There’s a whole world out there …
… and some of it just happens to be right under our noses. We have a habit of seeing other parts of the world as somehow better than ours. We pore over the blue-skied holiday brochures and admire the images of crystal seas and can’t wait to get away for a few days.
Britain does have its grotty bits, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s also a place of stunning beauty. On a night like we had last night – when the sunshine was wall to wall, the skies were clear and the bees were buzzing – we would have struggled to find anywhere better. Forget pavement cafés in the Med, we’ve got pubs and beer gardens. Forget the tourist hotspots, we’ve got the hideaways, the charming villages and the snickets where we’re almost bound to get nettled.
I said it was beautiful. I didn’t say it was entirely without hazards. But if we’re prepared to brave a few nettles, and we’re not too bothered if our tootsies get wet, and we can manage a few stiles and footbridges and jump over a few fallen trees, we should get out there and explore.
Instead of doing the same route several times a year, seeing nothing of it because it’s all so familiar, we can choose to run somewhere new. We can connect the roads, not with more roads, but with meadows and woods. If we’ve never been to Waddington, it’s a great place to discover. And if we’ve been before and we think we know it, we should go anyway because we might well be pleasantly surprised by the area’s network of trails.
When we get to Waddington, instead of sprinting off and haring to the front of the pack, we’ll do the gardeners the honour of touring the rose garden – a lovely pocket-sized example of English village life – and then we can follow a gravel path and a series of gates and head out of the village. We’ll twist and turn, use the stiles, see where they lead. Sometimes the paths won’t be obvious. They are overgrown, gates hidden by balsam, waist-high thistles and purple headed grasses, but these hidden routes are bits of magic, leading us into tunnels of trees, up onto the high fell, to a place we can admire views that stretch to the far beyond, and then we can head back down into the cool, dark shade of a copse.
Yes, on a summer’s night, the gnats will be flying, and yes, we’ll probably swallow one or two. Yes, there may be a few midges hiding in the patches of shade. Yes, the long grass will hide stones and branches and rabbit holes, but we might just see the rabbit scurrying for cover. The dairy heifers may have left some parts of our route soft and squidgy and we may end up with mud encroaching on our socks, but so what? The Jersey heifers will probably both curious and bold, but we can say hello, admire their beautiful eyes and maybe say a little thank you the next time we pour a bit of rich creamy milk onto our cornflakes.
We’ll realise that while we’re out, having fun, we’re the lucky ones. All around us farmers will be working hard, taking advantage of the settled weather, mowing, tedding, rowing up the drying grass ready for baling. Many fields will have just been cleared and they will be good for running – we’ll fly down them – others might have recently been treated with a good dose of nature’s finest fertiliser and if so, they’ll have a certain rich aroma, but we’ll see that our landscapes are gorgeous because they’re worked. Those fields of sorrel and waving grass, the hedgerows twisted with honeysuckle, the patches of woodland, the bridges and the ditches, all reflect the influence of man. Sometimes we’re shy of nature, worried about its smells, its creatures and its hazards, but maybe that’s because we don’t take the time to see it, to understand it, to appreciate how the glorious, colourful patchwork is stitched together.
This world may not be all that far from our front door. It may be on our doorstep. Even when we think we know somewhere, it’s worth taking a look with another pair of eyes. We think there’s no route across a hillside, and it’s not obvious, but there is. We approach a familiar spot from a different place, and this time instead of the road, we’re on a lane lined with brilliant yellow loosestrife and clouds of ox-eye daisies, and instead of traffic, we’re listening to the birds.
Just as travelling can be so much more than ticking off another destination on a bucket list, running can be so much more than ticking off another session on a training calendar. If we’re not confident to explore on our own, we don’t have to. We can find a helping hand to get us across the brook and show us the trails. There will be someone to chat to as we take on the climb. We don’t just discover a new place to run, we discover new friends. We tell them why we run, what it is that we do. And when we stop after the run for a bite to eat and a drink, we make it more than exercise. We round off the experience and make appreciating the good things in life part of our life.