I had been looking forward to getting some runs in while I was in England; I would not have wanted to go three weeks without any physical activity. The way my itinerary turned out, I got out five times, in four different parts of the country, and I am fairly sure each one included some land preserved by the National Trust.
The first outing was in Brighton, a few days after arriving. My friends Nathan and Heather recommended Devil’s Dyke, so I plotted a course out of town, climbing from a park, through a long copse, along a field to a windmill, and then up onto the downs, following a chalky path beside the road. I would have turned round some time before before the end of the road, had the view not been recommended. With the dyke enfolded in the hills to the right, suddenly you could see thirty miles across Sussex to the north downs, Leith Hill and Box Hill; turning around, the sea and the coastal towns spread out below. The exhilaration soon turned to discomfort, as I had been out longer than I had run for months, even if it was all downhill on the way back. My zazen that evening with the Brighton group was a little stiff.
It was a week before I set off again, several hundred miles north in Hebden Bridge. Having sat the afternoon and evening I arrived, and needing to travel back the following afternoon, I set out before breakfast – not my favourite thing to do. My host Dave had challenged me to try the Buttress, a steep climb out of town, and my competitiveness meant I had to give it a go. I managed, though my lungs were bursting afterwards, and then the road continued to climb all the way to Heptonstall and through the village. Up at the top, finally, it was a raw autumnal morning, with a cold wind on the exposed moorland, and the schoolkids waiting for their bus seemed a little bemused that I was out in just a t-shirt and shorts. After another mile or so I turned down into the beautiful valley of the River Calder, following that back into town and then hopping over to the canal for the last stretch.
The next afternoon, still feeling that first climb in my legs, I did a run I have done many times over the years, from my mother’s mobile home, over the fields to Breinton, dropping down to the River Wye, and following the footpath all the way back into Hereford, with a little climb past the cemetery on the way home. It was very peaceful accompanying the deep flowing river, and very quiet, even so close to the city.
I ended up at my father’s place in Cornwall. I have a few usual routes around his house, and on my birthday, a bright warm day, I took the roads and path to Kit Hill, steadily climbing for a few miles until I had a view ranging from Dartmoor in the east, Plymouth and Rame Head south of me, Dodman Point off to the west, behind Caradon and Bodmin Moor. What you can see from the top of the hill takes in almost all my favourite places in that part of the world.
Some of the rest of them were included in my final effort. I drove down to Fowey and recreated a run that I had done many times as a teenager and into my early twenties, and which I have looked back on with nostalgia as a pure and wonderful running experience. I started at the top of the town, down the unpaved Love Lane to Readymoney Cove, turning onto the cliff path, up and down past Coombe Haven and Polridmouth Cove, up to Gribbin Head, along the very edge of the cliffs on the east side of St Austell Bay as far as Polkerris, then taking the road back to Polridmouth and retracing my steps over the cliff path. It was another long run, and hard work after the first couple of hills. In my teaching I had been referencing Paul Haller’s notion that discipline and devotion are what keeps you going through practice, sometimes on, sometimes the other, and sometimes both. I remembered this on the cliffs, and my joy at being out there in the elements was composed of exhilaration, endurance and sheer bloody-mindedness.
Apart from the usual pleasure of running, which was heightened on all of these by all the beautiful surroundings nourishing me deeply, there was a more deeply-rooted nostalgia at work inside me as well for this last run. Staying with my father, I had been read a Daphne du Maurier book, The House on the Strand, which was partly based at Kilmarth, a house barely visible through the trees above Polkerris, where my great-great-grandfather had taken his family to live for a few years in the 1870s, before they moved to Fowey. There was also the glimpse of Menabilly, which became Manderley in Rebecca, and at Polridmouth Cove there was the fishing hut by the lake where some of the crucial action of that book takes place. Since we have many family records, especially of that time, I took a look through some albums my sister has been taking care of, and discovered pictures my great-grandfather’s older brother had taken about 130 years ago, of scenes I photographed while I walking around after my run.
The estuary mouth – mine was taken from Town Quay, after a pasty for lunch.
St Catherine’s castle at the harbour mouth. My great-great uncle must have taken his shots from a boat.
Boats, with Polruan in the background, from the start of the cliff path.
This is the view from above St Catherine’s castle to Gribbin Head, with the day-mark tower, and Dodman Point behind it.
A photo of Kilmarth.