Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Trouble with the bird

I’m way over my allocation for monthly blogs, but this one has been issued as a matter of public safety.  It was dry-ish today, but blowing a gale outside; a big, busty westerly making itself known. I dug out the bike and took off for an hours circuit through the lanes, late in the afternoon.  I dressed brightly to make myself visible.

Just past one of the villages is a long slow, straight climb. It’s more what I’d call a drag. There are farm buildings at the top on the right and a smart farmhouse on the left.  As I turned into the straight,  I got the headwind full-on, but being the stalwart that I am, I continued to grind out a steady rhythm as the road rose between the high hedges.  There was nobody on the road.

A pheasant appeared along the overgrown verge on my right. 'Hello cheekie' I thought. As I came  past at 13mph or so, it stood to attention,  turned and then ran with me, parallel and just off the road. I looked down incredulously. What kind of foolish prank was this?  Bit scary. I slowed and it came toward me, flapping its wings. It clearly fancied its chances.
I blame the parents.

It was 5 pounds of prime feather plumage and bad-attitude.  I was 150 pounds of gristle and ....bewildered.  I stopped at the top of the hill, and it stopped. It stood it’s ground as I got off the bike and got out the camera-phone. It was waiting for me to make my move. It wanted a piece of me. I shooed it away, but that just made it more belligerant. What kind of grouse are they making these days?. What do they teach them at nursery?
The video footage is good. Its yet to be edited. This is the perpetrator. Doesn't look so scary on the screen. As I made to go, it came toward me and we had another to-do. After 2 minutes I gave up and picked up the bike to ride off.  I told it I was going to get my dad.

As I looked around, I saw 3 kids jumping on the settee in the farmhouse looking through the steamed-up window, pointing and creasing themselves. I must have looked a sight. What a pathetic specimen.   

Sunday, 27 January 2013


There’s two things I couldn’t give up.
One’s tea, the other’s biscuits
Ok, then,  there's three.  Tea and biscuits...and music
(and maybe running or sport: But then that’s four)

The question is, could you live on the combination of the three (and assuming you can run as well?).

The tea and biscuits element is simple. If you have it and like it, fine. Aunt Aggie, despite her dotage, is never without digestives or shortie; always on tap. Garibaldi’s were in for a while, as were fig rolls; We’ve even had orange creams.  For a while, lemon puffs were indispensable. But who cares: As long as there’s something to crunch on and the shortcrusts keep arriving from the shops or the oven (and we can get the lid off the barrel), we’re easily satisfied.  
The third element, Music, is a very different creature.  As I age and life becomes less reliable, the body less malleable, I fancy re-modelling myself as a distance runner.  It’s true,  I haven’t properly tested myself on the track, either at short or middle distance. Unfinished work for an oldie.   

As the distance of my typical training runs extend (at least this winter), the tiny music centre and ear-inserts make the banality more bearable as I convince myself that anything less than 10 miles is lightweight.  To match this bigger appetite, a bigger sound landscape is required. Sometimes it’s Simple Minds, Chicane and M83.  Sometimes it’s all that unfashionable stuff that is grouped together as Prog rock. Pat Methany is even in there somewhere, as long as he's got Lyle Mays on the keys. 

Early Genesis and Steve Hackett has got me through some very snowy, long runs of late. On Friday I found myself winding my way around Sandsend village near Whitby and joining the old railway and then up, onto the Cleveland Way. Early on, while I was down in the cove at sea level: I was in the littoral climate. It was mild and it was easy. I was too hot with four layers on. 
As soon as I’d climbed up onto the top of the moors on a steep cobbled, vertical path that would have made Gollum blanch, it was a different story.  

Desolation. The wind cracked across the empty barren fields, the snow drifted. Ice. Insular families of grouse hid behind walls and under hedges.  Two snow hares looked on me nervously as I trudged through the crusty, icy snow fields as I made my way north. It was late afternoon.  The sky just got greyer, darker and greyer. I felt myself exposed. The insidious side-wind hit my face. It was giving me a good slapping. Contemptuous. I had two thick hats on but it still battered me and its thick, icy fingers punched up from the underside of my hat. My ears began to hurt after 5 miles. Nearly an hour.  Only 5 miles.

Turning around was little comfort as light fell to nothing and I followed the coastline. Darkness fell as I got back to Sandsend and after nearly 2 hours, I crept back to the hotel.  
The old phone I passed was a throwback. 

When I got back, I must have spent an hour in the bath.

Bloody great run upon reflection, in a perverse way of course...No one out there, but me, the grouse, the hares.   A Sea King was off somewhere else for good reason. Possibly for the biscuit run..or the tea...  

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Breakfast in Siberia

I think I may have been a tracker in a former life. Not a type of pension fund or investment, mind, but an intrepid and tenacious hunter. I was up early-ish this morning to another inch and more of the same whiteout for two hours through the woods and fields. 

Starting out in the dark the dawn soon broke just as another snow flurry arrived. In the woods I came across some pretty hefty deer tracks and I could imagine myself stealing through the snowy undergrowth in my snow shoes.

Some way through the fields just under a hedge the snow was patchy and it looked like a rabbit hadn't had such a good morning. Back after 11 miles for breakfast.   

Must get some work done...

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sunday Run

Going out running in this weather is really just an excuse for taking gratuitous landscape photos. Eleven snowy miles today with some of the gang. The effort involved in running across snowfields and through grey slush is pretty taxing. I can't believe how slow I am in recent days, although much of that is down to feeling the need to stop every 5 yards and click, click.

I hope you'll all agree that, as with distance and beer, when it comes to measuring snowfall, we all like it in imperial.... what the hell's a centimetre anyway, just som'at on a ruler. There's been no cycling this week, but I've been out for 8 hours. One casualty's been one of my toe nails. The damage has taken a wee while to make itself known. At least it's the same colour as the corresponding one on my other foot which became hideous after the Pentland Skyline all those years ago.

I was a little disappointed not to have made the Feel the Burn hill race near Selkirk which was well attended by all accounts, but wasn't sure it was on.  I realise I need to toughen up a bit if I'm going to make this climate change thing work for me. I knew all about it getting wet and milder, so how's come we've got another mini ice age on the doorstep?

Friday, 18 January 2013

Great Expectations...

I was in Peterborough at 7.40 this morning and sat in the car listening to the forecast. I was either going to Wisbech or going home. It was the phrase 'if your journeys not necessary', don't travel' that made my mind up for me. 

So north I went and was home by noon. The afternoon meeting, scheduled for 2pm was short,  just as the first of the snow began to drop from the grey, still sky... and it just kept coming.  By the time I got back and sorted out,  it was wintry and I felt the distant lonely call of the snow dogs.

Plaggy bags in trail shoes and out the door with the camera. Two hours and 11 miles later I got this lot. Best day.

Good news....My love affair with the snow seems soft and crisp and even.
I ran around the town. It was somehow transported to a Dickensian landscape. I then doubled back to run through the woods. Absolutely no one around. With the sound dampened, the fresh thick snow crunching and that translucent, otherworldly luminescence, all I could hear over the 'Eleventh Earl of Mar' and 'Shadow of the Hierophant' creeping around my earphones were the branches groaning with the weight of snow. Possibly the best days running I've been gifted.  And there's more tomorrow.... and it's the weekend..... say no more.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

slow seven

 Out today for an hour in the woods and fields. I won't bore you with all the pictures of deepest midwinter.....

Ok...I can you not like this?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


I was kicking around early afternoon on Saturday after working all morning on some thankless task. It was cold and damp. I couldn't face 2 hours on the bike riding into the dusk. Neither did I fancy running a loop of somewhere familiar. A slender skelf of an idea had lodged itself into the grey matter some time ago ... I decided to get up and out to Northumberlands' Newest Tourist attraction (or so the media would have us believe) -  Northumberlandia. It's a huge earthworks in the shape of a female. Ideal when you fly over it in bright sunshine on the way to or from the airport. A little less obvious from ground level.  Regrettably, I had forgotten to renew my pilots licence and just couldn't recall where I had put the keys for the Cessna; so it was Shank's for me.
It was a good 7 mile plod which I covered at around 7.30 pace. Steve Hackett's 'Genesis revisited 2' helped me along the way and when I got there the low sun was beginning to fade as the skies cleared a little. There were a smattering of folk milling around the entrance. The car park gave way to a gate and woods which gave it an air of mystique.

Deciding to run around the base before tackling the 'humpy' bits, I was pretty miffed that someone had somehow forgotten to do a proper job on the perimeter path and I found my way splashing through sloppy mud and puddles. Another pair of trainers ruined. Another half a job done.  It was about half a mile around and the ups were short. Took a couple of snaps then back home.

My knee began to play up around 13 of the 16 miles it ended up as and I was happy to get back in the dark.

The arrival of the snow this year has not excited me. This is odd as I'm a proper snowmantic and enjoy ploughing through the mush, but this year not.  Probably too much on to enjoy it. Makes a change anyway,I guess.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Absolute Mudness at Kirkley CycloCross

Having spent all week off the running and on the bike (trying to get my calf mended), I opted for the Kirkley CycloCross today, part of the North East League.

The reception was a farm yard and I was up to my oxters in it before I even got on the course. I met Nic Armstrong, a former harrier who had brought his mountain bike and there was another Gothic there so almost a team.

The organisers had laid out the route with tape on the side of a hill and as around 55 of us got going in the senior race, I could tell there were going to be a few fallers. I started toward the back and soon got going on the steep soft and short inclines that really had to be run. This suited me down to the ground and that's where I found myself on lap 2 when some lad crashed into me as he came off.

After 3 laps I was done in but was around the middle of the field and enjoying myself. The sweat was dripping off me though. I glanced at my watch which said 27 minutes. 'Can't keep this up for another half hour' I thought!

As time went by the course got softer and I got off the bike more and ran long stretches which was fine and with no noticeable effects on the calf either. Lap 5 saw me come off twice in succession and plough into the soft ground, but no injuries. By the final lap many were running the slippy bits  but at least the small crowd had some sort of mudbath spectacle as rider after rider came off.  Finished 2 laps down on the winner around 27th which is the highest finish for a long time. Mud, mud... bring it on.    What a daft carry-on.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Hillforts & Morpeth 11k Races

Was up and out through the lanes yesterday a la velo. I shared the road to Lordenshaws Car Park, near Rothbury, with the Hunt and a strong headwind. It was cool but dryish, though with alot of water on the road. I eventually got to the car park to see the Hillforts and Headache fell race just as the leader was crossing the road. Armed with my camera it doesn't get much closer than that and I peeled off the gloves and delved into my bumbag for the camera. I dumped the bike close to the gaggle of cars and folk some of whom were up to see the race, others just up to walk off the Hogmanay excess. Snapped most runners battling the headwind on this all-uphill affair, but one or two got away including, annoyingly, the leading lady.  Said my hellos and happy new years to a number of runners. tough conditions today.

It had taken me 70 minutes to ride up to the car park, but it only took 50 on the way back with a luxurious tailwind behind me. Along the way the road and verges were strewn with cars and horseboxes and the hangers-on peered across fields to see the action. I couldn't see anything, nor could I hear the dogs baying.

Arrived in Morpeth with 20 minutes to spare before the start of the Morpeth 11k and it was good to see Ross Floyd land another convincing victory. Later met the cronies for an hour in t'pub. Couldn't wait to get back to work this morning.... Today the detox starts....yeh, right! 

Photos of Hillforts Fell Race and Morpeth 11k in Gallery (shortly)