Dr Julie Carter



Saturday, 30 July 2022 09:44

The Sound of Silence

“For the ear, the most vital thing that can be listened to here is silence. To bend the ear to silence is to discover how seldom it is there”

from Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain.

What can you hear right now? Close your eyes for moment if possible. Listen not just to identify the sounds which are vibrating the air, reaching your ear drums and being transmitted through your auditory nerve to your brain, where the sound is pattern-matched to something recognisable. Listen also to how the sounds make you feel. Just this moment I heard a goose calling while in flight. To me this is instant comfort and happiness. The geese that fly around Derwentwater have this effect on me—they are reassuring. And when I hear them, I relax. I can also hear the occasional passing car which evokes many mixed emotions, and there is a constant hum of the fan from café which is our near neighbour. The fan didn’t use to be here and I would not have chosen to live with this sound. There is something profoundly unhealthy feeling about it; the constancy of it and the knowing that there is no prospect of the tone or volume altering until after tea time. No prospect of the tiniest moment of silence.

Wednesday, 29 June 2022 18:39

Glad To Be Gay?


You know the type of phone call—banks, dentists, doctors and the like—they need to put things in boxes on forms.

“Is it Mrs or Miss?”

But I’m too fed up to answer. I’m fed up with all this pressure to be categorised. My mind wonders back to the late nineteen eighties when I was out the streets, singing and marching. Thatcher’s Clause Twenty-Eight, banning any references to homosexuality in education, was toxic. I met a librarian who had been charged with going through all the books and removing anything gay. She had to resign. But I felt safe in the middle of the rainbow crowd and I didn’t have a lot to lose. For some people being openly gay or lesbian risked losing jobs, family, and friends. And for some it risked being beaten, raped or killed. I was having mostly heterosexual relationships in the days of Twenty-Eight. I suppose that made me bi. But I was never bi, or lesbian or straight—I just loved who I loved—and something in me always hated labels because they felt like diagnoses. Another way of containing me and reducing me, of simplifying and othering me.

Of Course, according to a twentieth century medical orthodoxy, being gay was a disease, along with a whole host of other made-up diseases by psychiatrists in thrall to sham science and encouraged drug companies. At times when I have struggled with life, because I have had things to struggle with, I’ve had some of those so-called medical labels stuck to me too, but I have always quickly peeled them off again. Instinctively I knew the labels were more of a threat to my safety and sanity then any of my personal problems.

Friday, 20 May 2022 04:04

Songs of Springtime

In the early mornings the violinists practiced their scales before going out, not for coffee or food or work, but to find themselves guns and bullets before returning to the basements.

In one basement in Kyiv on the 9th of March, in among a maze of dusty pipes and valves, Illia Bondarenko played the Ukrainian folksong “Verbovaga Doschechka” and was joined on YouTube by violinists from 29 countries. “Verbovaga Doschechka” is a song of spring.


On the 23rd of March a cellist performed under a bright blue sky in Kharkiv amongst the rubble of bombed out buildings and someone responded; “It can’t be that dangerous if some guy is doing that.”

And a little girl, no more than ten, in a black jumper with huge silver stars on the front, with a voice that held the wisdom of ages, stood up amongst the crammed-in bustle of a bomb-shelter and sang “Let It Go” from “Frozen”. And all the people packed in the shelter immediately fell silent, and for two minutes everyone’s heart was beating together, and fear was not the impulse.

“The cold never bothered me anyway”.

And the violinists still play in-between the explosions because when a bomb explodes, they can’t hear their own sound. The vibrations of sirens and bombs ring through their bodies. Then they resume.

Wednesday, 27 April 2022 18:08

Keeping the Faith

Reflections on the shifting meanings of why I run.

I am at my friend’s kitchen table with a brew in hand.

“I’ve lost my faith. I feel empty. I don’t feel like a fellrunner anymore. Maybe I just need to accept it”

My friend, Cat Evans, doesn’t rush for some quick or glib reassurance but we talk about what it means to be a fellrunner. We both have many other aspects to our existence and we could live good and fulfilled lives without fellrunning. Maybe I need to move on then, and not be so grief stricken over my loss.

That same morning I’d been up Dale Head with a creative young woman who wanted to photograph and interview me for a book which she is making on fellrunners and their motives. I’d felt a little fraudulent—because my running is far from what it was and really isn’t anything much these days by outward assessment. I run at a steady pace, for pleasure, and sometimes days on end go by without me even managing that. Because unless I am wholly absorbed in the flow of an all-consuming experience, I always have some degree of pain and this makes me tired. Often too tired to run these days. The pain started when I was a young child because of a deformity in my back. One of the reasons I came to love fellrunning is the powerful analgesic effect that total focus can bring, especially in a race. But in recent times pain has sapped my energy and my will, to such an extent that it’s hard to get beyond my garden gate. So, I talk to Cat about these feelings, and we interrogate them, and begin to put me back together.

Monday, 28 February 2022 08:32

Ferral Fellrunner goes on Safari in the City


"Oh dear me, the warld’s ill-divided,
Them that work the hardest are aye wi’ least provided,”

the words of Mary Brooksbank inscribed in Iona marble in the Cannongate wall outside the Scottish Parliament.

Even though it was February in the middle of storm Eunice I could easily have got away with running in shorts. Long tracksters, mittens, a hat and a Gortex coat are not needed for city running. I didn’t know. But I soon peeled off the layers and tied them round my waist. And anyway, I was hoping for the next best thing to a fell. I would run south through the centre of Edinburgh and head up Arthur’s Seat. I didn’t have a map, but surely the hill would be obvious. Running along the pavements of busy streets, dodging my way through a set of roadworks, serenaded by the sound of pneumatic hammers which had a similar cadence to the woodpecker I’d heard down Borrowdale the previous day, I couldn’t see any sign of the sought-after Seat. Just keep running south, and a bit east, it’s bound to appear. All I could see was buildings. I looked skyward and realised it was all about the angles. Three, four and five and more story buildings with no gaps in-between them only allow what’s almost overhead to be seen. Arthur’s seat would have to be the height of Everest to get a glimpse. How weird, not to see the horizon at all. I had a short-lived urge to panic, but I just kept running and hoped for the best.

Monday, 31 January 2022 20:19

Seeing in a Different Light

Places are like people—our relationships are constantly in flux. Places hold memories and personal meanings, but because we change and places change, nothing is set in stone.

     The Northumberland coast is a beautiful place and never more so than on our recent January visit when the skies were psychedelic, the sea was calm, and the moon was almost full. This castled edge of England was the venue for all my childhood holidays—where I learnt about rockpools and seabirds and sand in my toes and where my mother taught me how to swim. I still remember the day I first swam, about age seven, ploughing through the waves with my head-up breaststroke. I have never felt prouder or more amazed. This friendly beachy place, where I loved to pick willicks for tea, was also where I was raped and serially sexually abused when I was eleven. It has taken decades for me to be able to say that plainly and calmly. Which I can do now—because the shame of it does not belong to me. And I mention it because the events have coloured my relationship with this place ever since. And I will no longer collude with the shame by being afraid to speak of it when its pertinent to do so.

     I haven’t often been back to Northumberland which is sad, because it’s so lovely. But my recent visit was a happy one—swimming with my friend Wyn before breakfast, every day a different coloured sunrise. On one of the mornings, we plunged into a scarlet sea under a purple-red sky. I thought of the blood I shed all those years ago. The hidden blood, the secret kept, until it could not be kept any longer. This time, this sky, this sea, this morning—was an entirely different kind of red. Like a gift or roses red. The sea held me in its salty floating motion. Not for too long though as it was January, and we soon ran along the sand and rushed up to the cottage for hot chocolate and porridge.


“Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?”

Maya Angelou


   Three afternoons ago, I was running up Glaramara in a murky chilly mist, minding my own business, when abruptly accosted by loud posh woman, one of a small group of hikers on their way down.

   “Good Grief!! What are you thinking of? You should be going down not up.”

   Now I don’t mind the odd bit of friendly advice; tiresome though such unsolicited intrusions can be, they are not usually delivered like this one—in the manner of a headmistress dressing down a naughty pupil. “Rise above it” I thought to myself. But while an aloof silence might have been a dignified response, I’m afraid my rebuttal left her in no doubt about my opinion on her interference. I ran on through the tussocks and snow patches and up into the mist feeling half angry and half guilty. I thought she probably meant well but wondered if she would have said the same thing to a man. Because there’s only one thing that upsets me more than a misogynistic man and that’s a woman of similar persuasion.

   Less than five minutes I was cheered up by the coincidental and surprising appearance of a man, my friend, Chris Evans, who had run past the walkers without comment. We revelled in a playful run through “happy snow”, over Glaramara summit to Allen Crags and Angle Tarn, taking compass bearings and eyeing our maps keenly, at times acting almost like grown-ups. But there were a few sarcastic comments about how it was a good job Chris had appeared as otherwise I certainly must have died up there.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021 17:30

We Are Such Things As Dreams Are Made On


A Reflection On Motives and Motivation.

Have you ever had an experience where you've been had by an idea? Something sparks a feeling within you, a fire ignites, and no matter how illogical the venture might seem, you know, almost without your own consent, that you are committed to giving it your best go. I've had this experience on a number of occasions, not just in climbing and running, but in other areas of life too. Like when I applied to medical school and felt it was an accident that I got in. Or when I wrote my first book. And even of each of the three dogs we have had the joy of living with seemed, in their turn, to choose us as much as we choose them. The funny thing is that when an idea has got me in its clutches, I can make up a list of great reasons as to why I should run with it, but all the time I know deep down that these are justifications after the fact. The truth is the idea has had me and there's nothing I can do about it. Summer seems a long while ago as I'm writing this - looking out on the first snow of the season. But last June, Mandy and I had a brilliant experience of linking all fifteen 'Lakeland Classic Rick Climbs' in one continuous independent journey on foot. You can get a full account of the wonderful escapade in my article on UK Climbing.com (link below) but equally interesting is the process of how we came to do it. The most famous off-the-cuff remark in all of mountaineering literature, George Mallory's ill fated "Because it's there", is interesting because it centres on the "It", in this case referring to the mountain - Sagarmatha. It was as if the mountain, or at least the idea of the mountain as conceived by twentieth century white men, was in charge. "It" was there. The man was compelled by it. And I think the reason he couldn't give a better explanation of his motive was that the motive is more of a feeling than it is something that can be set in words.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021 12:16

Daft Questions?

“What’s your favourite time of year?” Mine is autumn, right now. Until the days are dark and short and the first snow sprinkles the fell tops, then winter will be my favourite. After that, when snowdrops give way to daffodils,when all the buds are bursting and the birdsong goes mad, when spring will become my favourite. And when the days are long and the fells are purple and perfumed in heather; summer is my favourite then. But the question of a favourite season is something I have been asked many times and I wonder why. It seems like a daft question. Is it that we have an in-built need to order and rank everything? Which thing is best, second best and worst? Who is fastest, most successful, has the biggest bank balance...? 

Daft questions are not limited to daft people; even my professors at university often seem to be asking them. Is performance poetry better than highbrow literature? Should writing be for one's self or for an audience? Is work which is highly complex and obscure more valuable than writing which is accessible? God forbid that the literati should concern themselves with that which can be plainly understood. “We must judge” says the professor, “it’s what we are paid to do”. At which point I hang my head, defeated again by the ethic of best and worst.

Right now let us indulge ourselves in autumn. The damp mustiness, the fungi, the woods, the colours, the leaves – still mostly on as I’m writing this, and many of them still green. I thought this was wonderful, this unseasonal prolongation of green, until someone pointed out to me that the trees will be getting hardly any rest these days. No sooner are they bald than they will have to think about sprouting. Even trees are lacking down-time. I’ve owned a mobile phone for nearly two years now. During lockdowns it started to have an unhealthy hold over me. Presently I am reverting to archaic behaviour and I only switch it on now and again. This annoys some people. Some people say they don’t like winter, when the trees are bare.

I’m finding it hard, to know how to live just now. How in the face of everything falling apart to be constructive and hopeful and responsible and grown-up, and even in certain fleeting moments to be happy? How to live? Isn’t this the only real question? For instruction in this I went to the woods up the valley today, into the temperate rainforest of Borrowdale.

Thursday, 30 September 2021 16:49

Matters of Life and Death

Just time to fit in a short run before work. Along the road, through the wood down to the lakeshore path, usual route. Through the gate where the dog comes off the lead and then – oh, with a sudden involuntary intake of breath I was stopped in my tracks.

All I could do was stand, still. It was sort of silver, not just a silver light, or mist or water but all of these melting into each other. Sunshine seeped through. I stood like a plant absorbing warmth and felt melted, as if the blood in my veins had become a silver molten flow which was part of the smooth, silky, misty, sunlit lake.

Two white swans, S-shaped angels, floated through the mist. I wondered in this tranquil moment if this is what it will be like when I die. It could be, couldn’t it?

It could be in days or decades and odd that I should think of death now when I am neither worried nor unhappy. I am not frightened of death, or life, and especially now I know that, when I do die, it will be silver.


I am moved to share the above piece from my book “Is It Serious?” because I think I still struggle sometimes, despite a willingness on my part, to find ways of talking about death. I realise the common phrases we resort to can feel trite or that there can be a tendency to want to sweep our mortality under the carpet altogether for fear of being depressingly “morbid”. But maybe if we could talk about death, we would be less fearful of our own ending, and when we are grieving for someone perhaps it can be good to feel understood rather avoided. Not talking about our pain and sadness does not mean it does not exist.

Tuesday, 31 August 2021 14:04

A Wild Thing


Many people I know say they just don't like poetry and mostly I agree with them. It's like olives, or anchovies, or jazz or something else that tastes or sounds weird, and it just doesn't float their boat. Life is too short and precious after all, to waste anytime on something which leaves you cold - or worse - with a bad taste. I wholeheartedly agree. There's far more interesting things to do in life.

"Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself", goes the hugely famous Walt Whitman quote. Here is an excerpt from my book "Is It Serious?"......

To create a poem is to pick a slow ripened fruit at the perfect moment. It gives life meaning through symbolism and word, rhyme and rhythm. A poem is a transmission. It is not thought, it is made. Like a creation of dreamtime, sung into existence by spirit.

Poetry is not clever. When it tries to be clever it is not poetry but a fabrication, an affectation, vain frivolity or sometimes something so bound up with its own cleverness that no useful meaning is poured out. The thing is arid and dry as dead bone, void of nourishment it leaves me empty. Poetry flows and bathes, it gushes. It is the river which runs through me.

Most of my substance is water but water does not need me for its own flowing existence. As with water so it is with poetry – all I can ever be is a vessel. I must pour out to be refilled and pour out again and again even knowing I cannot engineer the filling. The river runs through me, the sacred river. Measureless to my mind.

Poetry is a wild thing which cannot be tamed.


Wednesday, 28 July 2021 08:18

The Perfect Woman

Skiddaw race, following the perfect Wendy Dodds


It’s amazing the things you overhear when out running in the fells. Quite often it’s things I wish I had not been privy to, and generally I just run on politely, trying to pretend I haven’t heard. Yet some comments are difficult to ignore and I find myself fighting a desire to mischievously chirp in.

It can happen even during races, and it is perhaps a testament to my not working enough if I can be distracted by the impulse to engage in conversation with a stranger. Mostly I do mange to resist, except when it’s a fellow runner. They seem to be fair game for reposts. Like the guy who was incredulous that an “old woman” was keeping up because he was “racing his dick off”. He got a bit aggressive when I tried to reassure him that a penis isn’t a crucial piece of equipment for fell running, so I legged it and quickly left him way behind.

In recent years I have done very little racing, mostly contenting myself with quiet runs with my dog, keeping my head down. Perhaps racing was a thing of the past for me? Maybe I need to move on. Yet the memories of how much I used to love it made me curious enough to sign up for the Skiddaw race at the beginning of this month. In June I had ducked out of the Ennerdale race to go climbing. Sooner or later, I would just have to try one to see how it felt.

What are the things which lead up to a wonderful wild experience? What are the ingredients which go into making a satisfying and successful adventure? Focus, commitment, training, a dogged determination not to be put off and distracted from the plan. Things don’t just happen – you have to make them happen. You have to figure out how to work up to your goal in a realistic time frame, step-by-step. So, when I was persuaded to enter the Ennerdale fell race, which took place on the 12th June, I made sure I that I upped my running distance, practiced the route, built up stamina and visualised in my mind enjoying the race. Plan, prepare, train and visualise – all very predictable. Then two weeks before the race when I went off to Scotland for a climbing trip with my partner Mandy. It was an exciting heady mix of being let free in Scotland with great weather and dry rock. By the end of the first weekend, we had done two exquisite climbs which I had been waiting for decades to do. I’d just never been in the right place at the right time with the right climbing partner for these climbs before. But there I was, and having to save my legs for a big race seemed a bit irrelevant. And our trip to paradise continued for climb after climb, day after day until I was driving home two days before Ennerdale with an exhausted body and a happy heart. I wondered what to do about the race. I checked the phone for the weather – still very warm. What came next felt ridiculous.

Friday, 21 May 2021 19:16

Fights, Fears and Flights of Fancy

A good friend of mine told me a story on the phone last night. As she spoke, I had a feeling, like when hearing a good poem, that I was taking in something profound but that my deductive mind had not yet unravelled its meaning. Sometimes stories or poems hit some kind of target within me and it’s a feeling worth taking note of. I think it happens when something has rung true at a deeper level than any kind of logic or deduction can achieve. Then afterwards, there can be new insights, new lines of thinking and knowing.

My friend was telling me how she went for a walk the other day on the North Pennines with her husband who is a good listener to birds. He can usually tell who is around by their tweets and calls.

“Sounds like a hen harrier” said Chris as he scanned excitedly to site the bird.

But no, on a post they located the source of the screech – a cuckoo under siege, being mobbed by a group of meadow pipits. Brave little warriors trying their best to see off the parasitic threat. They must be aware of cuckoo tactics. Like a big hungry capitalist, the cuckoo doesn’t do its own work but seeks out a surrogate home for its investments and relies on the little birds to hatch them and feed them. It can even lay its egg in another bird’s nest in colours which mimic the eggs of the chosen hapless host. But the little birds were trying to see it off before it counterfeited their families. And as my friend was detailing the scene I was thinking; “Good on you little pipits, don’t be exploited – you don’t have to slave away for the benefit of dishonest fat cuckoos”.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021 09:38


"Maybe I Will, Maybe I Can."  (quote fromfrom Running the Red Line, The Lakeland Classics Chapter)

This is a dangerous piece of writing. It is the first time I have been so bold as to write about something I haven’t even done yet. Usually, I like to reflect on things afterwards, and since my plans often end in complete none-events, prior musings have the potential to be terrible embarrassments.

I might regret telling you this but it all started in the queue for the veterans’ COVID-19 vaccination. Just two days earlier a friend had asked me if I had entered the Ennerdale Fell Race, scheduled for June 12th. It is this summer’s big event. Who cares if Glastonbury is off – Ennerdale is on! My answer then was an honest, heartfelt, certain and sure “No. I am definitely not doing it”. But it seems this vaccination can have terrible side effects when the other people in the queue are all seasoned fell runners and they start up with their dangerous persuasive talk. I was still resolute,

“No, I’m not doing it, and anyway it’s too late, the entries are all taken”.

“Yes, but more will be released on Monday morning, come on, it’ll be great”.

I thought I had got away with the promise of just a recce, but the vaccine must have got into my brain. Perhaps the Fell Running Association had implanted a microchip in it which causes innocent people to sign up for humungous feats. Ennerdale – 23 miles and 7500 feet of up and down – I can’t do it, I’m too broken, I’ve been too ill, I’m too weak, too knackered, too scared. But now look – I’ve entered!

Friday, 26 March 2021 09:47

Swimming Lessons


Swimming Lessons – reflections of a faint-hearted aquaphile.

Lesson One – age seven years, in Northumberland.
The most triumphant day in all my life. Glorious sunshine beaming down on the North Sea. My mother's hands supported me in the water, while I learnt the strokes. Then, when the time was right, she let go and I was swimming with no arm bands or rubber ring, head-up breast stroke into the waves. The amazing feeling of rise as a swell came up from underneath my weightless body. It was the day that I leaned that the world is fantastic.

Lesson Two – forty-six years later in a small indoor pool.
I wanted finally to get beyond the feeling of panic whenever my head was underwater. I wanted to be a real swimmer and learn front crawl. My teacher's hands supported me in the water, while I learnt the strokes. Suddenly I stood up and cried for no reason that I could fathom. My body had remembered something. Then I got on with it and managed a whole length.

Lesson Three – another year later in Derwentwater.
It was ten days after an accident which gave me 3 big pelvic fractures, broken ribs and a bleed into my left lung. The painstaking palaver of getting on a wetsuit and going to the lakeshore on crutches was worth it. I swam my first mile of front crawl, alone in the calm cool lake with mist rising and morning sun filtering through. The water became a safe place where pain dissolved.

Thursday, 25 February 2021 18:48

Mysteries Yes!


Dancing Monk at the Mani Rimdu Festival, Tengboche, Nepal.     Photograph by Mandy Glanvill


A few weeks ago, I was getting worried and found myself poking about in the places I would expect to see snowdrops, finding nothing. Concerned that something had happened because they seemed a bit late, and I had been longing for them for ages, these pristine little symbols of newness. But now there’s nothing bashful about them and it’s a brilliant snowdrop year after all.

The world is recreating itself all the time, but especially now- in spring. It always makes me think of those times when I was about ten wondering what is beyond the edge of the universe, how it could be that time had a starting point and if everything if destined or is anything up to us. I know part of growing up is about weaning oneself off those questions and becoming concerned with more adult matters like making a living, being useful and generally fitting into the world. Since everybody knows we’ve been at these young questions for millennia and as dear esteemed Mary Oliver observed:

“Truly, we live with mysteries too marvellous to be understood…...

Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say "Look!" and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.” (From Mysteries – Yes!”)

Friday, 29 January 2021 16:57

So Much More Than Meets the Eye

I can remember mornings in spring, when the light is so bright, the air so easy to run through, it feels like the winter has done something to cleanse the world and make it all over, fresh. On such a morning a few years ago, I was running up Latrigg whose delights were then unfamiliar to me, with my friend Sam Ayers. We had taken the lane of Spooney Green, leaving tarmac for rough track and crossing the bridge over the constantly rumbling A66. Breathing harder as the path thinned and steepened through pine plantations and then as we emerged, just before jack-knifing back up the final gentle grassy slopes,

“Prepare yourself” says Sam.

And after the four or five strides it took to round the corner, I knew what she meant because we were running uphill and taking in what Alfred Wainwright described as "a panorama of crowded detail, all of it of great beauty: indeed, this scene is one of the gems of the district...The far horizon is a jumbled upheaval of peaks, with many dear old friends standing up proudly”.

We took it all in, we breathed it in, we absorbed it through our skins like lizards imbibing warmth. A modest moment of perfection that has stuck in my memory. Not long after that run with Sam I moved to a house within a mile of Latrigg’s base and I have run up there hundreds of times since. You would not think such a small hill could be responsible for so much.

Saturday, 26 December 2020 18:20

Not Just Passing Through


"What she taught me was that you are part of this place, not a visitor. That's a huge difference."

- Craig Foster, in the film "My Octopus Teacher"

In this amazing and love-filled film a human becomes part of this place, through the wild teachings of an octopus of Africa's southern cape. The film entirely dismantles and defies the idea of life as a quest, an effort to fit the mythology of a flawed hero's journey, understandable in the manner of a travelogue. And after the dismantling, what is left is no disappointment. What the film portrays, with stunning beauty and simplicity, is what it means to be a participant in an ecosystem much larger than oneself.
 I have reflected a great deal on what it means to be "a part of this place, not a visitor". I don't just mean this place here where I live, but this place in all it's bigger meanings. So much of literature is tied up with progression, of life as a journey, and it occurs to me that this framework sometimes magnifies my feeling of being a visitor on the earth. What if I began to think I was not a traveller but a resident? And this year, this very sad and frightening year, has also been asking me the same question. Am I alone, or am I part?

Saturday, 28 November 2020 10:04

Do You Believe in Rainbows?


The first time my attention was drawn to rainbows was in primary school paintings. We memorised the order of colours and we all produced our own great masterworks for the classroom walls. I’m not sure if I believed in rainbows then. I thought they were like fairies or witches; things that you get told about but do not actually exist. Until one day – we actually saw one from the upstairs of a bus. A real rainbow. And my Mam told me there would be a pot of gold at the end of it. I was mesmerised and then I felt a terrible longing inside when the rainbow faded and disappeared.

I was not convinced about the pot of gold. Surely if that were true Mam would have jumped off that bus and been after it like Jack Flash. As the bus rumbled downhill into town, I kept my eyes on the sky, but the rainbow was definitely gone. Yet I had seen it with my own eyes, as bright as anything, and no one could say I hadn’t.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020 17:38

Time for Trees

For the last three weeks I have woken up to a firework display. There’s been nothing quiet or demur going on. The Rowan outside our window has been a wild red fiesta of starry explosions. There’s a maple standing ablaze in burning orange and ash trees shooting up deep yellow sparks like Roman candles. The hug Oak stands watching at a safe distance and rustling under a golden coat. I begin to feel like they are doing it just to cheer us up. As if they have had a conference about the humans and noticing that we have been all edgy and out of sorts they have decided to throw a party as an act of generosity. Of course, it is no such thing. It is not even a “display” at all in the visual sense. It’s a preparation for winter, an adaptation for survival. And not just their own.

Trees can live without me but the converse is not true. And they do have conferences, airborne and soilborne conversations are happening all the time. I suspect that benevolent concern for the state of health and happiness of that troublesome, sometimes poisonous, and invasive animal which invented the chainsaw is not top of their agenda.

In Borrowdale there are lots of Oaks and as I run along the Cat Bells terrace I feel like royalty, as if the rich and regal of carpet of colours had been laid out just for me. Even the bracken looks beautiful, a frizzled brown mop now gleaming with golden highlights, brushed over by Midas. Sheep cannot eat bracken and humans eat sheep. Consequently, there is lots of bracken.

Heading down into the woods I am shot in the skull by plopping acorns and I begin to get over myself. I begin to get over my sense of good fortune, my joy, my overwhelm from the sheer astonishing splendour of it all. Like it or not, I am more than a witness. I may feel like I have just been treated to a seat in the royal box but I am not simply an audience. I begin to realise that the woods are needing some other response, not only my applause.

The trees stand well carrying such huge responsibilities in their boughs. It is not Atlas but the trees who bear the world up. And when it comes to their list of concerns, in 2020, humans must be getting pretty high on their agenda.

Friday, 25 September 2020 10:32

Who Do I Think I Am?


You can tell by the way I dedicate myself to sartorial elegance, always having perfect hair and makeup, and carefully chosen matching outfits – I must have style in my genes. It’s true that my grandfather was a hairdresser, as was my great-grandfather and my great- great-grandfather. And who knows how much further back. What I did not know until relatively recently is that the middle of these grandfathers, Jack Nowell, founded Gateshead Harries in 1904. This knowledge came as a shock to me and forced me reconsider my background - maybe there was some good in it? And one day I had the idea that I must run to Gateshead to pay homage to Jack Nowell. But it was one of those ideas that is like poem, you don’t really have it - it has you. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2020 16:24

Does this involve me?

I emerge from a restless broken sleep to condensation on the inside of the windscreen and see that I am neither too early nor too late. The dawn is still a work in progress. It is a luxury to laze in the back of the van with a mug of tea and bowl of porridge without having to stir from the comfort of my sleeping bag. But I didn’t linger for too long. My life was in chaos and I had not really planned this run. I just had a vague idea that it would be good to park up on my late-night journey home, to close my struggling eyes, and hope that morning would present an opportunity.

My half-ill body was stirred into action, and soon I was trotting along the vale to the bottom of Stannah Gill. Surprised to find some strength in my legs, I bounded over the wooden bridge spanning the idyllic little waterfall. It was like an almost too perfect feature in a grand garden, and I thought that William Wordsworth, with his hankering to be a landscape gardener, would have strongly approved. The steep slope at the south side of the gill was clothed in the tangle of thigh high summer bracken. A thin trod on short grass through the thicket led up, and up, and up. Easy up. Breaking from steep to runnable over the fell’s rounded shoulder I pushed on in the most glorious of quiet mornings. Sticks Pass saddle, flat like a playing field was where I turned right to the main ridge path; a rubbly ribbon stretched out like a seam, stitching together the east and west sides of the Helvellyn hills. I ran over Raise and White side with their carefully built cairns on top, like alters. Places of veneration.

Monday, 22 June 2020 11:46


"...It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were."

 ― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

"For me, becoming isn't about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving.... The journey doesn't end."
Michelle Obama

Lately life has felt a little unreal. Conversations and meetings online, a virtual kind of life, and when off-line doing things largely alone. Looking for connections and struggling to remember what it feels like to give my friends a hug, and laugh until I cried. Trying to remember my hare-brained dreams and mad cap schemes but feeling that the plotting of things exciting and thrilling, which have no purpose other than the experience, should be relegated to the unnecessary.  I should be doing useful things – at a time like this.
Monday, 25 May 2020 05:35


I woke this morning to the sound of gusting wind and lashing rain, to the sensation of aching ankles especially the left one, and a satisfied weariness after yesterday’s twenty-mile trot over the Borrowdale fells. It being Sunday, a day when sloth can creep in a little less guilt laden, I stayed in bed for a while enjoying the feeling of clean linen, the smell of fresh air through the open window and the sound of chirping birds, who continued singing despite the storm. I wondered how they manage in the wind. Perhaps they are like us humans, recently confined to essential journeys only. Locked down for survival - no flying with friends just for the freedom and the feeling. My well used body needs its breakfast, so I am spurred to get up.

The educator Ken Robinson talks beautifully about the relationship we develop with our bodies and how as we grow up, we become more disembodied. Concentrating on the intellect, or the brain, and even then, mostly one side of it, our kinaesthetic, blood-filled being is denied expression until we begin to feel that our bodies are a mere utility. Ken parodies University Professors experiencing their bodies as “a mode of transport for the head. A way of getting their heads to meetings”.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020 18:37

Of Joy and Sorrow

Of Joy and Sorrow.

It has been said that the global pandemic has its upsides. It is good for the environment, the air, the wildlife, and it has made us more mindful, more community spirited and less materialistic. It has been countered that speaking of such things is heartless, while people are dying without loved ones present. While people are imprisoned in one room flats with little money, no fresh air and no hope. Jobs gone, friends out of reach; leaving stress, violence and nowhere to go. Let’s get real – people are suffering, badly. And therefore, I am sad even as I rejoice in small things that I have never noticed so closely before. How many particular kinds of daffodil there are along the lakeside road as I enjoy a traffic free cycle ride in the sunshine.
Friday, 20 March 2020 10:12

Freedom - No Matter What

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”   Viktor Frankl

Dr Frankl’s words written in his wonderful book, Man’s Search for Meaning, were a reflection on his remarkable story of holocaust survival in four different concentration camps during WW2. He went on to live a rich and productive life and his reflections, particularly this book, are amongst the most astonishing, joyous and hopeful writing I have ever come across. At the moment, we are all worried and feeling insecure about the coronavirus threat and its consequences, and here I am recommending a book about the holocaust – you might think I really want to make you miserable! But bear with me, because truly, it is about how to live hopefully and purposefully, no matter what. I’m not talking about the ‘there’s always somebody worse off’ perspective here – it is about how to make ourselves better off, while facing the unique and genuine challenges we each struggle with.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020 21:49

Just Wondering

“I know the world’s a mess, but, there’s so much that’s gorgeous in it. I wish everybody could have what I have.” So said Alice Walker.

As I understand her, what this wonderful wordsmith was referring to was wonder itself. Knowing how minute, how unimaginably insignificant, we are and at the same time feeling the force of life pulsing through our bodies.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 11:47

This One Wild and Precious Life

I am sure there have been many pivot points in history when there was a pervasive feeling of insecurity, an awareness of being in extraordinary times. And here and now we find ourselves in one of those times - some may say the most monumentally challenging of them all. The climate crisis is, to some extent, galvanising us to wake up, and act. To live as if life really is precious and fragile – which of course has always been the magnificent truth. And we do not actually need crisis to provoke us to live as if what we do matters. There is another, much gentler friend, we can use to help guard us against complacency. She is Poetry.