Rediscovering home

For me, as for pretty much everyone, this summer has not been normal. The strangest things I found were things like the complete inability to just jump in the car, and go and visit somewhere. Having that spark of imagination, or memory and saying, “Let’s go there”, as, in my area anyway, most places had booking systems. Furthermore, when it was possible to go somewhere, I was finding them more packed to the rafters with other tourists than normal, so things were pretty strange. I did get a good mountain walking day in over south Wales on midweek day, but it had to be an early start, which I have never minded.

On the trail…

On my previous post, I mentioned losing momentum over the summer, and lacked motivation. My way of dealing with this was to take a week off running. After returning to it, a couple of weeks later, I realised I’d been running on 6 consecutive days. Competitive drive activated. I thought, “Why not go 50 days running every single day?”, so that’s what I did. One of these runs was a few miles along the Worcestershire Way long distance footpath, which runs for 30 miles north to south, or vice versa of course. I have completed an organised ultra marathon along most of the path on two occasions. The light bulb of adventure pinged on and I decided to attempt to run the whole thing. A couple of weeks later, I decided to run it in both directions, in one go. 60 odd miles (or 100km, as that sounds more impressive).

I have lived in Worcestershire for my entire life, except for four agonising months when I lived in Warwickshire. The shame. In all those years, it’s amazing how little of the county I have seen and how little I know, although I probably know more than some. During the training for my solo ultra marathon, I covered miles and miles that I’ve never seen, passed through towns, villages, orchards, woodland and valleys completely new to my eyes and feet. One hidden gem was a valley that was home to a self-sufficient community, living in shepherd huts and cabins. Almost like a hidden oasis. There were steep climbs that were tackled practically on my hands and knees. While it made me wonder at my home county, it made me curious about firstly the other hundreds of places like it also in my county still to visit, as well as neighbouring counties and the rest of the country while I was as it. It’s things like that that make you realise how short our time is, and how busy we are. How many Saturdays to see all of Worcestershire? Don’t even get me started on all the books I need to read (or should read), films I need to see or albums I need to listen to. Next time someone says, “Life is short” – agree with them, cos it bloody is!

I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account of the run, but in a nutshell, I ran out of gas/daylight at 41 miles. Not the hallowed 60 that I had dreamt of. There was a pub at 41 miles that was too good to resist. It happened to be right at the bottom of a steep bloody hill too, so perfectly placed. I’m very pleased I did it, and it was just what I needed for motivation.

As I write, I am planning the next one, in a week’s time. Another local long distance footpath, more to discover. This desire to complete things in their entirety has been with me for years. When I was younger, I cycled a little bit of the A38 road through my home town, and wondered what it would be like to cycle the whole thing. I got home and did the research for an hour or so (pre-internet days), until I was talked out of it by my parents, with their many what if questions and parental concerns. Seven years later, they watched as I cycled the length of the UK. I’d regularly run a section of my local canal, and in 2011, I ran the whole 32 miles of it. That mentality still exists. I don’t know if I’d call it adventure, stubbornness, stupidity or what, but you can bet your life, if there’s a trail, famed road or river, someone, somewhere will have at least thought about traveling it in its entirety in one fashion or another. That quizzical curiosity of what lies past the end of your street. What is beyond that hill? Then what? Then what again. And again. In old days, people didn’t have the need to do it unless it was for trade, and besides, they were probably terrified of falling off the edge of the world. Toppling off the edge of the world is fine with me.

Continue reading “Rediscovering home”

Sod it. It’s an adventure.

My Friday morning started as it usually does – get into dress-down attire for work, get on the train and thank my lucky stars it’s the end of the working week. This one was somewhat different however. The normal exchanges with my partner on text were not our usual style. She floated the idea of going away for the weekend. “Great”, I thought. It sounded brilliant. One thing niggled me though, and that was the fact we hadn’t booked anywhere. Camping probably wasn’t a good idea, given the cold weather and approaching storm front, and judging by the places were were looking at going to, hotels were a no-no. Our chat tennis went on for an hour or so, even when I was at my desk, getting the death stare from my boss. Eventually the day ended, and we had a shortlist of places to go, just nowhere to stay. So over dinner we raided a well known accommodation site and found a nice looking solution.

We had a low budget, and didn’t really fancy occupying a room in a house, so our search rapidly reduced and left us with only a few options. Guided by the photographs, I suggested a tin shepherd’s hut on the side of a hill overlooking a valley. Granted, the photos looked superb – clear blue sky, sunny day, greenery and scenery. So we went for it, and booked it. In correspondence with us, the vendor said something along the lines of, “So, you’ve definitely checked all of the information and you’re happy with it?”. Of course we had…not. It turned out, this summery retreat offered no electricity, a compost toilet, and an outside shower. And it was February. And there was going to be one hell of a storm.

There are many times that test couples. This potentially could have been one of them, and it was definitely an indicator as to if we were on the same page. Luckily, we looked at eachother as if to say, “Sod it, it’s an adventure. Let’s do it.” We arrived in fairly pleasant weather, no sign of the impending storm, and had lunch in the local pub. We found our digs and settled in. Just one room – a cosy-looking sofa bed, sink, gas cooker and a wood burning stove. First things first, the stove was lit. Candles lit as it gradually got darker. A few cups of tea, quick dinner and a game of chess later, it was dark outside yet still only 6pm. This is how it must have felt for Victorian farmers. It was perfect to switch off, go off grid and just spend uninterrupted time together, away from people and technology.

As the wind and rain battered us from outside, inside was a warm haven, sheltered from it all. Constantly feeding the fire meant that after a few hours I was down to shorts and t-shirt and we had to open a window. The only brave venturing outdoor we had to do was to use the toilet, which was a composting loo – an advanced hole in the ground effectively.

We had planned to get up in the morning and go for a walk into the hills. This was looking less and less likely as the night wore on with the wind whistling around us and the rain lashing the windows. It actually sounded like we were in a car wash.

Morning came and just like the way we decided to stay in an electricity-deprived tin shed, we decided to head out anyway. An hour later we were battling just to get out of the car with the wind pummeling us from each direction. The local sheep, unfazed by such conditions, seemed to look on amused. All in, we managed a three mile trek up to the ridgeline and back. The high wind on top, combined with horizontal hail, effectively forced us to retreat the way we’d came. The real fun began when we had to get changed in my five-door hatchback. Never before has my yearning for a campervan been so strong. The warm buzz from being exposed to the elements then slowly drying out and thawing lasted for a couple of hours, helped by a Sunday roast in the pub. It’s funny, it’s probably on a par with the buzz I get from a really good run.

I think it’s safe to say, we’re not ones for backing away from adventure. Bring it on.