With a tongue of low cloud dipping into the extraordinary rock scoop of High Cup Nick, Morgan Donnelly's rough diamond of a fell race began yesterday.
In a way, it is unlike any other. It is only after 4 miles of uphill running that you get to the steep boulder choke of High Cup Nick, where hands and feet are needed to scramble up the face of the Whin Sill. In wild and woolly conditions, a full-on tail wind blew straight into the scoop, making a sound like a helicopter landing on your head. As we gained the head of the Nick, the waterfall was blowing vertically upwards, and the wind got increasingly more violent. Popping out onto the flat top, the wind in our faces, it was hard to breathe, and hard to stand up. We must have looked like penguins popping out of the water to the frozen marshall on the summit.
The last 5 miles downhill should have been a breeze. They weren't. Energy just left me standing with a ghost-like emptiness. All that was left was a relict synapse that said 'carry on'.
The pain stopped, eventually, on the village green of the idyllic Dufton. After normal consciousness had slowly drip-fed back in, there was one thing I was sure of: I knew that I was alive...
It's a funny thing, but somehow it occurred to me that it was harder to write about kayaking trips than say, anything else Stu and I bumble about with. And that's because nothing happens.
And that is precisely why it is so wonderful. With three days and 30 miles of stunning Scottish sea loch to play with, we just let the meditation begin.
But inside this deep quietness, things do happen. A seal pops out of the clear water, snorts a nostril, and disappears. Porpoises trace arcs on the distant horizon. Fluttering packs of oystercatchers part in front of us.
Caught in the eye of a particularly stable high pressure system over Europe, it was a peaceful, windless paddle. Something we're generally not accustomed to. It provided some amusement to the couple running a bed and breakfast to receive their guests by kayak, dragging the boats into their handily-placed shed by the water's edge.
"At least you won't get Bingo Wings", the landlady said, somewhat quizzically.
But it's never boring. Things stick out of the stillness. Like finding King Tutankamun on the shore at Kilcreggan...It's amazing what McEwan's will inspire you to...
"Venturi Effect: The speedup of air through a constriction due to the pressure rise on the upwind side of the constriction and the pressure drop on the downwind side as the air diverges to leave the constriction"
Last weekend's race was the usually aptly named Fairmile fell race. A gem of a race in good conditions, it traces a horseshoe on the edge of the Howgills. These giant, prismatic beauties are rockless and treeless, so unfractured sunlight can glide across the green flanks. A compelling set of hills to run on.
It was nothing like that on Sunday. At the foot of the hill, there was a biting 20 mph wind. Waiting for the start, the runners circulated in much the same way as overwintering Antarctic penguins do. Quickly, I found myself on the outside of the group. As we fluttered our way up the steep climb, 20 mph became 50 mph. There was novelty value in feeling frostbite inside my mouth... for a while, at least...then a frostbitten stomach, as layers flapped wildy in the storm. I couldn't help noticing that the experienced runners were trussed up more securely than a pile of cling-filmed baps.
I think all runners were accounted for at the end, which is the main thing.
It's always a pleasure to catch up with huskies at this time of year. The unbridled delight that these doggies (and owners) show in doing what they love doing is infectious. Fantastic!
Nice doggies. It was a quieter event than last year, and the mass start of dogs, bikes, scooters and runners wasn't as catastrophic as last year. See the carnage unfold here. But a day to put a smile on your face nonetheless.