Maybe not actually running, or even yomping, in this picture, granted, but that’s only because we had to stop some random guy with the most enormous extendible lens I’ve ever seen, to get him to take a photo of us all together. There are only so many variations of the three of us together in different configurations that a blog post will take, and we’d exhausted those, outside assistance was required (the dog was fun but rubbish operating the camera). In the interests of justice, fairness and mutual accountability, I thought I should kick off with a group shot. This is the one I chose. Anyway, what I’m basically trying to say in respect of our distinct lack of any obvious movement in this picture, is that given we accosted this person who was quietly minding his own business and probably enjoying his own solitude, it would have been rude of us to have just sprinted away from him in those circumstances. Plus, I’d then have to have sprinted back to reclaim my camera, so I’d ended up running way too far. Actually, I might have been rude anyway, because he took some, gave the camera back, but none of them had come out, so we made him take them all again. Is that inappropriate, or assertive? I’m never quite sure. Never mind, done now. I quite like this photo. You can’t tell from it, but we’d just had to wrestle the dog away from some very enthusiastic sniffing of our nether regions and crotches to avoid a somewhat more inappropriate snap. Clearly we got a lot hotter running than we felt like at the time!
So, today’s mission was another Hobbit Hash, taking in the route up the valley in hope of making the most of the snow (which is fun when it first falls) and nabbing a few sub-zero bonus points as well as some elevation kudos for the Smiletastic competition. A flurry of recruitment messages went to and fro to see who was up for it. Some enthusiasm the night before, some last minute checking in the morning. Including one nameless would-be companion who ‘fessed up to being still in bed at the hour of departure. An understandable sentiment, showed integrity in sharing, but personally I’d have stayed silent on the theme or possibly lied about my exact circumstances.
Anyway, up, porridge, heaved on thermals (not being caught out two days running without those). There was definitely snow outside, enough to hint at a winter wonderland further up the valley, and certainly enough to demand proper trail shoes (I went for my super-treaded off roaders, which I increasingly like, they gave good grip, even in ice and snow, and have great cushioning). Rendezvous hour was 10.00 a.m. I made sure I didn’t leave the house too early this time (didn’t fancy standing around on a street corner in the cold again), and gingerly jogged down the slope to get there. It wasn’t too icy, but I wasn’t super confident. It was already fun, I love the sound and feel of crunch of newly fallen, untrodden snow. There were some people out and about optimistically towing sledges, and although it was gloomy, the contrast of settled snow on dark tree branches was spectacular. I amused myself snapping away some photos of the environs, whilst waiting for first couple of Smiley Paces punters to arrive out of the gloom. Seconds later we three were joined by another Smiley in the company of her dog. We were keen to have this canine companion as we thought it might bring extra bodily warmth. Lewis (that was his name) is a labradoodle apparently, though not acquired in direct homage to Barack Obama, rather to rescue a hairdresser (it’s complicated). He was quite exuberant, but impeccably behaved, though I think he would have liked us to go quite a bit faster.
After a few social niceties of greeting, one of our group gave up the cry ‘let’s go’ and once again I remembered about the being required to run aspect of this otherwise convivial gathering. The dog loped off, effortlessly bounding up the hill, occasionally bouncing across to greet some other dog with playful mutual bowing and then excitedly scampering off in the hope of a fun run of his own. He had mixed success in terms of garnering others to join in, I know how he feels.
So we yomped off, the leading pair headed off with gusto, I limped afterwards wondering if I’d stay the pace. I didn’t really to be honest, but eventually decided to just do my own thing, and although I had some guilt about the others having to stop and wait for me now and again, I rationalised that ultimately they would find this a preferable option to having to carry me back home if I collapsed in exhaustion high up on the hills later on from all that early over-exertion and/or having to witness me throwing a massive tearful tantrum because it was all too much. I also slowed my pace still further, by having taken my camera with me (a first, I never normally carry anything with me out running – unless you count paranoia and existentialist angst as having a physical presence, which I think they can to be fair…) this necessitated lots of stops for snapping away at the scenic wilderness unfolding in front of us. I can’t do quality, so I went for quantity, hoping that at least a few would make the cut.
I insisted on a loop past the forge dam cafe as the other week I’d noticed a tree bedecked with baubles and I thought it was worth a photo then, I reckoned it would be even lovelier all snow covered, and so indeed it was. In fact, it is near a memorial bench, so I wonder if that is why it had been decorated. An added bonus of this loop was that we saw a most excellent selection of mallards (go to love a duck, as you know), and some fantastic snow-covered bulrushes. I love bulrushes, they are extraordinary plants. All in all I call that a successful diversion, even if it did rather interrupt the running part of the run, replacing it most emphatically with a walk segment.
Onwards and upwards as the saying goes, truthfully, the others were considerably more onward than me. I ended up behind a couple of walkers on the steepest part of the climb up the porter valley, I was too embarrassed to over-take them as I knew I’d only end up walking myself a few steps later. The others waited for me in a shivering huddle at the top, and we even did a few staged photos of us running brilliantly… or at least amusingly. No-one will ever know. Might get to add them later, or might not, depends on whether or not they make their way into the public domain.
We debated about which way to go at the top. I favoured the route across the moor as it would look lovely in the snow – we weren’t sure how wet it would be. I wondered if the snow and ice would actually make it firmer than usual, and this did seem to be the case, it was marginally easier to negotiate than last time we were out. The first climb over the wall into the open field, now with quite thick snow, exposed us to a truly icy blast. How on earth do those contemporary explorers do it, let alone the earlier ones like Shackleton and others? They headed out wearing tweed and cotton; and eating, oh I don’t know ship’s biscuits, bovril and probably rose hip syrup and raw husky-dog livers for nutrition. (Don’t worry, Lewis was completely safe, I’m vegetarian anyway, and the other smileys were too squeamish, not hungry enough and/or sufficiently emotionally invested in our new canine friend that we’d happily have eaten each other before turning on him). It felt like an adventure it’s true, but an adventure that wore thin after about 30 seconds, I was pleased when we got to the relatively more sheltered aspect of the moor.
To transition (is that even a word?) from the field to the moor, involved negotiating a style – the one deep in liquid mud and with an electric fence. Much of the water had frozen, so it was possible for people in our party to get across and stay dry. The challenge, was getting Lewis to work out how to tackle the style. He ended up confused and a bit panicked, sprinting off up the hill parallel to the field we were actually in. Eventually his Smiley rescuer returned and, aided and abetted by a couple of (hopefully) dog-loving walkers, physically woman/man-handled him over. He didn’t initially look overly impressed by this approach, but leapt about with euphoria once he was successfully over the other side. Thereafter, he seemed to negotiate each new style with ever-increasing confidence, I imagine we have effectively taught him to escape from any future attempt to enclose him with a garden fence or similar. Not my dog, not my problem. I helped by documenting the process from afar:
Once we made it to the heather, the landscape took on a really weird quality. The heather sort of looked like it was in blossom with the way the snow had landed in amongst its wooded stems. I attempted a few arty shots, trying to capture the textures of the landscape and wishing I was George. The photos don’t come anywhere near to conveying what it was like, but I’m going to put them up anyway, out of petulance. In the same way a small child may demand their latest creative masterpiece is taped on the fridge door for months and months. I am minded of such an offering of a child’s picture that was recently shared on Facebook. It was an abstract looking set of swirls made with dirty white poster paint on off-white paper,’hard to make out’ doesn’t quite cover it… Someone had thoughtfully written ‘sheep’ by way of explanation on a top corner. This was shared on social media, acknowledging the difficulty of interpreting the picture, and I learned subsequently that the child who’s art it was became indignant when they saw it, not because they had detected it was being perhaps affectionately mocked, but because their parent had uploaded it THE WRONG WAY UP! How could they have done such a thing. I hope that hobbit smiley is suitably humbled, she knows who she is. Anyway, in the circumstances, I think I can be allowed to share my own atmospheric photos, you can laugh at them if you like. You will be laughing on the other side of your face when they end up on the cover of National Geographic.
Ice rather than swamp at the top, meant I was able get across without getting any wetter than I had at the outset of the run. Forgot to mention that within about 20 metres of heading off, I stepped in a slush swamp and got my feet comprehensively soaked. Splash back up the legs too. I am wondering if seal skin socks might be the way to go. They are not made of actual seal skins as far as I know, so acceptable for vegetarians and/or ethically minded. I need to find out.
At the top where we exited on to the top of Ringinglow Road, the snow was so deep the road was completely obscured. It was quite fun, we felt quite intrepid. Well I did anyway, there were some four by fours showing off on the terrain, but I wouldn’t have risked my little car up there. It was quite slidey too, the snow compacted by these heavier vehicles, pretty treacherous. We crossed into the plantation, where we slid trying to keep out of the way of mountain bikers (well, some of us did, the Lewis contingency within our number had fun loping alongside them), until we saw the aforementioned photographer and picked him off for our own illicit purposes.
Coming down through the plantation was fun, because the gradient was in our favour. Running is one of the few circumstances when the phrase ‘it’s all downhill from here’ makes your heart sore, rather than sink! I wasn’t massively confident because of the snow, but it was enjoyable yomping through. If you looked at right angles to the path into the woods, it looked like troll or maybe bear country. Actually, that’s really silly, we don’t have bears in the UK any more. Trolls, definitely. Be careful out there! On the actual pathway through it was quite busy though, lots of dog walkers and bikes had made it up. Exiting the wood, we found slush, and it was clear we’d had the best of the day, the temperature was rising now and snow vanishing to filthy looking messy slush for now, that will frozen again later into lethal ice. We were nearly collectively caught out by the compacted ice just as the exit, skidding about and tumbling into one another. One Smiley companion sheered right into me, out of control and instinctively grabbed at me for support, which was never going to work. We both shot forwards shrieking. It reminded me of that time I’d seen some pedestrian trying to navigate the black ice of Sheffield’s streets one particularly harsh winter a few years back. Skidding out of control down a slope, she instinctively grabbed onto a structure as she passed it, hoping for some support. It was a wheelie bin, her hopes were dashed, and very nearly her body too, if truth be told.
We abandoned the original plan to head down Limb Valley to Whirlow instead doubling back to Ringinglow Road and then diverting down Jacob’s ladder, taking in both the curious alpacas, and getting to watch the sledgers making the most of that vertiginous slope. Two of our number seemed to march even jog down with ease. Me and my fellow more cautious Smiley picked our way down at a zigzag, pacing ourselves at a speed which would not have been out of place in a Noh Theatre production. A woman watching the sledgers pointed us to what she said was a less slippery route. We placed our trust in this benevolent stranger in the absence of other plans. Fortunately, we both made it.
Bizarrely, coming back into the woods, we were met by a convoy of enormous off road vehicles. Although they were courteous, and remained stationary as we tried to wriggle past them, they were quite intimidating. It reminded me of that scene in one of the Jurassic park films, where Pete Postlethwaite is furiously driving a safari vehicle as they go off to hunt dinosaurs. It felt like they would be getting out their big guns and skidding off as soon as we passed. By way of contrast and loveliness, coming past Forge Dam kiddies playground, we espied a rather fine snowman. Well, a fellow smiley did, and I’ve decided to take the credit for it. We went in for closer inspection (didn’t feel too creepy or inappropriate doing so as there were no children using it at the time). It was an excellently accessorised creation. With jaunty hat and holly decorations. Less politically correct, it had a cigarette as well – well I think it was representative of a cigarette, it might have been vaping I suppose, but that still normalises and legitimises nicotine use and I don’t think that’s very good really. Might have been chewing a straw I suppose, but I don’t think so, that story would just be spin. On reflection, I think it may have been a pipe, but point still stands, I’m sure you’ll agree.
It was getting cold now, and my legs were tiring, despite my thermal leggings under my running ‘tights’ my quads still felt frozen solid from yesterday. Wish some of the fat laid down on my belly could seep into top front of my legs. We collectively agreed that to incentivise us to make it back, we would now be on a quest for hot chocolate. We eventually emerged back at the Oakbrook coffee place, and to our great good fortune were just in time to squeeze ourselves onto a vacated table. Lewis was allowed in too. It was lovely and cosy. In the event, in the interests of accuracy, I should report that only one of us had a hot chocolate, one had breakfast tea and chocolate cake, one had a skinny latte and I had a full fat latte. It was lovely and warm and consequently it took super human effort to wrench ourselves away and back to our respective dwelling places until next time!
There was some debate about whether or not we would have done better to have gone out later. At one point forecast was for sun later on (never happened). Personally, I think we got best part of the day when snow was still relatively untrodden. Plus, if I’m really, really honest, I still do suffer a bit from the mentality that I need to ‘get the run out of the way’ so thereafter I can reap the benefits of feeling smug back home on the sofa drinking tea. Which is pretty much what I did.
So another run down, on target for my contribution to the Smiletastic total for the Fighting Feathers cohort. Thank you fellow Smileys for cheery companionship and ensuring we got out. Collective commitment is good. Together we are invincible! (But let’s not actually put that to the test… just in case).