Friday, 13 March 2015

Falcon Flyer - 7th March 2015

"Submarine warfare seen in World War One was responsible for one of the most important developments in British forestry!"

Caught your attention?

The first of the 2015 quartet of Challenge Events organised by SRMRT remains the Falcon Flyer:  A 20 mile circular fag around this scenic corner of plantation wooded valleys and quiet dales; bare, early spring nut brown moorland trails and the dramatic sweeping field-side pathways near the coastline of Robin Hoods Bay. And, a mild day was forecast to accompany us around. Notwithstanding the hurricane that tried its best to prevent us heading westwards up and away from the start line of Ravenscar Village Hall at 8.00am, it ultimately turned out to be T-shirt weather for the runners within the hour and remained so for the duration of this fine and worthy event.

With my woolly hat and wind cheater soon discarded, opening the lid to let off steam, we were away. Not, however, before the chilly first bit through the fir and spruce plantations around Lords Stones, across the A171 Scarborough - Whitby road and down, down into Harwood Dale.

It is impossible to understand British forestry - especially these manufactured woodlands - without looking at its history, and the history of the Forestry Commission. Britain’s first national forestry management institution, The Forestry Commission, was formed in 1919 and born out of events within the first World War with Germany. Timber being an essential material for the prosecution of war, its shortage was caused principally by the U-Boat blockading of the Merchant Fleets of the Allies. In the past, ship and bridge building all demanded huge forest resources but by World War I, iron had replaced wood for warships, yet nevertheless 14% of cargo carried by British shipping through the blockade of Britain by German submarines was timber, mostly pit props. Coal mining was the strategic industry fuelling the Royal Navy and British industry however without ‘mining timber’, coal could not be extracted. Without coal, British ships would stay tied up and industry would have closed down. By the end of WWI, German submarines had taught the British a hard lesson; they could not rely on a forest then covering only 4% of Britain. It simply could not provide enough timber to survive a war. Consequently the Forestry Commission was formed and given the task of creating a strategic industrial forest capable of providing timber for the next war.

95 years later, improbable bi-products of the industry are the pathways and tracks made between the lines of the conifers, providing miles of the route of more than one of these SRMRT Challenge Events. Winding along through these commercial plantations, the track-ways are shared with all manner of off road vehicles - both two and four wheeled - and make for an interesting and challenging passage through the riggs and slacks of this part of the 1436 sq Km National Park.

Heading north west, away and upwards, from Lownorth Bridge, the landscape became transformed. The trees were left behind and, once past the last of the isolated farms and scrubby fields, we turned a nab of grassy heath, lifted the latch on the final gate and headed out onto the open, exposed moors. Our path being indicated by the cream and gamboge knife cut of a clay bottomed stream-bed through the ling. Splashing through the swangs and dry petrified twigs of the "whams and Hags" of the still lifeless scratchy tops, we aimed for the checkpoint tent - a blip on the horizon - and the welcome turn point back eastwards and civilisation.

Later in Spring we would hear the Click Click Wrrrrrr of grouse exploding from underfoot and away they would arc into the near distance but today all was quiet. Perhaps it was the wind buffeting, perhaps it was too early in the year but I never saw, or heard, a single bird.

A first respite from the, now welcomed, tailwind arrived as we dropped thankfully into Jugger Ravine and then the not so welcomed stairs up t'other side before arriving at the car park and the chance for refreshments.

2 Hours 15 mins gone for me and I tried to sneak down the A171 to the right turn off towards Cook House but was wisely directed immediately left down the old disused road for safety reasons: Thanks for the extra climb fellas! I really appreciated that at the time.

From here to the finish, I saw no one further. The smiling faces at the checkpoints excepted, this was my sort of outing: A perfect misanthropists trek. Once the brown exposed wind blown moorland was left behind, the Falcon became a tour of dipping field paths and trods, leaf litter filled field borders, steep grass-bank climbs, surprising views and dry stone walls to shelter behind before the dip to the Bay and the shingle beach.

I felt this section keenly. The wind had blown the fields and paths both bone dry and extremely hard and it took it out of my legs; I don't generally mind being fetlock deep in the mire, it goes with the territory, however I would certainly have welcomed a softer trail today. and I'm sure we could have completed the task in road running shoes: Pass the Ibuprofen for the "owd knees" please.

These swoops and dives; up, over and down the hills, forests, dales and moors represent the best of natures adventure playground. They exist. They remain long after we've toddled off home and we make the best of them whilst we're out here. We can run them hard - if possible - we can walk them or we can stand and stare just taking it all in - this playground is perfectly indifferent to our plight so we take from it what we want while we're here, that's all we can hope for: There is no interaction: we give, it takes it from us.

However, A challenge event this is, and today's raison d'etre, so we must test ourselves further as we head up the final climb back home.

With the sea behind, and Stoupe Brow ahead, I did try to run as much of what remained but the light was shining on my fuel tank and a familiar shuffle dragged me to the old train line track and the final section. 3 hours 28 gone - 3 minutes down on last year and I'm sure I felt worse this time around?

Run 50 steps - walk 10 steps, run 50 - walk 10. then became run 10 - walk 10, then, run 10 and walk for 30 seconds; it must have looked shabby but all things must end and so did I. 3 hours 48 minutes after we kicked off this morning,  I jogged stiffly back into the village hall and a welcome steaming mug of tea. 13th overall (again); at least I'm consistent.

With a day like this, with views like these, being in the company of such peers, how else should I have spent the day? We all raised a few quid for this essential service and had a great jaunt to boot .... look forward to doing it all again in April. Thanks Guys for another great morning out. (I did forget my camera and so thanks to Chris at reaction photography for his diligence in catching me and for the team for the use of theirs).

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