It's been said that life is really just a series of wonderful opportunities disguised as impossible situations. And as with life, so it is with running. If there was one endevour that epitomised this above all others, it would be the Bob Graham Round.
A 72 mile circuit over the tops of Cumbria's highest fells, it conveniently has the same amount of ascent as that of Everest. The catch is to complete this in under 24 hours. It is impossible, and more so, inconceivable to most. To many, it becomes an obsession. And to a few, it becomes the wonderful opportunity in disguise.
To say that this insanely long run takes it out of you might be an understatement. On a run this long, such a sustained onslaught on your system, your physical ability becomes a mere background to the current of your own thought. The mind (and dare I say it, spirit) are put squarely on the line. Anyone who's read Richard Asquith's Feet in the Clouds will know how it goes.
Seventy six years to the day that Bob Graham first set out in his pyjamas, shouldering a big bag of hard boiled eggs, Eden Runner Andy Ramsay (pictured at right, above) set off to complete the round. Armed with sandwiches (not too posh..no sundried tomatoes round here) and a lot of energy drink, he was guided round the route by a host of Eden Runners with all their hopes pinned in one place. As each leg was completed, the pacers breathed a sigh of relief and handed over their cargo to the next. There was a sense of trepidation as the Leg 3 pacers saw Andy, Robin Gillespie and Dave Owens charging off the foothills of Helvellyn. So much so that some of us decided to start the leg early in case we held him up. It all went wonderfully well, though. Even clagged in summits could not halt the Ramsay machine as Penny's supercharged navigational skills kicked in ("now...at the thirteenth cairn, we need to bear 190 degrees")...
So next time you're in Keswick late at night, and you see someone staggering on their feet, throwing up with a bottle of champagne in their hand, it might not be all that it seems... they might just have seized a wonderful opportunity out of what looks like an impossible situation. They might have just completed a BG.
In hot and sultry conditions we spent a couple of days kayaking down the eastern half of Arran. Well known as Scotland in microcosm, Arran's landscape has a little bit of everything. Well, almost.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip was a visit to Holy Isle. Docked alongside Arran, this mountainous little drop in the ocean is home to the Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist retreat. It has recently been put in the (admittedly small) spotlight by sea kayakers, as some have been asked not to land by the monks. Happily, the 'no landing: retreat' signs have been removed from the lighthouse at the southern end of the island. While we were quietly enjoying the pervasive sense of peace at a discrete distance from the Buddhist centre, it seemed that the most disturbance was being caused by powerboaters driving up and down (as they do). A particularly loud powerboater dragging a sea biscuit could be heard shouting way out in the bay. It was, though, a place of wonderful peace and tranquility, and I can't help thinking that sea kayaking is a most 'Buddhist' way of going about things. Quiet...no engines. Nothing but you and a bit of fibreglass...the mesmerising sea...a respect for everything around you...and the nothingness.
We squashed down a particularly un-Buddhist box of Viennese Whirls and went on our way. Leaving nothing but crumbs and taking nothing but peace.
It was a surprise to see a small Viking longship in a dock at Corrie. Turns out that it belongs to the Arran Viking Longship Society. It's called the Black Eagle, and it's smashing.
One thing that was sadly missing from Arran's little microcosm was the Arran Brewery. It started up on the crest of a wave which has since become a massive growth in Scottish brewing. Arran's pubs and ferries were plumply endowed with finely crafted beers- an oasis in a desert of ales, as it was a few years ago.
To cut a long story short, it turns out that Arran's bottled ales were doing quite nicely on the supermarket shelves until the price of hops went through the roof. Forced into selling to the 'big three' at a loss, they slowly but surely went under. The supermarkets don't care- they have many more where they came from. But to the Isle of Arran, it is a tragedy. It is desperate to see a line of Tennents and Guiness taps where the Arran brews should be. It's not even this that is the greatest worry. It's also what it means for the rest of the Scottish revivalists of the ancient art.