Tuesday, 25 October 2016


Suffering is frequently an integral part of a hobby. Maybe not all hobbies, but certainly the ones that I've been drawn to over the years. Why is that? And why am I drawn to such pursuits? Take fishing, for example. I can recall many long, sweaty walks with a ton of gear; uncomfortable wet nights beneath inadequate shelter; bitterly freezing weather that numbed fingers and toes... Couple that lot with innumerable days when the fish refused to bite ('blanks') and the non-angler is bound to wonder why anyone would bother. As any fisherman will tell you, it's because of the rewards. Rewards which are all the sweeter for a bit of suffering.

Birding too. Have you ever walked out to Blakeney Point? Approximately one hundred miles of shingly slog. However, it's one thing to walk out there for a bit of on-spec birding, and quite another to twitch a bird at the very end. In August 1983 I did just that, arriving at Cley coastguards well before first light and then rushing out to the very end of the point as rapidly as possible to see a Royal Tern. None of us knew if the bird was going to be there, but that made no difference to the sense of urgency, and covering such a vast acreage of shingle at speed is utterly, utterly knackering. But the bird was there! Who cared that their legs felt like jelly or that they could hardly see through optics steamed up by sweaty brows? No one! All the suffering was worth it because of the reward.

Of course, the bird was actually a Lesser Crested Tern. And there was also the small matter of the walk back, but...

That particular twitch was a midweek affair, and the following weekend I did it all again so that Mrs NQS could see the bird too. At the time we had a 10-month-old baby to consider. No worries, I would simply carry him in our state-of-the-art Mothercare baby-backpack-thing. I have no idea how much Rob weighed at the time but, let me tell you, it quickly felt like I was carrying an ever-growing lump of concrete on piano-wire straps. Agony doesn't come close. By the time we got to the point I couldn't get the thing off quick enough. Predictably, the bird never showed. And then there was the walk back...

I swear, my shouder blades still carry the notches carved that day.

What about cycling? Well, cycling is all about suffering. For example, google 'pain cave'. Just about every time I go out on the bike there will be a degree of suffering; a ride doesn't seem complete without it. An easy way to suffer is to go uphill, and a steep upward gradient is virtually guaranteed to achieve the desired effect. Here is one of my favourites:

Strava tells me I've been up this hill 52 times. Let me describe it. The slope is quite steep to begin with, and soon ramps up to a vicious 18%, as marked in the screenshot above. This kind of gradient is impossible to cycle up 'easily'; here we have guaranteed pain. Muscles will be demanding oxygen that the blood is struggling to supply, so heart rate and breathing rate increase quickly in a vain effort to compensate. Your quads are rapidly accumulating lactic acid almost to the point of seizure. Then, just as your poor little legs are screaming for some relief...please!..they get it. Not much though. Just enough to recover suffiently to keep going. Oh, and is that the summit ahead, just after that next increase in gradient? No, it isn't. And in fact there is another false summit to negotiate before a genuine levelling off, and then a final steady rise to the trig point which marks the actual top. And that's it, done. One and three-quarter miles of heady joy.

I love Eggardon Hill. Why? Well, for the rewards, obviously. The satisfaction of overcoming the physical challenge, and, if I've been in the mood to really go for it, perhaps the pleasure of a decent time - for my age group, my best effort puts me third out of 77. So, I suppose there is a kind of triumph involved here. Or madness. Who knows? Anyway, in addition there is one other priceless reward...

An absolutely superb view!


  1. Gav, the speed which you negotiated the steepest hill towards Sarratt, shows the ordeals endured up Alp de Eggardon was time well spent.

    1. Yes, that was a fairly stiff climb, Ric, but thankfully much shorter! Another thing about hills: I like the fact that they kind of force you to work hard. I'm such an idler by nature, and hills make me get off my proverbial fat backside!