Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Frosty Early Morning Run Through The Fields & Ted Is In DISGRACE




Sticking to the mantra of Being Sensible, I only ran once over the weekend. This was partly because both my men folk decided to sport spectacular fevers on Saturday and I was in Full On Nurse Duty. I did a couple of steady miles round the lanes with the dogs yesterday with no ill effects, so decided I could do the three miler round the fields today.

We set off early, determined to make the most of the Ice World that had appeared during the night. I love a good frost: there is something energising about a land encased in ice. The stillness and the way sounds drift out across it. It feels like a secret magic world.

The temperature read -2 when we left the car. There was not a soul out, beyond the Wild Ones, which is just the way I like it. The buzzard who lives in the ash stand by the green lane floated out over the fields as we approached, creamy-brown blunt-tipped wings extended as he glided silently across the valley to the woods.

Poppy shot off to investigate a whole fortnight's worth of smells which have accrued since last we came this way, while Ted gambolled just ahead, navigating the ruts at the edge of the field carefully and glancing back now and again to make certain I was still there.

Along the valley bottom the air was freezing. It bit my skin, numbed my nose and chilled my face tight and brittle. I had invested a whole one pound in a neck warmer that came into its own today: pulled up over my face like a mask it afforded protection to my recovering lungs. 

As we rounded the corner where the land begins to climb, an enormous flock of gulls, disturbed by our approach, floated into the still air. I saw four more buzzards, one sitting on the ground calmly watching us as we trotted past, three with outstretched wings catching the updrafts above the frozen fields.

It was easier running than it sometimes is, the ice having leant the land a uniform hardness, ironing out the ruts and wheels. A small flock of fieldfare zig-zagged out of badger's wood and darted away from us, their rusty urgent tuk-tuk-tuk calls identifying them. Wagtails nipped across the surface of the field, skimming the icy blades of frosted greenery and the smooth balls of earth, their excitable skittering voices mirroring the incessant bobbing of their elongated tails.

I walked part of the hill (Being Sensible) which gave me time to study the changes in the land more closely. Pockets of yellow and flurries of russet among the trees and along the hedges marked where leaves clung on, but more and more the land is taking on the uniform brown/ purple/ grey of winter. Along the margins between field and woodland the bronze of bracken, crystallised for now by the cold of the night, lent the washed out green a fiery blaze of colour. Small birds, dunnocks and robins, hopped through the fronds dislodging slivers of ice which fell glittering like miniature daggers to the ground. They perched on low boughs and watch us, fluffed up and puffy with the chill.

The light seemed to weave its way politely through the leaves, filtering rather than forcing, as if it knew they weren't long for this world, but it hit the land hard and bounced back off it adamant and strong, perhaps making the point that ice is no match for sunlight in the long-run.

In a short time my breath had recovered and the cold in my lungs had eased and we ran on, up the rest of the hill, over the fallen stile in the hedge, past the metal gate that closes off the field from the track and down the gravelled lane that sits atop the Old Roman Road. Did you know during Roman times you weren't allowed to use their major roads unless you were an army? There were penalties. I don't suppose they were pleasant. I think on that every time I come this way, experiencing the same small thrill of exhilaration in disobedience I used to feel as a child daring a bit of mild rule-breaking. It's a small bit of defiance in empathy for the put-upon Celtic tribe whose land this once was. And it's a bit late now for the Romans to tell me off.

We leave the Roman Road and are back into fields. The sun blinks constantly through the old hedge on my left as I run, like a strobe light in a night club coming and going with annoying regularity and I end up shading my eyes with one hand in an attempt to gain more uniform vision. The track on this shady side of the hedge is silver and glittering; an ice river we skate down.

At the bottom we have the choice to cut across the fields right and head for home but I'm not ready to go back yet, so recently released from enforced indoor stillness that I want to keep running forever. We continue down towards the wood and then out into the kale field where the path runs straight through the middle of the crop. Pop, knowing the way, bounces ahead, galloping through the vegetation, ears flying. Teddy, more circumspect in all things (unless they concern pigeons, rats, squirrels or fox poo), slips in behind me: I hear his paws press against the earth as he follows my lead.

We reach the bottom of the hill and follow Pop who has already turned right and is heading up the steep incline. I tell myself I won't run it, so I select a suitable place to stop running and start walking - a slender silver birch in the wood line - and then run just a little bit further to the end of a patch of nettles beyond. This is what runners do, right? we like to go just a little bit further. It's what defines us I think, pushing on and testing boundaries.

The dogs have disappeared into the wood- I hear them setting up pheasants which erupt a few seconds later screaming out of the trees. I walk for a bit, watching my breath materialise on the air, then realising I'm actually fine, pick up the pace and run on, steady, steady, two breaths in, two out, in pace with my footfalls. I get to the top of the hill that way before I've really noticed and turn back to whistle for the hounds, but they are already coming.

Together we nip between two old oaks that stand like green sentries in the hedge line and head on to the top of the hill. We turn left towards the green lane and the final half mile home. I manage most of the homeward hill at a run and am pleased with my energy level and the capacity in my lungs as I reach the top. The sun has warmed the earth and the fields are gently steaming. It will be a beautiful day, but I feel we've had the bit with magic in.

Pop and I gallop together down the final field, free, chasing one another, laughing. After a few minutes it occurs to me that there is no Ted. Stopping, I look back and see him rolling happily on the ground some distance away. Really rolling. Not just a small rub, but a proper dig-every-inch-of-your-body-into-the-grass-thoroughly roll. Oh No. The laughter stops abruptly and my heart sinks. I know exactly what he is doing. I find some colourful and impressively inventive adjectives for him when he finally catches up with us, brown instead of the white he should be.

We get back to the car, Poppy and I congratulating one another on a lovely run. Ted, in disgrace, lifted into the boot inside a blanket in silence, because I have run out of words for him.

On the coldest day of the year so far I am forced to drive home with both the windows fully open so that the arctic blast flowing direct from the polar region freezes the sweat on my skin. My neck warmer pulled up over my nostrils makes me look like an exercise-obsessed gangster and the few people I pass quite rightly stare at me with puzzled looks of amazement on their faces.

It is my intention to administer a lesson-filled cold shampoo in the garden using the outside tap when we get home, but it seems the frost is on the side of Naughty Terriers Who Roll In Fox Poo. The hosepipe is frozen, so it's a luke-warm bucket instead.


All in all a fabulous run. I'm so pleased to be back at it.

Hope all are well?

CT x



Friday, 25 November 2016

Guess What......?


I'm back to running! I did a mile and half down the lane with the dogs just now. I went steady and it was fine! Not out of breath, not coughing like mad, not tired. I am sooo tempted to do Parkrun tomorrow, but I will be good (I expect) and take the dogs round the three mile off-road field loop instead.

I haven't had time to reply to comments from the last post, so thank you all for leaving them. Well dones are due for Leanne (regular 5 miles is brilliant, you'll smash six before you know it), Veggie Mummy (go, girl! So glad your back is better and you're back at it), CJ (woop! woop! Out running! And who cares how fast, running is the thing!), Shauna (excellent! I'm so pleased it's going well!).

I'll leave you with two things. 1) My friend Katie has got a sewing machine! She said she was inspired by the sewing sale :o). I have been through my stash and sorted her a huge bag full of odds and ends of fabric and a few zips for good measure. 2) here is a divine choc brownie recipe that I have been working on for years by refining and adding various tweaks. It's gooey and fudgey and keeps for ten days at least (if it lasts that long). Let me know what you think if you try it.

225g chocolate bar (I use milk but you could do dark if you want it richer and more bitter)
4oz butter
2 eggs
2oz plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1-2oz cocoa powder (depending how rich you like it)
4oz muscovado sugar
1-2oz chocolate drops

1. Melt chocolate bar and butter in a glass bowl over a saucepan with boiling water in it until combined.
2. Off heat stir in all the other ingredients.
3. Add the choc chips last and stir slightly to make sure they're all covered in the mixture but haven't melted.
4. Pour into a lined 22cm square tin.
5. Bake at 165 degrees for 20 mins approx. (Don't over cook. It should be springy in the middle and a skewer stuck in should come out clean).
6. Cool on a wire rack and cut into bars.
7. Gorge!

I'm a little grumpy about the changes Blogger has made to the dashboard. I can't see your new blog posts or comments without clicking through three different stages. Grrr. What does everyone else think? I suppose I shall get used to it.

Wishing you all a nice weekend,

CT :o)


Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Sewing Sale And Almost Back To Running




Last night was the Sewing Sale at my friend Kate's house. She'd made some gorgeous cakes (chocolate, carrot, apple) and I'd done lemon drizzle and chocolate fudge. When I arrived, the fire was lit, the kettle was on and at 6.30 our friends began to arrive.

I've known Katie since our children were babies (they now range between 15 and 20) and we both know each other's friends and families so it was really nice to catch up with so many of them last night.

M can not understand ladies inviting one another round to their houses to buy things one of them has made/ is selling and to eat cake, drink tea and chatter, but we were all happy as bees round a honey pot. There were lots of jokes about hot flushes and poor memories and the need to do regular yoga in order to be able to get out of bed without clicking and crunching each morning, along with the wry acknowledgement that when we first all knew each other our idea of a good night out was boozing and clubbing. Sewing, tea and cake came way a long way down the list (if indeed they ever featured at all.) How times change. 

When we decided to do the sewing sale back in the summer we agreed we'd use it to support the Samaritans as I have a connection with them, but a couple of days ago Kate texted me to say a friend of hers had been killed on her way to work so we decided to split the proceeds between Sams and the Wiltshire Air Ambulance who'd airlifted her to hospital. It's so sudden, something like that, isn't it? So arbitrary. One minute on your way to work the way you've done it for years and the next, gone. We explained why we were adding the second charity and people were generous and left donations as well as buying bunting, bags and pencil cases, so we have a reasonable amount to give to each.

When I got home L asked me to make him some gingerbread biscuits. He is eating me out of house and home again (must be a growth spurt) so I've spent this morning doing that. 44. I wonder how long they will last? Bells, Christmas Trees and People. You're never too old (or too cool) for shaped gingerbreads, eh? I don't think I put enough spice in them as they're a wee bit sugary for my taste, which doubtless makes them perfect for a teenage lad :o)


I have a poorly husband at home. M, who never gets sick, came down with my bug over the weekend and has been running an on/off temperature ever since. He makes a worse patient than me as he hates sitting still. No running or cycling for him all week and he's about ready to climb the walls.

Fortunately, I think the lurgy is at long last leaving me. It's two weeks today since I started to go downhill so it's about bloomin' time. I am hoping to pick up running again over the weekend. Still coughing a bit but I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to getting back out to pounding the fields. I have my first 5 mile race coming up in three weeks and I was expressing concern to running chum Sue last night about my capacity to do it. She said I'd be fine, given where I'd got to recently. Coming from someone who does ultra endurance runs and skips round the 3 mile Parkrun in under 22 minutes barely pausing for breath and then runs home afterwards I'll take that as set in stone :o)

Hope you're all well? The weather's improved in the UK. Still windy but no longer dark and gloomy, hooray!

CT :o)





Monday, 21 November 2016

Making Night Of Day




I'm thinking it's like this right across the UK today. Grim. It doesn't feel like the sun's even bothered to rise. It's dark, gloomy, pouring with rain, cold and miserable outside. The dogs and I are not stirring foot from the house. I can hear my little Sparrows singing determinedly from inside the hedge and a couple of Colourful Characters popping by (before the rain started in earnest) proved that, despite appearances, it is actually day outside.

Green Woodpecker drilling for ants on then lawn

Male Siskin nibbling nyger seeds
I'm thinking some hoovering is going to happen because that never fails to warm me up and I'm resisting the urge to switch the heating on.

Bug-wise, I'm still laid up although better than I was. I even managed to drive L to school this morning which is the first time in ten days. He's not 100% (as I have infected the whole family) but was determined to go in because he has GCSEs looming and revision sessions have already started.
M found him curled up asleep on the sofa with Poppy on Sunday morning. His awful mother had forgotten to give him a hot water bottle before bed and by midnight it was too cold to stay in his room.  Apparently, small  scruffy dogs make marvellous (if smelly) hot water bottles, even if they do take up far more room than their size suggests and aren't supposed to even be on sofas. You can see how much notice Pop takes of this rule in the pic above. Incidentally, she's been eyeing up my Reading Chair ever since it arrived but so far hasn't actually breached it. There will be Words had if she does.

M went off to work barking and sneezing and talking like Barry White. He just rang to say he isn't feeling too clever and may come home. I've never known him come back from work sick so he must be feeling rotten. What a horrid bug!

I've made a lemon drizzle cake this morning for the sewing sale and tomorrow will follow up with a chocolate one. If no one buys anything at least I'll have presents sorted for the next ten years and can commiserate with myself by eating lots of cake :o)

Hope you're all well?

CT.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Reading Chair



So, a second post in almost as many days. Clearly, I am stuck at home bored and in need of distraction. The bug continues but at least I'm up out of bed, which is an improvement, although food shopping last night was an interesting experience.

I've always wanted a reading chair. The one above arrived last week, courtesy of Laura Ashley's sale. It is exactly what I'd always pictured in my head, right down to the shape and the cherry red stripes.

It makes you sit up quite straight (unless you are L, who lies sideways across it, legs draped over the arms, head resting on the wing-backs, kindle pressed to his nose), but at the same time it manages to feel cosy.

It is "my" chair, which is partly a family joke acknowledging the eccentricity of wanting a specific chair for reading in, but is also a nod towards the fact that people often have a favourite chair that is "theirs". We each sit in the same place for meals here, something that happened naturally over time. Whenever anyone moves to a different seat for any reason we all register the oddness of it. We're all creatures of habit deep down, I think. My in laws have their own chairs in their sitting room by the fire. If anyone else ever sits in them you can almost hear an audible gasp of shock coming from everyone else. They've never laid vocal claim to the chairs and they'd never shove anyone off them, it's just where they always sit. I like that. There's something reassuring about people being where you expect them to be. Do you have regular places you always sit in your home?

Other than reading in my chair (which incidentally is where I've taken to reading your blog posts too), I've been getting things ready for my sewing sale. The applique animals took ages on my faithful old Brother sewing machine. The top bobbin is starting to go and she's broken three needles in as many weeks, so, shh, don't breath a word, but I'm getting a new one for Christmas! One with a small computer in it that offers over 400 stitches! Gasp! And on top of that an Overlocker too! Thank you, beloved husband. I won't tell you yet what I've got him, that will have to wait till after Crimble, but I am very excited it.

Phyllis has done good service and I will keep her as a back up, now I'll have to think about a name for the new one. Suggestions, please. It's a Janome, if that helps. Janice? Jennifer? Jolene?

Oyster Catcher tablet case

Westie on a makeup bag (an homage to Ted)

Another Westie, this time on a basket
Right, it's raining outside so I'm off to light the fire, curl up in the chair beneath a blanket and dip into some Good Books.

Hope all's well with you all.

CT x

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Off My Game & On Elaine Morgan's Books




One of the useful off shoots of running is that you tend to fight infection well. I can't remember the last time I had a cold. Last winter everyone else came down with one and I sailed through unscathed (somewhat smugly, which may explain why I have now come down with the mother of all ENT infections).

A patient arrived last Monday with a sore throat and by Thursday I was not feeling well. I went for a run round the fields first thing to try and shift it, but by evening was coughing fit to burst and it's gone on from there. This morning L has come down with it too, so we are both at home crook in bed.

I don't make a good patient. I hate feeling ill. Hate being forced to be quiet. Most of all I hate the enforced inactivity. I haven't run for five days and it feels like I've never run at all. Worse, it feels like I never will again (exaggeration I know, but being under the weather tends to swamp every sensible rational thought). I'm Very Grumpy that my running programme has been interrupted and cross at all the time being wasted. I may be stuffing a cold rather than starving a fever but despite the lack of temperature and associated aches and pains I still feel like death warmed up. Grrrr.

I've done a bit of sewing (interfaced lined fabric baskets and some Crimble bunting) when I've managed to drag myself out of bed because my friend Mrs M is kindly hosting a pre-Christmas Sewing Sale for me at her house next week. 

I've ordered stocking fillers for the kids (the usual chocolates, fart whistles, fortune telling fish, pencils and bouncy balls, as well as things that mark how they are all growing up, like razors and deodorants for the boys and a book of Maya Angelou's poems for J. It was a toss-up between Maya and Sylvia Plath, a poet I think every lass should read, but in the end I thought Maya was more J's scene). I've made lists of Christmas-type things that need doing, including a pile of Garden Jobs for M who is now the Proud Owner of an Industrial Flame Thrower for dealing with garden weeds. It looks and sounds like a fire breathing dragon. He's wanted one for ages and when he mentioned it to L a few years ago L's response was she'll never let you have one of those. Proper Big Boys Toys.

Other than that I've been asleep or plonked in front of the tele working my way through The Good Wife. Again. Much as I enjoy The Good Wife there are only so many hours of daytime tv I can cope with before I begin to feel I'm turning into a brain-dead couch potato. And if you're used to running you find when you aren't your appetite diminishes and the enjoyment of food goes with it. For a lass who likes her meals this is a real downer. I'm trying to do a bit of yoga before bed but it's not the same as running miles.
 
To combat the brain-drain I've been reading Elaine Morgan's The Descent Of Woman and the Aquatic Ape, which hypothesize that homo sapiens went through an aquatic phase of evolution and that human evolution was driven by the female of the species as much as the male. It was ground-breaking stuff when published in the 1970s largely because women had always been seen as of secondary importance in terms of evolutionary drivers. It also wasn't taken seriously at that time because Elaine Morgan was a Welsh Housewife not a scientist and academically qualified scientists felt within their rights to diminish her ideas accordingly.

Her theory rebutted the accepted model of the time, the Savannah Hypothesis, which held that evolution was driven primarily by the male of the species and his needs. Women cared for the children, men hunted. And successful hunting required bipedal effort which resulted in over-heating when it was done with a full coat of fur. The fur was lost over time as a response to over-heating, and bipedal movement became the norm.

Morgan pointed out inconsistencies in this theory, namely that quadrupeds run much faster than bipeds so how can bipedal hunting benefit the hunter, and also that women, whom the Savannah Hyposthesis had sitting at home not running about at all, had more need of hair than their mates to keep them warm but in reality have less. To this day, men retain hairy chests, backs, legs and arms.

She offered a theory touched on by Desmond Morris in his book The Naked Ape, that humans went through an Aquatic phase of development. Standing up on two legs made sense when it enabled escape from quadruped predators by wading deep into water. It explained why humans are the only land-dwelling mammals with a layer of subcutaneous fat (commonly found in aquatic creatures) and why they lost their fur. It also explained why fur was retained on the head - she suggests babies could hold on to it when their parents were in the water as their heads would be the only part that would be consistently above the water. 

Whether you agree with her or not, it is a really interesting, thought-provoking read, one that is saving me from the danger of insanity brought on by complete inactivity. I don't think this bug is going to shift any time soon so I am reconciled to a week held in suspension. I might as well use it wisely and come back fighting with a bit more knowledge in my head.

How are all of you? I understand this bug is doing the rounds in the UK so if you're here I really hope you've escaped it.

CT :o)
 

Monday, 7 November 2016

Ten Miles Across The Chalk


The weather has changed. Winter is closing in. The trees are losing their leaves, shaking out stark skeletons hidden by the summer, and the land is damping down for the Still Time.

I hibernate in Winter. Not so much during the day, but as soon as the light goes I retreat into the heart of the house, close the curtains, light the fire and draw the night around me. During the day I am the opposite: I buzz about, expansive. The cold energy invigorates and enlivens. I don't like being still indoors during winter days any more than I do in summer.

This weekend we decided to do the Giant Mousse Hill run again but with a few extra miles thrown in to make it a Nice Round Ten. I've not run ten miles before. It's only three shy of a Half Marathon, which as you may recall is my target for next year.

We set off across the fields early on Sunday in bitingly cold air, reasonably well wrapped considering we'd got a long run ahead, in layers that could be removed. The buzzard who lives in the Ash Stand floated out over the field beside the Green Lane as he always does. The dogs rushed off down the hill to sniff at bunny tracks and stare at a flock of distant seagulls peppering a far field, debating their chances of reaching them before the whole lot took off.

I kept pace with M. I felt stronger, in a better rhythm than the last time we came this way. I knew I was working well, everything felt smooth and simple, not ragged and full of effort.

The fields were cold as we ran the tracks high up onto the Chalk. We kept pace with the wind that numbed our hands through our gloves and etched cold circles with malicious fingers of deliberate intent on our cheeks. Flocks of Linnets, rosy-tinted above blond feathers, skittered into the grey-burdened sky, exploding from the land at our feet where they had been invisible until movement gave them form. Rotting mushrooms collapsed into oozing sores in the field margins, slippery pools hidden among lumps of bitter flint, hard-edged and callous. The dried stalks of umbellifers, desiccated into crispness as the moisture of summer withdrew, whipped against us, scratching at our skin and snapping into brittle pieces that crumbled when we brushed them away.

Brambles tugged at our feet and thorns nipped at our legs and ankles as we came off the side of the hill down into the wood where tall beeches traced the line of an ancient road. Mud sucked at us in the valley bottom where a small stream snaked across a formerly dry path. Down the Green Lane tree roots writhed in the concealment of semi-darkness afforded by the tightly interlaced fingers of the trees.

We ran up mud-cloaked, crop-stripped hills, tiring when our shoes became weighed-down with the clagginess of turned soil, and used grassy tracks to relieve them of the burden, the moisture on the stalks washing the mud away so that our feet felt free and light again and movement became unrestricted pleasure once more.

Seven miles in we trotted down country lanes side-by-side in a steady rhythm, each with a dog lead in hand and a dog running ahead. We crossed through elegant parkland where Curious Cows grazed quietly beneath stately Cedars, the ramshackle fence suggestive of faded grandeur and other, perhaps better kept times. We ran through pastures where horses, lying down in the dewy chill of early morning looked up at us and frowned.

Over fallen trees and under stooping branches. Across puddles gathered in the pockmarks of five-hundred-year-old farmyards. Over gates and under fences. Beside strips of woodland and along the edges of fields. High on the hills and low in the valleys. Exposed and covered. Crunching fallen cob nuts underfoot. Breath for talking, then not, then again. And always, beside, beneath and through it all the steady, simple, reliable rhythm of running; something tangible with which to combat the seductive, silken whispers of tiredness.

We were out for one hour, forty minutes and at the end of it, I'd completed my first ten mile run. I ran the last three miles alone, recognising that I was tired and knowing I am better at Keeping Going under those circumstances when not in company.

I was weary afterwards, my legs ached a bit and my toe nails were a little bruised, but not for long. My husband, who was waiting for me with the car when I finished, and of whose running abilities I am in total, utter and complete awe, paid me the greatest compliment of all by saying at the end you could run a half marathon, no sweat.
The slice of homemade apple pie was my reward, in case you were wondering :o)

Hope you're all faring well?

CT.







Wednesday, 2 November 2016

On This Morning's Run....


I've had a pain inside my knee when running for the past few days. M reckons it's coming from the muscle that feeds the knee, and to prove the point last night administered the thumb of death into the soft tissue and then grinned when I shot off the sofa screaming.

Today, mindful of this, I gathered up the mutts and, after dropping L at school, headed off to the open country to run. Ted has decided not to do road runs either as the number of squirrels in the lane-side trees has dropped off annoyingly recently, so he was pleased as punch, so much so that he very enthusiastically sang me the song of his people from the car boot most of the way there.

It was cold. 3 degrees. I dithered about clothing and went for leggings and a long-sleeved top. Half way round I bitterly regretted this and wished I'd opted for a tee shirt instead. I run in a beanie hat and gloves once the weather cools and find this usually negates the need for long sleeves.

The grass was wet and cold, traced through with fine silver lines, evidence of the night time ramblings of badger, bunnies, deer and fox. As we reached the top of the first hill a buzzard flew from the ash stand, floating out silently across the chill air above the Chalk on broad, creamy-brown wings.

Half-way down the hill, a roe buck stood like a sentry staring into the dark heart of the Old Green Lane at something only he could see. Poppy, unable to resist, shot off after him. He remained motionless for a moment longer before springing to life and leaping away.

Ted and I ran more cautiously down the hill - mindful of our knees - and at the bottom where the track swings left into the next field met Pop coming back the other way, deerless and tongue lolling from her efforts to catch up with it. My observation, after living with Poppy for three years, is that Jack Russells have no concept that they are a mere twelve inches off the ground. In their heads they are lions.

The track winds along the base of the field, hugging the hedge which is splashed alternately yellow and green as field maple and hazel burst out of their uniform summer emeralds into the riotous carnival of Autumn. Elder leaves curl upwards here and there along the length of the hedge, pale fingers on thin boughs twisting up in supplication to desiccate in the cooling breath of the dying year and fall crisply to the earth.

The dogs and I run on, negotiating with care the tractor ruts at the edge of the kale field that pull at ankles and threaten injury (or perhaps, with their requirement for vigilance, encourage nimble last-minute leaping). A small, sad, undisturbed pile of soft, dove-grey feathers commemorates the spot where the female Sparrowhawk breakfasted this morning: a pigeon, consumed with efficient economy in the lee of the field.

The track begins to climb slowly now. At present it offers merely a gentle hint of what is to come. My breathing, well-trained, moves up smoothly from three-in, three-out, to a more even in-out-in-out, keeping pace with the land. The thin strip of woodland passing in a joggy blur to our right is all that is left of the huge forest that once spread right across these fields. Until fifty years ago. I've seen the maps that record its heyday and display the terrible aftermath of its destruction. They make for sobering observation and I mourn the loss of the trees every time I come this way.
The wood has been home to badgers for centuries and this morning there are several small, conical pits puncturing the grass along its edge that weren't there yesterday. Little neat piles of disturbed earth lie beside each one, and in the bottom of the pits, ribbons of grassy white roots like single strands of bleached hair. I smile as I run on, imagining the black-and-white bears of the night coming out of their wood into the field to truffle up the roots and earthworms they unearth in their holes. A badger's nose is an implement all by itself.

We leave the sett behind and, turning the corner, see the hill stretching away in front of us. It isn't steep as such but it is relentless; a long, slow, steady incline that goes on and on and on. When you're running, it seems like it will never stop. It isn't all that long ago that I wasn't able to run up its entirety, and I reflect on this as I slow my pace, feel a different muscle group engage (the one I've been working on with all those lunges in the garden) and my breath responds again, shifting gear once more with the gradient as the incline begins to bite and my heart starts working properly: eventually, thunderously.

Poppy, blessed with dynamite in her paws, shoots effortlessly up the hill making it look easy. She disappears into the wood where she has time to put up five or six pheasants before I catch up with her and call her out. Ted, out of kindness and solidarity, tucks in behind me and trots along whispering encouraging words.

When we reach the top my heart is thundering in its cage of ribs. But the sense of achievement as we turn and look back down the hill from where we have come! A rattling heart is a small price to pay. We don't look for long, because the track is at our feet calling us ever on, so we turn, duck through the gap in the blackberry hedge, hop the stile, jump the trunk of the fallen tree and run on down the gravel track, which was once a Roman road but is now the way to a farm.

I am thinking about Roman boots as we peel off right into a field where tall cover crops grow. It is here that Ted got lost in the summer. He emerged half an hour later covered in bits of greenery looking sheepish. Neither of them stop to investigate the crop now - they know we are On A Run and stopping isn't an option. They do, however, pause at the intersection of three fields a little further down, looking right where they know we usually go. Yesterday I took them on into another field and now they aren't Quite Sure which way to go, so they wait for me.

Pop is very quick. She glances over at me and can tell from the way I'm not slackening my pace that we're carrying on. Ted requires a small verbal reassurance before he too is off, heading down the path towards the wood.

We cross over the woodland track, oaks ablaze with Autumn fire, and run on into a second kale field, where a tall woman with long grey hair is drifting through the early morning light following the dewy path. I blink in the sunlight and wonder for a moment if she's a spirit sent for All Soul's Day, but her smile and sturdy Good Morning as we run past, as well as her solid black Lab rootling in the earth by her feet, convince me she's flesh and blood.

Pop and Ted stop for a longer introduction (which I am afraid involves bottoms, in the Way Of Dogs) and then reluctantly leave their new friend whose hackles are bristling in any event at the Dual Terrier Sniff Approach, and career down the path after me. Pain-free in the knee department and now at 4k I figure sufficient warm-up care has been taken to let fly and the three of us race one another to the bottom. Poppy wins and I come a close third.

Steadying the pace I prepare for the almost-final hill, which is a killer. If the ascent wasn't already enough it is also covered in rough grass, broken branches and half-begun rabbit holes. The only thing remotely resembling a path is the Badger Way that wobbles between field and woodland. It is not for the unwary. Once again, my running rhythm shifts, different muscles engage and my breathing alters. I feel, alone in the fields save for the dogs and the Wild Ones, that I am part of the land, sinking into it, and that it is holding me up, carrying me on, helping me when all my bones, muscles, my heart and my lungs are giving loud signals to stop. I make it three quarters of the way up before I give in and walk. Pop glances over, questioning this, and even Ted, already at the top, looks slightly disappointed as he waits for me. Under their gazes I start to run again and so regain a modicum of pride by the time I reach them.

The dogs know the way from here and race on confidently up the earthy track. Pop doesn't bother to glance back to make certain I am following, but Teddy paused briefly, just to be sure. They go on through the wood, over the second Roman road and back along the ancient hedge with its three hundred year old oaks and its hawthorn glittering golden yellow and red in the light.

They are waiting for me at the top of the incline and together we turn left, heading for the Green Lane which is hidden from view and feels like a secret. Ted always likes to run inside the tree-lined tunnel but I prefer the open field edge and so we helter-skelter down the hill racing one another and meet up at the bottom. One more hill to go, which I'm up before I realise I've done it (pausing for another moment's reflection on how that wasn't happening a few weeks ago) and then we're past where the Ivy Bees have their nests in September, past where the Badger Path cuts through the field and disappears into the Green Lane, a few stray silver-grey hairs always caught on the barbs of the wire as an extra clue, ducking beneath the hazel boughs that sweep across the hole in the hedge and flying down the ploughed hill, past the horses behind the hedge who are surprised enough to glance up from their hay piles, bits of hay dropping from their mouths, comically. From here we round the corner of the field where the big oak stands as sentinel, run smoothly now along the field edge and get back to the car in a little under half an hour with another 5k safely under our belts.

My legs are aching, but the dogs have had enough energy left to play their favourite game of chase around the greenhouse this afternoon and to distribute their beds in various surprising places around the house :o)

Hope all are well?

CT.