It's another world up here, where the cloudbase is down. In these conditions, with high winds and no visibility, we are taught the most. We have to become super-aware of our surroundings or we are lost. It's a lot to do with self-reliance, being comfortable in the hills, being part of them.
This is what it's all about. More than any of the small challenges we set ourselves, any race, any win, any loss. It's about a deep sense of belonging up here.
'Who's idea was this, then?' Runners piling up Catbells with Robinson and Hindsgarth distant memories behind. Photo courtesy of Bill aka Baggins.
With ten minutes to go before the start of the epic Anniversary Waltz, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It belonged to Wendy Dodds, one of the greatest fell-runners of her generation. She just whispered "Now, this is a real race...." before disappearing into the crowd.
She wasn't wrong. Compared to the piddling winter fell races, this was on an altogether bigger scale. No fewer than 5 summits, 3600 feet of ascent over 12 miles, this was different. Keeping what I amusingly call race pace up over this distance and terrain would take me into very different territory.
A fierce wind shot us up and onto the first, most gruelling peak, and I was two minutes ahead of last year's time. As the route circled back on itself to Hindsgarth, the wind was against us though, and this kept up most of the rest of the way, making it a tough battle of the mental over physical.
Over a welcome blob of mince and tatties after the race (food of champions), it struck me again what a nice bunch of people fell runners generally are. There's also a touching tendency to completely inarticulate understatement amongst those, generally, who are superhuman in what they do..."aye..grand..." might be the long version of what is said at the end of a tough day out on the hills...
When Al Alvarez eloquently summed the need to climb as 'Feeding the Rat', he probably didn't quite envisage the way it would set the paradigm for describing the compulsion to climb to the outside world. Whilst the insatiable gnawing from the inside that he describes is undoubtedly a good analogy, there's always the personal question as individuals as to why we climb. A Russian doll of enigmas that is never quite resolved.
Sometimes the rat is more bloated than hungry, and it all seems like a bit of an effort. At other times, there it is.. a circular feeding frenzy of risk and reward.
Our latest pilgrimage of the hungry rodents took us to another great swathe of European limestone: Provence. The seductive combination of hot, dry rock, wonderful food and wine was quite enough to feed any number of rats.
Of Stones and Men
Of course, the weather turned wet, and in contrast to the highly planned nature of climbing days, we followed our noses into old, medieval walled cities and let fate decide what we should see. It has not let us down so far. In the back-streets of one city, we found the remnants of a wonderful exhibition, 'De L'homme et des Pierres'. The natural masters of the trompe d'oeil, this purely French exhibition was stunning in its subtle interplay of black and white and warm limestone. Quite something.