In which Tom tries not to fall on his bum

September 13, 2011 at 12:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Statts House is not a Big House.

And off we go. Five weeks after Borrowdale was such a pain in the arse, it’s time to start plodding (carefully) round the Dartmoor Runners winter series.

From the Warren House Inn it was over to the forest and along the edge of it. While I could see some other figures taking detours, I decided that today would be a straight line day.

Up a hill, and I edged a bit of determination in quite early on; part of my new plan is to work a little harder in races like this, rather than hiding in the thinking that it’s long distance so I must be slow. Some good grassy downhill then, to control number one. This was at the source of a stream, which doesn’t mean a nice bubbly spring or anything, just a bog-with-a-sense-of-purpose.

Over from there to the ruin of Statts House, and a hideous tussocky lurch around the edge of Sittaford Tor to get there. Halfway along, I stumbled (yes) across a path leading to the top of the tor, and decided the long way might be shorter, and followed the path to where it was going rather than where I wanted to be.

Part of the point to the detour was that I hoped there would be some sort of path from the top across to Winney’s Down, rather than another tussock-fight. As it was, my sense of direction forgot about my earlier thinking on straight lines, and I managed a spectacular if ineffective dog-leg that picked out tussocks that themselves had tussocks on top. I was right though; there was a good path from Sittaford Tor and across. I know this because it was plainly visible in the distance when I looked back across my own lurchy route.

Over from Statts House then to Hartland Tor, sploshing through some more stream sources before a whooshy descent and a good hard run along solid paths before some gorse trampling to get to the top and control three, which was cunningly hidden in plain view. Took me a couple of minutes to find it, but once I’d realised it was a big orange and white flag stuck in the middle of a big rock, I was fine.

Too much road over to control four in the woods at Soussons Down, (but that was my choice on how to get there), and too many trees once I arrived. Unusually for a plantation though, the tracks and rides were where the map said they were, and it was just my legs that were limiting me now. What was nice though, was that I was near a pair who were running stronger than me, but were taking longer to navigate because of joint decision-making. When there’s just the one of you, the arguments are quicker, even if your legs aren’t.

And that was just about it, then, out of the woods, and through the heather, and up the hill for a little lie-down before coming home to take assorted enfs to feed assorted types of bread to a range of swans and seagulls pretending to be ducks.

I like Sundays.

Tick VG

September 8, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
blood-sucking fat parasitic friend


So here I am up on the moor, with my shiny September pencil-case ready for a new term and a new leaf.

It’s Shilstone Tor, fiddling about with the Dartmoor Runners course that I’m doing the planning for later this month. Jumping ahead, at some point today I meet my new close friend in the picture. Although less of a friend and more of a hanger-on, and I didn’t actually find him stowing away behind my knee for another couple of days…

Anyway, it’s an area that I had a little plod round in July, when we went to the disappointing Chagstock festival, and I escaped from the compound to play on the hills. Today as I recce the first control (which isn’t where you think it is), and I smell the coming rain in the air, it reminds me that I had previously been going to blog about that run too.

I’d left Becki musing on creative ways to smuggle alcohol (wellies, since you ask) and gone through field paths and lanes to the sprawling skirts of Cosdon Beacon. A pause for applause to the ancient builders of a little clapper bridge that kept my feet dry that important bit longer, and then it was up into the bracken to hunt for paths.

I’ve got a theory about bracken paths, that the best-trodden ones are the dead-ends that end in tears. This is because people only tread the correct path once, but the impostor-paths get twice-stamped tersely down on the retreat as well…

Past the bracken and into the gorse, and when gorse is in blossom then swearing is in season. I scratch my way through it, then up and over the bog, and occasionally a little beneath it, and it’s a gentle slog to the top. I had been planning to indulge myself with a quick photo back to where I started, but as I climbed the rain arrived, and the distant festival was washed away by flooding waves of cloud, and it was just me and a waterproof, and mud underneath my fingernails and grit in my socks. Blood on my legs, and rain on my face, and I may fall down a lot but my happiness is in the getting up, however so slowly.

At the top of the beacon I stop to inhale the greyness all around me, turn to survey the invisible world at my feet, and when I nudge myself into moving again it’s like the blindfold game when you are little. Close your eyes, spin around, point and guess. I’ve been up here at so many different times and different angles, and even in the mist I have a quietly confident certainty of the right way down. Except when I check the compass (twice), and realise that I might actually prefer to go the other way, seeing as it has a bit less wilderness, and a lot more tea and cake at the end.

As I dropped down out of the cloud, musing happily about everything and nothing (mainly about the magic mystery of bearings, and the mild surprise and easily-pleased happiness I feel when they take me directly to where I want to be), I find my first company for the day. Have I said I don’t like cows?

There, I’ve said it now. They always knew I didn’t like them anyway. That’s why they chase me. I admit I was wearing red that day, but they (I’m not suggesting they are all the same cows. At least I don’t think so. Although I’m wondering now.) have previously chased me in a whole range of fashions.

As I lumbered down Kennon Hill to Buttern, their interest was aroused. As I reached the valley floor, they began to lumber too. Cows are better at lumbering than me, and they do it with a bit more weighty attitude too. My previous plan had been a nice meander round the edge of the too-green plain, but now caution (ok, fear) told me that the shortest distance between two points was a barely-controlled rush, while not encouraging a cow-race.

Later, I looked it up on an internet, and apparently cows almost always won’t hurt you. I’m not sure they’d seen the same web page though (, and “almost” is a smaller word than I would like.

And this was how I ended up easing bloodily through yet-more gorse to be wobbling on top of a quaking mire under the baleful gaze of bullocks with an attitude problem. Slowly, carefully, I found tussocks that would bear my weight (I like to think they were the tops of sunken fierce cows), and I made my escape. Shouting ever-more-bravely at the cows, the further away I got.

And that’s a bit of a ramble, but it’s my happy recollection of another muddy day. I’ll tell you in a couple of weeks where my Dartmoor Runners course actually went, and if there were cows and clouds.

Sat here now, I can smell my fell shoes from Sunday sat drying in the hall, because they only came out of the bag today. And I can feel an imaginary itching when I think about ticks, and the echo of adrenaline when I think about cows, and I can still feel the moor, and it’s the same reality as Tuesday evening racing 5k on the tarmac, and loved ones rowing on the river running down to the sea tonight. And there’s more of it all to come. What larks, eh?

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