The valley that saved me through lockdown

I took for granted the freedom that I was privileged to have during my childhood and growing up in the 1960s and 70s: those endless days exploring the vast woodland of Meanwood Valley with friends and siblings. We named rocks, had picnics in the thickets of Scotland Woods, dared each other to walk across the unfenced aqueduct of Adel Woods, waded with fishing nets in the beck, swam, paddled, swung on rope swings above muddy waters and sledged down the slope above the swings.

We trudged home when hunger registered or clothes were too soggy after we’d fallen in the streams. I attended the primary school next to the park so sports and nature walks were spent in the greenery of the parkland.

Time did the inevitable thing of passing by and I embarked on a new hobby during my teenage years: running. This was a time when running fashion was a pair of flat pumps and shiny nylon shorts that flapped at the sides with the slightest of breezes. I found myself again playing up and down Meanwood Valley, running over ancient rocks and roots of the same protected trees, re-carving out the paths of my early childhood.

However, Meanwood Valley took on a sleeping historic form, a forgotten gem, because I had discovered the Yorkshire Dales and mighty mountains of the Lake District. I enjoyed the challenges of racing and spent weekends making up new runs, again taking for granted outstanding beauty in another form.

That was up until March 2020 when suddenly society was forced into a most unnatural prison sentence. For me, lockdown seemed necessary yet on a personal level an impossibility. My allocated slot of daily exercise allowance became my saving grace. As I live in the vicinity of Meanwood Valley, it was inevitable that my running routes of yesteryear became, once again, my playground. The spring sun simmered through newly budding trees, the flow of the water sparkled, radiating hope during this horrific pandemic. Watching the seasons change and trails turning from arid dust to mud, snow and ice, I continued embracing what I had on my doorstep.

I re-discovered trails with routes from old forgotten nooks and crannies, reminiscing about fond childhood hiding places. My runs were a joy. They put on hold my missing of the Yorkshire Dales. I made new friends: shy nods became sincere greetings. I became adept at the Covid shuffle of avoidance. It was a pleasure noticing women walking alone in the dense woodland without fear in their eyes and enthusiastic children playing as I did all those years ago.

My valley runs were indeed my lockdown anti-depressant. The changing seasons have been a splendour. I have never been more thankful and will forever appreciate what I have at my immediate disposal: a paradise for the hobby I began way over forty years ago……and fairies still dance under the trees.

Ann Brydson Hall

Christmas day gallop

This was a very different Christmas for everyone. For me there was no roast dinner and just a 30-minute visit to my elderly mother and then my daughter. My sister was in hospital recovering from having a kidney stone removed. Luckily I had been invited to my friends for a festive evening of great food, vast amounts of wine and rum, and much silliness.

Some traditions could still be preserved and that includes my usual Christmas morning gallop. It just means that little bit less guilt when it comes to yet another, last, After Eight mint. Calories burned running mean calories enjoyed eating.

This time there was no Strava pressure, no squeezing out the extra miles. Just a gentle run in the winter sun around Black Carr Woods. This is where I grew up, played out, fought the kids from Holmewood estate and badly lost, built dens and at the age of 14 went for my first ever ‘run’.

This is where I have run and walked through lock downs and tier 3. I know the names of the dogs that try and chase me (Bruno the giant, biggest dog I have ever seen), Lix the big gentle horse and his pretty owner, and where I have raced with other local runners up and down the hills.

Those hills do not disappoint. Scholebrook Lane, the Gib, Keepers Lane, and the legend that is Post Hill have both strengthened and hurt my knees this year. On Christmas morning my legs were so tired and I was happy to avoid hills, instead take some pictures and indulge in a little mindfulness running.

The light at this time of the year is so beautiful and especially after a few days of grey gloom and gloaming. Textures, shadows and colours that you don’t see at the height of summer. My favourite time however is without a doubt early spring because first there are wood anemones then celandines, bluebells, wild garlic, and red campion. I followed the seasons changing from March until now as I ran and ran and ran through the pandemic.

Christmas and the New Year are a time to reflect but even more so to look forwards. The vaccine is coming, races will be run again, my arthritic knee and my IT band will not bother me one bit and the people of the Lake District will welcome us back.

That night my tired but strong legs got me through an evening of debauchery and extreme Dad dancing. The next day I had my first hangover in years and my knee would not straighten. I still went out running.

Happy New Year to all.

Andrew Sugden (NLFR newbie)