Sunday, 30 December 2012


A man with a huge moustache is setting up a camera on the other side of the road. He makes sure the feet of his tripod are secure before attaching his long-lensed instrument to the top. Now and again he pauses to pull the material of his technical tee-shirt down over his ample stomach, and to pull the material of his lycra 3/4 length tights up over his ample arse.

I sit on the wall that fronts Ayacata's picturesque chapel and watch him. Once he's ready to take a photo, he steps back from his apparatus, stands with his arms akimbo, and waits.

My attention, eventually, is drawn away from him to the stunning views of the valley beyond the road and then back to more immediate surroundings. There's not a lot at Ayacata. Used mainly as a drop-off point to climb Gran Canaria's second-highest peak, Roque Nublo, there's a large lay-by for cars and buses to pull in off the narrow road. There's a restaurant, a bar, a small number of dwellings. There's a picturesque chapel fronted by a low wall.

I stare for a while at the road signs that nestle in the corner of the adjacent T-junction. Two point the way left to Tejeda and Roque Bentayga on the GC-60. One points the way right to San Mateo on the GC-600, whilst two more have had their directions covered over by black paint. They point to nowhere. I like that.

Tammy's sat beside me holding a tourist map and a bus timetable. We're bookended by the superheroes. Lightning's laying on the wall with his knees in the air. Whirlwind's looking a bit hot and bothered.

Tam's been running through some options since we'd been informed that the 2 o'clock bus to Maspalomas had been cancelled. All of them amount to not much.

'We're best off waiting,' I tell her.

'But the next bus isn't until 5 o'clock,' she replies with a heavy sigh.

I give her a little smile. She gives me her best pissed off look.

I glance back over the road to the man with the moustache. For the last few moments he's been pacing up and down. He stops again now, hands on hips, and looks straight at us.

'Do you think he wants us to move?' I ask Tam.

A few minutes later, we've set up camp in a shady spot in the far corner of the chapel's tiled courtyard. The superheroes are playing tag and Tammy's laid out, sunbathing with her head resting on a rucksack.

I sit with my back against a wall and flick through the morning's pictures on my camera. At 5915 feet, the summit of Roque Nublo had been the highest point I'd ever stood upon. We'd enjoyed a steady hike up, took a path that circled the peak, took a wrong fork at a path junction and enjoyed a mad dash back to Ayacata, aware that time was tight if we were going to catch the 2 o'clock bus back to the coast. It was in the bar, as we ordered cokes, that we were informed that today there wouldn't actually be a 2 o'clock bus.


If I'd been alone, this would have been no problem. I could have foraged out a few mountain trails and spent the afternoon running. I could have hiked over to Tejeda or down to San Bartolome and caught the bus from there. But I wasn't alone, and after a good 4 hour walk, Whirlwind, who's still only 8, was about done for. I figured waiting was the best option to take.

I sit with my back against the wall, turn my camera off and put it back in its case. Then I think about waiting. It's something that I can't recall having done before, but I've plenty of time to now.

Waiting. The word is loaded with so many negative conotations. But is this fair? As I sit in the shade, I'm reminded of a passage I've read recently in Rebecca Solnit's excellent history of walking, 'Wanderlust'. She speaks of  '"the time inbetween" - the time of walking to a place, of meandering and running errands,' and berates the fact that, 'this time has been deplored as a waste, reduced, and its remainder filled with earphones playing music and mobile phones relaying conversations.' She concludes that, 'the very ability to appreciate this uncluttered time, the uses of the useless, often seems to be evaporating.'

In a world where people are increasingly judged by their ability to produce or their ability to consume, waiting is always classed as a 'waste of time.' In spite of industrialisation, automation and unbelievable advances in technology, the increased 'free time' that these promised have resulted in exactly the opposite. The time we have to ourselves, the time to think, contemplate and meander, for no other reason than it's enjoyable (and necessary), is being eroded towards extinction. Waiting is time such as this. Rather than view waiting as time taken away from you when you could/should be doing something else (something more productive?), why not view it as time that's been given to you. An unexpected gift. It's a subtle, but important, shift and it might make your life a whole lot better.

I've been given a gift of 3 hours to spend in a place where I've never been before. A wonderful place that nestles in the heart of the central high country of Gran Canaria. I could be doing something else, but I think I'll just enjoy waiting.


I stroll across the chapel's tiled courtyard and spend some time reading the plaques attached to its walls. I try the handle on the imposing wooden door, eager to have a glimpse of what's inside, but it's locked. I walk across the road to the spot that the man with the moustache has long since deserted, and then take a photograph. I sit on a low fence for a good time and let the beauty of what I see before me permeate every piece of me till I'm full up.

Who knows how much time later it is when I cross the road and head back to the chapel. I watch Tammy sleep for a while and then the superheroes set us the brilliantly pointless challenge of counting all of the tiles that make up the chapel's courtyard. We're up to 736 when Tam wakes up and suggests we get some lunch.

Sometimes all that is required to enjoy waiting is a little imagination. Some people are good at waiting. Some are awful. For most of us, it takes a bit of practice to get it right. The best waiters have the ability to exist in the 'now' - to cast aside the past and the future and simply 'to be.' Once you've mastered that, 'waiting' is not waiting at all, since 'waiting' requires a future act as justification, and you simply don't have that if you're living totally in the moment.

Chris Rea must be a good waiter. The story is that he wrote his dull, but oddly endearing, Christmas favourite, 'Driving Home For Christmas', whilst stuck in a holiday-season traffic jam on the M25.

JK Rowling was once taking the train from London to Manchester. A long journey - a long wait until she reached her destination - was made longer by inevitable engine problems and points failures. She used the extra time gifted to her to daydream and develop an idea she'd been kicking around for a while. By the time the train reached Picadilly station, she'd drafted out the basic storylines for the whole Harry Potter series.

In the years before we had a spare key for the front door, I'd often arrive back at our house to find that Tammy had gone out and forgot to leave our only key in its 'secret place.' It didn't take me long to get to enjoy these periods of enforced waiting. Sometimes I'd just tag on a few more miles. Most of the time, I'd just flop on the front step and savour the feelings that a long run leaves you with. I might close my eyes and doze. I might watch the elaborate sunset dance of birds on the nearby telephone wire. Or I might just sit. Nowadays, I never forget to take my key when I run. Even so, every run still ends with a sit on the step - a wait - before I go inside.

In the last 3 years I've also discovered a scene where waiting has developed into almost an artform. The Bob Graham Round, a 66-mile continuous circuit of the Lakeland fells, crosses a road on just 4 occasions. At each one of these road crossings, on each weekend from early May to late September, you'll find a whole community of people just waiting. Indeed, some of the best hours I've spent over recent summers have been whilst waiting for a contender and his team to appear of the hills and reach one of these crossing points. The friends you meet in these places will be friends for life. I highly recommend this form of waiting. Until you've tried it, you'll find it hard to believe you can have so much fun doing nothing.


We enjoy a delicious meal in a restaurant we'd never have visited had we not been given 3 extra hours in Ayacata. Afterwards, the superheroes drop small change into a fountain, whilst Tam and myself share a half-jug of sangria and watch the ebb and flow of the tide of cyclists, hikers and car-tourists that make up the restaurant's clientele.

Times getting on. I've still a challenge to complete, but the superheroes are busy with other adventures now, so I amble back to the chapel's courtyard and resume my count - a meditation in small steps and large numbers. I'm about a third of the way across the tiles space, and up to number 1802, when Lightning shouts that the bus is on it's way. I'm not one for leaving a job half done, but, as I walk to the roadside, I've a feeling that I might be back in Ayacata some day soon.

We spend our whole lives waiting for a bus. Its timetable is unpredictable. It might arrive before you'd expected it, or it may turn up a little later than you'd have hoped. But when it arrives at its last earthly stop - when the hydraulic doors slide back and you step aboard - it would be nice to think that that you'd be ready. It would be nice to think that you'd done your best. That you'd loved, daydreamed, meandered, got lost. That you'd tackled pointless challenges, walked winding paths, played in snow, read stories by candlelight. That you'd watched a lifetime of sunrises and sunsets, and felt both music and silence. That you'd spent your precious time not fretting over what you've done, not worrying about what you've got to do, but savouring every moment of what you're doing. That you'd waited wisely.

At the top step, you might fumble for change. It's then that a familiar voice might tell you that it's ok - that this last ride is free. You might be suprised, as you look up, that the person sat behind the wheel is you. You might be suprised, but you shouldn't be - there's ultimately only one person responsible for driving your life. It would be nice to think that now you would feel pride and not regret. There'll be no need for any grand gestures. Just a smile and a 'thank-you' will do.

Hopefully, the bus will be full. Full of the people that made up your life. Full of the folk that mattered to you, the folk that you mattered to - the people who wanted more than anything to accompany you on this last trip and say 'see you later.' You'll move along the aisle. You'll hug loved ones. You'll catch up with old friends. And, whilst the driver waits patiently, you'll eventually take the last remaining seat - the one that's reserved for you.

But it might not be.

There's two sides to every story. There's a flip side to every coin. And while waiting can be an unexpected gift of uncluttered hours, it can also be a curse that petrifies - a force so toxic that it takes the promise of a growing tree and turns it into dead wood. Whilst the hours of waiting foisted onto you can undoubtedly always be turned to gain, the periods of waiting you hoist upon yourself will always take and not give.

It may be that once you meet the final bus' driver, you'll find no words are necessary. That just a look into your own eyes - a mirror of chances never taken - will tell you that you could have done better.

It may be that the bus has far too many empty seats. Empty seats that should be occupied by friends you've never met, the faces from adventures you've never had. Empty seats that could have been occupied, but aren't. Blank, empty spaces left in a life half-lived because you used waiting as just an excuse.

As you walk down the aisle, past the empty seats, you might picture the life you could have had, but didn't. Around you, the excuses will echo:
'I'll wait until I'm older.'
'I'll wait until the kids have grown up.'
'I'll wait until I'm fitter.'
'I'll wait until I've saved more money.'
'I'll wait until the time is right.'
'I'll wait until tomorrow.'

On and on they'll echo. Drowning out the loving words of the people who are there. One after another. On and on. The last thing you hear as the bus pulls away.

It doesn't have to be that way. In a day or two, a new year starts. It's a time of promises and fresh starts. It's as good a time as any to make a change.

How many seats on that last bus are still unoccupied?

Wait wisely.

Use waiting to add and not subtract.

There's things you want to do, aren't there? I can tell.

There's changes you want to make - maybe tiny, maybe huge - that you put off because making a change is always harder than staying the same.

Whatever it is, here's a chance.

Go on.

Do it!

What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ultra-Modern Nursery Rhymes No.2: The Christmas Guest


He takes his overcoat from the stand by the front door, puts it on and buttons it up tight. Wearily placing the straps of his favourite red handbag over his shoulder, he pauses by the mirror and checks his antenna. The mirror never lies. He looks old. He feels old. So old.

He unlocks the door, steps out onto the balcony and pushes it shut behind him. More graffitti. Fresh paint daubed untidily, spelling out just one word.


He no longer has the will to fight. No longer has the energy for anger. He leans on the balcony and looks down on the decorated fir tree in the square below his tower-block flat.

The wind is blowing crisp bags and MacDonalds cartons across the nearby children's playground. A group of youths are sat on the swings. The drizzle is falling, making everything wet and grey. In a week it will be Christmas Day.

The lift hasn't worked for years. The sixteen flights of filthy stairs take a good while. As he walks down, he's plenty of time to mull over the good days. The years when everyone knew his name. Tellytubbyland, the luxury of the Superdome. The fun they had. The games they played. The mischievous jokes of naughty Noo-noo. Such a way away. Before he'd been cast aside and abandoned, eeking out a miserable existence on a meagre BBC pension. Before their home had been bulldozed to the ground, sold to LOCOG as the site for the Olympic diving pool. Days long gone. Days when he still had someone who loved him.

The Post Office on the High Street is still open. A large sheet of chip board covers a broken window. On the sign above, someone's scrubbed out the 's' with a black marker pen and drawn a picture of a cannabis leaf underneath.

Tinky Winky sees none of this. His eyes find the small, type-written notice sellotaped to the glass on the inside of the door:

Please note the last day of postage for guaranteed Christmas delivery is 18th DECEMBER .
Thank you.

There's no queue at the counter. He reaches into his red bag and removes a green envelope. He slides it under the glass partition with a one pound coin and says, 'First class please', in his soft voice. One of two young ladies takes the envelope, applies the stamp and pushes it back with his change. He thanks her, turns around and heads for the exit. It's only a moment before he hears their sniggers. He glances in the mirror in the shop corner, catches sight of them nudging each other and playfully pointing at him behind his back. An object of amusement. He leaves through the door, stepping out onto the wet pavement.

He pushes the envelope into the letter box. He feels better now that this job is done. The only card he ever sends at Christmas.

The Salvation Army band are playing carols outside the empty shop that used to be Woolys. He stands and listens for a while. Smiles. Despite having no money to spare, he walks over and pushes his change into a collection box. 'God bless you, Sir,' says a man with a grey beard and military cap.

Chavs are gathered round the bench near the bus stop. He keeps his head low as he passes.

'What you looking at?' a young voice shouts.

A push. A shove. A punch. A fall.

He lays on the pavement for a while. Waits for the shock to recede. He no longer has the will to fight. No longer has the energy for anger. Eyes closed, he dreams of days long gone. Days when he still had someone who loved him.

'Dirty fucking perv!' a young voice shouts, and then they're gone.


He's sitting in the old chair by the electric fire, waiting. He's been sitting in the old chair by the electric fire all morning. Waiting.

He hears the metallic clink of the flap in the front door.

He walks unsteadily into the hallway and sees a green envelope on the welcome mat. The only card he ever receives at Christmas. He picks it up, clutches it to his chest and in all the darkness, there's a light in his eyes.

He stands for ages, lost in a life gone by.

Then, he walks back into the front room and puts the envelope on top of the gramophone.


In the front room, the table's set for two. In the corner, by the television, fairy lights flicker on an artificial tree. A green envelope lies, unopened, on top of the gramophone.

He brings just one plate through from the kitchen. A veritable feast of turkey, stuffing, parsnips, roast potatoes and veg. He places it on the table, lights a candle, opens a bottle of wine.

Sitting for a moment, he stares at the empty place setting and thinks of the Christmas guest he won't start his meal without.

He goes over to the gramophone, picks up the green envelope and returns to the table. Unsteady hands hold the envelope. He reads his name and address. Studies his own handwriting. Opens the same green envelope he posted a week ago.

Tinky Winky's Christmas guest.

There's a card inside. A card that he gives each year, now he's the only one who can. The last card he sent. A card he recieves each year and cherishes.

Tinky Winky's Christmas guest.

The message inside is short.

'To my darling Tinky Winky,
     Happy Christmas!
Remember, I will always love you,
                                           Dipsy xxx'

Tears roll down his face as he reads the card.

Tears roll down his face as he thinks of the only person he's ever loved.

Tears roll down his face as he remembers the phone call. The day when both their lives ended.

Dipsy's wife and children will pop round tomorrow like they have every Boxing Day since. He'll be glad they never knew. Her husband. Their father. A great man. My lover.

He takes a sip from the glass on the table. Thinks of the lie his lover lived with. Thinks of the lie his lover could no longer live with. Wonders if the pain in his chest will ever go away.

Tears roll down his face as he kisses the card and puts it on the empty place setting.

His Christmas dinner's getting cold.

'Happy Christmas, Dipsy,' he whispers through his tears. 'Remember. I will always love you.'

A very merry Christmas from The SJC!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Love Letters


There's a yellow document wallet at the bottom of the box. Its cardboard edges are dog-eared and scruffy. There's a white sticker stuck to the top flap with a word and a date written in faded felt-tip pen. 'AUSTRALIA 2000.'

I try to avoid digging through the past nowadays, but the contents of this wallet, stuck in the bottom of a box on a top shelf in a garage for the last decade, intrigue me. I'm curious, so I take a look.

There's a few momentos from a long-ago bike ride across a continent. No photographs, but bits and bobs I'd collected on my way as reminders of my journey. Leaflets from tourist attractions. Receipts from Outback roadhouses. A sew-on patch from Border Village. A certificate picked up in Norseman saying, 'I CROSSED THE NULLABOR!' I'm glad I looked through these things. For a while, I'm back there.

Eventually, all these little pieces of my life are scattered around me on the fire-side rug, and there's only one more thing remaining in the wallet. I take out the bulging brown foolscap envelope and rest it on my lap, wondering what it contains. Removing the contents, I'm pleasantly surprised. They're letters. Love letters. Love letters to someone I'd only just met. Love letters that I never sent. Love letters that only myself have ever read.

We pull up at the remote car-park, get out and stretch our legs. It's been a long drive from Saleby - not far off two hours. I guess it's this drive that's always put me off. It seems so far to come for such a short run.

It's easy to put things off till another time. Sometimes, it's only the action of others that make things happen. Without them, there's certain things you'd always save for another time, until, eventually, your time runs out and you've still not got round to them.

I'm glad Spurn Point wasn't one of these things.

Leon and myself had talked about running the Point for a while. I'd spent summer evenings on the Cleethorpes' seafront looking out to the remote headland thinking, 'I'd love to run along there some day.' I'd talked excitedly about the passage in Mike Parker's excellent book 'Map Addict', when he realises a long-held ambition to visit the Point since buying his first OS map - Grimsby and Cleethorpes, 1:50,000 - at the age of 7, simply because it contained this bizarre geographical anomoly :

"Driving down this tiny thread of land is like walking a tightrope in a gale. The concrete road is poor and rutted, with drifts of sand blocking the way and sea spume whacking your windscreen like a scorned lover. At times, the road is virtually all there is between the two banks of angry, choppy sea falling away on either side. There is no safety net. At the end of the spit are a few brutal government outposts: a lifeboat station, with Britain's only permanently sited crew, a lighthouse and the Vessel Traffic Service Centre, tracking the lumbering great tankers heading up the Humber to Immingham, whose Meccano-like gas terminals can be seen blazing across the muddy estuary. All are blasted by gale-force winds for most of the time. When Jim and I pitched up, it was a fine, calm day in dear old Brid, but by the time we got to the end of the Spurn, it took every ounce of shoulder power just to get the car doors open. We stood around on the beach for a while, until our eyeballs started to pop and tears were flowing from the whipping, sand-blasting laceration of the wind - all in all, about five minutes. It is one of the ugliest, rawest places of beauty I've ever experienced. And it is quite wonderful. Twenty years it had taken  from running my eager finger along my first Ordnance Survey to standing on the point itself, but it was worth every minute of the wait. We headed back to Brid, and I was a man fulfilled."

But that was as far as it went. It was just another thing that we'd, no doubt, get round to sometime.

Leon's phone-call on Friday night, however, had changed all that.
'What you doing on Sunday?' he said.
'Nothing now. The cross-country at Scunny's been cancelled,' I replied.
'Right. We're going to run Spurn Point,' he continued, 'I'll pick you up at 9.'

That was it, and now here we are.

There's a fierce excitement inside me as I pull on my running shoes and grab my camera. Like Mike Parker, I've waited a long time for this too.

We walk across the car-park, go through the gate to a sandy path and jog into a beautiful October morning.

I lean back against the legs of the settee and begin to read. 'Dear Tammy...'

I'd met Tammy in the middle of July. We'd spent five months wrapped up in a world where little else mattered outside the two of us. We'd talked, laughed, danced, shared ourselves, become half of each other.

And then I was gone.

Saying goodbye to Tammy at Heathrow was the hardest thing to do, but a two-month long solo bike trip across Australia beckoned. It was something I needed to do, and Tammy understood. She'd fly out to meet me at the end, but for eight long weeks we would be apart.

The letters are sentimental, romantic and embarrasing. Words best kept to myself. And as I read them, I'm aware that I never intended to send them, never intended for them to be read.

They weren't meant to be.

No- they served a different purpose. For an hour each night, as I lay in my one-man Terra Nova, the act of letter-writing brought Tammy into the tent with me. Whilst I wrote, she was real. She was there with me. For a short time each day, even though we were a world away, these love letters brought us together. A conversation, a fleeting hug and a lasting kiss fashioned from pen and paper.

Spurn Point is a narrow sand spit on the tip of the coast of the East Riding of Yorkshire that reaches into the North Sea and forms the north bank of the mouth of the Humber Estuary. It's nearly 4 miles in length, almost half the width of the estuary at that point, and as little as 50 yards wide in places.

Formed by materials washed down the coast by longshore drift and accumulating into a long, narrow embankment, Spurn Point's structure is maintained by plants, especially marram grass, which hold the sand and shingle banks together. Perpetually existing in a cycle of destruction and reconstruction, the Point is owned by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and is a designated National Nature Reserve. Renowned for its rich bird life, Spurn is unique - a fragile, beautiful natural wonder.


We run easily along a narrow path. On our left, the North Sea laps tamely against the shore. A fisherman maintains a lonely vigil, sitting on a box of equipment whilst attaching bait to a hook. On our right, the marram grass recedes, opening views of the Humber Estuary. The vast expenses of mud flats visible now, at low tide, are scarred by a channel of deep, black water. On the far shore, the ugly living monuments to the industrial heartland of North-East Lincolnshire - the gas refineries of Immingham, the cargo terminals of Killingholme - reflect the sun and seem strangely beautiful.



We're soon on the narrow, metalled road that runs the length of the Point. In the distance, the picture-postcard perfection of the Spurn's lighthouse is visible. Further still, a jetty extends into the estuary, lifeboats moored beside it. After that, there's nothing.


As I run, I sense, with a certain regret, that my year of dedicating myself to the byways of Lincolnshire is almost at an end. I look across the waters to my county and briefly reminisce on the adventures I've experienced that will stay with me forever. There's this feeling inside. This is more than running. I try to find the words that express the deep communion I've shared in the last months with the places that I've moved through. The feeling I've got right now. The words elude me for the moment - what is this I'm doing if it's more than running? - but I know that, in time, they'll come.

I chat for a while with Leon as we make our way towards the lighthouse. It seems fitting that my companion on so many of my Lincolnshire travels is with me today, I've grown, as a runner and a person, in his company this year, and I know that the forthcoming years will hold the promise of many more runs together.

We pause for a while at the lighthouse, abandoned since it was closed down at dawn on the 31st October 1986 to be replaced by Spurn's only remain lights - a flashing green starboard light on the very end of the point and the fixed green lights marking the end of the Pilot's jetty. We take some pictures, take in the architectural grandeur of this dying piece of Maritime history, and then continue our journey.

Towards the end of the Point, I'm surprised by the small settlement of dwellings nestled against the dunes near the jetty. I knew that Spurn was the UK's last remaining permanantly-manned lifeboat station, but I'd been unprepared for this neat, functional hamlet in this most isolated of locations. I wonder what life must be like for the six families that call this their home. The days when the spit's road is impassable due to the high tides or accumulations of wind-blown sand. The sixteen mile round trip to the nearest shop. Then, I look again at the panoramic views, the wild desolation of this beautiful place, and I realise that these families probably wouldn't have it any other way.

We lean against the jetty gate for a while and watch a lifeboat escort a nearby tanker into the estuary's channel. Then we jog through shallow dunes to the very tip of Spurn Point. There, we stand by the sea's edge. We feel the fierce salt-laced wind against our faces. We watch as strong currents create Van Gogh swirls on the water's surface. Then we stand some more, until, eventually, we look at each other and acknowledge that we're going to have to leave this most special of special places.





After I've read the letters, I carefully put them back in the envelope. Sliding it back in the cardboard wallet, I gather the reminders of this time and put them in too. I place the wallet in the box and take it back outside to the garage. Who knows when the love letters will be read again?

It's a beautiful October morning. While everyone's out, I sit on the patio with a mug of tea and enjoy the silence. I think of the box in the garage and wonder when was the last time I wrote a letter? In these days of web cams, social media, e-mails and texting, I struggle to remember. I used to be a great letter writer and, maybe for this reason, it makes me sad. It's something so special that has just been lost. I really didn't realise until now.

The camera's on the patio table. Idly, I call up its image store and flick through the photographs that I took on last weekend's Spurn Point run. As I look back on an amazing morning, an awareness grows in me. I sit back, take a swig of tea and smile.

I've spent the whole year writing love letters.

We run back along Spurn's northern shore. Past the lighthouse, birthday balloons, crumbling Victorian sea defences and playfully-scrawled messages in the sand.

Away from the tip of the Point, the wind subsides and I feel the heat of the Autumn sun. We move slowly, effortlessly, and I can't help but acknowledge that this, surely, is running in its purest form. Not once have I thought of time, pace or miles covered. Not once have I thought about 'aerobic endurance', 'oxygen debt' or 'lactic threshold'. Not once have I thought about the gadgets and gear that I seem to be forcefed every time I want to read about running on the internet or in a magazine.

No. I've just run.

And as I've run, I've been a part of my surroundings. As significant, as insignificant as the branches washed up on the shore, the beach's chalk boulders worn smooth by  a thousand years of the sea's carress, the shingle cliffs continually created and destroyed by the brutal and beautiful hands of this fierce friend we call Nature.

And as I've run, the words have come, like they always do on days like this. Words for the amazing, immediate world I move through. Sub-conscious. Stream of consciousness. Words that drift in, linger and then fade away. Words that will never be read, like letters to a lover.

I set out on January 1st to run the Tennyson Twenty, the first of Lincolnshire's long-distance paths in my grand plan - The Sixth Statement. As 2012 draws to a close, it would be easy to reflect on a year when my ambitions were frustrated and my dreams unrealised. It would be easy, but I don't. I can't.

The pessimism that's always been a part of me is, somehow, not quite there. It's been a year in which I've learnt valuable lessons. A year of balls of string, woodsheds, pivots and question marks. A year in which, for a change, the things I've achieved have not been outweighed by the things I've not. 1999 was the year I found the girl without whom I'd be nothing. 2012 was the year I found my home.

There's always new corners to explore, and explore them I shall, but can they ever be as special as the places you call home? I doubt it. I picture Spurn Point on a fine Autumn morning, the Nettleton valley on a snowy Winter's day, the paths between Hatcliffe and Rothwell on a frosty February evening, the sky clear, the moon just a crescent. I remember the runs through the Wolds, the two hours running into a blizzard at the end of the Lindsey Trail and the sun rising after a long night on the Viking Way. I think, not of the handful of paths I've still to run, but of the 23 it's been my privilege to complete. And as I do, I think of the love letters I've written.

For, as I ran each path, I composed a love letter. Words, not written. Words that only existed in my head. Words that came as I moved through my surroundings, drifting in, lingering and fading away. Sub-conscious. Stream of consciousness. Words in praise of the fields, the hedgerows and the rolling hills. Love letters to the footpaths, farm tracks and country roads that make my home.

I'll need no envelope for these letters. No cardboard boxes on dusty garage shelves. Instead, I'll carry them with me - a part of me - binding me to my favourite places - words of love for these places that mean the world to me.


On January 1st, I held an image of what the year's last day would bring. I'd run wearily up Rose Lane and reach my door, a mid-winter Lindsey Loop trip at an end. I'd wallow in the glorious discomfort that 96 miles had rewarded me with and be filled with the pride that finishing the last of the planned LDP's had brought. The Sixth Statement complete.

Now I know the scene is going to play out differently.

On New Year's Eve, there's no doubt I'll run my favourite paths. I'll jog up Rose Lane, alive as the day dies. I might sit on the step for a bit. Listen to the sounds of the superheroes' games and the hum of a happy family inside.

And then, I think, I might get up and do something that I never do. Instead of going indoors, I'll walk to the end of the drive. I'll lean on the gate and watch 2012's last daylight moments. I'll watch as the sun sets behind the Wolds and colours the sky a deep shade of red. A red as bold as a love heart. I'll remember the good times I've had whilst moving through these places so simply. One foot in front of the other. A breath. A heartbeat.

Then, just before the night takes hold and smothers out the year like extinguishing a candle, I'll cherish the love letters I've written in the months gone by, and savour the expectation of the ones I've still to write.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

No.23: The Silver Lincs Way - Scartho Link

The fifth and final link loop of The Silver Lincs Way, this starts and finishes in Scartho, taking in field paths and farm tracks on a flat route via Barnoldby-le-Beck.

Sunday 25th November, 9 miles

Into gale force headwinds on the path from Scartho

Into Bradley Gairs


Run-off from the fields

Soft going towards Manor Top Farm

A run and a jump


Lonely, unloved

Field path to Barnoldby Woods

Fast running to the road



Local history lesson

Full dykes

Finally...a glimpse of blue.

The overnight weather had been rough, but I was still surprised when, en route to the Market Rasen 10k, the news came through that it had been cancelled. A swift rethink wasn't difficult. There was only one of the short Lincolnshire LPDs to complete, and so it was to Scartho that I headed.

The last couple of months have been full of good running. Everything's coming together. Most weekends I've raced over short distances, and I've enjoyed it. But my mind keeps wandering to the days I've spent on the Lincolnshire paths during the year. The Sixth Statement isn't made yet, but it will be.

As I spent an hour on these muddy tracks this morning, embracing the challenge of the wind, rain and mud, I saw no other runner. The paths were mine. It was then that I realised that it's days like this - runs like this - that make me.

I'm not sure what the future holds. But I know that my beloved Lincolnshire paths will always be there. And I know I'll never be far away.