It’s the night before another fell race and I’m sat here feeling sick and nervous at the thought of tomorrow’s race, the Mythholmroud fell race. Why though? It doesn’t make any sense. I’ve run this race before and know the area fairly well. I’ve run races before including plenty of fell and trail races so I know what to expect, tough climbs, mud, cold water, more mud and cold water and a horrible descent before I can get back to the warmth of Mytholmroyd community centre. So I know where I’m going and what to expect. So why do I feel sick and nervous? I’m not fit at all. Overweight, slow, carrying the usual niggles that every runner seems to carry so no chance of winning or even coming in the top thirty. Even if I was fit I still wouldn’t have a chance so that’s another reason out of the window but it doesn’t explain why I feel sick and nervous. In the end all I can do is assume that it’s just a natural thing to feel nervous before a race, part of the process of preparing yourself mentally to run and do your best on the day. There doesn’t have to be a reason, it’s just one of those things that you can’t control. So yes it’s another sleepless night of worrying unnecessarily over something I can control and I know what I have to do but I still worry and I always will.


Or more specifically why does the Upper Calder Valley which is the area around Luddenden, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, feel like the place of dreams and mystery to me? This is something I’ve been wondering about ever since I discovered the Upper Calder Valley a couple of years ago and now I’ll try and answer my question.

How did I discover this stunning place? It came by chance when I get into running a couple of years ago. I started out on the roads, pounding the tarmac 2 or 3 times a week, gradually building up my distance and venturing further afield. Soon though I started to feel limited by where I could go. The roads were stunting my development as a runner and person and I realised that I was running past places when I could be running through them.

I started out running round Ogden Water a local reservoir and quickly progressed to running to the Top Withens of Bronte fame high above Haworth. I still remember my first run up there on a calm April evening. It was hard work going up but on the down to the Bronte waterfalls it was as if I was flying. Running was effortless and I flowed from one footstep to the next. I was free at last. No one around to hinder my progress the only limit was my imagination and my bravery in where I went. Out here there are no limits apart from you.

I started to explore Haworth Moor and the surrounding area and soon I wanted somewhere new to go and I discovered the Upper Calder Valley.

I can’t remember my first run round there or even my first walk. I wish I could. I’d been to Hebden Bridge before but that was many years ago and it was a far away place to me. I began going back to Hebden Bridge when I went to a writing group there and maybe it was the drive over the moors that sparked my interest in running around there. Seeing the vast expanse of wild, untamed moorland, inviting me to explore its insides and spit me out the other side, made me went to do so. Me against nature at its best and worse. Nature doesn’t care if I don’t try because someone else will but try and nature will reward you with beauty and adventures beyond your imagination.

And so somewhere the area around Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden slowly drew me into it’s fabric, it’s heart and soul, constantly challenging me as a runner and a person to come in and experience a little bit more before sending me away to reflect and digest on what I have just seen and heard before I go back for more.

It’s not just the landscapes that seem to stretch for miles that inspire me and give me food for thought. Nor the fact that you can go 100 yards and you are in a different village, another 100 yards and it’s somewhere else, but it’s the history of the place that you can feel seeping through the ground under every footstep, the history of men, women and children who walked these footpaths and packhorse trails going to work in the mills, going to try and sell cloth and bread to feed their families in all weathers, hot, draining summer sunshine and knee deep snow with bitter, cold winds blowing in their faces. It is said a lot these days that people back then were made of sterner stuff, hardy souls who went about their business without complaining.

Maybe they did complain but it’s just not recorded and maybe they had no choice but to just get on with it and not worry about what may happen to them if they undertook these arduous journeys but worry about what would happen if they didn’t. But now when I walk or run around this area I can only imagine how it must have been for these hardy people who did these journeys day after day because they had to not because they wanted to. At times it must have been soul destroying, other times they must have felt as I do that they have entered the Garden of Eden.

And maybe it is this that keeps drawing me back, this feeling of history down every footpath and trail that I run up and down, a wonderment of how people survived in what at times will have been an incredibly harsh environment but survive they did and when the sun is shining through the clouds on the valley below I can only hope that at least some of those people experienced the same view I did and felt at peace with themselves and the world even if only for a few minutes, taking in the natural beauty that is the Upper Calder Valley.


There used to be more here
More walls of stone
More roofs of slate
More paths to walk
More noise from looms
More people coming into the valley
And then we had more water
More brought less
Less people, less looms, less noise, less stones
But less can be more
Now there is more trees, more plants
More insects, more birds
More peace and tranquillity
Sometimes less seems more
It all depends how you look at it


A coal mining child

My life is measured
By the hour I get up
My walk down the hill
To the coal pit at the bottom
The darkness of the opening
I stoop so low to enter
The crawl on hands and knees
Of hard skin and cuts
Through mud and water
To get to my father the miner
Sat naked digging at the face
To get coal to power society
In this blackest of blacks
No sunlight can penetrate
I must load chunk after chunk of coal
Onto the corve that I push
On my own, alone, back to the sunlight
And to air I can breathe
No time for rest I must carry on
Turn around and repeat this process
Till here are no more corves of coal
To push from the darkness
Sometimes it is dark before I finish
I have no food or water until I do
When I get home a quick meal
And then bed so I can repeat this
Process tomorrow
And the day after
Until I die

A corf (pl. corves) also spelt corve (pl. corves) in mining is a wicker basket or a small human powered (in later times in the case of the larger mines, horse drawn) minecart for carrying or transporting coal, ore, etc.[1] Human powered corfs had generally been phased out by the turn of the 20th century, with horse drawn corfs having been mostly replaced by horse drawn or motorised minecarts mounted on rails by the late 1920s. Also similar is a Tram, originally a box on runners, dragged like a sledge.


we’ve paid our money

watched the show

listened to the performers

enjoyed ourselves

we drink free wine

eat too much free pizza

talked about situations

we’ve never faced

and as i leave he lays there

partially hidden in the opening in the wall

he raises his arm

is he trying to catch my attention?

is it a last act of defiance to a

world that has been cruel o him?

his home a concrete bunker

is this the last place he will

breathe the fresh crisp air of a summers evening?

all i can do is turn away from him

walk past this bundle of flesh and bones

and immediately reflect on

what i could have done

what i should have done

to give him a glimmer of hope

that in this unforgiving world he inhibits

there is still some humanity

 

as i drive home away from him

i depress the accelerator pedal

to get away from him

to get away from the situation

get away from my feelings of guilt

of what i could have done

of what i should have done


i see life in black and white

there is no grey for me

where the black and white lies

can change day to day

black becomes white

white becomes black

depending on my interactions with others

different situations, new experiences

to an outsider if can appear

to be shades of grey

but inside, for me

it is black and white


I’ve gone past him again on the hill, heard him breathing hard as I went past and then silence as he fell behind me. I push on downhill, nervous in case I fall, concentrating hard so I don’t, watching out for ruts and stones ready to rise up from nowhere and trip me up. I go faster and then faster still. I’m at my limit and then I hear his breathing behind me, feel his breath on my shoulder. No need to turn round, I know he is there.

I go faster, up the stakes, take more risks, the land beneath my feet now a blur, my only thought ‘if you’re going to beat me you’re going to work for it’.

We race like this for two miles, two people unwilling to give in, unwilling to give an inch, unable to slow a fraction in case the other detects it and senses that the moment has come for them to make their move.

Eyes focused intently on where we are going, running as nature intended, no thought put into it now, this is not the time for thinking, this is the time for doing.

A small uphill, I push hard, increase the pace and he is gone. The sound of his breathing recedes in the distance, hot breath replaced by cold air. He is gone, I have won this personal race within a race and now as my legs begin to ache and tire I slow down slightly and look forward to the finish.


It starts with a run on a familiar road, a road I’ve run before. I approach a stile, the stile I glance at as I run past. But this time I turn, approach the turn stile and climb over it. Wild, open moorland stretches out before me, a narrow, baked, mud track, twist and turning its way through the moor and over the horizon. I follow the track cautiously. Experience has taught me to respect the moors with hidden dangers underfoot ready to catch out the unwary and over confident.

Past a farmhouse on my left I send sheep scurrying in all directions, my movement and noise enough to scare them. Down a ditch, over a plastic bridge, I step over and round stones and rocks that have lain there long before I set foot on this moor.

And then the horizon changes as I begin to descend and the valley before me opens up. Fields of straw burnt from the heat of the sun, the tops of trees motionless in the warm air punctuated by the greyness of tiles made from Yorkshire slate, for now the only sign that man has made his mark on this land.

Down I go, through an old wooden gate, across a road, through a garden and past a sign that says beware of the bull. Warily, cautiously I look around before picking up speed to clear the danger zone as quickly as possible. The thought of two tons of bone and muscle terrifies me.

The field ends and the track goes through some woods, this is harder, more technical, more rocks to be careful around as nettles and thorns sting and cut my skin. They remind me that I’m human ant there will be only one winner if I fall.

I reach another road, one I did not expect and run to another stile where the hard work really begins. Up and up and up through reeds almost as tall as me, obscuring the ground below me which despite being a hard baked mud trail has steps made of wood laid into it at irregular intervals. I slow to a walking pace, it is more important to be careful then fast. I leave speed for another day.

Up and up the steps I go as they get steeper and harder to see. Every horizon is false revealing yet more steps to climb. In my mind I start to believe that this climb will never end and I will end up at the gates of heaven, but then it does and as I stop to get my breath back I turn round and take in the beauty of my surroundings. If this is heaven I can stay here for all eternity. Mile after mile of valleys and moorland. For me this is perfection.

And in the distance at the top of the moor is my destination, the white pillar signifying the trig point of the moor, the high point. There’s still some climbing to do, but with the trig point in sight it makes it a bit easier. The path has returned to dusty, dry trail. Still with stones and rocks to watch for but now with no reeds to obscure the view.

At the trig point I stop to take in my surroundings. The views are far reaching. I recognise places that down on the valley floor would seem miles away. I see a church steeple and know what church it is. So high up when down below. For now  am higher that it. I see other landmarks through different eyes, reservoirs of shining water, tower blocks sprouting from the earth and the folly that dominates this landscape. With the folly always in view you can never get lost in this glorious land of valleys and moors.

And then it’s the run for home. Down the path I have just come up but this time with a turn to the left at the bottom and along the conduit that should carry water to the reservoir but has nothing but warm, hard stone showing its face for the first time in years to a clear blue sky.

Down to my right is the forbidden land of Castle Carr, resplendent in a tree leaves and grass of the deepest green that stands out like a lake on mars. I wonder if all the water has been diverted here to keep this small patch of moorland alive at the expense of other parts…

But I need to concentrate on the path before me or  may fall in the conduit and give it an unwanted kiss. I plough on pushing myself as hard as I dare, wanting this flatness to end and be back on the ups and downs of the hills that I love and inspire me to better myself, push myself and be the best I can.

And after what seems like hundreds of miles I turn and I am faced with the final run in to home. A reservoir that shines like molten silver under the gaze of the brightest star I know. My eyes are temporarily blinded by the brilliance of its beauty as it reflects he suns rays into my eyes and I have to gather my thoughts and push on to the other side.

A short climb, a stretch of sticky tarmac and I am back at my car. It’s been hard work but worthwhile just to experience the sensation of running in some of the most beautiful land in the world.


they never see you when you’re alone
with the tv and four walls for company
the walls that talk back to you if you listen long enough
the tv that’s stuck in an endless time warp of bygone shows
repeated, repeated, repeated
these are your friends for today
the only ones who will see you
they’re here for you when you’re alone
watching the sky turn from white to grey to black
bottled up feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
bounce off the walls going deeper inside you every time
words form slowly one at a time as they
take off into the universe in search of someone
to share ideas and thoughts with
tears form as slow as ice cracks
drying on your skin before they can flow down your cheek
you don’t even notice them
as the day drags on longing to be over
you turn to the bottle your one true friend
and share some hours together
blocking out the numbing reality of life
till you wake up in a daze tomorrow


Rachel Cullen writes about dealing with her inner chimp and beating him

Gallery  —  Posted: February 27, 2018 in Uncategorized