Sunday, 22 March 2009

Fen violets

It's the time of the year that those training for the London Marathon have to do long runs of around 20 miles every weekend, the apogee in the training cycle when both mileage and speedwork count. Sometimes it's hard to fit in the training, and -- however many excellent training schedules Runners' World gives you -- you have to work around parental and work responsibilities, and the powerful urge to inertia.

So this weekend I decided that I would run to see a friend in the fen-edge village of Burwell. After a few additional loops, including dropping one of my boys off at tennis (he would be collected by Medea), that would add up to 20 miles. And a glorious 20 miles it was. Uneven underfoot, but sunny and mild. Birds everywhere, including a big yellow one I couldn't identify (I grew up in the city, and it's not my metier ... though I knew it wasn't a parrot. It looked a bit like a woodpecker, but it was bright yellow.)

To get to Burwell from Cambridge you follow the south-east bank of the Cam: I was taking the opposite course to last week's race. Taking the path through to Waterbeach, crossing the river and passing through deserted countryside until Upware, I then turned right and followed the Burwell Lode. The water forks, the right-hand course becoming the Reach Lode, and on the left, following the bank, to Burwell. Two paths ahead, and I could have (with a short swim) chosen either. I paused to take a photograph. Though I knew which path I would take.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet, knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever come back

I picked up the pace heading into Burwell. Though I had to stop again, when my younger boy called me, and I saw a perfect curve of bullrushes. I had to photograph them.

I ran hard into Burwell, and added a loop around the village to ensure that I was closer to 20 miles than 18 ... and then I turned into my friend's house. For some reason she makes me think of violets, and I remembered the patch I had seen on the banks of the Lode. This was my recovery drink, a bottle of Espelt, a Spanish wine with a nicely-drawn label.

The following morning I made porridge and headed back home, this time avoiding any additional miles. At first my legs were stiff and heavy, especially with the ferocious headwind; soon they loosened, and Between Upware and Waterbeach a German tourist stopped to ask me whether this was a good way to Ely. Later I saw Giulio, Giacomo and a tall Italian that I think was Ben, all storming in the opposite direction, out for their twenty-miler, preparing for London. Nearer Cambridge everyone was out running, taking in the glorious sun.

But back in the fens, there's a privacy, and an intimacy with the perverse emptiness of nature. Looking over the banks of the Cam I saw this straight line of evenly spaced trees. Sometimes I think that the fens are an expression of a creator's malign indifference; sometimes I think that s/he just got bored and left it half-made. Perhaps God was tired after making Derbyshire.

I arrived home, a little shy of fourteen miles, and made an egg sandwich.



  1. pulpsfromthebothy25 March 2009 at 23:37

    That yellow bird was a Green Woodpecker. By the way, I think you earned that drink!

  2. Lovely post with beautiful pictures. Am very fond of Violets too. x