The Trouble with Spring
The second of 2019’s seasonal half marathons – Spring – enjoyed the same glorious weather that we’d enjoyed on the freakishly warm Winter event. Conditions were pretty much faultless with wall-to-wall sunshine, perfect temperatures and barely a breath of wind.
I’d like to claim responsibility for arranging the benign conditions, but I doubt you’d believe I have that much influence. What’s more, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might recall that recently I’ve claimed that hailstorms on runs are character building and provide a certain degree of ‘bite’ which makes a trail run more satisfying. I do have a tendency to talk nonsense. I try to rein it in, but sometimes it gets away from me.
For ‘Spring’, we moved to Limestone Country, abandoning the peat and clay, swapping the cloughs and dells for rocky outcrops and winding woodland paths. It was hard enough to find a puddle, let alone leap into one, and the muck quotient was – for a mud-lark like me – disappointingly low. But what a treat for the eyes! Views across Morecambe Bay, the blue smudges of the Howgills, a snow-dusted Lakeland peak. And, on a much smaller scale, the woodland flowers, the profusion of mosses, delicate blossoms on still-bare trees. Hawthorns with buds no longer able to contain the fresh green leaves within.
Bless them, the birds sang all the way around our 13-mile route. Bees were making themselves busy in a sunny corner by a stile. New lambs stretched out on a grassy bank and dozed. Cattle were placid, feeling the welcome warmth of the sun. A cloud of gnats had emerged and was having a party. Everywhere you turned there was something celebrating the return of spring. Pond skaters did their tricks. A lime-green butterfly danced across a sheltered meadow. The gorse was dressed in rich egg-yolk yellow. Fields of ryegrass shone.
That’s the trouble with spring: it’s too bloomin’ gorgeous, a riot of hope and optimism that bursts out of its box and shouts, “Look at me! I’m brilliant!” It’s a trick that can be very distracting when you’re trying not to trip over tree roots or trying to recall what you learned in school geology lessons about how limestone pavement is formed.
But I digress. We were on a run, and that’s what I ought to be writing about. So, here goes:
At about 9 am on a gorgeous spring morning, we set out from the charming village of Silverdale to complete an anti-clockwise route, encompassing a mixture of terrain with a total mileage equivalent to the half-marathon distance. Our runners enjoyed splendid views across to Grange-over-Sands and the impressive flank of Arnside Knott. We crossed several sturdy bridges and followed farm tracks and footpaths out towards Hazelslack, before climbing up through the woods to the well-known Fairy Steps …
You know, I can’t do it. I can’t because spring got in the way and filled my head with a jumble of images. From this route, I’m taking home more than a series of left-at-the-bridge-and-up-the-hill memories. I’ll remember the way the remains of Arnside Tower had been colonised by scrubby trees and the enticing clear water filling the arrow-straight drainage channels that cut through pancake-flat fields. I’ll remember the jokes about alligators and the flying squirrel that almost came to grief. I’ll have in my head the scents of wild garlic and the coconut odour of that prickly gorse. I’ll think about the strange globular fungus that peppered a fallen tree, and I’ll smile at the sheer exuberance of our downhill sprint towards Slack Head.
I’ll be thinking about slabs of limestone standing in pairs to make the narrowest of stiles. The scrambling sections and the lads bouldering in Trowbarrow Quarry will remind me of other adventures, and I’ll be able to see, feel and marvel at the smooth polish that passing feet can produce on a rock that looks so solid and so permanent.
Perhaps I’ll reflect on the diversity of the landscape. The wetland reserve of Leighton Moss, with its dense blonde reed-beds standing just across the road from the manicured greens of a golf course. I’ll tell people about the wonderful steel karabiner-shaped gate and the seatless bench that was about to be restored. I might, if I’m feeling particularly rotten, mention the chocolate milkshake and the cheese-and-pickle topped hand-made pork pie, served by the lovely team at The Blossom Bird Coffee Shop.
And that’s the thing. I could describe the route, but if you were to head up to this lovely corner of the world and try to run the exact same way, your experience wouldn’t be the same as mine. A run isn’t something you can package and make consistent, because it comprises far more than the places you go and the miles you log.
A good run is the people you’re with, the laughs you have, the vibe. It’s the walls you clamber across and every little thing that catches your eye. It’s the smile you get when you hold open a gate. It’s the way you feel when you glimpse the light reflecting off the distant sea. It’s the smell of a farmyard, the sound of your feet and the way the flat white you order afterwards is served with a perfect leaf on the top.