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.
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?