Digested read: familiar route this time out, back to 12.12 territory, gusty out, lost my glasses to the wind, but found a striped caterpillar and met a family of stoats. Also, whilst contemplating that 30 miles seems an awfully long way, met a trio of people running 190 miles (not all in one day though). Perspective people, but bow down and worship them all the same, or at least lend them a towel and shove then under the hand drier in the toilets to help them dry off a bit before sending them on their way. Windy out though, hold onto your hat.
It’s good to know that even in the second half century of life, in which I am now firmly situated, there are still surprising new experiences to encounter out and about. Specifically, yesterday, that is on Saturday, the wind was wooshing and gusting so strongly at the top of Higger Tor, that it literally scooped my spectacles off my face and hurled them onto a rock! No really, it did! I had no idea the wind could do that. This is why recces are important, I have learned that I don’t only need to hold onto my hat whilst hiking up the hills on the Dig Deep route, I may have to invest in a spectacle chain. And I thought I’d nailed the kit list by investing in a compass. Still, there you go, it’s good to be reminded there is always something new to discover or learn, if we are but open to doing so.
This particular excursion was fairly routine in terms of the route it covered, but remarkable in how it was executed. I say this dear reader, because for the first time EVER, I was the person most in the know about the road not taken before by my recce companion for the morning. The story is this. Bouncing back from the devastating news that my ultra buddies are still willing to be my recce buddies but are not now planning on doing the Dig Deep/ Peak Trail 30 I have widened my net in terms of recruiting others to take part in the Dig Deep running weekend. The upshot was, another in my running circle has now signed up for the 12.12, but never done the route, despite often walking from Fiddlers Elbow/ Burbage bridge car park. No worries, I dear reader would be able to show her the way. Get me, leading the way, this is an absolute first. Well, I reccied it enough last year, and although it isn’t especially a priority for me to recce again for the ultra, it’s a lovely route and it would be good to be reminded of the terrain where it overlaps with the 30 mile path.
The consequence was, another Saturday morning rendezvous – again no Sheffield Hallam parkrun, though I have missed my parkrun fix. I figured I’d get it on Sunday at Graves junior parkrun instead. However, this morning the gales were soooooooooooooo very savage that the run director had to make the very sensible call to cancel at the last minute. I was off setting the course up at the time when another volunteer came to break the news. A big tree branch had fallen off on the path just where we all gather round for the run director’s briefing, where children run past three times (it’s a two lap course and then back through the funnel) and where many spectators sit or stand cheering on the scampering, sprinting and ambling parkrun participants. If that tree had fallen a few minutes later when parkrunners were gathered it would have been catastrophic. We saturated volunteers assembled round the fallen branch, remarking at how very dangerous it would have been to carry on with the event in such circumstances as we piled our directional arrows back in the wheelie bin and squeezed out our sodden hi-viz before squishing it back in the event standard issue chequered laundry bag … ‘The problem is‘, we all agreed, ‘there is a whole line of trees along this path if this tree is structurally unsound, there is little doubt that all the others will be too. Any one of these trees might shed its branches at any moment Doesn’t bear thinking about what might have happened if that landed on a group of children!’ We gazed upwards, realising simultaneously, that maybe standing right in the line of branch drop was possibly not the best choice of location for post event pack up chit chat whilst the gale blew around us. We shifted pretty sharpish, not wanting to think about what might happen if branches should land on us either, a lot of squishing basically. Here is the tree branch by way of illustration:
It was still good to see my volunteering comrades though, and I also took the opportunity to walk through the animal park to say hello to the animals before leaving. They didn’t return the favour, peering out from the sanctuary of their shelters as I stood in torrential rain, holding onto my hat. The pigs were still lying down. Only the deer greeted me, but that was because their breakfast was late, they were shouting for room service, and pacing as they caught sight of one of the animal keepers making his way towards them, belatedly I presume, with a bucket.
I’d lingered to help pack away stuff, and then 9.00 a.m. having come and gone, seeing no point in hanging around unnecessarily risking trench foot, or indeed drowning or being blown away entirely I clambered back into the car, being sure to saturate the entire interior with the run off from my coat and hat, and drove off, leaving the solitary bedraggled figure of the RD standing in the deserted car park ready to turn back any late arrivals if necessary, like a captain going down with their ship. That’s commitment for you.
Anyway, why are you asking me about junior parkrun? That’s not the point of this post at all, this post is all about looping the loops for the 12.12. Starting at Lady Cannings, or more specifically, the lay-by opposite the Norfolk Arms, which was our rendezvous point. I was early, of course, hate being late. Which gave me the opportunity to eye up the cattle penned near the lay-by. I do declare these are the infamous Limb Valley cattle, but they were looking chilled and innocuous munching on their silage yesterday morning.
This was to be a walk recce – I still cling to the belief I will eventually do some run recces at some point, but this was not the day. I was in possession of new shoes for one thing. I feel a bit guilty because I got them on the internet, but the thing is, whilst I do try to be loyal to local running shops, I really wanted last year’s model as I’ve loved my inov-8 parkclaw, even though they’ve not worn all that well, giving at one of the seams – and do not want to risk ‘new improved’ versions. It drives me mad with running shoes, you find a pair you really like and then the manufacturers tweak them and the new versions don’t fit anymore. So anyway, wiggle it was, and they came and it made me realise wow, I should have replaced my old shoes a while back. These have much better tread and much better cushioning. However, they do also feel strange, and I admit, I picked up a few weird twinges that I am sure from having slightly different contours on my feet at the end of the excursion. Still, glad I have replaced them in time to break them in a bit.
The idiosyncratic lacing is to take account of my bunions. Sad but true.
My recce companion did have some very nice altra trail shoes though, tempting, looked like a nice comfy wide fit … maybe a running shop visit is in order at some future point too…
The shoes also matched my hat, which I won in a competition over a decade ago by writing my name and address on a postcard. Actually, it must have been more like two decades ago now I come to think of it, as it was pre internet days, can you even remember such a time? Doesn’t time fly… I thought to hold onto my hat on Higger Tor, it was these very glasses that were flung off by the wind:
Waiting for my stomping companion I wandered up to look at the new fence down the Limb. Wow, that went up quick after the crowd sourcing campaign. I did contribute so was interested to see what it looks like. It’s way more substantial than I expected, really wide and it looks like they are putting down a compacted gravel track, which I hadn’t expected. I was a bit taken aback, as it’s lost its off-roadiness, but to be fair, it was a quagmire in winter, and if a job’s worth doing… I am definitely relieved it is from henceforth a cattle free zone, and it’s a generous width, no more playing chicken as you venture down that footpath in future. Good job.
So we met up, nipped into the Norfolk arms for a precautionary pee. We used their loos, we didn’t just pee on the carpet or anything, then off we went. On the subject of peeing, it had been pissing down with rain earlier on, a welcome relief for the ground after weeks of sun-scorched drought. Off we strode. Up through Lady Cannings, dodging bikes, actually, that’s not fair, the bikes dodged us. I’ve always found the mountain bikers there pretty courteous, though their antics terrify me. I saw a reality helicopter heroes thing that showed a biker with a dislocated shoulder being attended to by mountain rescue ‘in woodland on the outskirts of Sheffield’ and I’m sure it was Lady Cannings. They have put in some pretty impressive off-road obstacle run routes for cyclists to use, I always assumed it was part of the outdoor city initiative to improve facilities for these off road enthusiasts, but, now I come to think about it, maybe it was to concentrate all the cycling accidents into an easy access area to make life easier for the emergency services. They are up there all the time apparently, they should have their own kiosk really.
Despite the rain, it was still pretty sticky hot. And the landscape still looks dry. I found it hard going just trudging up the hill through the trees. I really do need to up my game fitness wise, but today was just about showing my new buddy a new route.
We emerged from the woods to the expansive view of heather. I love that moment when you step out from the trees and ‘suddenly’ the landscape opens up in front of you. I know now that there are plenty more spectacular views in the peaks, some of which we took in on this route, but I still remember that giddy feeling when I first moved to Sheffield and exploring ‘discovered’ how close to the heather the city was. Love it.
The only thing that slightly burst our bubble, was that as we were walking a couple of people with a golden retriever dog were walking towards us, we exchanged companionable nods. Then, after we’d passed each other, and there was a good 50 metres distance between us, and we were walking way, the dog came charging back towards us and then barked ferociously at our heels for a while, until its owner was able to call it back. It was odd, because I didn’t think golden retrievers are particularly aggressive generally, and it wasn’t at all clear what might have provoked him. Weirdly, at woodrun in Ecclesall woods a couple of weeks ago there was a similar golden retriever out with a pack with a professional dog walker. It too ran at us barking, was put on a lead by the apologetic dog walker and led off. Once it was a 100 metres or so away from us, the walker let it off the lead again, and it came charging back to chase us and bark again. I wonder if it was the same dog. I was not impressed. Dog owners, I don’t care that ‘he won’t hurt you‘ I don’t want an unknown dog – or indeed any dog – to run at me barking when I’m just mooching about. And yes, I know it’s not the dog’s fault, might not even be the current owners if the dog is a rescue, but if the dog is in your charge, please keep it under control. And don’t hang bags of dog poo in trees either whilst I’m on the subject. Rant over. (Not suggesting this particular dog owner or dog walker did by the way, but others certainly do). Why can’t all dogs be like Tilly. She’s perfect. Other dogs, not so much. I’d rather be stalked by a mountain lion, at least that takes you out of the ordinary and generates more anecdotes. If it did take you out, I’m hoping you wouldn’t know and it would be a very much more interesting demise than a slow decline into old age and penury. I don’t think we have cougars in the peaks though, then again, I didn’t expect the wildlife encounters that came later in our foray out, so who knows…
I was quite surprised how purple the heather was, it seems to have started to emerge after the rain, it was all closed up just a couple of days ago. Now it is promising a sea of purple imminently – hope it doesn’t mean it vanishes just as rapidly. Nothing beats the August heather landscape, I’d love it to be in full bloom for Dig Deep itself. We headed alongside the plantation, towards the track I call the roman road, because I’m sure it must be, though actually it’s Houndkirk Road if you want to be navigationally accurate, and obviously I now do, what with my newfound orienteering accessories.
turn right at the footpath, through the gate, up the stony path til you get to the next gate, and look out for… the white heather! Yep, my little patch is still there, saw it last year, and I wondered if it would still be there, so happy it is. It brings me joy whenever I see it. I feel lucky! So lucky… etc (feel free to sing along dear reader, it’s my adaptation from the west side story song list, don’t be shy, singing is good for the soul, though not always for your neighbours/house mates stress levels to be fair, but don’t let that stand in your way). It’s not open yet, but is full of promise, on the cusp of blooming, can’t wait to go and inspect it again. I clearly need to get out more.
Burst through the gate, onto Houndkirk moor, and as you descend the path – which had been quite washed away in parts from the overnight storm – you start to see Higger Tor, Carl Wark and even Stanedge over the horizon as Burbage Edge reveals itself to your right. It was and is a gorgeous route, we saw no-one at this stage in the day, it really feels like you have the whole place to yourself.
Down to the lower path so you can admire the climbers on Burbage Edge. There were a few more people around now.
We got to Burbage Bridge and then headed onwards and upwards towards Higger Tor. This is where the wind started to really pick up. It was already ‘breezy’, but as we got higher the wind seemed to rip the oxygen out of your lungs, and it was almost comical. We couldn’t communicate, only press on, leaning into the elemental forces that would have flung anyone less earth-bound than me off the hill altogether. I knew carrying extra ballast round my midriff would come in handy one day!
Of course my photos don’t do it justice, but the ground had a sort of surreal quality. The torrential rain had washed off the top service revealing layers of white and black sand, it was very strange, and rather beautiful, but you couldn’t fail to see the erosive power of the rain, great swathes of peat were piled up where they had been scoured off the hill overnight and settled lower down.
We got to the top of Higger Tor, where I was all prepared for my usual quest to find the best route off. There isn’t one, well if there is, it must be like at Hogwarts, it perpetually moves, as you never find the same path twice. I went to the edge to peer over, to see the path we were aiming for and great gusts of wind were like a punch in the stomach. I guess it was like being literally winded. I’d never thought about that before, that being caught in the full force of a wind does make it impossible to breathe, I wonder if that is where the phrase has come from. I’ve been winded a few times from falling off horses, it’s horrible, this time though, it was bizarre. You could lean into the wind if the inclination took you and it carried your full weight. I did a bit, and then lost my nerve as it dawned on me that if the gust changed direction I’d basically just belly flop off the edge which was not the descent I had in mind when I set out earlier in the day. As I write this account it occurs to me that what with the leaning over the edge of a precipice held aloft only by the wind on the Saturday and standing under trees of dubious structural integrity on the Sunday I am a strong contender for the Darwin Awards at some future point. I don’t mind being a joint winner if appropriate – I wasn’t alone standing under the tree canopy earlier on today after all, but it would be nice to get recognition for something.
As I was playing in the wind, leaning over the edge, and hanging onto my hat, it suddenly gusted and snatched my glasses off my face and hurled them on the ground. It was so strange. A first in my varied life. Who knew the wind could do that? Well, we all know now.
We eventually found a way to scramble down. I went down largely on my bottom, as I’m a bit of a scaredy cat descending at the best of times, and joking about the precipitous descent and gale force winds made it more challenging that usual. The wind didn’t drop all that much until we got into the shade of Carl Wark. Here we met some walkers coming up the other way, who proclaimed the path to be ‘boggy’ it was a bit, but nothing like as bad as I’ve seen it in the past, just a localised little bog section at one point. It’s straightforward, and then we ended up at the little stone bridge, which looks like it should have trolls under it, but they’ve always been out when I’ve called to date.
Just a simple matter of retracing our steps back really, but there was still excitement to come. First bit of excitement, a fine striped caterpillar:
but then subsequently, as we were back on the compacted gravel track, my buddy spotted something crossing the path out of the corner of her eye. We both paused and retraced our steps to see if we could find a clue of what we’d seen. OH! MY! GAWD! I glimpsed it two. Actually I glimpsed it three. Stoats. Pretty sure it was a family of stoats. She’d seen one run down the bank, I saw three on the opposite site of the road. I’ve since checked on google so it must be true – and you do get stoats on the moor. They predate the rare birds which is a shame, but I was just massively excited to see a family of them. I presume it was a family, as I think they are solitary creatures otherwise. But actually, I don’t really know. I don’t even know for sure they were stoats not weasels, which is silly really as everyone knows that they can be told apart because weasels are weasily distinguishable whereas stoats are stoatally different. Stoats have black tips on their tails, but we couldn’t see them. They were like little dark brown cucumbers, darting about. Very exciting. What with that and nearly losing my glasses and my new shoes and everything it was a more eventful outing than anticipated. It’s always stepping out, always a micro adventure awaiting! This is what it looked like where they were, so this is a photo where either a stoat family or a weasel family have passed by. Gripping isn’t it?
Onwards and upwards. Back across Houndkirk
and back to Houndkirk road, walking onwards until Lady Canning’s plantation came back into view
and then suddenly we were back at the Norfolk Arms. So we went in for coffee – well rude not to. And were just in time to dodge the rain.
In one of life’s pleasing but unexpected coincidences, as we were leaving I bumped into another running buddy, looking somewhat bedraggled to be fair, after being caught in a soaking of torrential rain. She and her comrades are at the half way point of a mega run over several days, they are covering the Peak District Boundary Walk, which sounds gorgeous, but they’ve had the hottest and most humid weather imaginable, followed by storms of near biblical proportions, so I’m not sure they picked the best climate window in which to undertake it. It’s 190 miles, so not for the faint hearted. And judging from the hollow laughs that rang out when I asked them how they’d found their guide-book it was ‘good in parts’. Still, respect. What a great idea for a project. Runners I salute you.
So there you go, another fine morning’s yomping through the Peak district. For those of you who are interested in such details, Strava tells me we covered around 8.6 miles and 1208 ft. I am trying not to think how much harder it will be to cover 30 miles and 1388 metres. Instead I will think of the feed stations. They are supposed to be really good. Spinach and feta cheese filo pastry anyone?
Whatever it takes to motivate you dear reader, whatever it takes.
So there you go, work in progress, but still one foot in front of the other, and that dear reader, is how the very longest of journeys starts. Fact.
For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you