I don’t like running on my own.
At least, I don’t like running new routes on my own. One of the problems I still have with running, even after all these years, is pacing myself. On my own I tend to run faster than I feel comfortable with for any length of time, and then find it hard: if I’m with a friend or a group then running along chatting means I pace myself better. If I can talk then I know I’m running at a ‘sensible’ pace. With an unknown route you don’t know where the testing sections of the route are going to be unless you’ve studied the map in detail (which I have to admit I rarely do); with routes you’ve run before you know exactly what to expect and how to feel when.
When the final two days of the Music Festival were cancelled (due to coronavirus risks) and the weather wasn’t bad, I thought I’d go for a long run somewhere I didn’t know. I chose a route where I could either do between 8-10km or double that: the idea was to explore a bit in the southern part of Wark Forest (which joins on to Kielder Forest). It was either that or a bike ride, but as the weather is still a bit on the chilly side at times I thought I’d be warmer running than cycling.
The drive up there is lovely: I drove along roads which I’ve been along many times by car and by bike, as far as Gilsland, thinking that I’d like to get out on my bike later if the weather stayed good. At Gilsland I turned up towards Spadeadam, thinking back to several years ago when David and the kids and I had driven up here to see where David could start a run into the middle of Kielder (he never did it). I remembered the somewhat unnerving drive across the MOD firing range and the remote road. Today it seemed to go on forever, becoming more and more remote. You pass the odd farm; at Butterburn you wonder if you’re going into someone’s farmyard but still the road continues.
As my car was getting extremely low on fuel I was getting a bit worried about how much further I had to go to get to Churnsike Lodge, where I’d thought of starting, and instead decided to stop in the gateway to one of the tracks I wanted to run along (making sure there was room for people to get out – the presence of a post box and some bins was evidence of a house further up, as the map confirmed).
A lot of trees had fallen down and as I got out of the car I realised that it was colder than I had thought. I started off on the forest track, which led gradually uphill and into the wind. It was easy to navigate – the forest track was well-maintained and I knew I just had to keep turning right.
It wasn’t exactly a thrilling run in terms of views or variety of track, and my quite large rucksack was banging around against my back (partly as I’d forgotten to repair the waiststrap) and annoying me. But it also dawned on me that I was missing the companionship of running with someone else and having someone to talk to. I was surrounded by trees and nothing else: and then it started to rain. It was incredibly solitary, and yet the presence of the forestry commission track made man’s effect all too obvious as well: even in this remote area human beings are not that far away.
Things got a bit more interesting when I had to turn on to a more grassy track, which was flooded at one point. This led down to a ford. From the map I knew there was a ford but also thought it looked as if there might be a pedestrian bridge: but no. It was difficult to tell how deep the water was, and it was running quite fast. I walked upstream a bit to see if there was somewhere more shallow to cross, without luck. As I walked/jogged back to the ford, I noticed there was a car on the opposite side: and also that just downstream of the ford there was a possible crossing place, although one short section looked deeper. At least if I fell in there might be people to rescue me – I didn’t really want to have to retrace my footsteps, as I was nearer the end of the run than the beginning by now.
Sure enough, having successfully waded through the burn (up to knee deep), it was only a mile or so to Churnsike Lodge, which I was curious to see. It’s a former hunting lodge and was owned by the Forestry Commission but is now a holiday let. The photos of it on the website look lovely.
The last short stretch of run was alongside the river Irthing – which ends up running through Lanercost and Brampton further west – and up over a small hill. I arrived back at the car, glad to be able to put on dry clothes. The large rucksack had been a pain to carry but as my legs had got soaking wet it was good to have a pair of tracksuit bottoms in it to put on.
As I drove back, the weather having brightened up again, I mulled over running alone and why I hadn’t particularly enjoyed it. Whilst I like having someone to talk to so I can pace myself, I also like exploring with someone else – and yet there are times when I enjoy the solitude, and certainly I’m almost as happy cycling on my own as I am with others. Perhaps it’s just that I find it so much more difficult to motivate myself to run. Perhaps it’s also a slight fear of being out in remote areas and something happening to me. Whatever it is, it’s one of the times when I think it would be really nice to have a new boyfriend – he would of course not only have to run, cycle and swim but also like music and good food and my kids.
As I drove back across the MOD ranges I noticed the warning signs more clearly, and was once again struck by the slight eeriness of the place. Whilst I thought of stopping to take some more photos, I almost didn’t dare…
Perhaps I just have too vivid an imagination, particularly when on my own.