Wensleydale Wander

Setting off ..

The best thing about offering someone a lift to a race is that when the alarm goes off at 5AM, you can’t just think, sod it, I’m going back to sleep. You’ve just got to haul yourself out of bed and try and get excited about whatever it was you entered a week ago that seemed like a good idea at the time. A few cups of coffee later with sun shining with Narnian promise I picked up Till and we were soon trundling down the M1. While chatting about Garmins, GPS, Satnavs and navigation in general, we sailed past the Scotch Corner turn-off, deftly picking up the Catterick one instead.

We’ve found the Start!

My Satnav was nonplussed at the road closure that greeted us a few miles later, but that issue resolved, it was plain sailing to Leyburn. It was during another GPS chat that, ironically, my Satnav chirpily announced “You have arrived at your destination, your destination is on the right.”. Apparently we’d arrived.

Beware of trains

We looked around for other runners, of which there were none. No boots, no lekis, no rucksacks. Just a deserted town square. We consulted our maps, paper and digital, and discovered that registration was somewhere back that way. We retraced our route and soon found the large bright signs for the Rotary Club of Wensleydale.

Registration took no time at all and Till went over to examine the maps and check his route. I was pretty sure the run advertised itself as well marshalled and signed, and the rotary gadgie said there were little red arrows to follow, which was good enough for me. He also said there’d be a hot dog stand at the half-way checkpoint – oh yes, ha ha, very droll.

With plenty of time to spare we nipped back to the car for coffee and kit chat. I was beginning to regret not bringing shorts as it was beginning to look like being a scorcher, at least, compared to the recent weather. As we headed for the Start I handed Till my spare car key just in case, you know, he happened to get back before me.

The mass start of walkers and runners clattered out of town in a jumble of Lekis, bumbags and rucksacks. The sun and some daffodils were out and it was looking like being a good day. Before long runners thinned out and I jogged on in a world of my own following the frequent little red arrows indicating the route of the Wensleydale Wander. At the half-way checkpoint there it was, sure enough, the hot dog stand. With onions, and nippy sauce too. Lovely. I scoffed it down and jogged on, hoping I wouldn’t be seeing my hot dog again before the finish.

Having comfortably finished the far tougher Cleveland Survival a few weeks earlier I was, frankly, expecting today to be a bit of a breeze. But as the final miles wound down I really began to feel the distance. The little red arrows just kept on appearing, without end. Finally, after a robust little climb back into Leyburn it was a short jog back to the finish at registration. Not before I had to ask a couple of walkers if I was going the correct way, as I realised I hadn’t actually bothered to check where the finish was and the red arrows had, finally, stopped.

Out on the course

Walking into the dining hall I discovered Till had showered, changed, eaten, and probably regretted not bringing that book to read that I’d suggested. Till finished pretty much dead on 3 hours, third overall on the long course, just beating me by a slim margin of 1hr25m. I had some food and drank lots of tea, and for some time sat in dazed mystification at how this ‘easy’, flattish run had managed to be so much tougher than the same distance Cleveland Survival. I’ll never understand racing.

Not far now.
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Cleveland Survival

It was good to see a big turn-out for the 30th running of the Cleveland Survival especially given the uncertain weather. While many events were being cancelled the Cleveland Mountain Rescue website drily observed that the weather for Saturday looked ‘interesting’.

Omit clip points 7 8 9

The weather wasn’t too bad in the sheltered village of Swainby as we were started in little clusters some time between 9 and 10 am. My tactics were slightly different to last year; I didn’t bother marking any checkpoints on my old paper OS map of North York Moors (West) knowing that there’d be bags of time to do it on the hoof.

What a difference a year makes

As it was, navigation was very easy. Too easy. As many of us discovered as we switched off and followed the crowd. On the way to the third control I followed a bold track that sold itself as the green dotted line on my map. It eventually became apparent it wasn’t and a bit of off-piste correction was required to get back on course. Not one to learn from my mistakes I followed the herd to the next control and it became clear that many of us were indulging in collective navigational laziness and a couple of unnecessary barbed-wire fences later I decided it was time to start paying attention.

Head House

The organisers had cleverly designed the course to be on alternating sides of a large folding paper map on a windy day and being used to small waterproof orienteering maps that I could shove down my pants I was struggling with the billowing paperwork. Perched outside in the pouring rain, trying to make myself a sail, I floated upwards to the exposed checkpoint of Swainby Shooting House on Rye Head. The traverse from there across Whorton and Black Moor to the next check point at Head House was barren and exposed. I’ve been out in some pretty wild conditions and had everything from hurty knees to hurty nadgers, but today I had a hurty face. I felt I was being sandblasted with hailstones as I jogged steadily across the moorland track.

Snowy Selfie

The 4×4 bristling with antenna appeared like something out of Ice Station Zebra as I checked in and moved on to Chop Gate and some hot chocolate. Very Swaledale. From here there was a long jog to Cold Moor Cote, then up onto the Cleveland Way. Ho ho! I’d wondered if this might happen. I realised at once who the ‘other’ runners were, but some Hardmoors and some Survivalists were, I think, slightly confused. Our checkpoints were easy to spot; they usually involved macho 4×4’s and big aerials, the Hardmoors checkpoints were far less ostentatious and went on, one assumes, all the way to Helmsley. This didn’t stop me utilizing both race’s checkpoints and nicking a Hardmoors Jelly Baby or two.

In the end I got so diverted, literally, with the Hardmoors event, taking photos and recognising runners, that I missed my turn. I suddenly realised that I had gone way beyond the turn-off for my final control and once more had to take a detour through the heather. Before long I was back in Swainby and having a nice plate of chilli while the Hardmoors guys and gals still had another 30 miles or so to go. It made my (shortened) 22 miler seem a bit pathetic. Still, I was quite happy as I’d not managed to get the training in that I’d have liked and I wasn’t feeling too bad. My time was slower than last year but my position was the same. 55th!

Hot Chocolate at Chop Gate

It’s a real pity that two years on the go that this race has clashed with the last Cross-Country of the season – I don’t know if this happens every year. But if you ever fancy a run with a bit of map reading then this is an event to consider. Navigation is straightforward, and it is a very sociable event. In fact it’s fair to say that solo runners like myself are in a minority; most people tend to walk or run round in chatty groups. If you like Swaledale, you’d almost certainly like the Cleveland Survival.

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Maddog 10K

Time to lose the bin bag

I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain, to see for certain, what I thought I knew. Yup, the weather was minging. I was just so not in the mood to do a fast flat PB hunter’s 10K that I knew would be neither fast, nor a PB. I PB’d in 2011, then again in 2012. It wasn’t going to be three in a row.

This was the third year of the Mad Dog and its most ambitious yet. Larger field, more road closures, and some other stuff. The biggest change was the introduction of park and ride, or, park, queue and ride, to give it a more accurate description. It was bad luck that the weather was so cold and damp and the organisers discovered in the morning that the buses were not allowed to go the quick route from carpark to the start so the queues to get back after the race were long and shivery. In a neat bit of PR one of the marshals walked along the queue apologising for the delay, chatting to the maddogs, listening and getting feedback and promising to get the glitches sorted for next year. I wasn’t too worried – we didn’t have to wait too long – and Roberta and I were both veterans from the Edinburgh 2009 marathon where the shuttle buses were hopelessly inadequate. So a 20 minute wait for a bus was no big deal, and it’s not as if you couldn’t walk to the park and ride, and many did. It was probably only 20 minutes. Might do that next year.

The park and ride delays meant the race started half-an-hour late. Bad news on a cold damp morning, but not that bad. Most of us just sat in the nice cosy school corridors of Stanley School sipping coffee and waited until it was time to go. The Crazy Pups had already started and now it was time for the Mad Dogs. Signs advised us that Pedigree dogs should assemble near the front, but I joined the Mongrels near the back. I sniggered guiltily at all the signs advising us to behave while off the lead and not to sniff other dogs bottoms. Can’t beat a bit of smut.

final approach

They’ve made a few subtle but clever course changes. More road closures and imaginative route choices make this race a rare beast; a fast PB road race that is also an interesting course. Along the promenade, past a Steel Band (that’s new), and then the tell-tale sign that the race is really getting big. An Elvis. An Elvis singing “You ain’t nothing but a houndog” to those in suitable fancy dress. The last 3 km rejoined the outward course around the Steel Band point so we got another blast from them (they were great) and a long fast finish which was the same point as the start. Even in its far larger form (1700+ finishers) there were still space to run.

I didn’t PB, but I was very happy with my 48:13 time, which was a lot faster than I expected, or deserved. It had been a good fast hard race and I love the excitement of running in a pack and still having space to overtake. But there was something missing. I showered, had a coffee, rumaged through my goodie bag, but something wasn’t quite complete. Where was he? I had my photos from 2011 and 2012, and, aha – there he was! Now I have one from 2013 too!

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Nine Standards

Two years’ ago when I last ran this race I had an disturbingly exciting incident in the first mile and had found myself several minutes before the back marker and perilously close to retiring. This year I expected things to be less eventful. We were on holiday in the Lake District so it was an interesting experience to be driving east to get to Kirkby Stephen. Arriving with bags of time in hand I was a little unsettled to see runners clutching their numbers and wandering about with a good hour still to go before kick-off. I checked that the Start Time was indeed noon and headed for registration.

Registration was in the Sports and Social Club. How do you know that? Apparantly you just do. In 2011 when I turned up in the Market Square I found registration by trial and error and following people who looked like runners. Top tip to anyone trying this; don’t follow people who already have a number as they’ve already registered – and the first thing everyone does after registration is go for a pee. So you’ll find the toilets, or a rough approximation of them, but not registration.

Once I’d registered I was gently guided to a table festooned with t-shirts. What was going on? Apparently this was the 25th running of the race and free t-shirts were being issued on a first-come first-served basis. The t-shirts have a picture of the Nine Standards and an abstract representation of the route. It was a really nice touch. A little later as we gathered in the market square the organiser said that we’d be starting a few minutes late due to the large number of entries. No matter, as this fell race out of any race I’ve ever done must have the most convenient public conveniences I’ve ever known, and many runners took the opportunity to wander the 5 yards from the Start to the loos. Well, it’s something to do.

The organiser announced that we had a record-breaking field of 166 runners and a few seconds later 166 runners were trying to squeeze down a narrow staircase, through an alleyway then over a footbridge before things opened up. Roberta was here so I paused to put on my happy face, then started moving. I was feeling quite good and optimistic to doing a half-decent time. 166 runners; a lot of them would have hangovers and be once-a-year runners so maybe I’d get a decent position for once.

Shoe choice is tricky in this race. Half of it is on road, a bit is on trail, and a chunk is in on very squashy stuff. I’d opted for my mudrocs having read John Duff’s report from last year, and I think it was the right choice. The Nine Standards appear quite quickly, and appear to get close quite rapidly, but just when they seem to be tantalisingly close, the going gets very soft, and the last mile up to the summit is hard going, especially as by this time the Fast Guys are hurtling back down in your face. I ran hard and steady, out and back, and as I closed down the last few miles I remember thinking that this was an eight mile race, and the distance was beginning to make itself felt.

Over the bridge, up the steps, and the final squeeze through the alleyway to the finish. I leaned against a wall trying to get my breath back, before turning to watch what I’d hoped would be a gratifyingly large number of runners crossing the line behind me. I was in for a shock. This was a quality field – 10 more runners and not many more minutes later, everyone was home. I looked at my time in horrified astonishment; despite running hard and steady, I was almost three minutes slower than two years’ ago, when, much fitter, I’d managed to claw back more places and time after a scarily bumpy start. Must do better.

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Do they know it’s winter?

It’s nearly December and I find myself back at Low Barns running a couple of winter tree  identification sessions. We’ve run these before and each time we change things a little, but everything revolves around a quiz and a walk around the reserve, and they are always good fun. We start with an indoor session talking about … Continue reading “Do they know it’s winter?”

It’s nearly December and I find myself back at Low Barns running a couple of winter tree  identification sessions. We’ve run these before and each time we change things a little, but everything revolves around a quiz and a walk around the reserve, and they are always good fun.

We start with an indoor session talking about the basic features useful for identifying trees in winter, then look at a bunch of samples, drink lots of tea, then go hunting…

Around the reserve there will be found lots of tagged trees; lots of numbers that have to be matched to the quiz. Although the theme was identifying trees in winter I no longer worry about concentrating entirely on winter features. There’s little point in being skilled at identifying a tree on buds alone if there are no buds to be found. In an arboretum, or park, the lower branches of many trees are raised and buds may not be accessible. You need to work with the material available to you: are there any leaves, dead or otherwise, still on the tree? In mild winters there often is, and oaks often obligingly hang on to their leaves deep into winter, which is very handy for distinguishing Sessile and English oak.

Common Alder
a single defiant Alder leaf clings on into winter

Another good clue is to look down. Sweet Chestnut, especially mature old trees, often have a fantastically expressive fissured bark. Combine that with the distinctive buds sitting on little shelves on the stout twigs, and it’s a straightforward id. The Sweet Chestnuts at Low Barns don’t tick any of these boxes. It seems to think it’s a hazel and sprawls haphazardly through the understory with a non-descript bark and hard-to-find buds. It does, however, carpet the ground with a dense layer of distinctive leaves making confirmation of the id easy.

Low Barns has a lot of ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior), at least, for the time being. With Ash Dieback being in the news it was a topic of some discussion. The obvious parallel is with Dutch Elm Disease. But with the Taxonomy of English Elm (Ulmus procera) still unclear and the possibility that many if not all English Elms were genetically identical, it remains to be seen whether a similar fate awaits the Common Ash. A prolific self-seeder, perhaps Ash has enough genetic diversity somewhere in its distribution to cope with the attack. If large numbers of ash succumb to the disease we shall see some big changes in our woodland. Lots of standing dead timber, a fantastic habitat, and lots of light hitting the woodland floor. Interesting times ahead.


Manor Water Hill Race


We tentatively drove into the muddy field before being flagged down by a marshall. “Sheep or Run?”, she asked, without preamble. “Run”, I replied, hoping I’d interpreted the question correctly, and she pointed us up to a bit of the field that was free from sheep and border collies. She also advised me to park ‘pointing downhill’ so that we at least had a sporting chance of escaping the muddy field later when it came time to leave.

As ready as I’ll ever be

I looked around and, seasoned fell runner that I am, quickly took stock. Registration was almost certainly in that horse box over there next to the portable loo, and so in fact, it turned out to be. Let X=X. There were a few runners filling in forms next to the horsebox so I clip-clopped up the ramp and asked the lady for a form. No, apparently that’s not how things worked, I was rather sternly told, and I first had to give a few particulars. Was I Carnethy? Nope. Was I local? Nope. Once I’d passed the entrance exam I was given a form which I took away to complete in my best handwriting before being allocated a number.

Stile Queue

It was a cold blustery day and the first time in months I was wearing hat, gloves and windbreaker. I made my way over to the start area bemused and slightly mystified by my iPad wielding wife until I realised (later) she was tweeting unflattering photos live from the action. As runners gathered for the start I thought again about the ‘local’ question on the entry form. I’d said ‘no’, but strictly speaking that wasn’t true. Here I was, standing in a field a few miles from where I was born, a ‘gutterbluid’, running for an English running club based over a hundred miles away. Strange to be standing here and not knowing a soul. Actually, that wasn’t strictly true. Wasn’t that an NFR vest over there? And another, and another, and another. All familiar faces from various fell and hill races, here and abroad. A few introductions and photos and it was time for the start.

This race is a straight out and back, the usual story. You run right up to the top of a hill, then you run back down again. One runner asked how many people were running to which the organiser, looking puzzled, gestured expansively to the gathered crowd and replied, “about this many”. We headed upwards into the chilly afternoon before pausing a few minutes later to form an orderly queue at a stile. Five miles later at the wild summit of The Scrape, I shuffled around the shivering marshall and headed back to base. In a straight out and back race like this you get the satisfaction of seeing the puggled faces of runners you’ve passed who are still on the way to the summit, and tick of the vests one by one. But there was a vest ahead I didn’t recognise or remember passing, and I always start fell races right at the back. The runner looked strangely familiar. What the deuce? It was Nigel! I paused my not very fast descending to find out the story, and it transpired that Nigel had arrived as we were starting and had started the race 7 minutes late. You can’t stand around chatting on the cold blustery shoulder of the Scrape so we high-fived, as you do, and I pushed on for home.

Patiently queuing for the stile

A few squelchy miles later I crossed the line and, as might be expected in a hill race sponsored by a brewery, was given a bottle of beer. Not bad for an entry fee of £4. Nigel was in just a minute or two later making impressive progress through the field after starting late. The rain then started in earnest and we all found shelter to change into something dry. Nigel got into his Darth Vadar costume in preparation for his drive back to Durham, and we convened in the tea tent for the prizes. I began to realise that today’s 10 miler was just a softener for another event running the next day, the Pentland Skyline. This is a 16 mile race with 6200 feet of climb, and many people do both both races with the combined race times being used to find out if they’re MAN(or) MOUSE. There’s an idea for next year.

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Etape Pennines

Who would’ve thought that County Durham had so many hills? An endless supply of cruel sniggering climbs. A course recce would have been a very bad idea. It really was just as well I did not know what awaited as I’d surely never have got as far as the start line. The hills were endless, just one nightmare after another – and when you think it’s all over, you turn a corner, and there’s another one. I think that’s why Colin played his Get out of Jail Free card – he lives on the coal face – he knew.

Dusting of the Alan Super Record for an early start

It was Colin’s announcement the day before that he wouldn’t be starting that made me start paying attention. Just as well – I hadn’t realised you had to register on the Saturday, just like a marathon expo. I also made the mistake of having a look at the suggested training plans on the website and thus denting my naivete. I really shouldn’t have. The training plan for people with limited time was 6-8 hours a week. I’d been cycling to work off and on for 2 or 3 months. That was about 3 hours or 30 miles a week. On average, when I wasn’t running between breweries. That should be enough surely? Yeah. And I’ve got all this core fitness stuff from running. Everything would be just fine. Just. Fine. And then there was the ‘minimum average speed’ of 13.1 MPH. I checked my average speed for cycling from Durham to Gateshead and it wasn’t quite 13.1, it wasn’t even close, and it doesn’t even have any 2nd category climbs.

Sunrise at Ushaw College

We couldn’t have wished for better weather and the sun rose as I waited at Ushaw College for my start time. I was in the last zone to go and we pushed off under a clear dawn sky. This was the first road race I’d done for over 25 years and I was a little out of touch. So used to running now I’d forgotten about wind-chill and cold hands. So much so that two miles later I had to stop and pull the gloves from my pocket that I’d thankfully shoved in as a last-minute thought. Fumbling with the Velcro on my mitts and trying to decide whether to pull the gloves over or instead of, I became aware of a motorbike that had stopped and pulled up alongside me. I looked up and knew. Nearly 2000 riders, but I’d still managed it. Just like a fell race. Situation Normal. “You’re the sweeper, aren’t you?” I said miserably. He nodded, and asked me if I was ok. I nodded feebly and began to feel a bit pathetic and sorry for myself. I was cold and at the back of a field of over a thousand riders and this was not going well. I struggled to get my mitts in my back pocket without much success before simply handing them over to a marshall who’d come over to assist, and asked him to do it for me.

It took several miles before I got warmed up and gradually become more confident. I steadily passed people, hopping from wheel to wheel and taking pace whenever possible. I used to race on the steep banks of Meadowbank velodrome and so was at ease riding in close groups and found it a gloriously exhilarating experience riding on closed roads so near to so many other riders. It was nostalgia and excitement rolled into a lovely sunny autumnal Pennine morning. My draughting was parasitic, not deliberately so, it was just that few people seemed willing to work, or simply misunderstood and thought I was trying to get past and moved over to let me through. As it happened the opportunities for sharing the pace were fairly limited to early in the race as pacing works best on flattish stretches into the wind, and when the hills started, both up and down, the advantages of taking pace were negligible.

We passed the 15 mile marker and I was, as Danny once put it, in terra incognita. I hadn’t ridden more than 15 miles in one go in more than 25 years, so I awaited with interest to see which parts of my body would start to hurt first. I was riding the race as I would run a marathon, taking it steady early on and conserving energy as I knew it would get a bit rough towards the end. The hills loomed ahead and I caught Peter Brooks who was chirpilly stoical after having an unfortunately eventful journey to the start. Later, as the King of the Mountains pass lazed into view I took my hands of the bars to scrunch my cape into my pocket. This looked like hot work. A Darlington rider remarked that this was ‘skilled riding for a 2000 number’ and I wasn’t too sure how to take it. I was about to take umbrage until I realised he’d meant it as a genuine compliment

A sunny hill. Smile for the camera.

And then the hills began. And once they started, they simply did not stop. Like an early morning session hunched over the great white telephone after an all-night bender when your body is racked with pain, when you think, surely there’s nothing left, when your body is just a spent, rasping, empty, husk, there’s another bit, then another, then another. Where was it all coming from?

Unlike fell racing, where it’s often quicker and more energy efficient to walk up the hills, the opposite is true with cycling, where walking in cycling shoes, even on level ground, is an achievement in itself. I managed to climb all the hills and made a lot of gains. My bike was also attracting some attention. One of the very first aluminium frames, bought for me for £120 in the early 1980s by my Dad and hand-built with Campagnolo equipment throughout, it is pretty much unchanged to how it was 30 years ago. Apart from the tubs, which I rather sensibly replaced on Saturday before the race, and prayed that the 10 year old tub tape that I’d found in a drawer was still sticky. Or at least, sticky-ish, for those 40MPH+ descents. Climbing slowly past one lady on one climb she commented “that’s a lovely bike”, and one chap at the final feeding station called it “gorgeous”. Perhaps it was a combination of the toughness of the race and the stunning scenery but I was finding these unexpected compliments were making me feel quite melancholy.

I’d remembered from the course map that there was one Category 2 climb, and that it was, as you might expect, in the last 10 miles. On the scale of awfulness it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d feared but I was overtaken by a bloke who was quite simply whimpering a series of shuddering and wholesome profanities that seemed to be directed at no-one in particular, although the hill seemed to be implicated. The last few miles went by quite quickly and then the beautiful sight of the red timing mats of the finish.

The Finish

A few minutes later I was looking down at my medal and thought how you get medals for all sorts of races nowadays, practically giving them away they are, for the most noddy of events. But this one I clutched in my hot sweaty hand and thought, I really earned this one.

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Two Breweries

Having got round the LDMT I had little worries about the Two Breweries. A mere 5000 feet and 16 miles, or 18, or thereabouts. Once again the devil was in the detail. The Checkpoints. But I was sure I’d be fine.

This is a race I’ve wanted to do for some time but it’s usually clashed with something or other. But this year it was going to happen. An elegant principle where you run from Traquair House Brewery to Broughton Brewery taking a fairly direct and exceedingly scenic if somewhat lumpy route. A nice start in cool sunshine saw as speed away from the front of Traquair House up the long drive towards the road. It had only occurred to me the night before that I had no idea which way to go and had luckily found a blog from last year’s with a route map. I’d hastily studied this but was still relying the runner in front knowing where they were going and not getting too far ahead.

I hit the Split button my Garmin at the second checkpoint as the marshall informed me I was “just inside” the cutoff. She wasn’t kidding. My Garmin can’t lie, and it said 1hr 49min 37.3 seconds. Full marks if you guessed that the cutoff for checkpoint two was 1hr 50 minutes! “You’ll have to keep moving!” she added, helpfully, as I struggled on through the heather.

The race crosses a couple of valleys where Retirement Points, drinks and Jelly Babies were on offer. Each time I was cheerfully told to help myself to Jelly Babies as there were plenty. I know this is just marshall-speak for “there’s practically no one else behind you so we don’t need to save them for anyone else”, but I was happy to grab a handful nonetheless. I hadn’t expected so much sugar and water to be on offer so frequently throughout the race and after last week’s unassisted LDMT I almost, bizarrely, resented it. Almost. But not quite.

Into the last 3rd of the race and something completely unexpected happened. I started catching people. Not, I should say, an experience I am familiar with in fell races but certainly a pleasant surprise. I stopped worrying about time-checking myself at the checkpoints, I was heading all the way to the brewery now. At some checkpoints I may even have had several minutes to spare! As the miles and hills counted down I perked up and started looking forward to the final challenge.

My anthropomorphism of hills continues apace. For many years the most malevolent hill of the year award was easily won by Grisedale Brow as you hit it towards the end of the Grisedale Horseshoe. However this year it had met its match. I caught up with Norham’s William Pikett who was zigzagging up Trahenna Hill using the same tactic as I was. As he paused for a bit of a stretch I offered the view that this was “a bit of a bastard”, an opinion that was met with pretty broad agreement. He warned me that there was usually a photographer at the top so I got my happy face ready was we crested a series of false summits before finally toppling over the top.

The final descent was a really annoying gradient – not steep enough for an efficient bum-slide, but a bit too steep to skelp down without braking. It was a relief to finally hit the road for a last, slightly incongruous, mile on roads before getting to the front door of the Broughton Brewery. Roberta, with touching optimism and a far greater opinion of my abilities than I have had been waiting for well over an hour for me to appear over the horizon.

Next year is the 30th running of this event so if you fancy it it’s probably a good one to go for. I’d finished in 4:51:59 – my first “AL” and a massive 8 minutes to spare before the final cutoff! If I’m going to hit the checkpoints with more than 20 seconds to spare I’d better do a bit more training. It’s no different in many ways to the Saltwell Harriers Fell Race in many ways; everyone runs over a few boggy hills and rivers and everyone who finishes gets a bottle of beer. It’s just a bit longer. And steeper.

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Installing Kindle on debian testing under wine

finally managed to get this working. I think things are complicated when target machine is 64 bit. I really was keen to get this running on my netbook, and Acer Aspire One.

The steps are a bit scrappy and gleaned from various blogs, but, basically what I did was:

Follow the steps in this blog to get wine installed on Debian Testing. i.e. (as root):

ARCH=`uname -m | sed -e s/x86_64/amd64/ -e s/i.86/i386/`
wget -r -A "*_$ARCH.deb" http://dev.carbon-project.org/debian/wine-unstable/
sudo dpkg -i dev.carbon-project.org/debian/wine-unstable/*.deb

then hop over to this blog, and follow most of the steps in that. Don’t need to install wine as we’ve already got that now, in theory, but cabextract definitely handy.

actually, thinking about it, the only steps I ended up using were these:

wget http://www.kegel.com/wine/winetricks
sh winetricks corefonts

I was getting closer all the time but still it crashed. Until I found this tip on the wineHQ website:

To work around the msvcp90 bugs, delete or rename ­this file:


Note that Wine will recreate that file every time you upgrade. To avoid this, make the directory read-only.

and now it works.

identifying trees in winter

I couldn’t say how many times I’ve driven along the Lanchester Road or run along the railway lines from Broompark without realising that just a short distance away lay Witton Dene. It’s one of the great attractions of County Durham that all over the region there are hidden pockets of tranquillity such as this just … Continue reading “identifying trees in winter”

Footpath to road
Footpath up to road from Witton Dene

I couldn’t say how many times I’ve driven along the Lanchester Road or run along the railway lines from Broompark without realising that just a short distance away lay Witton Dene. It’s one of the great attractions of County Durham that all over the region there are hidden pockets of tranquillity such as this just waiting to be discovered.

Fran Mudd from the Wild Woods Project had invited me to run a winter tree identification session for the Friends of Witton Dene. These can be a lot of fun. Since identifying trees in winter relies a lot on twigs and buds, a good approach is to collect bundles of samples from the area, mix them up with a bunch of photographs, take them somewhere warm and dry, ideally with tea, coffee and an inexhaustible supply of jaffa cakes, then encourage everyone to have a look at them in comfort.

Once the key features have been identified the new-found knowledge can be tested by heading outdoors and matching the samples to the trees. Some trees are easy to identify, and some aren’t. Some, like ash, can be easier to identify in winter than they are in summer as they have large, distinctive, sooty, ominous looking black buds in opposite pairs. They tend to be less conspicuous when the tree is in leaf.

black buds, opposite pairs
The unmistakable black buds of Common Ash

After our indoor session concentrating on the common species and their key features we headed outside for a wander and a quiz. It was a great morning but not without its puzzles.

There was a question about Horse Chestnut. Not the usual question about how it got its name, but more about how it got its buds. Its sticky buds. Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) has large reddish-brown sticky buds in opposite pairs. They are particularly noticeable over winter. So why are they sticky? Good question. I didn’t know the answer and used the response I heard Chris Packham use in his talk at the Gala theatre a few weeks earlier. He’d been asked about a housemartin with hairy legs. Why did it have hairy legs? Who could say, but there would be a reason. It’s expensive to make a leg hairy, or a bud sticky, and an animal or tree won’t do it without a good reason.

Hunting around, with assistance of the University of Google, was surprisingly fruitless. The question has been asked before and the hypothesis advanced usually involves predation; the tree protects itself from insects by trapping the insect on the sticky bud. It’s observable sure enough but doesn’t explain why lots of other trees manage to happily get through life without sticky buds. I’m sure there’s a reason, I just haven’t found it yet.

reddish buds on a sycamore
sun-ripened buds on a sycamore? Why are these buds not green?

The other puzzle I stumbled up on was the mysterious case of the sycamore with the reddish buds. During a visit in January I found a sycamore that had read the script and knew all the identification features it was supposed to have, except it decided to tint its southerly facing buds with a pinkish tint. This is common in Lime trees where the buds exposed to sun often have a reddish glow where the shaded side remain green. But I haven’t seen it in sycamore before. The north-south facing divide in the colour is so marked that it’s the only reason I can think for the difference.

The bleak midwinter will soon give way to spring and I shall nip back to Witton Dene sometime soon and quietly check my own answers, and see if there are any tree species I missed. Surely there’s some blackthorn hiding away in there …