Friday, December 21, 2007
A Winter's tale
This is actually my brother-in-law Jeff's story, but it has an appropriately wintry theme, and anyway deserves a wider audience.
Come the Apocalypse, Jeff will be a very handy guy to have living just up the street from you because he's got All The Gear. He has a ten-man bivouac, complete with camping stove, wine-rack, pemmican and many other luxuries, all of which folds down into a tobacco tin. I believe he keeps a full team of huskies on standby, tucked away in a leather pouch in his sock drawer. He's well prepared.
So one winter's day Jeff goes walking up on the Yorkshire Moors with his young son Jack, and you'll believe me when I say that they are properly kitted out for the expedition. They have the required maps and compasses, rations, crampons, emergency flares, Bowie knives, anti-wolf spray - the lot. Plus they have the coats, of course, the ones with the metre long hoods that make you look like Kenny from South Park, except these are made of some special kind of micro-fibre and have been tested at sub-cartoon temperatures. All of this is necessary and sensible, because you don't mess around on The Moors in winter. The snow is waist deep in places, and although the weather might be bright and sunny when you start out, it can very quickly change. The black blizzards that sweep across the Russian steppes are actually born here in the Pennines. Oh yus. It's a fact. Even the notoriously tough Marsden sheep admit that it can get damn chilly up there at times.
Serious stuff, then, and Jeff is explaining as much to young Jack, as they set up their own miniature version of Ice Station Zebra in case they should need an emergency stop off point on the way home.
And then this very surreal thing happens. A group of men appear over the brow of a distant hill. They are dressed in nothing but shorts and singlets, and they are running bare-legged through the deep snow. On they come, steam rising from their half naked bodies, arms going like pistons, frozen snot streaking their faces, beards and moustaches white with frost. Fell runners.
Very few people have seen fell runners, those legendary creatures, and so their reputation is akin to that of Sasquatch or the Flying Dutchman - not everybody is convinced that such things exist. But Jeff and Jack witnessed the whole thing, swivelling their tunnelled hoods like SteadyCams to gaze upon these mythic moors-men, far from anywhere, pounding their way forever across the frozen wastes. A once in a lifetime experience, and something I wouldn't mind seeing myself some day, although I'd prefer it to be from a helicopter. They must be a different breed, these guys, some kind of Iron Age throwback. I like to think that they were running barefoot, but Jeff says he believes they were wearing daps.