Sunday, April 19, 2009

Stanage Edge


I'm back again, scrabbling to find my kit, sheltering under the tailgate as I change into Ron Hills and pull on a thermal vest. My map flaps in the wind - it's the wrong one anyway so I shove it back in the rucksack. I'd given Jane directions to get here; take the road by Ladybower resevoir, go up the hill and there should be a pull in by a sandy track heading up to the moors.  It hadn't changed since I last came here; nor had the wind, bitterly cold as it always seemed to be. I pull on a hat, stuff my cagoule in the bum bag and set off.  

It's twenty years since I ran on Stanage Edge and yet it is all so familiar: the dry smell of the grit, the rough friction of the stones, the squelch of the rich chocolate peat when I miss my footing.  As I run up the hill, the sun begins to break through the mist; by the time I am at the summit of Stanage End, the sky is a pale blue. The edge stretches ahead of me, I take off my hat and pause a moment to get my bearings.  A grouse takes flight from the heather, it's red wattles flapping as it crash-lands a few yards away. 

Stanage is the longest of the gritstone edges, a five mile escarpment running from Bamford to the moors above Hathersage.  It is famous for its rock climbs, but despite being a climber for many years I never much liked it as a crag. To me, it was always best as a place to run.  As I start to move again, I remember the reason why I loved it so much.   

It is not so much the landscape, though I like the feel of these open moors looking down on the greener valleys of the Peak District. It is something about the process of running here that is its special joy. You have to place your feet carefully, plan your route between the boulders and the peat - skip up rocks, jump down others, dash through the bogs - and you have to do this at speed, for traversing the ground at pace is what gives running its meaning.  As I run past miles of boulders and soft peat I am conscious of every step and how it feels; I am conscious too of the irony that running in such a beautiful place it is the terrain underfoot that matters most. 

I'm also aware that the faster I run, the more attuned I become to the choices, the decisions seeming to flow, each step leading effortlessly to the next. I find myself thinking of the path as if it were a river: I'm scouting its rapids, adjusting my line, going wrong then putting it right - becoming one with the water. As I reach the main climbing area I have found a natural rhythm, a balance of speed and awareness that for the time being, is all that matters. 

I notice the walkers don't seem to say anything to me; I am something to be avoided, stood aside from as I pass. It is the climbers who greet me, nods, waves, the odd shout of encouragement. Perhaps they too know something of how, though intense effort, we can transcend the particularity of our situation - those who have climbed for long enough would, I think, recognise what I am talking about. The last miles pass without any sense of effort.   

As I start the descent towards Burbage rocks I can see Jane waiting with the car. The last time I ran this route she was here too, on that occasion I would go on, past Burgabe, Froggat, Curbar, Gardoms and Birchins, to finish after fifteen miles at the Robin Hood Inn. But that was twenty years ago, and though returning is one of my chief delights, I know that some things can never come again. 

2 comments:

  1. spethgI am no long distance runner, but my husband is (or, was). Despite the toll of the years, though, he is out running again at the moment in preparation for the 10km in Manchester at the weekend. He sees it as a relative piece of cake (to me it's a horror show!) compared to what he has achieved in the past. Once a runner, always a runner. I have been trying to encourage him to join a fell-running team. We are in the perfect location, after all, aren't we?

    Again, lovely to see these familiar places to me being written about. They are so beautiful.

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  2. Why has the word verification come out at the beginning of my last comment?? (in case you think I am completely illiterate! - or drunk)

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