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.