The light of the dying day – anatomy of a winter run

For the past many months, each week at the same time and on the same day I’ve run the same route upwards from the far Western bay of the Isle of Wight to within a stones throw of The Needles Lighthouse. It’s argueably about as wild as the Isle of Wight gets. I’ve run it in searing heat on burnt yellowing grass with the sea below limpid blue, clear enough to see the lunar outlines of barrel jellyfish hanging in the shallows; in gale force winds strong enough to make the steepish incline feel like summiting Everest with the cliffs echoing from the heavy brunt of Atlantic storms and perhaps most often recently in disorientating dense billowing mist which threatens to lure the unwary dangerously close to the crumbling edges.

As so often in late December, this was a day where  the night never quite left, windless and eerily calm. The bay itself was grey, the sea throwing up a  large swell, given the absence of wind. A couple of brave surfers paddled out between the rocky outcrops at the Western tip, and the mist hung over stag rock on the Eastern edge – named in remembrance of a stag which supposedly leapt from the adjacent cliffs to escape from a hunt in Victorian times. These rocks on either side of the bay entrance were once the haunt of smugglers and were blasted away with explosives in 1916 to allow the ship “Carl” which was washed onto the beach in heavy storms, to be sailed free, leaving shallow ledges which provide fertile ground for snorkelling expeditions on a calm summer day.

freshwater bay ship

 

On the cliffs from which the stag must have leapt a red council sign warns “Danger Cliff Edges Can Be Dangerous”

 

Unknown

As the memorial to a 15 year old boy who feel to his death further along the path suggests, this may be something of an understatement.

E.L.M.
AGED 15
HE COMETH FORTH
LIKE A FLOWER
AND IS CUT DOWN.
HE FLEETH ALSO AS
A SHADOW AND
CONTINUETH NOT.

JESUS SAID
I AM THE
RESURRECTION
AND THE LIFE

ERECTED
IN REMEMBRANCE OF
A MOST DEAR
AND ONLY CHILD
WHO WAS SUDDENLY
REMOVED INTO ETERNITY
BY A FALL FROM
THE ADJACENT CLIFF
TO THE ROCKS BENEATH
28TH AUGUST 1846
—-
READER PREPARE TO
MEET THY GOD, FOR THOU
KNOWEST NOT WHAT A DAY
MAY BRING FORTH

IN THE
MIDST OF LIFE
WE ARE IN DEATH

As with writing, quite often with running, the first few minutes are the most painful, there’s often a kind of hesitancy which allows for all kinds of distraction – on this occasion a few minutes spent watching the surfers toiling out against a turbulent ocean, before turning upwards through the well worn path into the mist towards the monument to Alfred Lord Tennyson.

My running companion always greets the site of this apparently never ending incline with considerable more enthusiasm than I do, skittering this way and that after imaginary rabbits, body taught and quivering with intensity as he prepares to launch himself.

P1040468

As we climb, the mist thickens and a steady rhythm takes hold and with foot planting firmly on soft springy turf, the run takes on its own momentum. The monument at the crest of the hill appears suddenly out of the whiteness – bringing with it a feeling of relief that the effort is over and a reminder that here, the sheer drop of the cliff is nearly 150 metres high and only metres away.

As we gently meander downwards,cattle appear out of the gloam. A white heifer heavily in calf  and ponderous shows only a passing interest in our presence.

white cow in mist

Below us the land opens up like a runway. Suddenly with the memory of the uphill trudge forgotten, I want to run – really run and dog and I take off between the strange patchwork of gorse and heather that mark the Western tip of the Island, chasing the haze of the setting sun.

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5 thoughts on “The light of the dying day – anatomy of a winter run

  1. I was thinking of you as I wrote this one and mulled the loveliness of the wintry Wight. I’d love to Fran – what an adventure. I have a big ultra run planned for the summer which might mean my passes are limited travel wise for a while but will certainly consider it. How’s the training going?

    Like

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