A Return to the Fells

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Rebecca R.
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We are fell runners. 
Fells are rugged, plentiful and jagged. They are rolling mounds of impossibly old rock, smashed together with grass and heather. 
Fells are unique to the north of England. There are features unique to the fells, and words unique to the features. Becks, tarns, pikes, craggs – an unforgiving geo-language cut through with mile upon mile of flat lakes formed from glaciers. These Norse words are now as British and salty as pie and chips, and totally inseparable from the landscape.
Fells are shaped by the elements but remain unmoved. They’re tough. Cold in summer and unashamedly steeped in glorious low light in winter. At times it feels that all their features exist to work against you. On wet days the trails up become streams gushing down, rain comes at you sideways as if not from the sky. Wind turns water into glass, the act of looking up at the path ahead becomes total agony. You groan, watch your feet and conquer the miles one rock at a time, wondering how many rocks to go until you can turn back and throw yourself down to dry clothes, hot coffee and breakfast in a pensioner-packed café at the bottom. 
Time after time we choose to run up fells knowing they break us down, spurred on by the feeling of being truly alive. We wear shorts in December, woolly socks in July. We suffer bramble scratches and nettle stings, muddy our palms saving ourselves from bogs, turn over ankles on rocks and misjudged tussocks. 

We are fell runners because we live in a first floor flat in a suburb of a city, and rarely feel or taste the earth at its headiest. Every Friday evening, we place a kit bag by the door, then grab it on the way out at 4am the next morning. Espresso and flapjack for the good times, foil blankets and first aid kits for the bad. We drive for an hour and a half, watching retail parks lead us to the motorway, motorway turning into A-roads, A-roads giving way to lanes bordered by quaint dry-stone walls, the lanes opening up into fields at the feet of the fells. We step out of the car and breathe, listen to the silence, ears ringing. And then for a few hours, we surrender our bodies completely to the landscape.

We were fell runners, and then a pandemic closed our most open of spaces. 
The small communities that welcomed us closed their doors. Cars were stopped and asked to turn around, sheepishly sent back to the cities they’d unfurled themselves from, gasping for air. Three weeks turned to three months. Still we stayed prostrate in our flat, choosing to run on the concrete from our doorstep, the pavement grinding down our knees, splinting our shins, boring us to tears.
Restrictions were lifted, and still we waited. Those who didn’t normally hike or run in open spaces flocked to them. Whilst others judged them harshly for stepping onto unfamiliar landscapes, we couldn’t. We knew what they were chasing. So we waited patiently for the shopping centres and cinemas to re-open. When they did, the fells freed up and everything felt almost like normal. 
Our moment to go back came from nowhere. It was inconspicuous, not a special weekend, just one that felt right. Our kit bag was packed with hand sanitiser and water, wipes and towels so we could wash ourselves. Masks and gloves in case we needed a pit stop.
We jogged, gently, and for once the fells were gentle in return. The risk of snapped ankles or the need to be rescued felt too heavy a burden on the emergency services we'd worked hard to protect. The weather did nothing, the sky hung grey and polite, patient. Flat with no breeze. The silence was a little louder, so we whispered. The smell of hand sanitiser punctured the air after each kissing gate we opened. There was no victory breakfast at the end, instead some satisfying  sandwiches that we’d made ourselves and wrapped in tin foil. We drove home quietly, watching the green turn back to grey. We nestled back into our designated parking spot and locked the door to our flat. And everything felt bearable again, for a little while.

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