Posts Tagged ‘freedom’


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.


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.


Some prose from tonight’s workshop.

He likes to feel the water slowly seep into his old, torn trainers, carefully selecting the best sod to step on as he chases sheep on carpets of heather, blown by winds that howl in his mind, sending tears streaming down his cheeks.

He dislikes slabs of concrete surrounding his senses in a world of squares, rectangles and triangles, trapped in a geometric prison, no code to escape, from a mathematical puzzle created by a computer.

He longs to be free from here forever, free to follow the breath of the birds soaring above him, over trails, forests and mountains, not caring where he will end up, living in the moment as his heart beats one more time.

He fears this moment will past, will never last, will never come again, as wet mud clings to the sweat on his skin not wanting to leave, only seeing a cold concrete landscape that sends shivers down his spine as rain drips down his throat.

He dreams of a woman who will breath the same air he does, share the mud on the marshland, fear never escaping the concrete jungle he lives in. He dreams of a woman who will take his hand and lead him to the freedom of the wilds where they can watch the birds soar over their heads…


I get out and run. At first it’s difficult to go more than a few hundred yards. But I do it. Other runners breeze past like an eagle soaring on the currents of the air. I stand there, struggling to breath, gasping like a dying swan taking its last breath. But I have done it. I have gone out and run. I have accomplished something I thought impossible, something only I can do. Others can encourage me, support me, inspire me, but only I can go out there and do it. Only I can get out there and put one foot in front of the other and move my body, mind and soul.

And it becomes easier. I run for ¼ mile, ½ mile a mile, and more. My body is changing, it feels good. I feel younger, energy curses through my veins feeding the very essence of my existence. I feel at ease with myself, I feel alive, I feel free, I am at one with me. I run further, explore places I’ve only heard people talk about. I breath in air as if it was my first as a new born baby, I begin to see people, the world, life itself differently. Life is good now, life is something to look forward to on a morning, every morning, to wake up to and smell the world around, smell life itself inside me, around me.

Running has given me my life back, made me realise just what I have to offer, what talents I have that I can use to help and inspire others to achieve more in their lives. Running gives me purpose, a reason to get up and get out there, even if there is nothing else I have to do all day I can run till my body says no, but my mind says yes. Just one more step. Let’s see how far I can go today…