Friday, 28 March 2014

Bunnies and Birds

Had such a glorious run today. Looking out of the window it seemed like the top of James Thorn was in clag but that was my chosen destination for a guided run. We were visiting a few lesser known paths (trods known to fell runners), and taking in the memorial at the top of James Thorn, dedicated to those lost in a Lancaster which crashed there (see this website for info on wrecks). Luckily the clag lifted, and the sun came out to take the chill off the easterly wind.

Path heading up to Doctors Gate
Memorial at the top of James Thorn, Lower Shelf Stones emerging from the clag in the background
Spot the mountain hare; Yellowslacks in the distance
Running on Doctors Gate path
Returning to Mossy Lea
Spot the kestrel
We saw several mountain hares whilst out, their coats are gradually turning back to summer colours so they'll get less easy to spot as the next month or so passes. Lapwings were in flight as well, singing their strange and haunting song. Alas they fly too quick to capture with my phone camera, but the kestrel was hunting so we paused to watch a moment.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Wednesday Wander

I didn't wander too far today, just far enough to get some fresh air and a break from revision. As always, I kept spotting things to take photos's a selection from today's wander:

A very friendly cat
Glossop allotments heading up to Cliffe Road
Horses taking a nap

An inquisitive sheep

Friday, 21 March 2014


A delightful running and basic navigation session took place this morning under the clear spring blue skies. We headed out and explored Cock Hill just above Old Glossop. You really don't need to go very far to feel like you are miles from anywhere:

The quarry piles below Cock Hill summit
Looking up to Cock Hill
Running through the quarry
Running into the bright sunshine
Descending off Cock Hill
The trig point at Cock Hill stands at 426m. Historical information about Cock Hill has so far not been forthcoming in my internet searches, so if you have any information about this disused quarry please drop me a line.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Bleaklow Fresh Breeze

My aim for yesterday's LSD (long steady distance) was a 22-24km run, and roughly about 3hrs on my feet. Tim was joining me, and we chose a route which gave me the chance to explore a few trods (little paths frequented by runners, and sheep!) I'd never explored before, but that Tim knows very well.

The forecast was for a westerly Fresh Breeze, so appropriate clothing, spares, and emergency kit was packed. We headed out on familiar paths up onto Bleaklow and across to Higher Shelf Stones. All the time, we're conscious that the wind is on our backs...and the return leg would be much tougher. Our far point was planned as either Bleaklow Stones, or Grinah Stones. The latter would give me the ideal distance with a 24km run. Visibility was good, though we had the ever present Fresh Breeze buffeting us.

Turning roughly north from Higher Shelf trig point we bee-lined for Hern Stones and almost to Wain Stones. Tim then took me up the old Pennine Way - a more direct route to Bleaklow Head, and a good path to put in memory for future runs. A brief pause was had at the cairn to check energy levels and such, confirming I was still feeling good. Now came the fun bit. Initially we aimed for the top of Near Black Clough (a trod I'm familiar with)
but we then struck off East across to Near Bleaklow Stones and then Bleaklow Stones. The running was fairly good on this ground, much firmer and less bog trotting than on the popular path to the south of our line. The regeneration of the moorland that's been going on up on Bleaklow is really evident in this area, with very little bog sections needing to be negotiated.

At Bleaklow Stones we took the decision not to continue to Grinah. I was a little disappointed feeling I had the distance in me, but the westerly breeze would have made the additional running on the return leg really tough. There are no paths as such up there, and the ground is physically challenging to run on. Add in the wind, and the fact that it was a bitter cold wind, would have sapped my energy and risked me having to cut the run short. So, a wise decision. At times like that I always get reminded of the mountaineering saying, that the summit of a mountain is only half-way - you still have to get home.

The route we chose next took us on a southerly bearing, crossing tufty grass, rocky and boggy parts and occasionally finding the faintest of trods to follow. We headed down The Ridge, towards the Alport Valley and then turned west across The Swamp and climbed up Hern Clough to pick up the Pennine Way. (I'm not making up these names, honest!) Another chat about route choices ensued, and we decided (well I did) that we should get some pace in our running and head south on the Pennine Way then down Doctors Gate back to Glossop. It felt good that I could still run a decent pace and feel relatively strong after the rough terrain we'd crossed.

20.6km and 832m (strava clocks it at 605m?!) recorded on my ambit, in a total of 2:44:08. The average pace was 7:18min/km which I feel is really good. All my recent longer runs have been on fairly flat routes so I'm pleased with this one. Stats aside, and if I can blank out the wind we had to contend with, it was an amazing run. We saw so many grouse and mountain hares in their mixed winter-going-on-summer coats I lost count. Seeing familiar parts of Bleaklow from new angles was lovely. I couldn't help but pause frequently to admire the beauty of where we were. Not many photos taken because the cold wind meant my hands were firmly tucked up inside gloves and big windproof overmitts. I'll be heading back to the The Swamp and The Ridge so watch this space for more photos.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Navigation Training

I have many years of hill walking and running experience, local knowledge of the Peak District and Bleaklow is my back garden. Plus, I am a qualified Walking Group Leader. You'd think I know most things about finding my way and how to navigate. But, we are never too old or too wise to think we know everything. So when I was asked if I wanted to join Ian from EverythingOutdoors on a navigation course I jumped at the chance. Ian is a well respected outdoorsy person, a long-standing member of Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team and a fell runner to boot. Yes, I know my other half is all of the above, but you can still learn a lot by going out on the hill with a good variety of people. I wasn't about to waste a chance to get out and share a day on the hill.

Leaving Old Glossop we headed towards Bleaklow. The 5 D's and a whole heap of navigation aids were put to use finding various features. Somewhat disappointingly the day started out lovely and sunny. Yes, ideal hill weather normally but not for navigation. We were however rewarded for our climb up onto the Bleaklow plateau, for we were swiftly joined by a chilled westerly wind and rolling clag. That reduced visibility drastically, kept our concentration levels high, and I think the photos will speak for themselves...

Brilliant blue sky and a wall to handrail 
off to find a crag...but which one?
what's that over there?
Looking towards Higher Shelf Stones with the cold claggy mist rolling in
Overexposed aircraft wreck successfully located
Approaching Wain Stones
A new find for me, another aircraft wreck (Blenheim Bomber) on Sykes Moor
Using duckboards on the path from Torside towards Glossop Low
Dropping down off Cock Hill
The day was very useful, I learnt new techniques and was able to pass on skills and confidence to the group. Ian is a great teacher who I'd happily trust on the hill any day.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Fog to Blue Sky

My plans to lead a run over in the Derwent Valley this morning changed and I found out I'd be heading up to Bleaklow at the last minute. Glossop was shrouded in thick fog which meant the chances of getting on the tops for a cloud inversion were high. We weren't disappointed. The cold fog was soon left behind as height was gained and just twenty minutes from the edge of town we were in glorious sunshine; jackets packed in the bag and running in t-shirts. It was delightful to have the warmth of the sunshine on us.

Heading towards Doctors Gate in the fog
fog slowly showing it will be clearing
gaining height and blue skies
Glossop is down there....somewhere
looking towards Kinder Scout
heading back to Glossop and into the fog again
Guided runs on a one-to-one basis or for groups can be me for more information or have a read on the Running page

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Springtime Vitamin D

I took some time out this morning to have some 'me' time, taking myself off for a wander around the fields close to home, yet with almost no-one around it was so peaceful. Just me, and the sound of the stream and birds chirping merrily away. Lapwings are making their presence felt, I love the sound of their call. If you've never heard it click this link to the RSPB where you can play a recording; it really is the most unusual sound.

With the sun shining and little wind I spent most of my two hour wander in just a t-shirt.

location of my first 15 minute sit-and-think-of-nothing spot

second pause for 'just-listen' time

me and my shadow enjoying the sunshine above Glossop

llamas...couldn't get them to come any closer

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Why I run, and the mysterious thing called Fell Running

Why do I run? There are many reasons to this question and the answer is quite complex yet simple at the same time. The quick answer if you don't want to read the full blog is because I like being healthy and because running in the hills makes me smile. Skip to the final couple of paragraphs to see what I'm up to now.

So how did I get into fell running? I grew up, from the age of 13, in the Hope Valley. My favourite thing after school was to head up onto Win Hill or Lose Hill and get to the top...and look. To see what was up there and to enjoy the journey on the way. I'm sure many of those I went to school thought I was odd, but it didn't matter. I loved being in the hills and that feeling has always been with me. I soon found that I wanted to go further but was limited by time and how far I could travel at walking pace.

On my walks I'd see a few people running and one day I just started moving quicker than walking pace (just on the downhill bits, I didn't want to over do it!). When I reached the top of a hill I'd do a shuffle/fast walk to get that bit further, to explore beyond my walking distance. I can't say I ever did any massive 'runs' or that I got a whole lot further than just walking, but it made me see that I could move faster in the hills if I wanted. Such a shame I didn't have anyone to show me fell running shoes (walking boots were so clumsy), or what kit I should carry to be safe, or even a few simple techniques to make it all a little easier. I was always happy with the navigation and map reading, that came naturally. But if there had been someone to inspire me a little who knows how my running and explorations would have progressed.

Then, for about 11 years I lived in London. Running took a back seat, as did general fitness and there wasn't the chance to get out into the hills nearly as much as I wanted. It's fair to say I got really unfit and overweight. OK so I cycled to work and was reasonably active, but then I met Tim and could see that I wasn't anywhere close to the level of fitness I wanted to be. With him as inspiration I tried to run while we lived in London but it was just so dull. Road running just isn't for me. I used to play games with numbers, could I get to the next kilometre (sometimes next lamppost was a minor success), the next street corner. If I could make a loop by going via such-and-such a place it would be an achievement. So in some ways my internal exploration buzz was getting teased, but tarmac just failed on the pleasure front.

We realised London wasn't where we wanted to be and moved north about 3 years ago, finding Glossop and the delights of Bleaklow and Kinder as our back garden. What a revelation. We had green places to run. No restrictions or boundaries. Literally. Open country to roam as we pleased. I could go running in the hills and explore and travel further. But often my runs are short, because there is so much to see close to where I live. I can be out of sight of any buildings within 10 minutes of leaving home, within an hour I can be up on the top of Bleaklow, one of the countries wildest areas. I'm never going to be a super fast runner, that's not the point. Yes I do sometimes go on about how far a run is, or how long it took me to get to a particular place, but that's just my inner self challenging me. Not all my runs are like that. The main thing I take from each and every run is the joy, the way that being out in the hills makes me happy and keeps me smiling.

Fitness: there are clearly obvious health benefits from running. I've lost weight over the last three years which has improved my health. I no longer need to take medication for asthma, even my hayfever doesn't seem to be as bad as it used to be. The combination of strength and conditioning with weights, plus running has increased my strength, which in turn makes the running easier. I guess I get a buzz out of being healthy, which can only be a good thing. I mentioned I don't really enjoy road running. I believe that just running on hard surfaces won't benefit the body in the long term; your joints, bones and soft tissues are subject to great volumes of repetitive high impact. The opposite is true off-road. The softer surfaces help to cushion the impact, and at the same time because you are getting less rebound from the surface underfoot your body becomes stronger. The truth is I do run on roads, but I stick to short runs, quieter roads and ones that still offer great views.

Social aspect: I'm a member of the local running club, Glossopdale Harriers - there's regular runs on the hills or road so I have the choice to run on Tuesdays or Thursdays with the club. In reality, work and general life stuff means that I don't do club runs all that often, even less so over winter when that means night running. I'm not averse to night runs (I organise the occasional 'really-easy-lets-not-go-far' night runs), but given that my work hours are flexible and that I love seeing the hills it makes sense to run in the daytime. Being in the club does mean however that there's a pool of people to call upon to run at other times. There's always someone going out, or someone willing to join me. And that's great. Getting out and having a chat, a laugh, makes running very enjoyable. Me and Tim have also instigated 'Dawn Patrols' since January, a weekly 6am run to offer and encourage runners some company when it's difficult to get motivated.

Solitude: I do run on my own a fair bit as well. And for me that's great too as I can just head into the hills and lose myself (in my mind not literally). I can chose to switch off or be alert, to let nature wash over me or have a break and sit to watch the grouse or mountain hares if I chose. There's no pressure or expectations when I run solo.

Travel quicker than walking: fell running has this mystical impression to non-fell-runners that we're all a bunch of tough nuts who go charging up and down each and every hill, we don't stop to breath, even that we are somewhat super-human. The reality is not like that at all. As I've said, I'm a lover of the hills, the nature and surroundings. Being in the hills whether walking or running, for me, is all about enjoyment. I therefore stop when I'm out running to look, to observe and soak it all in, to take photographs. I physically can't run up most hills, therefore, yes I'll say it....I walk. So I go out for a run but then part of that will involve walking. Shock horror! I think road runners quite often get hung up on numbers...pace, distance etc. Well in the hills it's all somewhat irrelevant to think in those terms unless you're looking to train for racing. Personally racing is a tiny fraction of my running. I'll come to that shortly. With fell running there's no pressure to run all the way up a hill like road running. There's no-one to see you, so the pressure to 'reach the top without stopping' just doesn't exist. It took me a while to get this point, but it's important. Being a fell runner means that we walk. There is no shame. In fact for me that's what makes it so lovely and enjoyable, because there isn't that pressure.

Exploration and nature: being out in the hills is fabulous. There is so much to see, to hear, to watch. Part of this is nature, the flora and fauna (plants and animals) that you can see. Watching the mountain hare's change from summer to winter coats and back again is lovely. The arrival of the lapwings. But a big part of it is just seeing where I'll end up. Finding out what's over that hill, what's round the corner, what's beyond those trees.

Fascination: given that I'm a sports massage therapist it's clear I have a genuine interest in the human body. That extends to my own body, how it moves, what it can achieve. To some degree it can be about how much pain I can suffer, but ultimately that's when I have a specific purpose like when I'm doing hill reps or when I've challenged myself to get to a particular place in a specific time. But most of my runs are just about going somewhere to see what's there, and to enjoy the journey. Too much emphasis and energy these days is spent on how many miles you've run, how fast, what your pace was. It's not like that for the most part with fell running for me. There's too many variables (weather, conditions under foot, wind speed, energy levels, desire, to name a few) to even compare the exact same run done on two separate days.

Challenge: I do the occasional fell race, but I'm not addicted to it like some, nor do I feel compelled to race just because a lot of people do so. I'm just not very competitive. I often go out and either follow a race route or use it as inspiration for my route choice. When I race it's mostly because I'm challenging myself in some way, or it's been a target to help keep me focused on a particular aspect of my overall training programme.

Over the last few years (and when I was younger) I have gained a whole heap of knowledge about the local area, and I've been able to share that with others who haven't had the confidence or opportunity to go exploring on their own. Introducing people to off-road running gives me a buzz. Because of that I got myself qualified as a Walking Group Leader, I have my Wilderness First Aid Certificate and I'll soon qualify as a Licensed UK Athletics Fell/Off-road Coach in Running Fitness. After moving to Glossop myself and Tim became aspirants with the local Mountain Rescue Team,
undertaking a year of training before the final assessment. Towards the end of that year I pulled out because of a few reasons, but mainly the time commitment (which is massive). Because of being part of the mountain rescue team for a year or so I've had a great deal of experience in their training, practice rescues, and gaining detailed knowledge of the local area. Tim went on and passed his assessment and is a full member of GMRT, so I continue to be exposed to the team even though I'm not on the team!

So, you can see that the relatively simple question of why I run is fairly in depth. In summary I do it because I enjoy it. I also like to help others experience the hills and see for themselves that they aren't such a scary place, that fell running isn't about trying to get up the steepest hill in the shortest amount of time. I look back over the years and I do wish there had been someone to show me about off-road running. Because it isn't even about being in particularly wild and remote places. Around Glossop there are so many paths and places you can get to without ever being very far from civilisation, yet it can feel like you are miles from anywhere very quickly. I hope I've helped to explain why I run, and also demystify some of the common perceptions people have about fell runners. Get in touch if you want to join me on a run sometime (guided or social), want help to improve your navigation skills or would like to learn more about finding your way around the local area.