This week I saw my first Peregrine Falcon. I have wanted to see one forever, so I was very excited about it! Before you write me off as a bird watcher let me just explain why this bird is different. In looks it is notably unspectacular as birds of prey go. Dark brown and small with no distinctive features that I can tell. Much less impressive than an owl or eagle with their big wings, beaks and talons. Peregrines have actually started frequenting towns and cities across Britain, including London, using the tall buildings as perches. They go by completely unnoticed, mistaken for the pigeon upon which they prey.
It is only for a fractionally small time, when they descend on prey that, suddenly, all hell breaks loose and you realise you are witnessing an incredible animal. They can dive at speeds of well over 200mph making them the fastest living thing on the planet. Nothing else comes close. It is precisely this contrast of humble appearance and phenomenal strength that I find so appealing. It is innately obvious when you see a cheetah that it is the fastest land animal. They can be strolling or lying around, and yet betray all the evidence you need of their speed. The long tail, thin body, streamlined face. It is the same when you see a bull elephant, everyone can see it is the strongest. But the peregrine goes about its business humbly and without the grandiose appearance, yet it is quietly one the most superb and gifted of all.
Not that I am comparing middle distance runners to Peregrines in any way. But I have always liked the way it is similarly difficult to spot an elite distance runner when they are casually dressed and going about their daily business. If you are sitting on a tube next to a world class basketballer, rugby player, or even a sprinter, you will know you are in the presence of someone different. But there is every chance you have sat next to a Mo Farah or a Seb Coe and not given him a second glance. It is only in that relatively short amount of time, when they are actually performing, that you can tell them apart from the accountant or sales manager.
There is no point living in the middle of Snowdonia, officially the wettest place in Britain, unless you enjoy the mountains. So at least once a week we climb a mountain. This week we were decided on Moel Hebog, the next door neighbour of the hill on which we live, Moel Dde. It is better looking and higher, and we have never been up it before. We had expected an easy stroll seeing as it is a comparative baby, and has no tricky scrambles to negotiate. As we got higher the snow got deeper very quickly, and as the gradient got steeper we quickly found ourselves on all fours, digging our hands and feet into the 3 or 4 feet of hard packed snow. The weather also worsened as we ascended, very strong winds and hail whipped into our faces. I was aware that this small hill should be eminently climbable, and it was embarrassing to me that I was considering turning back already, especially as Nina seemed capable of following me into oblivion without a thought for self-preservation.
There were signs that several mini-avalanches has taken place which brought to mind the poor climbers who died in Scotland last week. I had to respect that the weather has the power to transform even a simple hill into a hostile and dangerous prospect. We turned back. Yes I seem to have been doing a lot of that lately. Up to now I have desperately tried not to let the weather dictate terms, so I would train resolutely whatever the conditions. I broke before the weather did, and have had to take 2 days off to recover. This afternoon the weather is heavy rain and severe gale force winds, all running is therefore suspended till tomorrow morning. If I’m learning anything out here, it is that sometimes smart is better than tough.
Just to add to Russell’s lamentations about the weather, it’s true that we’re having to be a bit more reactionary to the changing conditions than ploughing through them bullishly. I said to Russell this morning that we need to have more of a climber’s mentality – drop everything and strike when the weather’s hot (or mild). This demands a new mental agility for me! I like to know what I’m doing and when. But I think the flexibility is a good skill to have too.
We were running at the beach on Thursday and the dawn sun turned everything into a beautiful day. You can drive right onto the beach and up and down the stretch which is over 2.5km long. Our fellow beach users are 99% dog walkers. At low tide, we’ll often see them disappearing round the rocky outcrop at the end of the beach, as if falling off the edge of the earth. We had yet to investigate where they were off to – but on this occasion it was irresistible. Round the outcrop is an entirely new beautiful beach stretch with rock formations, caves and climbing. We got trigger happy with our cameras. Even though it was 2°C, days like this are a beach holiday.