what a hectare is but Threshfield quarry covers 52 of them which makes it one heck of a big hole. A Project Officer is to be employed shortly to develop and manage the construction of an art and heritage trail through its vast recesses. Already its three lagoons have become a sanctuary for endangered white-clawed crayfish, though a pair of oystercatchers nesting on nearby shingle may have other ideas for their future!

Photo stop among the orchids....
    After leaving the car on the main road at Skirethorns we ran steadily uphill for two miles climbing to a height of 1,230ft around the perimeter of the quarry to its northernmost point. Leaving the gravel track we passed through a stile into open fell country where underfoot conditions were much more to my liking. Tussocky grassland, springy turf dotted with mountain pansies and occasional limestone outcrops were a joy to run. For the first time in weeks I felt strength returning to the old legs and I couldn't resist some faster bursts and uphill bounds. A clump of early purple orchids interspersed with birds eye primroses at the halfway mark brought us to a temporary halt as we reached for our cameras to record the colourful collection. Thereafter, a faint track led us back to the quarry and a fast run down past the lagoons to complete a very pleasant 6 miles. The sun shines on the righteous as they say, but as we returned home the heavens opened and kept us indoors for the rest of the day.

      However, it shone for us again on Bank Holiday Monday as we ventured out for an early morning run to
On the Dales Way above Grassington...
avoid the tourist hoards along the Dales Way. We began our run at the 700ft contour in Grassington with a gentle but unrelenting climb over the first couple of miles to 1,000ft, dropped to 635ft at Conistone after 3½ miles, then climbed back to 960ft in 5 miles before an enjoyable 1½ mile downhill run to the finish. The Garmin registered 6.47 miles with 800ft of actual ascent. It was a beautiful morning, sunny with cotton wool clouds and just a hint of a breeze as we ascended flower bedecked limestone pastures with curlews calling and happy skylarks singing incessantly. Uphill it may have been, but nevertheless we could honestly say "At this moment in time we would rather be here than anywhere else on earth".  We live for such moments.

and an 'interesting' bit in Conistone Dib.....
From the high point we'd a steep, fast run past Bull Scar into Conistone Dib where things got a bit 'interesting'.  Running warily over ankle-twisting limestone cobbles we entered a dark narrow gorge with mossy walls, ferns and leafy, overhanging trees.  We dropped down a series of stony ramps made slippery with recent rain, clinging to anything we could lay our hands on for support, before eventually emerging into bright sunlight again and a less stony path into the village of Conistone. Not everyone's cup of tea but infinitely more satisfying, for us, than a boring, flat ribbon of tarmac that demands music in the ears to make it tolerable (or, God forbid, one of those popular apps telling us when to run and when to walk).

      After a brief chat with some ex-neighbours, now resident in Conistone, we took an ascending track to
Closing the gate on Wharfedale - overhanging Kilnsey Crag beyond...
another stony 'Dib' where we'd hoped to locate and photograph the annual display of bird's eye primroses. Alas, we were either too early or they were flowering late, for not one did we find. This Dib was less vicious and more runnable than the afore mentioned one, initially a short rocky descent before some steep boundable limestone steps back up into Lea Green.  This part of the route affords panoramic views of the Wharfe valley with the iconic Kilnsey Crag towering over it.  Late flowering cowslips greeted us on the fringe of Bastow Wood along with a little cluster of early purple orchids enjoying the warm sunshine as much as us.

      After climbing over a ladder stile it was an easy run over springy turf to rejoin the Dales Way back to the bustling heart of Grassington. Our overall time was slow but en route I'd regularly picked up the pace, danced happily over limestone outcrops, used downhill sections to enjoy the feeling of speed - and all this on a glorious Spring day through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Is it any wonder I'm so addicted to this wonderful pastime and never want to stop?

Wednesday 21 May 2014

A weekend at Wold Farm....

Can't I even have a little bottle of wine?
If all goes well throughout this year the legendary Ron Hill will complete a 50 year streak - meaning he will have run at least one mile every single day since December 1964. Car crashes, operations and minor injuries could not stop him. He would run even if he had to do it on crutches up and down a hospital corridor. Well, so far as streaks go, I've failed miserably. Not that I could possibly have attempted a run after my recent operation - trailing various drips, catheters and other unmentionable accoutrements - and especially after an epidural anaesthetic that left me without legs for a short time. I've had other problems too over the past few weeks that left me weak and woozy so, again, very little running. A cocktail of anti-biotics meant I couldn't even cheer myself up with an odd glass of wine, let alone a wee dram! Hopefully, all is now well and I can start rebuilding again. I'll be eternally grateful to that consultant surgeon and his team, provided I live that long!
     One or two short three mile runs, mainly up my local Castle Hill, are all I've managed since that wonderful birthday
Wold Farm campsite under a blue sky...
jaunt along the Dales Way earlier this month. Until last weekend. Early on Saturday morning we took a 90 mile drive to the East Yorkshire coast for some invigorating sea air and a visit to the amazing bird haunted sea cliffs at Bempton. The weather was glorious, warm balmy sunshine tempered with a cooling breeze. Ideal for cliff top walks - and running. We stayed overnight at Wold Farm, a difficult to find campsite. Even our Sat-Nav managed to get itself lost!  It was an ideal location, just 400m from a coast path that runs along the top of 400ft high chalk cliffs that are home to over 200,000 nesting seabirds. Puffins and gannets are the main attraction but razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes all live happily together on adjacent ledges and steep grassy slopes.
Sunshine and sea air on Sunday's run..
It was our first visit to the area so very much an exploratory one, getting to know the lie of the land, the best viewing points and finding routes to run. As regards the latter, it didn't take my wonderful partner long to scrutinize the map and join up a few lines to make a very pleasant Sunday morning circular through fields of oilseed rape, along the campion clad coast path with the sun on our bodies, wind in our hair and the sound of the sea on the rocks below. It was all very bracing and exhilarating. We could get to liking this place.... Before leaving we couldn't resist a quick walk to the RSPB's viewing point at Bempton cliffs to watch and listen to the cacophonous colony of gannets that nest annually on the rocks below. I love to watch them, and especially when they're diving.
     At the last count there were nearly, 8,000 nesting pairs crammed side by side onto every availlable ledge
Gannets, puffin and razorbills...(Picture from internet)
or flat (ish) piece of rock. Whilst half were sat tight on their solitary egg the remainder wheeled around noisily, riding the wind on wings as long as my extended arms. They were joined in the air by tens of thousands of guillemots, fulmar, kittiwakes, razorbills and puffins till one wondered how they could possibly avoid crashing into each other. In all my life I've never seen so many wonderful birds and I couldn't help wondering what they all find to feed upon, how the sea sustains such huge colonies? The Bempton colony of gannets, I'm told, often fly hundreds of miles, as far as Dogger bank, searching for shoals of fish. But where do all the others go, and how much of their time is spent searching for food?
     Pondering this question we returned to Wold Farm to pack our tent and begin the long journey home to enjoy a nice glass of sherry and the fragrant aroma of our evening meal simmering slowly on the cooker. No Dogger Bank for us.  Most of our hunter-gathering is done in a quick dash round our local Tesco - though I've sometimes been accused of being a gannet!

Friday 9 May 2014

82 years young.....

In racing mode, aged 79, at the Harrogate 10K
      A few days ago I received an email from a running acquaintance in South Africa asking if I'd be willing to participate in a project she was working on to determine what causes someone to change from a self-proclaimed running hater into a die-hard running nut?  I'm not sure I ever actually hated running but came pretty close to it when made to run one-off long x-country races during my last two winter terms at school with absolutely no training whatsoever. Only boys ran it. Girls held our coats - which was quite embarrassing because I was among the last to retrieve mine. It's a shame we never had a PE teacher who was interested in some sport other than football for I've often thought, given some specific training, I may have performed rather well.
      After leaving school I never thought about running again until almost 40 years later when, due to redundancy, divorce, a somewhat rotund, under worked out of shape body, I felt an urgent need to get back into shape physically, mentally and spiritually before it was too late.  Running came to my rescue, mainly because it was all I could afford to do at that frugal period of my life. Initially, I'd sneak out the door when I figured my neighbours had gone to work or were otherwise engaged, but after a couple of weeks it didn't bother me in the least. Far from being embarrassed I began to feel a smug superiority. Running came easy, very easy, and in less than three weeks I ran the 24 miles/4,500ft ascent of the Yorkshire Three Peaks in a little over 6 hours with no ill effects. Exactly twelve months later I ran it again in less than 4¼ hours. Good progress. In subsequent years I recorded even faster times in the annual race and won the men's O/60 category on three occasions.
      May 6th 2014 marked the occasion of my 82nd birthday and 28 years of running. I've reached a stage where I experience withdrawal symptoms if I go more than a week
In relaxation mode, running on the Dales Way on my 82nd birthday
without running.  It enhances my quality of life and continues to keep me healthy in body, mind and spirit. I've made many wonderful lifelong friends. It's transformed my social, eating and drinking habits into far more sensible ones - and it's given me some amazing memories to carry into my dotage.  From the slough of despond to the metaphorical top step of the podium in marathons, Track & Field, fell, X-country and road racing, running lifted me to heights I never dreamed possible. 
     Nothing makes me happier than running the hills, having covered well in excess of 36,000 miles, though it's mainly for pleasure nowadays rather than serious training for races. My birthday was celebrated running along the Dales Way from Grassington to Bastow Wood with my wonderful partner. Masses of primroses, violets and mountain pansies adorned our route, a cuckoo had shouted his first hello's, cowslips nodded in the gentle breeze, an early purple orchid shone like a jewel in a sheltered hollow while a whole choir of skylarks serenaded us as we ran through the sunlit limestone landscape. I felt incredibly blessed and just hope I can continue indulging this God-given gift for the rest of my remaining years. Not much to ask, is it?