Monday 28 November 2016

Creatures of habit......

   As we ran round Grimwith for the umpteenth time last Sunday I was thinking of a good friend of ours with property in one of the most beautiful areas of Britain.  In spite of such beautiful countryside, lakes and mountains, he hardly ever repeats a walk or, for that matter, will ever go twice to the same holiday destination.  It doesn't seem natural.
On a regular run up the ghyll on Saturday (Click to enlarge)
   We're quite the opposite. We fall in love with places and have gone back time and again to climb the same mountains, run the same trails, camp on the same bit of ground or book similar sea-facing rooms in the same hotels on the same beautiful islands.  So many samenesses.
But every time is different. 
All calm on Sunday's run
   Like our last three runs around Grimwith. This week, all was calm and dry with normal colours and not a breath of wind. Last week, the hills were plastered with snow, Storm Angus screeching across the water, stinging our faces with frozen slingshot. 
Things were far from calm on this run
   The previous Sunday a surreal sunrise burnished the water like polished brass while mallard, teal and greylags honked, squarked, whistled and made V-signs across the water on their way to breakfast. Their morning ritual.
...and this was different again
   And I can't help thinking of summer swallows returning from Africa to nest in the same barns or Church doorways.  Or barnacle geese bugling south in their thousands to the same winter feeding grounds on Islay. Or salmon navigating vast oceans to thrash their way up the very same rivers to pools where they were spawned.
Happy to gaze into the boundless blue - from that same stile.....
   I like to think my wonderful partner and I have got things about right. We feel part of nature rather than mere observers. Our habitual forays to the same wild and beautiful places aren't just for sentimental reasons but moved by some inbuilt compulsion we don't quite understand.  We're happy to respond to these urges and sad when we don't. Or can't, for reasons beyond our control.
Yeah, know which way to go, been here scores of times...
   Tomorrow morning I'll most probably be drawn out of bed to don my running gear and set off across frozen fields to watch the sun rise from a vantage point high on Castle Hill. I've done it hundreds of times. 
Another sunrise to help charge the old batteries
   I don't always want to get up, don't enjoy stepping out into a nithering wind to slosh through muddy fields. But there's an inner compulsion to go, whether I like it or not.  It's a call I'm obliged to respond to - or spend the day regretting my failure. 
Or in our case, Run with God
   Heaven preserve us if the day ever comes when summer swallows, wild geese or migrating salmon fail to respond to nature's urges......
   "Sod it, England's a lousy place, let's stay where we are".

Monday 21 November 2016

Grim around Grimwith......

      The thermometer read 2°C as we set off on our Sunday jaunt.  As we picked our way from the icy and otherwise deserted parking area at Grimwith and began running across the reservoir dam, the thought crossed my mind "Maybe we should start carrying a cellphone".  The bitterly cold air froze my lungs, contracting cells so I couldn't breathe properly. For a wee while I felt vulnerable.
Careful as you go  (Click pictures to enlarge)
      It was still 30 minutes to sunrise - not that we'd see it for the clouds were like lead.  Storm Angus was gathering strength with winds gusting their way up the Beaufort scale. Freezing rain stung our faces. Feet were soddened running through slutchy mud and puddles. The hills around were plastered with snow. If anything happened to either of us in these conditions, miles from anywhere, we could be in real trouble.
Nasty conditions
      Throughout climbing and mountaineering days I never entertained such thoughts. Wouldn't allow myself to.  So far as I'm aware, only one of my mountaineering friends ever carried a phone.   For the rest of us our only means of summoning help would be six blasts on a whistle!
Be quick, I'm freezing....
      But after Sunday's run my wonderful partner admitted she'd been thinking of carrying a phone too, especially if we're going to be running through storms Barbara, Conor, Doris, et al.  The severe drop in temperature brought about by wind chill had obviously got to her too. However, it soon dawned on us that reception around Grimwith, and many other places we run, is probably non-existent.  We'll test it next time we go, but meanwhile I'll stick with my whistle.
      My camera wouldn't function very well on that Grimwith run either. Rain got onto the lens causing it to automatically shut down. Very sensible, but annoying.
Burnt out mill in Newsome
      A run over Castle Hill during the week was halted by the sight of a huge mill fire less than a mile away in the village of Newsome. When I saw it, around 7.30am, it was totally gutted with only the four walls remaining.  A local poacher who lives near it said he'd been awakened in the middle of the night with flames shooting through the roof.  It was a Grade 2 listed building, long since disused, which they'd hoped to convert into flats.  Arson has been confirmed.
Last week's full moon had grown a tail....
 Storm Angus is still raging through Yorkshire as I type this, causing floods and disruption throughout the area.
      I may not be running for a day or two......

Monday 14 November 2016

Three good days

      It was a week of frosty fields, snowy hills, some torrential rain interspersed by misty mornings and, when we were lucky, a bit of welcome sunshine. Instead of the usual four forays into the hills, inclement weather limited my runs to just three.
View from the kitchen window on Wednesday    (Click to enlarge pictures)
      I kept a wary watch for a rogue cow as I crunched through white fields on Tuesday. She was there but never lifted her head from the cold grass she was grazing as I swept by. 
Rogue beastie enjoying a cold breakfast   
      Blazing sunrise colours were glorious though somewhat brief as I circuited the hill with a buff pulled over my nose and mouth to warm the freezing air and wind chill before it hit my lungs.  Cold air on my chest usually triggers a fit of coughing, so after three miles I was sliding home to warm porridge, toast and coffee.
Goldfinches in the snowy garden
      Goldfinches usually join me for breakfast, up to half a dozen of them, no more than a couple of yards away on the seed feeders. They take me for granted, as anxious to tuck into their nyger seeds as I am to slurp my porridge, totally oblivious of my watchful eyes. I love their bright colours, particularly on drab and dreary days.
From my Study window - snow falling on Wednesday
      It snowed on Wednesday and rained heavily on Thursday so it was Friday before I ventured out into a clear dawn for another run. It was frosty and calm, but with none of Tuesday's wind chill to freeze my lungs.
Friday's sunrise
      "On mornings like this I could run forever" I said to a gentleman with two well behaved dogs - before a wave of embarrassment swept over me.  The gentleman was an amputee walking with the aid of crutches. Maybe I shouldn't have said that....
Feeling I could run forever
      Sunday dawned cold and reasonably clear as we drove a mile or two up the road for a run round Grimwith reservoir, scattering scores of pheasant and partridges foolishly strutting in the road.  It was hardly light as we locked the car and set off by the slutchy dam wall with the sky dawning red behind us.  Reds softened to yellows as daylight strengthened, imparting a surreal glow to the landscape.
Sunday's surreal early morning landscape
      Across the water drifted waking sounds of mallard, greylag geese and whistling teal while startled game birds rose noisily ahead of us as we ran. I picked up a plump partridge with a broken wing and enough meat on it for a tasty meal. But I hadn't the heart to kill it, so released it to its fate.
Sunrise runner
      "What's the betting we'll meet other runners" I said, "it's the daft sort of thing runners do at this hour of day".  Sure enough, not much later, a neighbour from the village came jogging towards us looking rather surprised at seeing us so early in the morning.
Dodging the puddles back o' Grimwith in breaking light
      After showering and breakfasting I'd ample time to get to Grassington for the Remembrance Day service in the Chapel.
Rev Mollie Greenwood led an excellent service to a smaller than usual congregation due, we suspected, because many were attending a larger service across the river at Linton Parish Church.
Holly berries to match Remembrance Day poppies
      After lunch it clouded over. We didn't care. We'd enjoyed a beautiful run, paid our respects to the fallen, so time to do what Sabbath days were made for - relax and rest from our labours. And that's exactly what we did.  Sort of......

Monday 7 November 2016

In a bit of a rut....

      A couple of days before setting off to the Lake District I was ignominiously bounced off the road by a beefy Belgian Blue cow which, the farmer said, was only protecting its calf.  Fortunately, having butted me onto my back, it showed no further interest and I was able to jog away, a little shaken but with no more pain than a couple of Ibuprofens couldn't sort out.
Deer hunter      (Click to enlarge pictures)
      With this incident in mind I was hoping we didn't encroach too closely upon the mating antics of prime stags going about their business in the Martindale Deer forest. It was the 'Season of Roaring'.  The Rut was on.  
In the wilds of Bannerdale, The Nab in background
      After parking at Dale Head we walked up Bannerdale in somewhat misty conditions. It took a while to 'get our eye in' though we could hear intermittent roaring high up on the Nab.  It wasn't until we were high up the valley that roaring began on our side of the deer fence. A sweep of the binoculars revealed a stag with his parcel of hinds on a crag immediately above us.
I've spotted them
      Amongst autumn colours of dying foliage they weren't easy to spot but once our eyes became accustomed to the landscape more and more came into view - lone stags that had given up the fight and large herds we'd failed to spot during our walk in. It was all very elemental and thankfully we got out without being pinned to a wall or tossed over the deer fence.
Not easy to see in the conditions
      To be honest, the Rut was almost over. Stags will soon be friends again, taking off together to resume feeding and building themselves up to face all the rigours of a Lakeland winter. Best of mates.
A bit of luxury
      We returned to the luxury of our friend's apartment to build ourselves up for a planned run over Pikeawassa the following morning. I wasn't in very good form, still suffering a badly bruised ego as a result of a losing battle with that perishing cow!
The rocky nose onto Steel Knott
      After a gorgeous sunset the previous evening, morning dawned cloudless and clear.  We couldn't wait to don our running gear and take off into the hills. We drove through Howtown and parked at the back of the hotel with the steep nose of Steel Knott towering above us.
Rest stop on Steel Knott
My wonderful partner set a cracking pace I struggled to match so I'd a more than usual number of stops on the ascent, ostensibly to take photographs but in reality because I needed the rest.
On Pikeawassa

I got my breath back for the wonderful run along to the rocky top of Pikeawassa, then down towards Fusedale.  Ravens cronked and flew away. Indigenous Herdwicks and other sheep stared and bravely held their ground. "Just another couple of those daft fellrunners" they'd be thinking, "we're used to them, they never do us any harm".
Sheep didn't mind us
      We descended across boggy ground, passing the ruined cottage by Fusedale Beck, down to a stone slab bridge over a subsidiary stream of miniature waterfalls where berry laden trees contrasted sharply against the boundless blue.
Berries against the blue
Then down by Cote Farm and back to Howtown where we met and chatted to the first people we'd seen all morning.
A study in yellows
      Another of our favourite runs begins in Pooley Bridge, then NE by the River Eamont before taking off across fields to Dalemain where there's a large herd of Fallow deer.  
Fallow deer at Dalemain
      The Rut begins earlier for Fallow deer and should have been over by November, but one randy old stag seemed determined to make it last till Christmas!  Before our very eyes he chased and cornered an unwilling hind in what we could only describe as rape.
That randy stag
 If there was such a thing as a Deer Judiciary he'd be locked in a pen for two years and slapped on the sex offenders register.
Running towards Dacre Castle
       We'd hoped to see red squirrels at the feeders but were disappointed, so continued west along the public bridleway to Dacre, past the imposing castle and detoured into the churchyard to view the old stone bears. 
Stone bear in the Churchyard
There are four of them which some believe mark the four corners of a previous Saxon Monastery.
      After a bit of roadwork we were soon into fields again and toiling up the side of Dunmallard, site of an ancient Iron Age hill fort.  At some period it may have been home to the Brigantes who inhabited such high places including Castle Hill just up the road from where I live. Though less than 800ft high Dunmallard has a commanding view down the length of Ullswater and is only a short walk to the bridge over the Eamont.
Temporary bridge sign
      The present bridge is a temporary one, its 250 year old predecessor having been washed away during last year's floods.
Swarth Ghyll
      All our runs were early morning ones. After lunch we bumbled around, taking it easy, viewing the views. 
Wished I was up there!
Watching daring hang-gliders soaring round the craggy heights.  
Lingering by the lake side to catch the evening sunsets, enjoying all that wonderful landscape has to offer.
Sunset over Ullswater
      Until our last morning we'd brilliant sunny weather, albeit rather cold and windy that had leaves shuttering down to form a yellow carpet all around our apartment. Other than deer we saw little in the way of wildlife. A couple of badgers lay dead by the roadside.
Geese flying into the sunset
 Skeins of geese flew across the evening sky and a few blue tits were feeding on a Japanese Maple, but other birds were conspicuous by their absence. Not that we're all that observant!
Crossing Fusedale beck on a last run
      Poking our noses out the door for a last run before returning home we felt the first few spots of rain. It relented as we ran by Swarthbeck onto the bridleway leading to Melguards, then over Fusedale Beck and up Martindale to the Church under Hallin Fell.
Church under Hallin Fell
 From there we'd a lovely run down a turfy path to Howtown landing stage, then back up to the Bridleway we'd set off on to return just as the rain became more persistent.
Couldn't resist another sunset picture looking across Ullswater
      We didn't care. In less than an hour we were packed and heading for home. Rejoicing!
Our thanks to Barrie and Paddy MacJannette for allowing us into their luxurious apartment in such a stunning location.
We treasure such memories.