Friday, 19 February 2010

Can Tom Hack It?

Sunday morning is the time for a good hack. No: even the Royal Oak is smoke-free nowadays. Hacking is about working a horse on our hills and tracks between the Cheshire plain and the Derbyshire peaks.

In ones and twos, the beasts set out from Tarden, Townscliffe, Lower Dale and Hill Top Farm. But I prefer to exercise on my two flat feet, and friend Karen accepts my company for her Sunday morning “long run”.

Unfortunately Karen is in the prime of both her running career and professional life with one of Manchester’s great paper-mills. And though I am a hand taller than her, she carries a hundredweight less. So, as I labour up the hill to St Thomas’s, I have plenty of time to contemplate my sins of commission (McVitie’s HobNobs) and omission (hacking up hills).

We Mandalls are built for endurance, or at least for comfort, more than speed. Hard head on sloping shoulders, a barely defined waist and a damned good bottom. Good bottom, I expect, is what got my forebears, Cumberland farmers, through lean winters. And Cumberland sausage, I expect, too.

In the long run, there is nothing wrong with a damned good bottom. Provided the long run is on the flat.

The other thing about running is that you can’t afford to digress. But the thing about me is that I do little else. So, before I know it, I have slowed to nothing, and am contemplating my shoelaces. Or, worse, this column.

“Can Tom hack it?” I chant to myself, as I pick up my pace again. What on earth made me say I would write this column every Friday? My correspondent, Amanda, has emailed me the stern warning: “I can’t stand irregular blogs”. Thank you, Amanda. I won’t let you down.

“Can Tom hack it?” “Yes, he can!” I reply to myself, like a fan of Bob the Builder.

By Hill Top Farm, we turn onto a high wide track, straight as an autobahn, built between stone walls to enclose new fields for eighteenth century Mellor freeholders. Karen dances over the ridges between half frozen puddles, but my feet sink as deep as carthorse hooves.

I engage Four Paw Drive to clamber up from the ford at Rowarth. My mind drifts into dangerous waters: I compose a letter to the High Peak Council Footpaths Officer about how the exposed bedrock represents a serious trip hazard.

Consciousness returns on the Sitch, a lump of hill above Hayfield. I long for the gentle gradient of the disused railway line that brought undyed calico cloth the last leg from Kerala to Hayfield for printing. And Arthur Lowe home for tea.

But when we finally join the line Karen notches up to full steam. It’s exhilarating for the first fifty yards, but by the time we’ve pulled into New Mills, I’m about to bust my boiler.

Karen of course is ready for more. It must have been oxygen deprivation that made me suggest the blasted cross, so up we go again. Hack. Hack.

The walled track over Mellor Moor has clearly been used for NATO tank manoeuvres (letter to Secretary of State). My reeling salt-stung eyes discern two handsome beasts, and a printed message on their riders’ high-vis jackets.


No problem there. Can Tom hack it? Yes, he can.

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