running british literature

once or twice a year, i end up in england on business. while over here, i try to make the best of the trip and get out to see some friends, participate in a race or just run/ride through the countryside. this time around, i started off the trip with a little race in new hampshire before flying across the pond. having worked hard last weekend, i wasn’t sure how i’d be feeling this weekend, but in the off chance that the legs still felt like being abused, i brought gear. i packed my osprey trail pack, amphipod hand-held, sleeping bag liner, headlamp and salomon xt-wings. i was prepared to get frisky with the english peak district.
earlier in the week, i went out for a couple runs and was pleased to experience fresh legs. with those couple of successful runs under my belt, i made plans for something epic. i set plans in motion to go for a long trail run along the pennine way. i would have one of the lads from the office drop me off in crowden, where i’d pick up the trail, and head north. depending on pace and effort, i planned on putting in about 15-20 miles on friday evening and running past sunset. i had plans to just drop down into the grass [it's oh-so comfy out there] and sleep for a couple hours. i’d get up as the sky got light and head back out, running about 10-15 miles all the way back to the hotel.
the start went off without a hitch. david, one of the lads from the office, had taken me by a shop to load up on food and i was all set with a couple sandwiches, some bread and shropshire blue and a huge hunk of parkin. i trotted up out of crowden, climbing the huge bluff looking down on the valley below and made my way into the wild. every few minutes, i came across sheep grazing. mostly young lambs with the mothers, but also the occasional ram. as i ran along, i was constantly reminded of their presence; the baa-ing echoing up out of the valley below.
the trail wound along a steep cliff and continued to take me up higher and higher. every climb was a low angle, though and not steep enough to really see the length of the climb or what the summit would like like. eventually the route topped out somewhat in a high depression. the trail wandered along a stream, but then started moving into what appeared to be a bog.
whether the trail truly died or if i just wasn’t paying attention, at one point i found myself wading through black peat. it was completely un-runnable, and each step i took sunk in well up to the calf. i carefully picked my way along, trying to stick to clumps of grass and trying to spot any area that appeared to be more worn or traveled than another. i scouted around and memories came to me of characters in books getting lost in the moors or wandering through the bogs in middle earth. it became quickly apparent how easy it would be to get lost out here, or to get stuck. i continue to gingerly navigate my way towards where i thought i needed to go, marveling at the terrain that was completely new to me.
eventually, i spotted what looked like a trail and before i knew it, i was back on the pennine way proper. at this point, volunteers had lain slabs of limestone, end to end, to create a wonderfully textured path. i hopped a fence that marked the end of the bog area and followed the trail up a wonderfully dark hill. the trail topped out at a spot aptly named ‘black hill’. the wind was brisk and being quite wet from perspiration, i stopped only long enough to snap a couple of shots. it was absolutely beautiful, though. it reminded me of some of the remote, high desert areas in california; bridgeport, bodie. only here there was life, everywhere. sheep grazed, grasses grew, birds scattered as i ran. i even spotted a momma, poppa and two baby grouse crossing the trail.
england’s green and pleasant land, indeed.
from black hill, the trail dropped elevation and eventually crossed a motorway, depositing me into the wessenden reservoir area. the trail continued to drop down and i made a mental note that i was going to have to climb back up that again at some point. the trail wound through a section of countryside where huge caverns had been carved in the earth by running water. i could hear it echoing up from the black areas. strange bird sounds echoed across this area and i could easily see how someone wandering through here could come up with fantastical creatures and mythical stories.
into the reservoir area, i started seeing mountain bikers and the occasional walker. i figured i was nearing the m62 and a more populated area. the trail hooked up with a dirt road for a while, but then cut back off onto the customary singletrack. after a tough climb up out of a deep canyon, the trail met with a radio antenna on a hillside. it offered a great vantage looking down on the reservoirs and trail below. the sounds of the sheep baa-ing echoed up again. it was about 8pm at this point, so i decided to take a break and eat some dinner.
i chowed on one of my sandwiches, had a little of the cheese [mmm, it smelled like feet but it tasted like heaven!] and then finished off the meal with a couple bites of the parkin. oh, man, was that good. it was like a spice cake with molasses added in. it was moist, flavorful and went down easy. i think i discovered my new long-run solid food favorite. i waited a bit for the food to settle and then headed on. within another mile or so, i hit the m62 and decided to go ahead and turn around. if i ran part way back, i’d hit about 15-17 miles and that’d be a good start, leaving about 13-15 miles for saturday morning.
i turned around and headed back the way i came. the neat thing about running the out-and back, was seeing the same area from the reverse perspective. while the terrain was more of the same, it was neat to see the trail wind down below, or up above, where i hadn’t been able to see it before. as i ran along, the sun finally set and the sky made it’s slow transition into dark. at about 9:30, just past the peat bog area, i decided to go ahead and find a spot to sleep for the night. i poked around the bluff-top and found a nice little spot, sheltered from the wind and with a good collection of grass. i pulled up some more grass to give some extra padding, pulled out my sleeping bag liner and changed into some dry clothes.
i ate a little more of the parkin and then crawled into the liner to get some shut eye. no sooner had i started to doze off when something taping on my face woke me up. i was a little confused as to what it was and then i realized it was rain. it wasn’t coming down hard, but the clouds overhead looked as if they had a load that they were itching to dump. i had a rain shell, but nothing to keep my lower half dry, or my gear, so i figured the smart thing to do would be to pack up and head on out.
within a couple miles, i was back at the trailhead and it wasn’t even 11pm. there was a small village up the road and i’m sure i remembered seeing a pub [duh, what village doesn't have a pub?] so, i put the headlamp on backward, flashing and headed out along the road. after about 30 minutes or so, i rolled into tintwistle and came to a stop in front of ‘the old oak’. the lights were on and i could hear voices inside, so i took a minute to cool down, stretch and then in i went.
i must have been a sight. i was still wearing shorts, my legs, shoes and socks were covered in black mud and i was wearing a bright orange rain shell. i walked up to the pub, asked the barmaid for some water, a pint of bitter and a taxi. the two lads at the bar headed outside for a smoke, so the barmaid chatted me up while i waited for the taxi. turns out her husband is american and currently working in florida. after a couple of minutes and about half way through my pint, two new lads came in. i could tell that they’d been at it for a while as the one closest to me was having a hard time ordering and every time he’d turn toward me, he was close-talking.
he took a real fancy to my orange shell and kept commenting on how i looked like a carrot. i tried to make light of his comments, saying, “yeah, all i need is green hair”. but you never know with those types of situations, whether the guy will laugh or take offense. he seemed to be in good spirits, but he was so off his rocker, that i was glad when the driver came in and said, “taxi for jeff”.
it was a quick drive back to the hotel and it was before midnight when i pulled up in front of reception. it wasn’t the ideal end to my adventure, but i’d had a good, solid 21 miles on the pennine way and had a new appreciation for the wilds of england and it’s authors who wrote about it.

6 thoughts on “running british literature

  1. sleeping out in the open in a foreign and unknown country. man, you’ve got a sense for adventure, no doubt about it.

  2. Love the title and love the post. I felt like I was there with you, especially in that peat bog. Glad you didn’t get stuck-stuck. (For a minute, I thought the tap tap was going to be a wayward sheep!)

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