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Monday, 16 October 2017

Plastered......

It's got to that time of year again when fields around Castle Hill are full of hock deep holes that squirt mud and water all over my bare legs whenever my feet accidentally land in them - which is quite often on my pre-dawn runs.  Charolais herds and their cavorting calves make a real mess of the place from September onwards, particularly in gateways that are impossible to avoid and more so after heavy rain. 
The culprits    (Click pictures to enlarge)
After Thursday's run I returned home plastered.  Not with alcohol, you understand, but with mud, glorious mud.  So my new bathroom, courtesy of Kirklees Council, is proving a real blessing.  No longer do I have to stand outside in a bowl of water to wash my filthy legs after those messy runs, but for the first time in 39 years, I have a shower!  A power shower with wonderful hot water.  
Old Runningfox is at last moving into the 21st century!
Nice to meet you, now can I have some shut-eye?
Meanwhile my eldest son, Alasdair, is stepping back in time as he roams through darkest Africa photographing many of the wild creatures and exotic birds that inhabit that wild continent..
Yeah, I'm a bit tired too...
 His pictures give the impression gorillas would like to shake hands with him, lions adapt posing positions in trees as soon as they hear him coming and crocodiles delay their return to the water until he's finished shooting. 
Can you see me better now?
One night a leopard graciously moved into a lighted spot to provide a better view for him.  Dunno how he does it...
Dunno what this was that came to say hello to him?
Meanwhile, back in sunny Huddersfield I have to make do with more mundane stuff - like the goldfinches that were having a punch-up the other morning. I was wondering, how many goldfinches make a 'Charm'?  There were nine of them squabbling at the feeders.  
Goldfinches building themselves up, ready for a punch-up
Regulars hog the same perches day after day and there's hell to pay if an intruder tries to muscle in.   Not very charming at all.
Come to think, I'm a bit the same - always sit in the same seat at my friend Abdul's fish restaurant, same at my regular coffee shop and yes, maybe feel a bit aggressive if someone else is sat there.  Guess it's only natural really.  Hmmm, God help anyone I find sat in my pew next Sunday!
The state of the moor
I'd a good 8 mile run across the moor on Sunday though it was a bit saturated after all the rain.  Regardless, I'm pretty much in my element up there, relishing the wildness, wind whispering through the coarse grasses, grouse kek-keking, plovers piping, wandering sheep and nary another soul to interrupt my reverie.
Hebden Ghyll
Hebden Ghyll was beautiful in the morning sunlight but there was a fair amount of water in the beck which meant I'd get wet feet where I crossed a mile higher up.
Atmospherics beyond Cupola Corner
Sunlight paled as I ran out of the ghyll and onto the moor at Cupola Corner.  Atmospherics enhanced the character of the bleak moor.
Bell pits - a long way from civilisation
I ran out of track and into much rougher country, old lead mining territory, of Mear stones and bell pits of which warning notices advise walkers to be very careful where they tread. One local lady was terrified when the ground opened up in front of her, swallowing her dog, never to be seen again.
Some hardy sheep
Grassington Moor can be a very dangerous place made more so where local gamekeepers have set hundreds of snares to destroy any creature that might prey on their beloved grouse.
And maybe some that don't...
Almost at the top..
I was still running uphill and my 85 year old legs were beginning to feel it.  Garmin reckoned a total of 884ft and I wasn't going to argue with it.
A few rocks on the way down
A few rocks and peat hags mark the topmost point but from thereon ½ a mile of gravel track sets one up for the glorious run down the long wall and back into the ghyll.
Parting shot before the jog home
Almost home and the sun came out again.. sod's law!  It called for a parting shot from the same spot by the Miner's bridge where I'd taken one on the way out.  It was a perfect ending to the week, one deservous of a well-earned dram that evening.
Just a wee one you understand, didn't want to get plastered...

Monday, 9 October 2017

Growing old disgracefully......

     I'm forever telling myself I'm not an old man yet but, judging by the way I sometimes feel, I'm simply deluding myself.  Last Tuesday was one of those days.  I'd got up early and was lacing up my studs while the kettle boiled for a strong mug of coffee.  In spite of secondary glazing I could hear wind racing up and down the Beaufort scale, a noise that should have told any sensible runner to stay low, or stay indoors. Better still, go back to bed.  
I went up Castle Hill..
Another day is born - No 31,322 for me!        (Click to enlarge pictures)
      For the past week I hadn't seen a sunrise.  Every morning had dawned cold, drizzly, cloudy and windy.  But on Tuesday I stepped out the door to a clear sky with a thin rosy glow on the eastern horizon.  And a wall of wind.  As my wonderful partner might tell you, I like wind, particularly if it's warm and gentle.  Whenever I experienced a  'runner's high', that floating out of body phenomenon, it was always windy.  But not like Tuesday. 
I cowered along the hedge side on the run home
As I struggled up the steep flanks I was blown all over the place and frequently forced to a standstill, panting for breath. I reached the summit just as the sun was peeping over the horizon and steadied myself, as best I could, to take a photograph of the dawning day.  I ran to a more sheltered section, behind trees, and took a few more shots of the waking landscape before beating a hasty retreat down the leeward side of the hill to return home by a leafy lane, sneaking between hawthorn and holly bushes where the wind was less likely to find me.  Then I did something I've never done before.  I went back to bed for an hour, feeling somewhat knackered.  But of course, I tell myself, it's nothing whatsoever to do with age.   It was that damn wind...
Autumn tints along the Wharfe as the week got better
On Thursday I sensibly stayed low for a session of 10 faster paced hill reps in the cemetery.  No-one complained!  I felt good, fully recovered from Tuesday's epic and was back home in ½ hour, before sunrise and before my neighbour went to work. 
Saturday was a grotty, wet and windy day in the Dales so, other than a quick visit to the coal shed for reinforcements, I'm afraid we never stirred from our warm cottage.
Skipping along the riverbank 
Sunday dawned sunny and clear, a wonderful autumn day that lured us out for a 6 mile jaunt round Burnsall and Appletreewick.  After holidays in Spain and Portugal it felt wonderful to be back in our old haunts again, despite the somewhat cooler temperature.
Autumn tints near Burnsall
We were not alone.  Cyclists sped along the road in their obligatory lycra, helmets, gloves and goggles.  I sometimes wonder if they ever actually see much of the beautiful countryside through which they travel, or whether they just cycle for cycling's sake?  Anyway, they all looked lean and mean so I suppose it must be good exercise...
Running past Loup Scar
A group of teenagers with huge rucksacks of backpacking gear dawdled along the riverside seemingly clueless as to where they were or which way they were supposed to be going.  They took some convincing their final destination, Barden Bridge, was actually down river and not upstream from whence they'd just come.  They did have a map but none appeared to have a compass.  We took them to be a party of High School kids but it seemed ludicrous they'd been sent out on a multi-day trek without first being taught some basic navigation skills.
So that was the week that was.  Three good runs with 667ft of ascent is surely proof enough I'm not an old man yet....

Thursday, 28 September 2017

New workout......

      Not only was I running before sunrise this morning but I was home and showered before sunrise.  OK, I only ran two miles but it was a good workout.  I'd taken a page from the late Ed Whitlock's book and ran round the local cemetery.  The old part of the cemetery is on a slope that's intersected by seven paths between the gravestones.  I found it ideal for short hill reps, running hard up one path and jogging down the next, all the way to the end. 
Then back again.
Cemetery workout
      Although hardly daylight I was surprised to find I wasn't alone in the gloom.  A Personal Trainer was already there with one of his clients doing step-ups onto a kerb.  I've seen him before, mostly putting plump ladies through their paces, hopping sideways, running backwards or doing press-ups on the grass beside the graves.  And they pay him for this?  
I think I've missed my way.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Menorca again......

Mentions of mistiness in my last posting were not intended for the ears of my Consultant Ophthalmologist.  Regardless, his latest corticosteroid injection to my Rt eye on  25th August produced so much milkiness and floating crystals I was unable to run safely for more than a week.  I was relieved to survive a run round Castle Hill eight days later without falling all over the place.
Getting back into my stride  (Click to enlarge pictures)
My house has been in turmoil too as plumbers, plasterers, electricians, painters and tilers went about their various duties tearing out my old bathroom  and fitting a brand new one.
It puts the rest of the house to shame! 
Work in progress
However, you can't keep a good man down and throughout September I've been making up for lost time in wild and wonderful places.
Putting in the mileage before Menorca
Long trails over local hills with hundreds of feet of ascent were all part of my preparation for a two week holiday in a favourite corner of the world, the beautiful island of Menorca.
The Xuroy in its beautiful setting
Once again we were booked in at the Xuroy, a wonderful little family run hotel that sits with its feet in the water by the old fishing village of Alcaufar.  
Snorkeling in the warm waters by the hotel
Residents can step out the door and plunge straight into the warm sea to swim, swish, swirl and snorkel among the shoals of fish - or maybe shake hands with a visiting octopus.  I never had the privilege of the latter...
Dawn erupting outside our window
Delightful dawn skies lured us from our beds each morning to don our studs and run for miles along the undulating trails, mainly on sections of the Cami de Cavalls (Way of Horses), a long distance trail that encircles the island.
Sunrise on the Punta Prima run
Sadly, unlike in May, there were no nightingales to serenade us as we greeted the sun on an inland trail towards Punta Prima.  The land we ran on is private but we only ever met one man exercising his dogs and I'd guess he was trespassing too.
Rough running along the Cami de Cavalls 
We'd return along the Cami de Cavalls, a much rougher trail of pitted and spiky limestone that calls for sure footedness and a certain amount of concentration to avoid catastrophes. I'm rather good at the latter and have a few good scars to prove it!
After the storm, a flooded trail
Overall the weather was good, sunny with temperatures reaching low 80's, but we'd a couple of rogue thunderstorms that flooded the trail and made it very muddy in parts.  On the plus side, grass began to shoot and patches of green emerged.
Running the Rafalet Vell route
On other mornings we headed northwards on dawn runs, again braving the precarious underfoot conditions of the Cami de Cavalls as far as a farmstead at Rafalet Vell.  
Wild tortoise
On previous occasions we'd invariably encounter many wild tortoises, the main attraction of this route for us, but this time we saw only one. We wondered if some unscrupulous person was collecting them for commercial purposes?
Rafalet rooster
The posse of little piggies that previously entertained us at Rafalet Vell were conspicuous by their absence. We surmised they'd all gone to market or sliced up to embellish the breakfast plates of an estimated 22,000 visitors that passed through Menorca's airport each day the previous month.  Instead of their cheery little grunts a brightly coloured rooster crowed from over the wall.
Wild Horses  (I love this song, click to listen)
Occasionally we met cows, some with evil looking horns and some with calves.  None of them bothered us but on one occasion we turned tail as they eyed us with a little too much attention.  This time it was horses that blocked our path but we patted them aside and they let us pass without ado.
My favourite swimming pool
 Cala Rafalet is one of Menorca's hidden gems, a secluded little cove of clear, deep water surrounded by magnificent limestone cliffs that trap the sun and make this a delectable place to swim.
As rough as it gets
On one of our longer runs we ran the Cami de Cavalls as far as Cala de Sant Esteve, a section that's as rough as it gets.  The final ¼ mile is a delight for masochistic runners who delight in extreme off-road fun.  Like me...
Across limestone slabs at Cala de Sant Esteve
The delights continued as we ran across an expanse of limestone slabs.
On the coast path to Cala Rafalet
Then a little climb out to join a gravel cliff path with a curious cave formation.
Pock-marked cave
From thereon the trail was thin on the ground requiring the mind and expertise of an Indian tracker to stay on route.  But we congratulated ourselves on reaching our objective without once referring to the guide book.
Cooling off at Cala Rafalet
We'd deliberately dressed in running gear that doubled as swimwear so were able to wash the sweat from our bodies after an almost vertical descent down the rocks for another exquisite bathe in the sparkling waters of Cala Rafalet.  
Celebrating our morning's activities
It was two very happy bunnies that jogged the last mile back to our hotel where we showered and changed before a celebratory meal at the stylish restaurant of Piccolo Mundo in Alcaufar. 
Talayot Curnia Nu where excavations are still taking place
Our holiday wasn't all running and swimming.  We did lots of walking too, notably to a couple of archaeological sites and a trek from Son Bou to San Tomas, and back, to suss out a hotel, the Lord Nelson, where we plan to celebrate my 86th birthday next May.
San Tomas - our destination next May
 We discovered it's 4* and a little too posh for the likes of me.  Among the many residents we encountered, we didn't notice any wearing tracksters or trainers.  I may have to update my wardrobe.  And buy some shoes!
A 'Happy hour' picture taken on our last evening at Xuroy
We fitted an awful lot into our fortnight holiday, so many things my old brain can't recall them all.  But at the end of each day as the sun was setting I well remember our 'Happy hours' relaxed with a beer, or wine, on a terrace beside the lapping sea with heads full of wonderful memories of each day's activities.
Holidays don't come better than that...

Monday, 14 August 2017

Play misty for me......

Below was the sight that greeted me as I stepped out the door for the first of my dawn runs last week.  The sign points downhill, towards Huddersfield, but I ignored it and, as usual, went uphill.
To the Castle, of course.
Stepping out to greet the sun - or was it greeting me?
 (Click to enlarge pictures)
Fields were awash with dew and an eerie mist was spreading through the valleys as I climbed higher.  Rabbits ran ahead of me, indicating the absence of dog walkers.  I'd the hill to myself, which is just how I like it...
Then the mist came
It was Thursday and my first of only three runs last week.  I'd set off to do 4 miles but got a bit carried away with the beauty of my surroundings.  I finished up running 5 miles and felt fresh enough to have run farther.
Misty valleys
Mileage was down on last week, but still managed a very enjoyable 15 miles with a little over 1,300ft of ascent to spice it up a bit.
Clear and bright on Friday
Friday's run was kept to a strict 4 miles.  Unlike the previous morning's run there wasn't a shred of mist to be seen.  Perfect for photography if only I'd had time to take more.
Poetry in motion
Descending past the wood on my way home three young ladies were setting off up the hill, running in line, perfectly synchronised.
Ah, no-one will notice me scrumping at 6 in the morning!
Passing someone's  garden I noticed that apples were turning russet and would soon be ready for scrumping.
Uphill but enjoyable in the clear air on Sunday
Sunday dawned clear and fresh with not a cloud in the sky.  Instead of running directly uphill I turned left, dropping down into Mollicar Wood, then up through Roydhouse and a steep field towards Farnley Tyas.
Castle Hill from Farnley Hey
Turning right towards a distant Castle Hill presented me with a couple of problems.  The first was a virtual swamp of evil smelling slurry flooding across the public footpath. It appeared to flow from a hole in the ground.
There's a footpath somewhere under those clods
The second was a long, roughly ploughed field with ankle twisting clods that slowed me down a bit.
Arrival on Castle Hill...
As ever, I had to finish over Castle Hill and again I had the place to myself.  The views were superb and I was reluctant to descend.
...and a view from the top, to the heathery heights of West Nab,
purple in the morning light
 It was one of those days I felt I could run forever.  I love these wild runs, often with some wild and wonderful music (click to play) rushing around in my mind, helping my pace, drawing me on, transporting me, obliterating discomfort.  Except my tummy was crying out for porridge, and running across dusty, ploughed fields had proved thirsty work!  I contented myself with 6 memorable miles.
But thinking about that run while relaxing in the garden afterwards, it brought back memories of a poem I wrote,  many years ago:

WILDRUNNERS
There are days
On paths that  zig-zag
High into the hills
We pass beyond the pain,
Catch that tingling in the scalp
That tells us soon
We'll treadmill out of time,
Out of self.

To rufflings of raven's wings
We'll rise above the stones,
Sail in the eye of the wind
To worlds beyond the womb.
In that transmigratory state
That's neither flesh nor blood
Male or female, warm or cold,
We'll run, like disembodied joys,
The gauntlet of eternity.

Only 15 miles in total but a thoroughly enjoyable week.  Deserves another glass of wine methinks.  Or maybe even a wee dram....