Last Sunday I was supposed to take part in my first and only ultra-marathon of the year across the Downs of Southern England. It had, of course, been snowing hard for a week and Mrs H sensibly suggested double checking that the race was still on, remembering that the Round Rotherham race had been moved last year because of the appalling weather.
She was right to check. The race had indeed been cancelled, but not for the reason assumed. It seemed that the farmers whose land we were meant to run over had taken umbrage of the idea. ‘You shall not enter here!’ the cry had gone up.
James Adams’ excellent running blog, Running and Stuff, has a number of posts covering the familiar experience of being unwanted in the countryside. Photos on the blog show gate after gate marked with signs like ‘Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot twice’, a charming welcome to the political landscape of the great British outdoors.
The uncomfortable relationship between runners and landowners is not a new one. When the Ramblers’ Association was set up in the 1930s it all began on a walk up Kinder Scout in a deliberate act of trespassing as 500 men and women protested with their feet at what they saw was their right to roam. As you can see from their website the are campaigning as hard as ever for walkers’ Right of Way.
I have a vested interest in the subject, not simply because I too want to be able to run where I want, since this basic act of subversion lies at the heart of the reason why we run at all. But, in 2012 I will be publishing Ramble On, a history of walking and our relationship with the British countryside.
It will be the latest addition to the nature-writing genre, which is back in vogue. So, if you can’t bear to step out into the snow (I got caught at lunchtime on Friday), then curl up with Patrick Barkham’s beautiful The Butterfly Isles – it will be well worth the lost afternoon, and you won’t even get into trouble for it!