Month: March 2014

Shanks for that…

I saw a pair of redshank this morning. It was right at the bottom of the moor, out of the gloom. It’s years since I’ve seen those, on a trip with some sixth formers to Iceland about six or seven years ago to be precise. They were chilling out on the dam wall of a local reservoir, not doing much, but doing whatever they were doing peacefully.

I only knew it was a pair of redshank because the guy watching them told me they were. I had no reason not to believe him. They seem to have settled in the area, he told me, which was a rather uncommon thing in this neck of the woods.

It’s not just finely tuned (!?) athletes like myself who get out first thing on a Saturday morning. Rolling out of bed at six and spending a good couple of hours or so on the moor. Birdwatchers do it too . Or should I call them twitchers, because that sounds much better. They are easily spotted, given their sensibly warm attire and binoculars at hand. Finely tuned binoculars I might add, because I’ve looked through some of this ‘ere equipment and it tends to be bloody good.

There are all sorts of rare and hard-to-spot birds out here. Many are just passing through, but patience always pays off. There are ring ouzels higher up the hill, I’ve seen a pair of great grey shrike just a few hundred yards from today’s redshanks, and if you are really lucky you might spot a hen harrier, red kite or merlin. Buzzards, kestrels, peregrine and sparrowhawks are common. Some mornings I get to see a pair of short-eared owls hunting low over the moor. I always enjoy bumping into those out birdspotting, because invariably they know what they are talking about, and always happy to share sightings (unless of course it’s a really rare specimen that needs to be kept secret).
I’ve arrived up at Top Withins at the same time as the odd wheatear, or indeed ring ousel, and marvelled at the sighting. But in many of those cases I’ve not been alone up there. There have been significant numbers of others at times, not one of whom would have (1) actually noticed said bird sat on a rock quite close by, or (2) actually known what a ring ousel looks like.
ring ousel
I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad thing. Is it better to be the wise person who knows a little bit more than those who are not interested in knowing what you know in the first place, or do you shout it out and let the whole bloody lot know?

But anyway. It was nice to see the redshank. They make a right racket when disturbed, and the Icelandic ones i’d encountered weren’t going to let me pass until they were ready. Today’s pair had nobody to worry about, other than the twitcher, who was rightfully keeping a respectful distance, and a smelly runner who was heading in the opposite direction anyway.

Three other runners and two off-road cyclists were also encountered along today’s route. All of them spoke (this isn’t London, remember), although there could have been veloceraptors, yellow bellied sapsuckers (yes, they do exist), and Cheryl Cole in the immediate vicinity today. I wouldn’t have spotted any of them due to the heavy mist high up on those moors. It can feel a bit spooky at times, and I always take extra care to avoid any mishaps. If I need rescuing at any point, it’s going to be difficult given the low cloud and the fact that I don’t have my mobile ‘phone with me.
I put my headphones on for the last twenty minutes of the run. I was already feeling good. Three better songs couldn’t have been selected at random. Mark Reeder’s epic remix of Sam Taylor Wood/ PSB’s cover of ‘I’m in Love With a German Film Star’ with its long intro that builds and builds and builds before the vocals kick in, OMD’s energetic synth-driven ‘Sister Marie Says’ and New Order’s epic ‘Perfect Kiss’, with it’s awesome four minute outro. I almost didn’t want to finish the run, but I arrived at the doorstep in a few seconds over the two hour mark and I don’t want to be running late for my lunch date…


I have a really bad head. It’s been bad for a few days. The only way I can seem to shake it is by going off into the hills…running that is, rather than walking. In order to cheer myself out of m depression I set off around 9.30am, just as BBC TV presenters Harry Gration and Amy Garcia were doing likewise just a couple of miles away in Haworth.

Harry and Amy are pedalling the Yorkshire section of the Tour de France. They are doing it on a tandem, and are doing this to raise money for sport relief. The pair are over half way through their week-long effort, and have had plenty of positive TV coverage on Yorkshire’s Look North news bulletin, which they co-present each evening.



As I set off from Stanbury it was obvious that there was a buzz about the place. I was on the route within five minutes, and not long afterwards, upon meeting the first walker of the day was greeted with, ‘morning, are they on their way yet?’.

‘Should be’ I replied, and we exchanged a few pleasantries before I headed up the steep climb over Haworth’s Penistone Hill. There, the car parks, normally reserved for dog walkers, were full of more expectant and excited fans. ‘I’m waiting for Harry’ said one elderly, but rather sprightly lady, as she patting her lovely border collie on a bench. ‘He’s waiting to see Harry too’ she continued, pointing to her pampered best friend.

There were more people on the long downhill stretch to Oxenhope. There were more cyclists than usual too. Everyone wanted to see their two favourite TV presenters doing their bit for charity.

And I’m not joking when I use the term ‘favourite TV presenters’. In this neck of the woods Harry Gration is a legend. I was lucky enough to be asked to proof read his ‘Yorkshire Sporting Legends’ book prior to publication a few years back. It’s a book he wrote himself, without the need for a ghost writer, and that was apparent from the first page. I could imagine reading aloud as I took in each page, written in his very own Harry Gration style. It’s not often that you are asked to proof read (for factual accuracy) a book written by your favourite TV presenter.

Now Amy and Harry have been quite vocal in their praise for the hoardes who have come out to support them over the past few days. They have a bucket on the back of their tandem that gets heavier the longer the day goes on, and today was no exception.

After what seemed an eternity, people stopped asking whether they were ‘on their way’, because they really were ‘on their way’. Preceded by a low profile police escort and TV vans, they were upon us, surrounded by an entourage of cyclists, all eager to support and encourage. They were just a few hundred yards from what would be a tough climb up Oxenhope’s Cock Hill, one of the toughest of their week. I wanted to offer some vocal encouragement as I ran just ahead of them, but before I had chance there was a jokey ‘are you running all the way?’ The legend had spoken first. But I wasn’t the only one, the pair were chatting away to all those who had made the effort to join them. These were no prima-donnas, there was a genuine cheeriness and friendliness from the both, which just about underlines, for me, why they are so popular.

That wasn’t the end of it. I left them in Oxenhope (after having collected money from some of the locals who were unable to keep up with them) and took off up the side of the hill to join them at the summit of Cock Hill. It is much easier to run up a hill than it is to cycle up, and today was no exception. The headwind up there today was verging on the severe, and I salute anyone who could have cycled up there today. After another wait, the shattered pair made their way to the top, now surrounded by twice as many cyclist as before, but, incredibly, STILL chatting to those supporting them despite their apparent distress.



There was a much needed rest at the top, and Harry, half collapsed was still thanking people for their support. No-body would have thought any bad of him had he just sloped off for a lie down. Amy was shattered too, although she hardly looked it as she talked about the next huge climb facing them up Cragg Vale later in the day.

The headache has now gone. I feel better for that run. Depression is not a nice thing to deal with, but when you have a morning like I’ve had it goes just a little way to making you feel a bit better about yourself. I did nothing special today, but it was lovely to see a pair who were doing special, working hard at it, but maintaining their genuine, cheery disposition throughout. All the best Harry & Amy 

India, Bihar type of things…

Ok, apologies. I’ve been back from India almost three weeks and I haven’t written post upon post recounting my adventures of flight delays, train delays, poisonous snakes, a huge toad (that’s TOAD) and a couple of venomous spiders in the loo. There was also a good deal of training done with the teachers there. It really was good to be back working there as part of a fantastic IMPACT teachers team, and with those I’d become very fond of twelve months ago. And I kept a promise to those teachers in the four school in Bihar to return this February.

I wrote lots of notes while there, so in the not-to-distant future I’ll write them up properly, probably embellish the odd story and put it up on kindle as I did ‘Anorak on the Pennine Way’ (I know you’ve all read that one). I’ve been so busy with all sorts of things – cricket research among them (I know, I don’t play cricket) – that India has taken a back seat, so as a taster here’s the video I shot while out there…

On top of that, Idman, a member of the IMPACT team has written her account on the IMPACT blog, and that can be read here:
Please do take the time to read this 🙂

Where have all the fellas gone…?

I had another good run this morning. The moors were as beautiful, wild, and as windswept, as ever. During those 60 minutes I encountered several others – notably 1 other male runner (making a grand total of two of us), and 17 ladies; 14 of them walkers, 3 of them runners.

So where were the other fellas? They were marked by their apparent absence. Surely Manchester United, or Chelsea, or Liverpool, or all of them must have been on the telly at the time. No, hold on, it was too early in the day for that. It was too early for them to be in the pub too.
In an era when virtually all sports are bemoaning a lack of participants as well as able bodies willing to organise events, teams, leagues and the like then this doesn’t surprise me. The usual reason given for a lack of participation in sport is that it’s just too expensive to run a football, or rugby club these days, so they are forced to fold, to pack up and give up the ghost, destroyed by rising costs that making playing, or taking part in their favourite sport just too expensive. Parks pitches are rubbish and the showers are usually shocking – so teams wither and die.

But showers have always been crap at local sporting venues, and past generations were happy to play on makeshift pitches that would return to their use for livestock once the participants had departed the scene. In fact showers were non-existent as most local venues until the 1970s, and in those early days of football and rugby players had to make do with a local stream, or, at best, a shared bucket of water with which to make themselves presentable after the game.

So where are our sportsmen? The couch maybe? It’s no wonder that our national football teams are making less and less impact on the world stage . How can we win a world cup when half of the population can’t be bothered to make the effort in the first place, meaning that we have an ever shrinking pool of quality players to choose from? It’s so easy to blame someone else. You don’t need top quality state of the art showers to go for a run (or even a walk), and it doesn’t cost anything to step out of the door and put one foot in front of another.
Conversely, there are more women’s football teams than there were a decade or so ago. It’s just as expensive to run those clubs too, and the showers are equally as shocking. There are also far more women out on the moors around me at the weekend. I know, I know, it can be so hard running and walking up those massive hills, and it was raining a bit too, but it has always rained, and the hills have always been that tough. The emancipation of women in the western world has enabled something approaching equality with regards to access to sport – that they are making more use of their spare time (or rather, making a bigger effort to keep fit and healthy) is so apparent when I’m out on those there moors.

It’s not difficult see why fewer kids are staying in sport beyond their teens when their old man can’t be bothered to get off his sofa in the first place. There’s no coincidence that those who do stay in sport have parents who still take part themselves. Exactly why sports such as fell running are now an ‘old man’s sport’ with so few youngsters taking part deserves an article of its own, so I’ll leave that until later…
With a rising obesity problem nationally, shouldn’t more of us be getting off our backsides, as those past generations have done. It’s not up to the local council to make things easier for us all (and why should they mend the showers or reduce pitch fees when less of us can be bothered anyway), the world doesn’t owe us, us fellas should get off our backsides, stop complaining, and make ourselves healthier, as we did in the past.*

* unless Manchester United, or Chelsea, or Liverpool, or all of them are on the telly.