Sunday, 27 January 2008

An Estuarine Addiction

The Leven Estuary

It's rapidly becoming an addiction: wombling about on the ever-changing landscape poised between land and sea. So far it's been the slow learning of tide times and channel geography. Soon we'll launch the kayaks into these transient, peaceful spaces.

Weed-whorls as the tide drags out

The complex interactions of tides and channel switching need some advance planning, so we're taking it slowly. As luck would have it, the weekend's Kendal Winter League race was on a limestone bluff overlooking the estuary.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Boats and bogs

Stu took delivery of his new Tiderace Xcite sea kayak this week, and so we took off to Windermere to give it a bit of a splosh. The previous one was a demo boat on the grounds that it had a few imperfections, and didn't hold water too well. It was one of the first kayaks manufactured by Aled Williams' new company.
It's faster, sleeker, and the finish is now stunning, but it's a shame it still leaks.

The Windermere swans were out in force as we landed, and one of these chaps marched up to me and demanded some of a bath bun I'd been eating. With menaces. They're quite big close up.

The weekend's fell racing took place in the South Lakes, at Whitestones Fell. Made more exciting last year by the presence of a few bulls out on the course, this year felt positively quiet by comparison.

So quiet in fact that at the critical point of the course where it goes bushy, rocky and sub-vertical, I got lost. Laughable when it's a flagged course, but I wasn't the only one to be caught out.

I could have done the sensible thing and sacrificed a position by retracing steps back to the nearest fell runner, but instead, I ploughed on and up until I had to scramble up a wet rockface to regain the course some minutes behind my virtual self. Still, it was a great, wet, boggy slog. Wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

A Windswept Fell Somewhere..

Firbank Fell Race (courtesy of Helm Hill Runners)

It was the sort of day where the thought of going outside, let alone running a rough cross country race, was unthinkable. And until the icy blast swept into the car there had been the illusion that it wasn't going to be that bad. It was. It always is. Wet, windy, muddy, cold. But there were no miles added on to the course, so we had to be thankful for small mercies.

All this was marred by an out of control car driven by a teenager slamming into my car on the way to work the following day...seconds either side and I would have been mashed. My car is probably a write-off. I only bought it 2 months ago. I feel lucky to be still alive...

Monday, 7 January 2008

Scout Scar Fell Race

Focussed on the race ahead...

The Kendal Winter League opened on Sunday with the Scout Scar race: what I assumed to be a gentle 4 and a bit mile canter up Scout Scar. Unbeknown to most of us who (a) hadn't read the Westmorland Gazette on Friday or (b) hadn't bumped into the organiser at the cheese counter at Booths supermarket, they'd decided to make it a bit more challenging by making it 6 miles with a few more "oops and downs" as they are known here.

Anyhow, it was a grand slog in League fashion, and despite a month off hills, not a bad race for me and the knee.

Look after the kit, lads...

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Christmas in Andalucia

The white pueblo on Christmas Eve

I guess it was a tell-tale sign that it had been a less-than-stunning climbing year. Just before putting my foot in my rock boots at the sun-drenched crag, I found that a mouse had decided to call it home. To be honest, I couldn't fault his logic or his interior decorating skills: a pile of wheat nesting in the heel (neatly extracted from my not-cheap wheat bag for heating up sore muscles), some tufts of yellow fluff no doubt pulled out of an expensive fleece, a few nips out of the boot's lining to add a bit of interest, and a name plate nibbled out of the heel tab. And above all, it smelt of cheese.

A mixed, roller-coaster of a climbing trip really...starting out gingerly on a duff knee, slightly dodgy weather, mixed with climbing highs and lows in unexpected places.

A memorable experience was a pilgrimage to the mighty El Chorro. A knot of limestone, pushed out of the plain and slashed with knife-like river gorges that expose a dizzying number of hard cliffs. Flooded in the 1920's for a hydro-electric scheme, there's a blinding number of man-made constructs to negotiate- train tunnels, wobbly, crumbling bridges, wires and the fearsome Camino del Rey. It is a mad, vertical world, like the workings of a crazed mind.

A Perfect Dawn Rising Over El Chorro

Stuck to the vertical cliffs way above a dizzying drop is the Camino del Rey, a pathway built for the then king of Spain in the 1920's, King Alphonso XI. I would have liked to have seen his face, quite frankly. Now replete with bits that fell off, huge sections just disappeared and the like, people crawl along it, attached in via ferrata style to rusting fragments of time's passing with more than a prayer on their lips. This is the recommended route to the crag.

The Space Between Your Feet: the Camino del Rey

We chose the other, less risky route- skipping through the tunnels shared by the Spanish train system. Yes, up and over a 12 foot steel fence and into a series of eery tunnels, with all the trepidation and excitement of meeting the 11.05 from Madrid when you least wanted to.

An iconic place to climb, with a unique atmosphere induced perhaps by the challenge of even getting there. Andalucia has a well-known charm in photographic circles. Somehow even the pattern of furrows in farmed fields, the shades of drying earth have a devastating photographic richness to them. It's all abstract art painted with earth colours.

For us middle-grade climbers with bad knees, the best place to be was the smaller, greyer crags. There's a neat, natural colour coding that goes on with limestone: steep and nasty=orange, nice and slabby=grey. You can't go wrong if you stick to the grey ones...The crags here tend to be on the steep or overhanging side, meaning we ended up driving a long way to find gentler ones to pander to our pathetic climbing standards.

It didn't matter though. Tucked up in a medieval street of tiny white houses, burning olive wood in the stove, the goats bleating outside, it seemed as though richness isn't about money at all. It's a quality that can come upon you quite simply, and probably isn't far off what my ancestors would have had within their grasp.

Happy New Year.