Sunday, 29 July 2012

No. 20: Vermuyden Way

Starting and finishing in Belton, this looped route follows an elongated circuit along the artificial watercourses and low hills of the Isle of Axholme, much of which was marshland prior to the intervention of Cornelius Vermuyden, a Dutch land drainage engineer of the 17th century.

Sunday 29th July, 20 miles

Start at Belton

Narrow gaps

Windmill, Epworth



Des res

Mill country

Grassy tracks to Low Burnham

Perfect running

Cutting through the crops

Upcoming attractions

Approaching Haxey


Back garden ...

...llama farm!

Greenholme Bank out of Westwoodside

On the bank from Tunnel Pits

South Engine Drain

Passing by Stockholes Turbary

Under the motorway

Don't fall off!

Arches over Folly Drain

Slow-moving runner vs. fast-moving traffic

Skirting the M180

Back to Belton

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Woodshed

“When a jazz musician comes wailing out of the gate, spinning riffs and complex runs, fellow musicians will appreciatively murmur: “Cat’s been shedding!” Alternately, when a player’s ego outmatches his technique, his peers may suggest he spend more time in the woodshed. Woodshedding is the nuts-and-bolts part of jazz, the place where you work out the techniques that form the foundation of your improvisational ability.

The term woodshedding in jazz means more than just practicing. It is a recognition of the need to sequester oneself and dig into the hard mechanics of the music before you can come back and play with a group in public. There’s something philosophical, almost religious, about the term. The musical treasures of jazz are not easily accessed. You have to dig deep into yourself, discipline yourself, become focused on the music and your instrument, before you can unlock the treasure chest.”

-Paul Klemperer

Wikipedia defines it as:
'The mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and success in the process of the activity.'

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book about it in the '90s. He described it as a completely focused motivation - a single-minded immersion which represents, perhaps, the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. Emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized and aligned with the task at hand. Its hallmark is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.

US ultra-runners use the term a lot. They use other terms too to describe the same thing: in the moment; in the zone; on a roll; cooking on gas; on fire.

It's what The Art Of Empty Miling is entirely based on.

It's The Flow.

If you're a runner, you know The Flow. Those times when you lose yourself. Some find it on a fast road run. Some during a session of 400m repeats. I find it on the trails. In the mountains. In empty miles.

At least, I did. Because, at the moment, it's gone. Without The Flow, there's a big hole in my life. I've waited for it to come back. Waited too long. And now, I've a feeling that it's not going to happen. Instead, I need to start again. I need to find it, rediscover it. I need to spend some time in The Woodshed.

I posted a status update on my club's Facebook page a couple of days ago:
'After years of conditioning, I am finally ready to embark upon the next journey. It is long, arduous and fraught with dangers. Its path is clear, but its destination uncertain.'

Over the top? I know. Melodramatic? But that's how I feel right now. My search for The Flow is but a small part of this journey, but I shall be making it from the refuge of The Woodshed. I suspect I'll be there for some time. When I return, I'll be happier. I'll be a better person. I'll be a better runner.

I'd looked forward to this year for so long. My grand statement. The fact that it's all gone wrong has taken some dealing with. The fault lies both within and outside of myself. Maybe I set myself unrealistic goals? That's almost certain. Whilst I know I can run 100 miles in a week with few negative effects, the Viking Way Ultra and its aftermath proved to me that there's no way I can handle single-journey runs of 100+ miles each month. My body just isn't ready. Am I too old? Not tough enough? Not sure. But certain injuries have developed into longer-term problems that have scuppered my dreams.

The Lincolnshire footpaths will be travelled - that is certain. What I'm also sure of now is that the project won't be complete before the end of the year. My hope - the thought that sustains me - is that once I've rediscovered The Flow, when I take the final steps of The Sixth Statement next year, I'll feel amazing.

The Woodshed's not a bad place to go. It's not a room of torture. It's a place of enlightenment. What happens in there will dictate the direction my empty miles take for the rest of my life.

Now is the right time. I'm ready to go.

I'll enter The Woodshed with a slate wiped clean. I've abandoned all plans to race for the time being. Aside from travelling the Lincolnshire footpaths, I will put aside any plans for future challenges. Although I'm sure there will be challenges in the future, since it is in those that The Flow is most truely represented, their nature will be determined by what I find in The Woodshed.

In The Woodshed I shall start from scratch. Freed from the pressure of races, events or challenges, I will use an intuitive approach with my running. I'll use no set training guidelines, no watch, no mileage log. Each day, I'll do what feels right. No doubt, I'll make mistakes and have to start afresh, but I'm confident that by the time I leave The Woodshed, I'll have rediscovered a type of 'running' that inspires me and a method of doing it that enables me to do my very best. I've a feeling that this may involve travelling by foot over long distances, exploring wild places most runners don't go. But I carry no preconceptions. It is equally likely that I'll emerge with a burning desire to run fast 10k's on the road. Only time will tell.

I'll spend much of my time in The Woodshed by myself. Although I won't turn my back on my club or friends, it's important that I use this time to learn and grow, and that's best done alone.

The days are long. The Woodshed is inviting. The Flow is inside - I just need to find it. But find it I will, and who knows what else I'll discover inside?

I open the door. Step inside. Close the door behind me.  

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Sound Of Fire (Part One): Four Songs By Gary Barlow


'Take a look at the Banksia seedpod and you'll wonder how the seeds are supposed to get out. The seeds are safely stored inside. When a fire sweeps through the area, the heat from the fire makes the seedpods open and the seeds fall out, ready to germinate in the ash. Even if the fire kills the plant that makes the seeds, the seeds will provide a new generation of that species in the area.'

from 'Fire - Both good and bad for the Australian Bush',

Pray, July 1993

I'm sitting at the formica table in the kitchen, surrounded by planning sheets and assessment files. End of term. In a month's time, I'll have finished my first full year of teaching and I'll be a married man. My life's on track. I'm meeting expectations.

DLT's on the radio, but One FM on a Saturday morning is crap.

I've the best intentions to get work done, but my eyes keep being drawn to the window of the gym opposite. I've bumped into the blonde girl who runs the place a few times on nights out and we've drunkenly flirted with one another. She's looking across. She catches my eye, waves, blows a kiss and laughs. I wave back, but I'm embarassed now and move all my stuff to the back room, spreading paperwork all over the cheap, leather-effect sofa and switching on The Chart Show.

I can't concentrate. I think of the girl from the gym and of The Australian Girl's friend who I ended up snogging on the night of our engagement party. It's not something I'm proud of. Our wedding's in three weeks, but do we love each other?

The Chart Show proclaims the new video from Take That. Our Alli likes Take That, but their throw-away pop, manufactured image and second-rate covers are everything I despise. The new song's called 'Pray'. It's about the break-up of a relationship. A premonition. I can't help but watch.

'All I do each night is pray
 Hoping that I'll be a part of you again some day.'

I ring Our Alli after I've watched it. She tells me the boys' names. Tells me that the blond one - Gary Barlow - writes the songs. We talk for a while, and, after we're done, I lie on the sofa with 'Pray' in my head on a constant chorus loop. And another sound too - an indistinct background noise that always troubles me in the quiet times between wakefulness and sleep. I close my eyes, wait for The Australian Girl to arrive back from work, wait for that moment in the future when our lives will fall apart.

                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

I'm sitting at the formica table in the kitchen. There's a photograph album on the table. It's two weeks since I heard 'Pray' for the first time. It's minutes since I spoke my last words to The Australian Girl from the top of the outside stairwell. It's seconds since she closed the door to the downstairs yard and brought to an end the four years of 'us'.

I pull the photograph album towards me and open it. I want to see her face. I want to torture myself with images of us, smiling, in love. But the pictures are gone. Every photograph of her is gone. All the pictures of us together are gone. What remains is a document of loneliness.

Cracks appear. I'm breaking.

I sit at the formica table for a very long time, not moving, until the day becomes dark. The sound in my head amplifies. The sound of fear. The sound of desperation. A sound I've carried with me, pushed away since I was a little boy. I close my eyes and listen to the small voice that's pleading with me. But, try as I might, I can't make out the words. When I can take it no more, I go into the back room, push the video into the recorder, turn on the tele and watch 'Pray'.

'And the nights were always warm with you,' Gary Barlow sings,
'Holding you right by my side.
 Now the morning always comes too soon,
 Before I even close my eyes.'

I sit in front of the tele, cross-legged, with a bottle of wine. Each time the video finishes, I press REWIND and watch again.

The next time I look out of the window, it's morning.

Back For Good, February 1995

It was supposed to be a romantic few days in Paris, but My Narcoleptic Girlfriend got mixed up and booked a weekend in Amsterdam instead. After getting off the train at the Central Station, we're on a tram - standing room only - surrounded by luggage, on our way to the hotel at the far end of the main tourist drag. As the carriage rattles along and I hang onto the overhead plastic loop, I'm met with a hefty body blow. I look round and see that Nat's fallen asleep. I prop her up on my bags as best as I can and hope that I'll be able to wake her when we eventually reach our stop.

A few hours later, we're sat in a seedy coffee shop. It's a relief to sit down after spending the afternoon trawling the city centre branches of McDonalds, fuelling Nat's compulsion for French Fries. She seemingly eats nothing else. I'd questioned how she kept so slim as she'd downed her eighth cardboard carton-full of the afternoon, and she'd replied, quite matter of factly, 'Oh - it's ok. I just make myself sick afterwards.' Then she'd wiped her lips, leant over and given me a kiss.

A young bloke comes over and gives us the menu. I open it up and examine the different varieties of weed and skunk on offer. It means nothing to me. I've never touched cannabis, never smoked a cigarette, have no intentions to. All I want is a cup of sweet tea. I do my best to make it seem like I know what I'm doing and then tell the waiter, 'I think I'll leave it mate. But a beer would be good for my friend, and I'll have a cup of tea.' He looks at me with a weary gaze that translates as 'here's another one of those Brit tourist wankers', and makes an attempt at an insincere smile. Before he leaves the table, a silver tiered stand on the counter catches my eye. 'I'll have a piece of that special cake over there too,' I tell him, 'No, best make that two.'

I'm not so naive as to not know what 'special cake' is made of, but I was a little unaware of how much of the 'special ingredients' a typical recipe contains. One piece might have been ok, but I'd forgotten, momentarily, that My Narcoleptic Girlfriend only eats French Fries, so I end up eating her piece too.

We have the obligatory gawp round the red light district and go back to our hotel. While Nat sits on the bed and switches on the tele, I lay back and close my eyes, feeling decidedly unwell.

I awake sometime later to the sound of  what seems like running water. Lying still for a moment, I try to ascertain where it's coming from. The bathroom? Had I started to run a bath before I lay down? It seems probable, but I can't remember - my head's all over the place. Visions of an overflowing bath, flood damage, collapsing ceilings make me jump off the bed and run into the bathroom. There's no running water. But the sound continues. That sound. The sound of fear. The sound of desperation. The sound of loneliness.

I'm freaking out.

I sit on the bed and look at Nat. She's flat out with her mouth open, perfectly still. Too still. I look carefully to see if she's breathing and then blind panic sets in.

She's dead.

Have I killed her?

What the fuck should I do?

I only know how to run. I get up, pack my bag and make for the door. As I turn the handle before leaving, I have second thoughts. I go back to the bed and give her a shove.


I do it again.


I've lost it. I push her again and again, shout her name over and over.

She wakes with a start. 'You're so wierd,' she sighs and sits up.

I perch on the end of the bed with my head against my knees, trying to make sense of what's going on.

There's just the sound of the television for a moment until Nat touches me on the shoulder and says, 'Chris - I'm starving. Do you fancy going out for French Fries?'

                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

The Brit Awards are on when I arrive at Our Kid's Nottingham flat a couple of days later. I've no sooner dumped my bag and sat down when his landline rings. He answers it and passes the earpiece over. 'It's your girlfriend,' he says, rolling his eyes.

'Ey-up,' I say.

'Chris,' she replies, 'Have you got my hair dryer in your bag?'

'I'll have a look,' I tell her. I put the phone down, wait a few seconds and pick it back up. 'No, I've had a good look through - it's not there.'

'Oh,' she goes. 'I must have left it at the train station. Could you nip down and have a look for me?'

'Nat,' I say. 'That's Stoke train station you're on about. I'm in Nottingham.'

There's silence on the phone. 'Oh yeah,' she goes. 'Oh, hold on - I've found it. Bye!'

She hangs up.

I give the phone back to Our Kid. 'That girl,' I tell him, 'That girl is fucking mad!'

I fill him in on the ins and outs of the Amsterdam trip and we settle down for the evening's highlight - the first public performance of Take That's new single, 'Back For Good'. Over the last 18 months, I've begun to understand the songwriting genius of Mr Barlow. 'That guy,' I'll tell anyone who'll listen, 'is our greatest living composer. As good as Paul McCartney. No, better!'

I've high expectations, but all of these are surpassed as the performance starts. The first line is immaculate.

'I guess now it's time for me to give up.'

Resignation. Defeat. Melancholy. A perfect start to the perfect pop song.

We both watch, entranced.

I look over at Our Kid once it's done. 'Wow!'

Our Kid nods and smiles.

'Did you hear that line?' I say.

'What line?' he says back.

'"In the twist of separation, you excelled at being free
 Can't you find a little room inside for me?" Jesus, who writes lines like that in a pop song?'

I get up, root through my bag for my journal and write it down so I don't forget.

We've watched the performance back a few times by the time I'm laid on Our Kid's sofa in my sleeping bag. I'm tired. The sound's returned. What is that sound? I hum 'Back For Good' in an effort to subdue it. Will I ever love someone so much that I'd write a song so beautiful to woo them back? I think. Maybe, but it's not happened so far. There's a girl waiting I'm sure. I don't know where she is, but she knows it too. Coincidence will bring us together. And then we'll climb the hill. Make our paradise. Once we're there, I'll be strong enough.

Never Forget, July 2012

There's Chris Moyles on the radio. He's making an announcement, but you can hardly hear his voice over the din of the factory's packing line. I'm keeping busy. I need to. Things have been different in the last few days. In the days since Tam arrived at work that morning and burst into tears. Told me that a friend had gone.

The sound has become louder. It's with me all the time. It scares me, wears me down.

One of the lads shouts out, 'Ey - he's off!' We all stand and listen to the DJ telling the nation that he's leaving the breakfast show in September. He's coming to an end.
'I'll never forget the eight years I've spent on the show. Thankyou to all of you.'

There's a moment of silence, and I know what song he's going to play. Just know it.

A choirboy sings the opening lines. Take That, 'Never Forget'. A sublime song - nearly as good as 'Back For Good'. I think briefly of the drunken arguments with Cainey over each song's merits - he was always a 'Never Forget' man, while I was firmly in the other camp. Time, though, has shifted my opinion. Nowadays, I'm hard pressed to choose between the two. Both are masterpieces.

Of course, I know all the words, but this morning they resonate with a force I've never felt before.

A single couplet that I've barely noticed before slays me.

'Finding a paradise wasn't easy,
 But still
 There's a road going down the other side of this hill.'

I think of the first time I thought of her. On the sofa at Our Kid's. The Brits night. 'Back For Good'. Coincidence was kind. And now I'm at the top. My wife. My superheroes. My Paradise.

While the song plays, everything becomes clear. But still the sound won't go away. The sound won't stop. The sound of fear, desperation, loneliness.

Never forget where you've come here from.

The sound of fire.

I take a breath and close my eyes. I see the flames. A forest is burning. The flames are near. I've run away from them for a lifetime. And now's the time to stop. Running any further only takes me further down the hill. I don't want to go there.

Never forget where you've come here from.

What will happen if I stop? If I stand still and let the flames embrace me? Will I be destroyed or will my soul scatter new seeds whilst my earthly body is burnt away?

I have a vision of what will be. What must happen. And, it does.

The flames are upon me. I stand perfectly still, arms outstretched, and the fire takes me. I burn until there's nothing left.

The soil absorbs my goodness. The badness is scorched away.

A seed grows. Time-elapsed, fast forward, years and years in a part of a second.

I stand again, the same, but different. New growth. Stronger than before.

The sound of fire dies away. I've lived with it for so many years, but now it's gone. I know what I must do. I know how difficult it will be, how it will make me feel. I know how I'll disappoint so many who look up to me. I know how people I love and respect will turn away, unable to look at me. And that hurts, because I've spent a lifetime making people see me - afraid, so afraid of being invisible.

The path is clear, but the destination is uncertain. My journey starts here. It starts with this fire.

The first step. I feel like crying.

And now I need to find someone. Someone I last saw nearly forty years ago. A scared little boy. A little boy I've ignored all my adult life. A little boy who's pleas have been drowned out by the sound of fire.

But the sound's gone now, little boy. I'm looking. I'm listening. Talk to me. Come to me. Please.

Sing, July 2012

The end-of-term talent show's been ace. Lightning's wowed us with his street dance crew, and Whirlwind has whipped up a hurricane with her skipping display.

Now we're waiting for the finale. 'Year 6 - Sing,' the programme says. 'Year 6 sing what?' I'm thinking as the older kids assemble on the stage.

Finally, they're all still. The teacher nods to the helper on the stereo system, and the music starts. It's 'Sing' they're singing - the tune that Barlow wrote with Lloyd-Webber for the Diamond Jubilee. I've heard it on the radio a hundred times, even watched the TV documentary on its making, but the song itself has failed to touch me in the way that other great Barlow compositions tend to.

Until now.

A young lad starts. 'Some words should not be spoken, but be sung.' It's perfect. I'm knocked out.

I look at those kids on the stage. Those kids singing 'words of love.' Those kids looking forwards towards the audience, towards their parents and siblings, towards the rest of their lives. What is that future going to bring? In who's hands does it lie? Which ones only see sunshine? How bright was the sun when I was their age?

I think of our superheroes. How much I love them. How much I look out for them. What would happen if someone took their sunshine away.

The performance is soon over. We stand and wait to shuffle towards the aisles and the exit doors.

It's then that I hear his voice. Such a small voice.

'Why can't anyone see me?'

I turn towards the stage and I see him. A little blond boy. He sits on the edge, dangles his legs. Black pumps, blue shorts and a brown and white knitted jumper.

'Why can't anyone see me?' he pleads.

I look at him and he looks at me. I wipe away a tear, and then he's gone.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Favourite Recipes

You know how it is. Sometimes you do everything just right. The best ingredients, plenty of preparation, loads of time. What you make should be great - and, now and again, it is. But most of the time, you'll probably end up underwhelmed with the result.

Other times, it's different. Rushing from one of life's dramas to the the next, you don't stop to think. You bung a few things together, mix them up and the end result is something ace. That, my friend, was the weekend. A tasty treat. A little nibble of something so good, it fills you up for ages. Another delight for my Little Book of Favourite Recipes.

You might want to try it:

1. one old friend
2. one new friend
3. a 20 year-old Ford Transit camper van

4. a generous sprinkling of Lakeland fells
5. a monumental low-pressure weather front
6. near-zero visibility

Finally, sprinkle with:
7. a month's average rainfall in 24 hours

And season with:
8. jelly babies
9. cold pizza, and
10. beer.

What you'll make will be amazing. I promise.

It'd been a busy week at work. Although the trip to the Lakes with Leon had been planned for a couple of weeks, I'd barely had time to really think about it. The phone-call on Thursday, though, had focused my attention nicely. Leon's original plan for a lift up to Cumbria had fallen through, but he'd managed to sort something else out at short notice. Rory, his brother-in-law, would take us.

'Does he live round here?' I'd asked.

'No,' Leon had replied, 'He'll drive up from Brighton in his old camper. Reckons he'll be able to do a bit of work on it while he's waiting for us to come off the hills.'

Brighton to Cumbria - the length of England in an old camper van. Some journey.

'You'll like Rory,' Leon had continued, and I'd had the feeling, straight away, that he could be right.

The drive up had been a good one. We'd rattled along in the old bus, made good time, and dropped the odd comment like, 'The weather doesn't look as bad as the forecast.'

Now we're sat at Dunmail, looking up towards the top of Steel Fell. It's raining steadily, but the summit's clear. A fierce wind blows cloud down the valley, and the Helvelyn ridge alternates between being buried in dark, foreboding clag, and being exposed in half-hearted sunshine.

Rory makes a roll-up and shakes his head, smiling, as Leon and myself get geared up. A long haul over Leg 3 to Wasdale beckons. We have, however, pre-prepared a bail-out. Rory's had his instructions to drive round to Langdale's Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and wait for a while before heading round to Wasdale. If the weather really comes in, we could drop down from the Langdale Pikes or take the Rossett Ghyll path down to the pub. I hate hedging my bets - not having a wimp-out option means you've no choice but to finish what you've started. However, experience has taught me that it's always the best idea, especially if the conditions are forecast so foul.

Waterproofs on and backpack straps pulled tight, we bid our fareweels to a bemused Rory and head over the stile to start the slog up Steel Fell. It's a short, steep climb - usually a killer when attempting it fresh from 4 hours of sitting down - but, today, it seems kinder. The weather looks likely to clear. Grasmere opens up to the left of us, and, before long, we're at the top and slopping across the boggy path to Calf Crag.

It's turning into a great day. We're making good progress and looking forward to ticking off the tops. By the time we hit High Raise though, things are looking more serious. The cloud we're in now is in for the day, visibility's gone, and the heavens have opened. Thurnacar Knott ('at least it's not cold!'), Harrison Stickle ('I wish the clag would lift a bit!') and Pike O'Stickle ('I'm glad I packed my winter gloves!') pass at a good rate, and now we're onto the long trek towards Rossett Pike. We stick to the path in an effort to avoid the inevitable bogs that Martcrag Moor will offer us, but it's a long way round and it feels it. When we eventually bag the summit, the minutes we'd saved early on are gone and we've added some. It's grim out there. Visibility's next to nothing and as soon as I stop, I'm immediately cold. Leon doesn't say a lot, but I guess he's thinking the same as me. If we drop down here, we'll be sat in the pub in an hour, dry, warm and supping a pint. It's a game of nerves. Who will crack first? Who-ever does, it won't take anything for the other to agree. Who is strong? Who is weak?

Of course, the words are left unsaid by both of us. We run down, across the path that could deliver us from our ordeal, and on in the direction of Bowfell and Billy Bland's Rake. This diagonal traverse is straight-forward enough in good weather, but a different matter in clag. Today's easily the worst conditions in which I've attempted it. We make tentative progress, trying to locate the rough cairns that mark the indistinct path. Before long, however, that feeling rears its head - this doesn't feel right. We're off the path and heading for Type 2 fun. I've picked a line that's climbed too quickly, rather than traversing further round, and soon we're on the summit plateau but a little disorientated. My GPS tells me we're close to the main path between Bowfell and Ore Gap, but, try as we will, we can't find it. At the time, it seems as though we were searching blindly for an eternity. In reality, it was probably 10 minutes. But the weather's got us. The wild wind. Unrelenting rain. Terrible visibility. I'm shivering, pissed off, and can't help but crack first.

'Leon - how about we get down to Angle Tarn - it's down there somewhere - and run down to the ODG?'

He doesn't argue.

We head down a steep gulley, unsure really of exactly we're going except down. Once I'm moving, the shivering soon stops, but the rocky steps are treacherous. I clamber down like an upside down spider, trying to keep as low to the ground as possible. A fall here might not be pleasant.

I'm concentrating - carefully does it - but, in a fraction of a second, I lose my footing and I'm off. Careering uncontrollably down a wet, rocky gulley on your arse isn't fun, especially when you're not sure what's below. I rattle down, thrown this way and that, my pack protecting my back, and desperately try to dig a foot in to stop my unwanted progress.

Funny things go through your mind at times like this. It wasn't my life that flashed before me, it was an old plastic Coke bottle with its label removed and a tiny sticker of a strawberry put in its place. On a footpath run months ago, Whirlwind had stuck this on a bottle I'd tucked into my pack. It had been a good day, and, for no real reason, I'd taken it on every long run I'd done with a pack since then. My lucky strawberry bottle. As it comes out of the side pocket and bounces down the gulley in front of me, all I can think is - If I lose my lucky bottle, I'm fucked.

The bottle bounces on. So do I. Then it stops, lodged between two slabs of rock. Before I know it, I stop too, lodged between the same two slabs. I reach out for the bottle, open it and take a drink. My lucky strawberry bottle. After a bit, I get up and try and pick out Leon further up the hill. He catches up, smiling. 'That was close mate!' he says, as we both start laughing in relief.

Our luck's turned. In a few minutes, we're greeted to the sight of choppy water through the mist, like Avalon in a Hollywood King Arthur movie. Angle Tarn. Thank God.

Half-an-hour later, we're splashing along the Cumbria Way, discussing the next possible disaster. The rain's killed Leon's mobile and mine's got no signal - all attempts to phone Rory and tell him to hang on before heading into Wasdale have been scuppered. We face an expensive taxi ride or a long wait for him to get back round to us. Of course, if he's already in Wasdale - a notorious mobile signal blackspot - there's no chance we'll get hold of him. We're still upbeat, but only just.

'Rory's always late!' says Leon as we open the gate and walk round the bend to the ODG carpark. As we scan the scene, more in hope than realistic expectation, we know we're onto a long shot. He should have left a good hour ago. We spot a white Transit at the top end of the carpark, but quickly realise it's not the one we want. Dejected, we traipse on. And then - there! - in a spot by the road, we're blessed with a sight that immediately dispels the misery of the last 2 hours. Rory's old Transit van. Tatty. A little rust on the sills. A roof that leaks a bit. Our salvation.

There's a voice behind us. Rory walks out of the pub. 'Alright guys! Sorry - I'm a bit late getting off. Got caught up doing a bit of work on the van.'

I want to run up and hug him, but hugging folks you've only met hours previously is frowned upon, so I don't. Instead, we fall into the back of the van, put on dry clothes and tell tales from the day that are already becoming exagerated, in the manner that all tall tales should. Leon finds a couple of cold pizzas that he'd ordered the night before and brought along, especially for a moment like this, and Rory digs into the fridge and pulls out a couple of bottles of Stella. An old friend. A new friend. An old Transit camper van. Together in a pub carpark at the end of a dead-end road. We watch the rain lash the Langdale Valley, eat our cold pizza, drink our cold beer. Life doesn't get much sweeter.

I think of words that Yiannis Tridimas once said. I can't remember whether I heard him say them, had someone relate them to me, or simply read it on the Forum. 'Sitting on a fold-up chair at Dunmail Raise - drinking tea and eating a bacon sandwich - having just completed a long run over the Bob Graham Round, is better than dining in the finest restaurant.'

I'm smiling as I remember this. If tea and a butty at Dunmail is the perfect breakfast, then beer and cold pizza in the shadow of the Langdale Pikes has to be the perfect lunch?

I look around. At my two buddies. At the pile of dirty wet clothes on the floor of the van. At the two pairs of trashed fell shoes by the sliding side door.

And surely this recipe for a weekend - if this is what it's made - surely this recipe is as near as perfect too?

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

No.19: The Lincolnshire Wolds 'Black Death' Challenge Walk

Over the last 45 years, John Merrill has walked over 200,000 miles - the equivalent of 10 times around the world. He has completed a remarkable and unequalled number of marathon walks, including being the first person to walk around Britain - 7000 miles - in 10 months. He has walked across Europe, Africa, India, Nepal, Asia, America, and along the great trails of America and Canada. He has also completed many Pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela, Canterbury, Walsingham and Tronheim in Norway.

He has written more than 340 guidebooks to his walks. The Lincolnshire Wolds 'Black Death' Challenge Walk is one of these routes.

The route starts and finishes at Louth's 'Cathedral of the Wolds' - St. James church - and takes in North and South Elkington, Kelstern, Burgh-on-Bain, Donnington-on-Bain, Withcall and Raithby. Rich in history, the route also passes the sites of 7 Medieval villages, mostly depopulated as a result of the Black Death.

Saturday 30th June, 26 miles 

Ready for the off at St. James'...

...with some welcome company

Can't see the water for the trees

Welcoming Committee

A picture of Summer, South Elkington

Full of wood

Out of North Elkington

Good running to Kelstern

Rolling hills

On the Loop towards The Viking Way

Threatening skies

The road from Girsby Top

Brightening up

Ey-up Belmont!


Field path to Biscathorpe

La-La Land

Hop on

Under surveillance, Stenigot


The long road to the spire...

...goes on and on

Leaving Withcall

Almost back

Over the Lud in Hubbards Hills

Pleased as punch