Thursday, 20 December 2007

Season's Greetings

My Dad's Christmas, over half a century ago. Those were the days. When men could survive two and a half years in the Antarctic and grasp the finer points of icing cakes as well.
Have a good one, wherever you are.

A festive run

Eden Runners once again took to the streets of Penrith to admire the festive light shows on display at this time of year. This house was one of the best. There were though, mutterings that things were a bit on the tasteful side this year. Maybe the credit crisis had hit the sales of "Santa in a helicopter" lights in Penrith. Anyway, a good run in cold, dry conditions.

Saturday, 15 December 2007


Storm boulders, the Cumbrian Coast

You may have noticed something about this blog of late...a distinct lack of hills. And that, dear readers (I am using the plural cautiously), is because I have been grounded. By my chiropractor, if the truth be known. Now it's a long story involving a festering yoga injury, much burning of cartilage at both ends, and a Welsh heirloom of a tendency to endure pain. But the long and the short of it is I have a stuffed knee. And I have been instructed not to go "up or down anything". Pretty bad news for a fell runner.

Still, we have to be thankful for small mercies. It's about as good a time as any to be out of action. And I can still do things on the f-l-a-t. And I'm not as yet crawling up the walls in frustration as could have been the case.

Today's f-l-a-t bike ride took in one of Cumbria's finest tea rooms. Allonby, a tiny, salt-washed collection of houses on the edge of nowhere, was the unlikely setting for what I can only describe as a mystical experience involving a scone. Yes, a scone. One hot summer day, we alighted outside a tea room set back slightly from the usual melee of ice cream joints and chip shops. A fat labrador was laid out on the grass, snoring. To one side of the large dog, a table was set, bone china glinting in the sun. We ordered tea and scones.

And then out came the silver tray. Scones, puffed to perfection alongside a glinting chalice, brimming with jam, and another of heavy cream. Sculpting great pyramids of jam and cream onto the wonderful substrate, we could almost hear angels. They were that good. It was what could be described in the language of Physics as a Scone Singularity: the coming together of antique bone china and Sheffield silver cutlery, flour, raisins, butter, jam and cream into a oneness.

But maybe we had just cycled a bit too far...

Anyhow, in homage to the great Allonby Scone, we stopped and ate another.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Ritual and Meaning

It happens every year, at about this time. As the weather becomes colder, windier and wetter, we find ourselves face-on to the winds battering the small isle of Lindisfarne.

Quite rarely for us, we don't go there with any particular objective. We don't take kayaks, climbing gear or any of the usual accoutrements. We just go there to raise the drawbridge for a while. We wait for the tide to cut the island off from the mainland, and we wander.

We stare at sand, watch in wild amazement as the tide pushes arcuate shapes over sandbanks. We laugh at the way the sandpipers run with a thousand little footsteps.
For such a tiny scrap of land, an afterthought of geology, it never fails to surprise and delight. We can wander for hours, and not get bored. With each turning year, we unearth new things to gaze at whilst making simple pilgrimages to see those we already know.

In St. Mary's church, we found Fenwick Lawson's great sculpture for the first time. It is arresting in its scale, sombering in its mood. And here it was, resting in a pool of soft, winter light.

The sculpture represents the journey of St. Cuthbert's body, taken around Northumberland after his death. It is extraordinary.

And so it is that we have spent another year together. In this, the simplest of ways, we stand, battered by wind and rain, knowing that we couldn't have enjoyed ourselves much more. It is a ritual with great meaning.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Attack of the 'Killer' Fell Ponies

Round the back of Blencathra is a quiet haven populated by idyllic, sought-after villages and simple, geometric and deserted hills. There are also little ponies. Where the road meets the fell, these little chaps, barely reaching navel height, congregate to make the most of human offerings.While this one was creating a distraction, his mate was busy putting dents in the other side panel of the car, which seemed a little uncalled for. But perhaps I shouldn't have encouraged them by quietly flipping them oatcakes...

However, they are, give or take the odd violent outburst, an affectionate bunch and full of character. After inspecting the damage, we walked into the heart of this deserted part of the Lakes. The great gash of Raughton Gill opens out into an unexpectedly grand amphitheatre. The river cutting through exotic mineral veins is slicing almost vertically through the shattered rocks, creating a micro-climate of weird mosses and odd squelchy worts. Fab place.

Friday, 23 November 2007

The Dark Stride of the Moon

A small, but dogged bunch of Eden Runners put aside thoughts of cosy firesides for long enough to endure the deprivations of a run on Askam Fell last night. It took quite a while for our hands to warm up, but after the pain stopped, it was a fantastic, atmospheric run. Most running clubs in the area have regular night fell runs through the winter, and it's a great thing to be able to join in the fun. Who knows....we might even do it again...

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Grey and White

Look hard and you can see the first snows

It's a dark grey time up here in the north of know, just a little harder to force yourself outside, a little less light activating the retinas, a chore putting on enough clothes to go running.

It couldn't have been more different from the previous weekend: all gold and glittery. Now, things had become pale, limpid, steely. Somehow, though, we had a rewarding weekend through the darkness. Saturday saw us mountainbiking north-east of Ullswater, and somewhere out of the blue I found a technical ability on the bike which had hitherto lain dormant. Mountainbiking is one of those things with a built-in rubicon: great if you can stay on the bike, not if you have to get off all the time.

We decided to paddle around Ullswater on Sunday. And there it was: a stab of excitement in the cotton wool light- the first snows. Toasty warm after a timely purchase of some waterproof mukluks, we had the lake to ourselves apart from the Ullswater steamer. D-r-y f-e-e-t. Not to be underestimated.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Tripping the Light Fantastic...

Olive green has always seemed a fairly drab colour. Perhaps it was a throwback from my childhood growing up with a pair of military-minded brothers, mostly clad, as they say, in olive green or camouflage (you just never know when you might need it in Hampshire).

Anyway, I digress. What I'm getting at is the stunning synapse flip that occurred as the light flashed across the nubbly hills south-east of Keswick the other day. Deep green seemed as profound a colour as gold or red, merged seamlessly with burnished bracken-bronze and garish pink. Patches of steely grey rocks formed the backdrop to this fantastic light display, switched on and off by the clouds.

This was an eight-mile walk round a horseshoe route centred on the steep little pike of Grisedale. Visibility was stunning, and to be able to stand at the top of a hill, watching quantum packets of light pulsating across the land against the monumental geological time scales inherent in the rocks was as good as it gets. Silurian Skiddaw and Blencathra, Devonian Mell Fell and Carboniferous Pennines in the distance. Fantastic.

Perhaps olive green isn't that bad after all...

Sunday, 11 November 2007

A stiff north-westerly to Mecca

This may look like an ordinary boozer. But no, this place is to some, rather more than that. To me, it is the holy of holies.

Perhaps this somewhat strange perspective requires a bit of explanation. This pub is indeed an ordinary pub. But it's so much more than that. It is not tied in any way to a large brewing corporation. Nor is it one of many Cumbrian pubs tied to a local brewery. It is a freehouse. More than that, it's a Brewery pub. Occasional wafts of sweet malt embalming in warmed fell-side water assail the senses as you sit inside, which will, in time, become Hesket Newmarket Brewery's finest comestibles.

But there's more. This place is owned by a village co-operative. So the people that matter make the decisions. How refreshing. And it has some fairly impressive patrons. Prince Charles is such a frequent visitor to be almost a local. Clarissa Dickson-Wright also champions it's cause. It is also conveniently placed to have regular visits from the likes of Chris Bonington and Alan Hinckes. It is a rare gem.

And of late, things have just got better. We walked in to find a congenial, knowledgable and enthusastic landlord, new as of eleven months ago. It was a joy to listen to tales of yeast popping out of barrels of Doris's 90th birthday ale. Finally a good news story in what has lately become a litany of Cumbrian pub closures, insensitive refurbishments and takeovers of our cherished watering holes.

We had battled a fierce north-westerly to get there on bikes. But, it was worth it.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Dunnerdale Fell Race

Ah, a poignant race, largely because it was most likely the last fell race of the year. It also feels a weighty time because this was the first year of proper fell running. Looking back, it hasn't been a stunning debut, slow and ponderous as I am. But what it lacks in speed, it has made up for with a staggering consistency. Maybe I'm destined, with my genes, to be a pint-sized pit pony rather than a whippet of the fells.

To illustrate: at Dunnerdale I staggered in a minute after Jackie Lee, of Eryri Harriers. She normally wins things, so you might think I'd done rather well. Looking at the results, I did have a double-take...But it came home to roost when looking at the fell runners forum on the web, where somebody commented "whatever happened to Jackie Lee? Did she walk round?"...hmm.

Never mind this, though. The excitement of fell racing has been such that I am raring to stagger in somewhere near the back of the field in next year's races. The thrill of not knowing whether you'll be last, the fear of not knowing where you're going, the possibility of beating W.G. Grace or Sir Stanley Matthews to the line, and the exhilaration of even running in the same race as fell-running greats such as Wendy Dodds, Angela Mudge, and a host of male speedsters is palpable. A peculiar, yet strongly piquant addiction, you might say, but one which has me well and truly hooked.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Out-googled in Millom

There aren't many reasons to end up in Millom. But after a fell race, that's exactly where we ended up. Once at the heart of the iron industry in West Cumbria, it is now one of those bleak little towns where unemployment is a thriving occupation.

It was Google Earth that lured us there: a pair of shipwrecks just offshore, clearly visible at high resolution. But we saw no ships... We had been out-googled. Instead, though, something equally amazing, and rather more unexpected. The decaying ruins of a substantial harbourside.

Here, where land and estuary met, large iron ore ships must have moored. The harbourside had been cleared to a rutted, brown mud, but the great stalwart timbers supporting the harbour wall had been left to rot. Each had its attendant necklace of ironwork, peeling like onion skins. Timber and iron were rotting in harmony. This was modern art by any other name. Who would have thought it? In Millom...? I wonder how long these incredible structures will remain. It looks like the whole area is being torn down. As the golden light faded, the tide swept up and over the sand in an instant.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007


It's a truism that people form relationships with landscape in very different ways. The north of England is a stark reminder of this. From the almost cute landscapes of the Lake District valleys to the impossibly stark and empty lands farther north-east, it's a clear case of voting with one's feet. Non-challenging versus challenging. One, a multi-million pound tourist attraction and parking nightmare, the other, a multi-million pound rocket test site.

I am, of course, talking about a recent mountain-bike ride round Spadeadam, on the south-west corner of the large and uncompromisingly bleak moorland of Kielder Forest. Yes, it reminded us of the film, Deliverance. Miles of empty heath and evergreen forest, stamped now and then with farms, hidden, reclusive houses that only Google Earth could illuminate. And then, in a clearing, a car containing a few shifty looking men. You know, not the sort that are easy on the eye, squinting, big nosed. Dare I say it, hicks. It is no surprise that this place was chosen to be a rocket test site in the 50's. A twin location to Woomera in outback Australia, it too is an outcast. Nobody goes here: that'll do nicely.

But strangely, the comely Lake District vales had less pull than this place. The more we became enveloped in this simple landscape, the more I felt at home. This raw place had something different to say. What it was, I couldn't put my finger on, but it wasn't about humans or their history. It was about a time before man. I shall (hopefully) return.

Monday, 22 October 2007

The Element of Surprise

Perhaps we're a little weird, a little unconventional. But to us, it's just as likely to be the accidental meetings, happenings, eddies in the current, that make our days. Yes, we climb, we go sea kayaking, biking or fell running. We are lucky enough to get to some fantastic places, in a way that makes us happy. But it's often the things that happen by chance that leave us smirking.
Last weekend, we found ourselves camping in a field of alpacas. They had a canny ability to display "formation curiosity". All in a line, each with a palpably questioning look on their hairy little faces.We had gone to the Peak District to sneak some climbing in under autumn's door. As it turned out, a layer of frost on the ground early on Saturday alerted us that we may have cut it a bit fine...In the end, a walk over the gritstone edges was the best option. There was an extraordinary quality to the light in the Peak. It was as faint and golden as I'd experienced. Sunday saw us heaving desperately on Curbar's unforgiving cliffs. Definitely a hard man's crag, that, and perhaps not the most appropriate for our needs, soft and crusty as we were. It's been an atrocious year for climbing, and it's sad to think that our climbing year might already be over. Dreams of hot rock (and dare I say it, bolts) are haunting us, though, and we may yet make that Easyjet booking.
And so, it may not have been the climbing that captured our attention this weekend, but the things we saw along the way.

Hill of Slaughter

Dunmallard Hill, Pooley Bridge, the site of an Iron Age fort, and the scene of something grisly.

I do a lot of running up here, above Ullswater. This thermal inversion slowly evaporated as I ran.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

An Ode To A Fell Shoe

The New Balance RX, Montrail Highlander, Inov-8 Flyroc, and an old pair of Salomons (L to R).

If there's one thing that's guaranteed to ignite the fellrunning populace into an uncharacteristically animated discussion, it's shoes. The eponymous Mrs Marcos would be proud of the attention we give to these things. Indeed, we, as fellrunners, share the same level of obsession as the dear Imelda did.

But perhaps it's more complicated than Imelda's compulsion: if she didn't like a pair, she would just buy something else. Fellrunners are between a rock and a hard place with shoes. We're caught in a Goldilocks-porridge situation of nothing "being quite right" and if, on the rare occasion it is, then the company usually stops making it.

Take my little collection. The New Balance RX Terrain is the perfect fell shoe. As comfortable as a Marks and Spencer's furry leopardskin mule, yet as robust as a tank. And cheap. Thirty Pounds. Then there's the Montrail Highlander, the perfect mountain marathon shoe: more support than the RX, and contours better for those long outings. And still cheap due to an over-ambitious stock management issue at a now defunct adventure gear outlet (alas, Planet Fear is no more). And then there's the Inov-8. Looks good enough to eat, but plagued with strange, technical faults and issues of robustness that saw me writing an uncharacteristically irate letter to the managing director, Wayne Edy. These Flyrocs cost 65 pounds. Twice my RXs. And just for comparison, a pair of well-abused Salomon trail shoes bought in a sale for 40 pounds.

The issue is bizarre, and complex. Consumerism has swept it's hand over unlikely activities such as climbing, and now fell-running like a blunt instrument: you can't shoe-horn the things we need into a mass market scenario. We don't need something to look like a street shoe, because when it's covered in mud (i.e. after the first 5 mins of use) it doesn't matter a hoot. We don't need the things to spontaneously combust after 6 months so's we can buy something flashier. We want continuity.

Some people rave about the Inov-8s. But I just can't bring myself to buy something that I fear I'll have to send back to be replaced, or that will only last 200 miles. Or worse still, cause strange heel blisters that wouldn't look out of place on the Marathon des Sables. Admittedly, I haven't stepped into a Walsh since 1994. But even Walsh, that bastion of all that was good in the fell shoe world are plagued with issues about changing the shape of the last, and quality problems...and even they are making flash suede "street" Walshes in taupe now.

Where is an honest fell runner to look for inspiration? New Balance have discontinued the RX, their most successful fell shoe, in favour of the new RX, a heavy weight monstrosity, clamped tight with ribs of shiny plastic, too much cushioning, and blatantly not a fell shoe any more. Salomon seem to produce shoes that are at least robust, but yet again, they've discontinued the Speedcross, their fell-ish model.

I guess we're a sport in transition. And since there are only about 15 000 of us buying shoes (and we're probably quite stingy), perhaps we are destined to be unhappy customers in the modern world. Gone are the days of seeing a row of Walshes tied onto rusty, six-inch nails above the door to Joss Naylor's Lakeland farm...sadly, it's a different world out there now.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Happy birthday, Rumi

Eight hundred years ago, the Sufi poet and mystic Rumi was born...This is an extract of a translation by Coleman Bark.

Monday, 8 October 2007

The Ian Hodgson Mountain Relay

Steve Hartley and Paul Flynn on the final leg

One of the last fell racing events of the year is also one of the biggest. With some 300 runners covering a 25 mile course, the Ian Hodgson Mountain Relay is a veritable classic. More than this, it's one of the most mellow, sociable events in the calendar. Penny and I took over the baton from fellow Eden Runners Sally and Gill, who had taken on the heavy responsibility of Leg 1 over Red Screes, a mighty descent now littered with skin.
It all went well, given mild, windless conditions, with a heavy mist on top of High Street. A magnificent run over, we retired to the refreshment tent, abundantly festooned with high calorie comestibles from the hands of Patterdale's finest cakemongers. A fine event, and one I will look forward to participating in next year.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

The Mountain Marathon Bug

It isn't always a good thing that in this internet age, we can achieve some things at the click of a button... That was all it took to find myself at the start line of the Rab Mountain Marathon with a lot of flimsy gear and running partner, Penny. Preparation had been OK, but not stunning, and Penny had popped an ankle a few weeks previously, so we decided to pace ourselves. Not only that, but this was a completely different animal: a point-scoring course. Where strategy can win out over speed... where the brain...oxygen-deprived though it is...has as much to do with it as lung capacity.

With an air of finality, we chose the day's route. It wasn't a bad choice in the end, although from the comfort of an armchair, there were many other creative paths through the maze. All in all, we had a good, solid day and didn't feel too tired at the end. We were somehow in second place in our class.

It was all to play for, then, as I awoke the next morning to the awful realisation that I wasn't at all well. Three spoons of something related to oats went down, but that was it. This wasn't good. We decided to start the second day, at any rate, but having to rest on a rock while choosing a route wasn't a promising start. After only a few metres of climbing I was way behind Penny, and was retching behind a wall.

We turned back, and the race organisers drove us round to Coniston.
The journey home was a long one.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

A Theory of Relativity

Sometimes, it seems as if kayaking is a window on another dimension, as if it allows a casual disregard for the usual inexorable passing of time in our carefully-measured world. Moving along Ravenglass estuary at a rate of knots with the incoming tide, we should have been only too aware of time's passing, measured as it was by a whopping six foot range between high and low tide. Instead, we entered a small eddy in the time-space continuum. All around us, land changed to water in a matter of moments, but somehow internal clocks changed little, and if anything, slowed.

Herons flocked to feed in the minutes of low water. Odd, bill-hook silhouettes of curlews screamed off in our wake. The kayaks lodged onto gritty banks and we zig-zagged from one flank to the other as the ducks did overhead. In the hissing of rushes we got out on a sand bank only to find that it disappeared beneath incoming water in seconds.

The tide changed, and we returned to Ravenglass. The estuary now full, it was as if we were paddling in an entirely different place. Somehow, we had glimpsed another world, where time had relaxed its incessant grip on reality. For a time at least, it was a wonderful place to be.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Skye reflections...

A few more photos of Skye...

Paddling towards the Cuillin...well, towards the Old Inn at Carbost if the truth be known...

Smashing wee moo, aye.

Wooo, spooky manor house again.

A rather interesting feature of the old mill at Pootiel Bay...

This place put the wind up us a bit...the atmospheric Eilean Munde graveyard, home to those massacred at Glencoe in 1692, and their clan chief, MacIain. Ironically, the short paddle out to the island provided us with some of the strongest down-draughts we'd experienced. We couldn't get off the island quick enough. It felt like an odd place.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Between Sea and Skye

The Isle of Rona

I think with hindsight, the two weeks spent on Skye will feel like a monumental experience that sealed our fate as sea kayakers-in-the-making.

Perhaps it was naïve to expect settled enough conditions to do multi-day camping trips, and in the event, we did none….but gained experience in a way which was probably far more condensed, and far more valuable.

Armed with just a little bit more equipment than a Honda Civic can carry, we set up a Control Room that James Bond would be proud of. Each and every trip out on the water had its own challenges, and none, from the shortest of several hundred metres, to the longest of day trips, were easy or uneventful. It was an incredible forging of experience.

So here we go. Join me on a journey through the seascapes of Skye. With the odd cycle ride and run thrown in for good measure.

The Grizzly Isles: Dunvegan to Stein

Our first trip had to be the well-worn beginners’ classic from Dunvegan to Stein. Past seal colonies, coral beaches, isles with a less than placid past, it’s a must-do kayaking trip. Oh, and the cracking, shoreline pub at the end had something to do with it as well...

It was with trepidation that we made the short crossing to Isay. To say that this unassuming Isle had an interesting past is an understatement. A dip into Hamish Haswell-Smith's excellent treatise on the Scottish islands reveals that the 16th century manor house at the southern end of the island was the site of the gruesome, and it has to be said, spectacularly ill-thought out murder of two entire families in a single sitting. Roderick MacLeod took it upon himself to wipe out everyone closer in line to the inheritance of Raasay than his own grandson by inviting them to a banquet, then stabbing them one by one, in sequence. Hmm...I hope he didn't skimp on the canapes...

The Manor House on Isay...

Looking back to Isay and Stein after some very nice beers

The Day that Will Hereafter Be Known as the Uig Experience...

It started off much like any other day. The same woefully inadequate text message forecast for Inshore Waters, the same web forecast for Force 4, freshening to 5 or 6...We had already become accustomed to the blustery Skye weather systems which had burst into life as soon as we arrived. We had though, concocted a series of devilishly cunning plans to avoid the worst of the winds by sheltering in the lee of one or other of Skye's great northern peninsulas. Today it was the turn of Trotternish's western shore, at Uig. Our plan was to paddle west and then south into the sheltered waters of Loch Snizort before the "freshening to 5 or 6" took hold. Things started off very calmly, sheltered as we were in the perfect cove of Uig. In retrospect, what was remarkable about unfolding events was the seamless and inexorable progression from calm to interesting to strange to scary to "arrgghhh". As we crossed the mouth of Camas Beag, the waves were definitely scary. And it was only going to get worse. So we took the only course of action and dived into the imagined haven of Camas Beag. Trouble was, here, the waves were in direct line with the screaming wind gusting Force 5 or 6 from the Atlantic, with only the flimsy filigree of the Outer Hebrides landmass to question its path. So we were by no means out of the water, as it were.

Not sure whether we were going to have to perform a surf landing either, tensions were running a little high for my tastes. Through thick layers of neoprene, goretex laminate and buoyancy aid, my heart rate had soared to about 200. It seemed as if the nightmare would never end, as wave after wave sideswiped the kayak, somehow managing to remain on top of it, yet unsure of when it would all come to a crashing and predictable end. Yet of course, it did. And we survived. Pushing the bows of the kayaks onto the rocky shores of Camas Beag with the eagerness of those who think they've probably cheated death, or at least the coastguard call, we assessed our situation.

I tried to remind myself of passages of Laurence Gonzales' book, Deep Survival, knowing that all it took to turn a situation like this into a survival situation was a mere wrong decision, a whim. We had two choices. To go back out in "that" and head for Uig, or to abandon ship and somehow lug the kayaks out to the road a kilometre away. Well, we really only had the one option and so we set about carrying bags and kayaks out up very steep, hairpinned paths for the afternoon. In the event, the physical hardship was a mere pecadillo in comparison to the alternative option.

A salutary kayaking day, and one which in reality was probably not that serious, but had tested us enough for us to know more about our limitations. A good thing on all counts.

Cycling on Vertical Tarmac: the Tour of Raasay

A tactical withdrawal from kayaking was called for at this stage, and so by way of relaxation, we decided, perhaps a little misguidedly, to cycle the length of Raasay. Perhaps we should have looked a little closer at the writhing bunches of contours, and the fact that the road crosses up and over the spiney little isle not once, but twice. In any case, the road started off nicely, through fields and glades, but quickly started racking upwards across open moorland. As we passed through the cloud base, it started to get a little more daunting. Still, we raced downhill, until we came to the second of the island crossings. At this point, we change from Highways Agency road building to Calum MacLeod's spectacular piece of engineering doggedness. In the face of the local council refusing to cut a road to the isolated Arnish community, and all his neighbours threatening to leave as a result, he spent 10 remarkable, persistent years digging out a road with handtools. 2 miles of this is extraordinary enough, but seeing the terrain in the flesh leaves you prickly with the thought of carving anything out of this incredibly hard, 5 Billion year old Lewisian gneiss. It would be churlish of me to say that I wished he hadn't bothered as every atom of my being was under tension trying to ride a bike up these vertical tarmac shutes. It was the closest thing I've experienced to a roller coaster ride. The bitter sweet footnote to Calum's labour was that by the time it was finished, all the other inhabitants had left.

By the time we retraced our double ascents of Raasay's peaks back to the ferry, I think I know how Calum must have felt.

Running Amongst the Needles

Maybe it was the kilometre hike with 2 kayaks, or the entire body strain involved in heaving bikes up vertical Lewisian gneiss, but it was clear that we might peak too soon, so an easy day was called for. I went for a run in the Quirang through thick mist. An incredible environment to run in.

Leave No Stone Unturned

It is a rare thing indeed to find yourself bowled over by something funny, touching and beautiful all at once. It is even rarer to find that this state has been achieved not by Nature alone, but by man's place in it.

Rounding Neist Point Lighthouse on another heinous, hilly bike ride, there it was. Out where the land meets the sea, a jagged, rocky, tilting line of stones. Was it a particularly badly-made drystone wall or what? As we got nearer, it became clear. These strangely wobbly pyramids had been built by people visiting the point.

Someone had obviously started it, and things had snowballed from there... All of humanity seemed to be here in some form or other - some stone piles funny, others poignant. Some had the acrobatic grace of an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture, others the sturdiness of Fred Dibnah's art. This perfectly scaled down Stonehenge was a favourite. We built our own little monument of our visit- built on a foundation of solid engineering principles, capped by a topstone ripped through with quartz veins.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Steel Fell Race

Doesn't look much, does it? This is the back of Steel Fell, site of one of the shortest fell races of the season. It also happens to be one of the steepest, which explains it's curious attraction. At only 2.5 miles by my watch, it's a wee beastie, but has 1100 feet of ascent, which makes for a breathtaking run.

Having not done many such short, steep races in a while, it was a bit of a pull. The atmosphere at the start was good though, despite the race being held at a farm, 80 or so people milling around on the land. With a sense that the winds of change could be upon us with the Foot and Mouth outbreak farther south, someone at the start shouted "there's no one here from Surrey is there?"....

Looking around at the assembled throng, the chances of that looked extremely slim....

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

At last...

Stu paddles off into the sunset...

I'm falling behind in the blogging of kayak trips, so expect to see something about them soon. But something more momentous happened recently: Stu took charge of the Tiderace X-cite that he'd been patiently waiting for.

You have to hand it to the Tiderace team. A company forged out of the ashes of a previous kayak-building partnership, they've faced more than their share of teething problems. A hasty re-branding exercise only months into the business venture to steer clear of offending native peoples, and an unfortunate incident involving a trailer load of 15 brand new kayaks, a layby and a bad French lorry driver are just two of the storms Aled and Dave have had to weather.

These boats are deservedly attracting a good deal of attention in the kayaking world. A comprehensive review will have to wait for those who can really compare it with its step-brother, Rockpool's Alaw Bach. It is a gutsy boat for those who (a) have enough mass to keep the built-in skeg in the water, and (b) the ability to edge it quite confidently. The overall finish actually seemed better than on an earlier demo version of the boat: the gelcoat colour more saturated, the grey underbelly more subdued.

At this stage, the overall impression is good, but I suspect that it will take 6 months to a year to iron out some quality control issues. This doesn't detract from the design and build of a kayak that is clearly at the cutting edge of this salty sport. It's clear that Aled and Dave are putting everything into these boats, and there's no doubt that Tiderace will be a formidable force in the coming years.