Today promised to be dry and sunny, so we decided to take our bikes to the top of the Pennines for a ride. It turned out to be a bit wild and wacky up there- cycling up and down over undulating ridges, steep sections challenging our ability to hold on to the brakes, and wild, desolate mining villages more reminiscent of the Falkland Islands than the British mainland. As we sat in a pub in Garrigill, we mused on the curious tendency for a "linguistic watershed" to be governed entirely by topography...It turns out that despite these remote villages being closer to Cumbria and in particular, Carlisle, the accent is a strong Geordie one, and they would support Newcastle United rather than Carlisle United...Even after so long, and so much change, the Pennine topography still has a hold on subtle changes in accent and affinity amongst human populations.
If the other fell races had felt good when it was over, then this one felt REALLY good. With more ascent than the others, and with pretty gloopy conditions underfoot, it was quite a business. Not many lasses made it past the Eastenders omnibus today- only 9 of us. Perhaps I shouldn't have said that: the fact that I came in as sixth lady would have sounded rather more impressive...At the start they exhorted us to avoid the bulls up on the course...around which they had had to carefully post the little blue flags a little earlier...someone remarked rather dryly that it might be "a bit like Pamplona" out there....I was too busy feeling dreadful to notice any bulls...
As if one winter fell race wasn't enough, Penny and I decided to do another one, on a windswept and soggy hillside at Firbank (14th Jan). Aside from the normal trauma of doing such things when most people are at B and Q, or watching telly in the warm and dry, Penny arrived late so had the added hardships of having to hunt for a race number, not being able to have a warm up, and wearing insufficient clothes. Still, we survived, and seem to have decided to do another one next week.
Here's me holding the brakes on while the sled dogs have a rest. Nice doggies. There's one full blown husky in the team, and a Northumberland trail hound as well. Sadly the photos of me driving the husky team are a bit blurred. I would like to say it was because I was going that fast, but it was probably more to do with the dull forest light...and anyway, it looked like the team was being driven by a yellow tellytubby, so the shots weren't that edifying..ahem...I'm sure you get the picture.. With all the bad weather over the last few months there was the possibility of fallen trees in the way, but it didn't seem to matter as the dogs just clambered over the trunks in impressive style.
Last Saturday we went to Dumfries to spend a day with some champion sled dogs- a Christmas present from Stu. What a fantastic present! On a massive woodland estate, Steven and Fiona run a pack of Scandinavian sled dogs (German pointer-husky crosses) and some beautiful huskies. The sled dogs are both UK and world champion sprinters, and yes, it does show. Steven runs them with a quad bike, which is pretty exhilarating- I went on the back of the bike. Conditions were fairly wet and muddy, but the dogs clearly loved it. After that we ran the pups for a bit- they chased the quad loose as they were still being trained up to go in harnesses. They were big pups- almost indistinguishable from adults, but were a bit more wayward, and wanted to chase pheasants now and again. Then it was the 6 pack of huskies, but this time on the really light and purpose- built rig- a small three-wheeled thing a bit like a mountainbike. I got to take them out around the forest with Steven on the quad in case it all went pear-shaped. But it was great fun, I didn't fall off, and yes, it was quite fast enough, even though the pack were getting on in years. Fab day.
Another night of heavy rain sees the Eden testing out its confines once again. The temperature has dropped here and there's the suspicion of a Helm Wind situation developing over Cross Fell as I look out of the window. It has a light dusting of snow; one of the first of the winter.
There were no fun runners out yesterday at the first race of the Kendal Winter League. A little 4.5 mile run over Scout Scar, it's a "gentle" lead in to the fellracing season. Still, it felt pretty tough going up the mere 300 feet of ascent. It's a really hard thing at the time, but always feels so good when it stops. As only one of us had got some exercise, we finished the day with a visit to the climbing wall.
It was a little wet over in Martindale today, but perfect for an atmospheric walk. It was almost a year to the day when we had an almost biblical experience out walking on the ridge to the west- the sun shining through swirling, rising clouds below us. No land, just light and mist. I wish I'd had my camera then. Still, I did today.
Some things just don't fit into the boxes that market forces insist they do. Take pubs, for example. Beer is a very, very important thing, and, as John Betjeman once highlighted, so are the pubs that serve them. Still, in the years that have elapsed since those years, pubs are being bought out, refurbished, or sold to be redeveloped.This fantastic bar in Seahouses is a case in point. One of the finest pub rooms in Britain, this place has remained in one family for 110 years. But what have they done out the back? Refurbed the rooms in a style more in keeping with a Beefeater than a historic harbourside pub...It seems that some things do not respond well to the application of market forces. However, there is a problem at the other end of the scale too. Lured into the entrance of Appleby Castle by some particularly cute goats while out on a bike ride yesterday, I started reading a large sign, written in calligraphic writing, concerning the recent history of the castle. It made fascinating reading. After having bought it, the new owners had, with the backing of Eden council and the Northwest Development Agency, fixed on a plan to make it a conference and wedding venue with little or no disruption to the Castle itself. It would have brought in three quarters of a million pounds to the local economy, or thereabouts. In a bizarre twist, English Heritage squashed the plan, with no explanation or negotiation. Now the castle is closed to the public, the owners cannot sell it, and the community has "lost" an opportunity. At this end of the scale, it appears that a large governing body is closed to any creative application of those market forces. Strange.
Just come back from a climbing trip to Costa Blanca. A fairly strange place to go climbing, for sure, but extremely popular nonetheless. The weather forecasts beforehand were so bad that we got pretty caught out (in the most pleasant of ways) with a bagful of thermals rather than vests and shorts. Still, a fantastic week, and another wonderful vertical kilometre of climbing.