Prayers met and questions answered
As the world birls in the darkness, I'm still staring at the skies
Under a poet's moon
There's something really special about moonlit runs. Clear skies, an eerie light sending shadows across the hillside, the faint outlines of higher peaks and the surreal glow of snowcapped summits.
With the temperature having plummeted these last couple of days, and frost giving a crispness underfoot even this early in the evening, we couldn't resist the lure of our first bat run from Achaphubuil. Kirsten was home at a reasonable time, Sam was itching to get out there and I......well, I had no choice but to be swayed by their infectious enthusiasm.
And so it was that, wrapped up in base layer, thicker long-sleeved top, buff, warmer hat and two pairs of gloves, we stepped out of the door into the freezing night.
Back in 2006, I'd only been running a few years, and fellrunning for a year or two. We'd sometimes head out from the sports centre at Lilleshall with head torches on, to take in a cross-country route, running across fields and through woods. It was exhilarating, it was fun, it encapsulated everything good about running.
So, one night that winter, with significant snow having fallen, I decided to head over to the Long Mynd after darkness had fallen and run around part of the Stretton Skyline route. I parked the car in Carding Mill, donned the headtorch and set off up the main track.
Having crossed the icy stream, I headed left and, before long, reached Little Spout waterfall, where torch beams bounced back at me off the icicles in the falls and the sheet ice on the "steps" up to the right. I paused to take in all this beauty, but set off again before too long as the cold wrapped itself around me.
On up to the top of Pole Bank to gaze out at a snowy,winter wonderland. And then a fast descent down to cross the road and head towards the descent into Little Stretton.
Only here, I learnt a very important lesson about night running: places that you think you know like the back of your hand look very different in the dark!
Somehow, amidst the snow and thin mist, I ran straight past the left fork in the track that leads you down into Little Stretton, and found myself on unfamiliar terrain and unsure of which way to head. The heart rate quickened, and I recalled the story of the vicar who'd spent a snowy night stuck out on the Mynd! All alone, pitch black and nobody knew I was up there....I'd better keep moving! After some floundering, I ended up heading down steep, snowy slopes to reach a fence, which was followed back to the main track.
Back to the sanctuary of a warm car and a chance to reflect on what had been a memorable evening. The toes eventually thawed out, a change of clothes brought warmth to my body and I revelled in the excitement of it all. I'd be back again pretty soon!
As we head along the road to reach the gate onto the hill, icy tentacles of air reach deep down into my lungs and leave me wheezing, struggling for breath. It feels as though this may be a slow one! Any sustained effort will be tough in these conditions. As I gulp in oxygen, the cold numbs the inside of my mouth and a dull ache pervades my jaw.
We turn up onto the track and, encouraged by Kirsten and Sam's efforts, I break into a steady trot up the hill, eventually running all the way up to the deer fence, where cold fingers grapple with the bolt to open the gate and make our way onto open fellside.
Torches off for a moment, a chance to appreciate the magnificent views and the exceptional light provided by the moon on this clear night. From down below, noise drifts across from the sawmill, a veritable hub of activity amongst all this calm. We turn, put the lights back on, and focus our attention on the climb.
1.00am on a calm, clear and warm Lake District night in May 2009. I park the car in the little car park at Little Town, get my pack together, step out into the darkness and trot up the tarmac track leading towards High Snab Bank.
I make my way along the track and up to level with the waterfall, where I head off on pathless slopes up to the right, making my way up to the summit of Robinson. The distant lights of Keswick are visible to the north and, beyond that, the orange glow of Carlisle reflects against the high cloud cover.
I descend on runnable slopes at pace, cutting a little too low and left as I head to Hindscarth, before turning back on myself and trotting towards Dale Head, which is reached at a canter. A fast descent down grassy slopes to the side of the eroded path takes me down until I can see the buildings at Honister and a brief stop to retrieve the provisions I've stashed amongst the piles of slate. The humous and vegetable wrap is barely palatable at this strange hour, but I force it down, knowing the body will need it over the next few hours.
I climb the rocky steps beside the fence line as I head up Grey Knotts, clambering up to its craggy summit before increasing my pace as I head to Brandreth. A glance to my right reveals a strange, eerie glow across the whole northern sky....not the northern lights, I don't think, but something akin to it. A magical place to be on such a fine night, all alone with my thoughts, my whole being concentrated on that shaft of light in front of me.
I reach the top of Brandreth and look back to see the first light rising to the east. A fine day beckons by the look of it. As I descend to the col below Green Gable, that early dawn light creeps across the sky and, on the final ascent to that summit, the sun's first rays peer over the horizon.
To anyone who doesn't go out on the hills at night, it's hard to explain the feeling as the sun rises on a new day. An energy fills the air, and fills your very being. Even after a long night out running, it recharges your batteries and brings new hope and expectation. And, perhaps most of all, it brings warmth.
The headtorch goes off as I start the scramble up Great Gable, and as the sun rises in the morning sky, I sense I'm in for a tough day in scorching, hot May conditions.
The highland cattle have been loitering here lately and the obvious signs of their presence are scattered across the track(!). Torch beams search the darkness for the reflections of peering, curious eyes. We toil on upwards and the intensity of the cold increases.
Then we spot the cattle immediately ahead of us on the track. They've seen Sam several times lately and, whilst not unduly concerned, there is a curious interest in him and we're not about to get too close. We fork off onto pathless, frozen boggy slopes and make a beeline for the ridge high above us. The crispness actually makes for an easier ascent than usual as the studs grip, contrasting sharply with the slippery nature of recent runs up here, with the top surface a moving, unstable mass of sodden ground.
We reach the ridgeline just as Sam gets excited about something he's either seem or can smell in the darkness. For certain there will be deer in the vicinity, there always are here and we've seen them plenty of times just lately. We scan the plateau but see nothing.
We turn left to descend towards the trig point, heading towards the lights of Fort William, aware of the snowy fortress of Ben Nevis dominating the gloomy view to our right. Down below, the lights sparkle and shimmer on the loch. Kirsten sees the mast long before I do and, soon enough, we reach the trig point following a bog-hopping trot across fragile, part-frozen ground.
The torches go off again and we appreciate the panoramic view. Snowy peaks in all directions, the Ben towering above us close at hand, the sawmill busy down below, lighting up Corpach, before darkness envelopes the loch as it heads west towards Glenfinnan, only the odd speckle of light from remote houses the further you head up the glen.
Numb, stinging hands search the bumbag for a camera, and obligatory photos are taken. Our first time up here in the dark.....Lochaber Bat Runners!!
October 2009, and the first frosts of autumn have arrived to coincide with a backpacking trip into the hills west of Loch Lomond. A tough day, suffered under the hazy cloud of a hangover, had seen me camp out amongst the forests of Gleann Leacann Shelleach, settling down in my tent to listen to the primeval roar of rutting stags across the amphitheatre of steep slopes which surrounded me.
The next day, I left the tent hidden amongst the trees and set off for a run around the skyline, taking in 3 munros on a high level promenade, before dropping down into Arrochar, where I was meeting Kirsten off the train.
She'd been on family duties, but had wanted to join me as soon as possible for what would be our first time out in "proper" hills together and our first wild camp as a bona-fide couple.
We climbed back up over Ben Narnain, relishing the last wee scramble up by the "Spearhead", before heading down to the west of Creag Tharsuinn on steep, pathless slopes, to make our way along forest paths and back to the tent, where we ignited the cooking stove and settled down to a well-earned meal.
It was a cold, wonderfully clear night and, despite the gathering frost, we couldn't resist lying together with our heads out of the tent, gazing up in awe at a ceiling of stars. We felt so alive and so at one with each other. This was the perfect antidote to a testing few weeks, where the ramifications of our meeting and falling in love had started to sink in.
In those moments, none of it mattered. We were alone in our beautiful world, we were sharing and appreciating all that was between us. We were both content and yet so excited about the possibilities of life together and the promise of a lifetime of similar adventures. I held her close to me and looked up just in time to see a shooting star leap across the dark void. As moonbeams lit up our woodland haven, we looked at each other, and, even at this early stage, we knew we there was a bond between us that would be everlasting.
We head off around the mast, following slippy grass slopes down to reach the first telegraph pole. Then it's a matter of shining torches up at the wires and following their direction downwards, cautiously when the slope steepens and disappears into the darkness, until we reach the deer fence at almost exactly the right spot next to the kissing gate leading into Crofters Woods.
We release Sam, safe in the knowledge that he won't now take off across the hillsides chasing shadows in the night. We head down on the narrow path through the bushes, the shrill cry of a disturbed nesting bird briefly causing us to be startled. Down across the slippy wooden duck boards and on down to the road, where we turn left for the last mile trot alongside the loch, past the familiar landmarks which we tick off on our daily walk.
We take the pace down for the last couple of hundred yards, as we reach the row of houses where we stay. We look out at the mist starting to gather above the water, and watch the graceful retreat of a heron, who is startled into flight from the shoreline just below us. The gate clunks shut behind us and we open the back door, ready to retreat into the warmth, a bellyful of reviving fodder and a chance to ruminate on another of our little adventures together.
And, as we do so, we take one quick glance back at the selenite moon.......