Mountain Thoughts: Fell Running in the Shropshire Hills

Mountain Thoughts Running
on
February 8, 2016

The rain whipped across my face, and the wind blew so fiercely I could barely stay upright. I pushed forward, my shoes slipping on wet earth. Suddenly the trail disappeared, nothing but crumbling rock in all directions, and I realized I’d lost the main trail and followed a sheep path instead.

Turning back, I paused for a moment to catch my breath and take in the dramatic landscape of Carding Mill Valley and the Longmynd.

This was my first experience fell running.

On a short business trip to the UK, I had a few precious hours between my arrival and my first meeting in the office. Knowing it was my only opportunity to run in daylight, I checked into the quaint Victoria House, changed into running gear, and headed for the hills.

A typical winter day in England, the skies were gray, and I couldn’t outrun the rain. As I turned into Carding Mill Valley, I passed several walkers who were wisely heading home.

I turned off the main road and began climbing, my legs and lungs on fire before I topped the first hill. At a signpost, I followed a trail deeper into the hills.

Eventually I found myself precariously perched on a rocky outcropping, and the 360-degree views stretched out around me. I could see Church Stretton below and the lush Shropshire Hills, green even in the heart of winter, rolling away in every direction.

RockyOutcropping

White specks dotting the landscape, the hardy sheep seemed blissfully oblivious to the fierce wind and biting rain. I, on the other hand, was soaked to the bone, my waterlogged shoes, gloves, and tights quickly approaching max saturation.

A gust of wind lifted my cap off my head. It spun through the air and landed in a scrubby patch of heather. I chased after it,  and was nearly blown off my feet, as the wind and rain buffeted me from all directions.

Breathless and battered, I sought shelter on the leeward side of the next hill.  I slowly made my way across the ridge, one moment crawling against the gale, the next running recklessly, propelled forward by an invisible force.

A sheep path disappears into the heather

A sheep path disappears into the heather

I was a sight to see. Cheeks ruddy from the cold. Hair tangled and matted by the wind. Legs streaked with mud. I questioned my sanity for continuing this mad trek.

Then, a sound escaped my lips. Immediately carried away by the wind, it wasn’t a whimper, a sob or a desperate plea. No, it’s best described as a chortle. A gurgling laugh working its way from my belly to the back of my throat.

It was the sound of being in the moment. Of feeling raw and alive. Of being in a new place, that even in miserable conditions, was immeasurably beautiful and awe-inspiring.

That sound, that feeling of exhilaration and pure, unadulterated joy, is why I run.

Taking shelter from the wind

Seeking shelter from the wind

Running takes you to places you never expected. To dizzying heights. To secret paths. To a patchwork of craggy rock, heathered moorland, ancient woodland, and grassy meadows. On that day, as the rain swirled and the wind howled, I had the entire expanse to myself.

It was just me. And the sheep. Maybe they aren’t so oblivious after all.

The Shropshire Hills are one of 46 designated and protected Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the UK.

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