Monday 26 September 2016

Fortune Favours the Bold......

      My old club, Longwood Harriers, held their annual point to point race last Saturday.  It starts with a long steady climb onto Castle Hill where runners circle Victoria Tower before shooting off through fields and over walls in as direct a line as possible to the Church at Farnley Tyas. From there on it's mainly roadwork to the Finish point in the village of Newsome.
Arms of Sir John William Ramsden    Click pictures to enlarge)
      Although I'd already run up there earlier in the morning I walked up again to cheer them on and take a few photographs of them rounding the tower. As I waited I happened to notice an old Coat of Arms in the weathered stonework that bore the motto AUDACES FORTUNA JUVAT which translates to Fortune favours the Bold.  
The leader setting a hot pace...
      How true, I thought, as the leader boldly mounted the 160 steps to the tower, boldly knocked off the brakes as he careered back down, boldly vaulted or climbed all obstacles blocking his beeline to Farnley, then boldly pulled out all the stops to stay ahead of rivals in the long run for home.  Yeah, old Virgil knew what he was talking about.   It had clouded over for the race and a cold, near gale force wind had got up. I'd difficulty holding the camera still but it kept the runners cool.
....and another hot on his heels, leaning into the wind

      Conditions had been totally different three hours before, not a breath of wind and clear overhead as I set out along the dark lane. A sickle moon hung high in the sky, an early buzzard mewed in the distance, a narrow strip of red lined the eastern horizon, cattle rested in the dark field contentedly chewing cud with nary a movement as I ploughed through them.
One of my friends, though he probably doesn't know it..

In breaking light one of the hill's resident crows cawed a welcome (or maybe a beggar off) as I circled the hill the first time. Surprisingly, there were no rabbits and I wondered if that calling          buzzard had sent them underground?  
More likely some earlier dog walkers. 
7am, and the world comes alight

      Then all at once the sky turned a wondrous red, prelude to the fiery eruption about to take place across the valley just left of Yorkshire's tallest building, Emley Moor transmitter.  It's always the same. I just want to stay there as the pageant unfolds, clicking away, trying to capture it all on camera before it disappears. No matter how many shots I get, I always want more, never satisfied with the ones I've got because none can faithfully capture all the magic of that blazing sky.  Then all too soon it's gone. 
Running in the sun, feeling the fire...
      How do artists cope, I wonder, when they try to capture some beautiful landscape?  By the time they've set up their easels and charged their palettes it could all have changed, the cadmiums to alizarins, or some colour they haven't got.
More wild food
      Mushrooms were dotting one of the fields I ran through and I rued the fact I hadn't a bag with me. They'd be worth stopping a couple of minutes for to supplement my meagre diet while my wonderful partner is basking in the land of the giants...
Giants at a Barcelona Festival
      A lady 'taking her dog into the field' at Clough Hall stared open mouthed as I sped past.  She knows me, knows how old I am, and perhaps didn't expect me to be running so fast. If race organisers would extend their prize lists to include an over 80 category I might even start racing again. I'd show 'em...
... in my dreams!

Monday 19 September 2016

Mists and mellow fruitfullness

      In spite of reaching the tender age of 84 my brain steadfastly refuses to acknowledge it, though sometimes I think it ought. Like on Sunday for instance when I struggled round an eight mile circuit in hot September sunshine to arrive home practically leg-less having lost half a bucket of sweat along the way.
Sunrise on my only mid-week run  (Click to enlarge pictures)
      Hey, the old body says, you took me for a hard 8 miles yesterday with nearly a thousand feet of ascent, are you trying to kill me? The brain politely tells it to beggar off and stop being so soft before musing upon where to run next and really putting my body through its paces (possibly something to do with just renewing my passport).
Occasionally I relax
      Back to back 8 milers came about because I'd only managed five miles during the week, so 16 miles short of my preferred average of 3 miles per day or 21 mile total. On Wednesday I awoke to thick mist. Same on Thursday. On Friday it was raining. So mileage had to be made up at the weekend - in unseasonable heat.
Autumn fruits
      Actually those misty mid-week mornings cleared by lunchtime giving way to blue skies and warm sunshine.  I walked for miles, picking blackberries along the way and shaking apples from an old tree on Castle Hill.
....and more
Wild fruits are currently in abundance creating colour in the hedgerows and scrumptious desserts for our evening meals.
Getting a bit of speed up
      70º+ on Saturday had me running in shorts and sleeveless vest that gave me more freedom of movement and hence a little more speed as we descended from the high point, 1,550ft on Bycliffe Hill.
What's going on in Burnsall?
      My wonderful partner was also stripped down to basics for Sunday's run to Appletreewick where she sensibly turned for home considering 6 miles quite enough after the previous day's 8.
River Wharfe at Howgill      
        I left her and continued along the road to Howgill, then back beside the rowan fringed River Wharfe, past the busy campsite at Appletreewick to run the gauntlet of picknickers thronging Daggett's field at Burnsall.
Rowan trees, River Wharfe and Daggett's field
  A short, steep ascent from Hebden beck back up to the village took all the remaining wind from my sails. But the animal was happy. Another 21 mile week was in the bag.
Rowan berries against the blue
 Bacon and mushrooms on toast went some way to replacing spent calories.  A can of cold beer on the lawn in warm sunshine, late swallows hawking around and honey bees humming among autumn flowers brought a wonderfully relaxing end to another glorious weekend.

Sunday 11 September 2016

We're back, from beautiful Madeira

      Taking advantage of the ridiculously long space of time between appointments at the eye clinic we flew south for a few days in the sun.   Ideally, we'd have chosen our favourite little family run hotel on the island of Menorca but Thomsons said it was fully booked. 
Savoy Gardens - a bit too posh for me!   (Click pictures to enlarge)
      We finally opted for somewhere on a much grander scale, Savoy Gardens on the up market island of Madeira which we rated marginally below 4 stars with only two minor complaints.
A welcome message on the telly! Never had that before...
 Dim lighting from energy saving bulbs in our room made it almost impossible for me to read at night, and coffee, much needed to fire the old engine into life first thing in the morning, was of poor quality. But all guests were given a glass of bubbly on arrival.  In fact, my wonderful partner and I were presented with a whole bottle to celebrate our 25th anniversary.  So overall it was great value for money and we'd certainly go again.
Out for a morning run
      As always in a new location, first priorities were getting to know our surroundings, locating the nearest supermarket, sussing out a running route, acquiring bus timetables, testing the temperature of the pool and working out a rough itinerary to make the most of limited time. After that, it's all systems go.
Agapanthus along Levada da Serra
Our first venture into the wild was a 10km walk along the dried up Levada da Serra through a forest of eucalyptus and pines, agapanthus and montbretia, erygium and hydrangeas.
Hedge of old bicycles.  Best place for 'em I say...
We passed an amazing hedge made from old bicycles approaching Camacha where we killed time waiting for a bus by watching potential beauty queens being put through their paces on the cat walk.
First float in the Wine Festival parade
Arriving back in Funchal we were just in time to witness a wine festival parade where elaborately decorated floats from various wine-making villages processed along the sea front.
Dancers in the parade
All were dressed in period costumes, some dancing to pipes and drums, some on horses, some carrying huge baskets of grapes, gentry walking arm in arm in all their finery.
One little boy found it all rather boring..
Little boy lost...
      On previous holidays we've tended to avoid organised tours and do our own thing, but on this occasion, with little time to explore on our own, we were tempted by two of them.  Firstly, a sail westwards on a replica of Christopher Columbus's boat, Santa Maria, then a guided walk linking the islands two highest peaks.
Santa Maria replica
      With a temperature bordering 80º it was wonderful to sail into a sea breeze on the top deck of Santa Maria.  As Madeira's beautiful landscape slipped past we were entertained by a pod of frolicking bottle nosed dolphins, causing much clicking of cameras as they arced and plunged in the Atlantic swell.  They can grow to 4 metres long and weigh as much as 600 kgs.
Bottle-nosed dolphins saying 'Hello'
      At our turning point, a ½ mile out from the highest sea cliff in Europe, it was time to swim. A beefy German guy jumped in from the top deck causing quite a splash. Others dived or jumped from lower parts of the boat.  Our guide dived faultlessly from a rope ladder just below the crow's nest. 
Delectable place for a swim
      Yours truly jumped from a much lower ladder that dangled into the sea.  I was hoping dolphins would join in the fun but they were having none of it.  Revelling in the sun, the warm sea, the towering cliffs and our galleon silhouetted against the sky, I swam too far away and was shouted at to come back!  It was a truly delectable experience.
That's me at the back, waving goodbye to go hunting for dolphins!
      On most mornings my phone burbled at 7am to waken us for our morning run.  A series of descents to a lido, then a run along the sea front, under a bridge where an itinerant slept among his cardboard boxes, past a roofless old building with rusting machinery and out onto a jetty where fishermen cast their lines in the dawn light.
Back from a morning run, feeling good
      We'd no time for a run on 'Peaks day' as we were scheduled to be picked up from Savoy Gardens at 8.30am for a long drive into the hills.
Sunrise from our balcony, prelude to a great day in the hills
A portly gentleman greeted us, spot on time, relieved us of our money and jokingly told us we could now go back to bed.
View from bus window showing circular military building at top of Pico do Areiro
      We'd imagined him to be the coach driver, or tour organiser to tick off names of everyone on the trip, but surprisingly he turned out to be our guide who'd shortly be sweating his way over perilously steep ascents and descents in the broiling sun carrying a rather large rucksack full of goodness knows what.
Our Guide - with big yellow rucksack
      The coach deposited us by the restaurant atop Pico do Areiro at 10am.  It was already teeming with walkers and sightseers all anxious to 'spend a penny' before setting off on their travels.  Inflation must be rather high in Madeira for the summit loos cost 50c - half a Euro.
Obligatory pose on viewing platform before starting the walk...
      After posing for an obligatory picture at Pico do Areiro's high point (5,965ft) we set off across the arid landscape towards an impregnable looking peak in the far distance. I was glad, very glad indeed, we'd employed the services of a guide rather than attempt to traverse these mountains on our own.
How the heck do we get over that lot?
      It wasn't long before any vertigo sufferers would have been trembling in there boots as narrow paths teetered over thousands of feet of nothingness. Thankfully, there were miles of cabled handrails for those of a nervous disposition to hold on to.
Walking in the air.    An airy cliff path.
 Some paths formed airy terraces high on vertical walls with overhanging rock to crack the heads of taller people.
Looks like the rim of an old caldera
      At times, just when forward progress appeared to be coming to an end at impossible looking obstacles, clever people had long ago bored tunnels straight through to the other side. Some of these low, narrow tunnels are quite long, and dark, and wet, so it's advisable to carry a torch.
Oh good, there's a tunnel
      The transition from black dark to blinding light was quite a shock to my failing eyes as we re-emerged onto platforms overlooking verdant sunlit valleys surrounded by rocky spires jutting into a blue, cloudless sky.
A few steps to help us to the top
 In past mountaineering days neither of us had ever experiences anything quite so surreal as this
In my would be wonderful to run along that background ridge
.A heather lined path with dramatic views wound steeply upwards to eventually arrive at a Refuge offering shade from the relentless sun, and a grotty loo for those desperate enough to use it.
The Refuge where our Guide deserted us!
At this point our Guide decided to have a wee rest, leaving his intrepid party to toil upwards on their own to the summit of Pico Ruivo (6,108ft) where tiny looking people appeared on the ridge line above. We'd half an hour to get there, and back, so no time for hanging about!
Some friendly partridge

We must have been bordering on exhaustion when eventually arriving at the summit, still under that cloudless sky and grilling sun. We assumed the true summit was one with a tall cairn and trig point, but we opted to visit a second one too, just in case....
Summit of Pico Arivo, highest point on the island
      From this highest point on the island we could look back across the peaks to a rounded military installation, possibly a tracking device, beside which we'd begun our incredible trek three rocky hours ago. Any exhaustion was tempered by a happy sense of achievement, so much so I almost danced down the pumice path back to the Refuge where our Guide awaited us.
Showing how far we'd walked - summit of Pico do Areiro on far right
      From there on an easy walk along a good path led to a car parking area at Achada do Texeira where our coach was shimmering in the heat. We'd a welcome stop at a restaurant overlooking a baranca where a cold glass of refreshing Coral beer went down very well indeed.
Contentment after a beer and long day in the hills
      It seemed a long drive back to our hotel, down, down, through lots of tunnels, past the airport, through the fleshpots of Funchal and finally up the hill to be deposited outside Savoy Gardens. As we alighted from the coach our Guide shook my hand and left with the words " I wish I was as fit as you".   
It made my day......
Sadly, the plane arrives to take us home
      Anything else would have been anti climax after such an extraordinary and amazing day in the islands high mountains. The weather gods had been kind.  Our bodies had performed wonderfully in the challenging environment. We couldn't have wished for more.
      I've a feeling we might be going back to Madeira......