From ashes to arrows

“I can’t wait to run with you,” he said to me.

That was my eight-year-old son speaking as we parked up at this vantage point, high above Llangollen, in between clouds. I was emptying the stones from my trail shoes, balancing (leaning against the car) on one foot. Sydney still curled under a sleeping bag in the back seat, Tom waiting (patiently) for me to finish so he could get Ben to his rugby match. My son had momentarily escaped the passenger carriage and spotted that I was heading off on an adventure. His keenness to explore with me simply warmed my heart. He didn’t even know where I was headed, but it sure sounded like fun.

This was a good place to start my Offa’s Dyke Path reconnaissance mission, the Panorama. Over-excitedly, I’d requested a drop-off at Bron y Garth, but Tom pointed out that here might be a more suitable proposition considering I intended to aim for Llangwyfan. I couldn’t quite recall the distance that that implied, somewhere between 25-30 miles, I’d guess. It was also a great starting point because this is the final resting place of my grandparents, their ashes scattered near the tree by the bench. My grandfather was my Welsh ancestor. Aptly named David Lloyd George, his Valleys-born-and-bred mother was the last of the family to speak in the dulcet tones of that region, and, until my own children began their Welsh education, the last of my line to speak fluent Welsh. I feel I’ve missed out on a cultural imperative.

Four years ago I had no idea that I’d be here to recce a trail run covering the length of Wales in order to support the mental wellbeing of our children, but that was to be my destiny.

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As usual, the first four miles were restricted running simply because I was taking photographs of every angle of view, mesmerised by the beauty of the hills, with far-reaching views to another of my quarries over in Snowdonia. Clean air, warm sunshine, sheep traffic, undulating trails. Getting close to nature is very much about getting closer to life, we are not borne from industrialisation and cement.

We are earth, we are stars, we are nature.

At the point that the trail junction met the road, a pretty ford sprinkled its way across the tarmac, glittering with the sunlight, a noise of serenity. I looked down at my trail shoes, my sturdy, water-proof support. Sure-footed, I nodded to myself, and stepped ahead into the shallow deluge. In one swoop, I was feet up in the air, head and back landing with a surprisingly decent splash. Like a turtle in shock I don’t think I moved straight away. Pushing myself to sit up, yes, sitting in this pretty little stream, I crawled over to the edge and stood up.

Pretty. Sparkly. What a trickster that beauty was! Normally, I would be taking umpteen photographs of the sight, but in a huff with nature I decided to ignore it and walk up the hill.

Part way up, feeling the water dripping down my back as it had soaked my base layer under my smock, down my legs, I wondered if I’d dry out in this cool 7 degrees celsius? A couple of miles later, part way across the Llandegla moors’ wooden planks, I stripped to my bra to change my top. Now, it had been a bit of a rash decision to train this weekend, for nearly all of the previous week I had been bed-bound with a temperature-less flu-like fatigue; in part a result of missed medication, and in part my mind dealing with unforeseen events, wanting to send me into another spin. So, in keeping with rash decisions, something gets missed. I had failed to pack a dry bag to keep my spare kit in. My spare top wasn’t wet, but having to put my wet top in the bag meant anything else in there was now going to suffer. Darn it.

Another smile. Another deep breath. Another lesson. I carry on, obviously not wanting to die of hypothermia or to require rescuing from mountain bikers on a jolly; enjoying the solitude, enjoying the colours, the peace, the bird song. For the first time in my life I can distinctively hear the thwut thwut thwut of a large bird’s wingbeat overhead. It was maybe a raven?

At some point after I’d already left the village of Llandegla (for a refreshment break and a coffee) and now headed for the hills towards my destination, I realised I needed a number two.

So, this very topic came up in discussion at this weekend’s Create Your Own Adventure Brand workshop for writing and publishing, co-hosted by Camilla from Vertebrate Publishing, the Women’s Adventure Expo and a few others. That experience requires a dedicated post of its own. It makes me chuckle, simply because we are not taught these survival methods growing up (at least I wasn’t). And I mean, really taught them so that it’s instinctive and natural. We are too civilised a nation to entertain poo-talk, and should you find yourself in that dire situation out in the sticks, well, you just have to figure it out for yourself.

An observation I noted, through repetition, was that I would gladly bound over styles caked in mud, through kissing gates submerged in water, or sidle along hedges to minimise my footprints in the fields. But I was purely rubbish at noticing the direction the trail arrows were pointing. On nearly every single occasion I had to retrace my steps to take stock of the direction of travel required—even in full view of oncomers who informed me that I didn’t need to go over a style if there was already a space to walk past it. I was already nearing the end of my day before I noticed that this was becoming a pattern. Was it fatigue? Lack of habit? Who knows, but it’s something I clearly need to work on.

16 miles later I reach the Clwyd Gate. The final road pick up point before further Welsh hillage, so I call Tom to come and rescue me from the rain. He tells me to make my way down the hill towards Ruthin, seeing as that would be his direction. I didn’t want to stay outside without moving so gladly made my way.

A mile later and downhill running along the grassy verge becomes untenable quite simply because the verge ceases to exist, and there is no path for me to use which doesn’t lead me back uphill and away from Ruthin. This is a common occurrence with roads. They are not designed for human travel. I feel the discrimination intensely, this situation blights the country. I know, because I felt it every day that I had to access roads during my Fierce Mind LEJOGLE run. Pretty, scenic walking routes are great, but what if you actually need to travel from town to town on foot? The safe runcommute is a reasonable expectation for those who wish to support action for Climate Change, or at the very least get fit and save cash on petrol and parking.

Mildly (OK, a little more than mildly) irritated by another Council/Highways prejudice, I do circles of a car park waiting for my knight in shining Renault armour to appear.

I survived, even though I’d cast doubt on my ability to cover more than a half-marathon in one day. I’d forgotten my own experience that it’s my mind that will help me go further. My body will catch up if I water and nourish it well. And when there are days that my comfort zone shrinks again, it’s my own temporary perspective of now that will determine where it remains. I can push it out, or let it shrink.

Push it out, or let it shrink. We are star-shaped.

I ran the downhills, most of the flats, walked the uphills. I captured views on my own doorstep that I’d never seen before. Heard new natural experiences, collected new memories. Can there really be any better way of discovering this planet than on foot? They should make this into a prescription; my mind was allowed space to subconsciously work through issues, and my body was allowed the freedom to move and breathe away from pollution.

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