Saturday, January 29, 2011

Blackdown Beast

After thoroughly enjoying last year's inaugural 16 mile romp through the Somerset/Devon borderlands, (with 3 pubs and a Cornish Pasty/Mulled-cider stop), this event has been on our calendar for many months. We set off at 8:30 sharp, theoretically only an hours drive away and starting at 10:00am, but expecting to need the extra half an hour to find our way to Dunkeswell from the nearest main road - even though it's less than 4 miles as the crow flies. We needed most of that time because despite having done the run last year, our memories of the route were vague, and the roads very windy, and potholy. We found some of the few roads that we missed trying to find the place last year, but unfortunately none of them led to our destination, so we ended up driving round to the far side of the village and approaching from the west. Next year we'll remember the map.

We finally arrived only 10 minutes before 10, just in time for the meeting briefing, or brief meeting before the start where we were told to expect mud, ice, rocks, and more mud, but thankfully not the herd of cows in a farmyard which we had to negotiate last year.

The other important information was that there were only 10 vegetarian pasties, which would have lent some urgency to our pace over the first leg of the course, except that because we were running with Garry (AKA LMRB), we were automatically at the head of the field. Luckily Garry was only "pootling" around so we were able to keep up - just, thanks to him opening most of the gates, and doing the map-reading. A local runner, Tony was running with us too, he is more used to chasing blobs of flour rather than drawing pins, but didn't seem to have much trouble keeping up, and maintaining a conversation.

The first leg was over 6 miles and the short break at Smeatharpe for pasty & mulled-cider was extremely welcome, especially inside a warm village hall where the temperature was several tens of degrees warmer, so the shock when we set off for the pub at Upottery was substantial. It took us a mile or two to really get going again, luckily not as hilly or muddy as the first section with several easy downhill tracks where we could relax a bit, and where Lin relaxed so much that she caught her toe on a stone and went flying. No serious damage, fortunately, she is pretty good at falling over!

The Sidmouth Arms gave us a warm welcome, although the landlady's first words were "you are all quite mad"!!! We couldn't really argue about that, she's right. Forced to choose between the Otter Ale, and Otter Bitter, I had a half of each. In a blind taste test I could just about tell the difference between them (by peeking), they are both good. Lin had a cup of coffee - oh well, it takes all sorts.

The next group of runners were hot on our heels, so we didn't stay long, although it was tempting to stay and enjoy the warmth, and maybe another drink, but the Luppitt Inn was beckoning, only 2.8 miles away, but separated from Upottery by a rather large hill.

I wish I had taken a picture of the fantastic view from the top of the hill above Luppitt, but I was too tired and cold to even try to get the camera out, and we weren't hanging about. It was down the precipice to the road, then halfway up one of the steeper hills in this part of Devon to definitely the smallest pub in the west country. We barely had time to down a half of Otter before the chasing group pitched up, and with still less than 10 runners in the bar, the place was full, and we left to make room for the others.

As we set off to enjoy the second and much steeper half of the hill, we were joined by renowned Honiton athlete, Heather Foundling-Hawker - having a nice easy morning's running as a break from her ultra training. She had just qualified for the GB 24 hour squad in an amazing effort where she had to run well over 200 miles in 4 days after her first attempt had failed due to adverse weather. (Link) She had some interesting stories to tell of the Ultra circuit which helped to make the last couple of miles back to Dunkeswell pass more easily. Soon we were running down into the village, and then up the final steepish hill to the Royal Oak (second most popular pub name in England).

Game over, but still some enjoyment to be had with a nice drink and a hearty meal of fish and chips in front of the fire, chatting with friends as they arrived back. A low key event, not a race, just great company and countryside - running at its best.
Many thanks to Nick, John, and the rest of the organising crew. We'll be back in 12 months for more mud and Mulled Cider.

Oh, and a plug for the Honiton Hippo. It be a good'un! Similar terrain, but a race, not a pub run. We would be doing it if we didn't have the Johnny Kipps on the same day. Its the old complaint, too many races, too little time.

Friday, January 07, 2011

New Year Festive Run

The year has  begun well with a great turn out at the New Year Festive run.   I should know by now that it's impossible to find out in advance who is coming - although we did get a text from Phil MacQuaid at about 10am saying "There's a gang on the way from Yeovil".  Very enlightening - what is the definition of  a "gang"?  Presumably more than two, which would be a couple, but when does a gang stop being a gang and become a crowd?  Ah the joys of catering - anyway fortunately there was enough champagne to go round!

Twenty of us set off from the Fox and Hounds, having discovered that there was no point rushing back because the pub was closed for a week.  They had obviously been unable to discover the exact date of our run and decided to close for several days to be on the safe side!

We laboured up Kennel Lane, splitting at the top with the speedier legs heading across to the Wessex Ridgeway and the sensible people taking the most direct route across to Sydling.  A re-group at the church in Sydling where we lost Jackie but gained Dave.  Unfortunately we had started too promptly and run too fast and the Greyhound was yet to open so rather than loiter at their door we decided to press on.  Our group shrank slightly as Andy decided to return to Cattistock and Richard Blackmore found the temptation of passing his front door too great to resist.

The rest of us tackled the climb up the other side of the valley, again splitting with Martin taking the faster legs on a detour, the rest of taking the slightly less arduous route.  A leisurely pace took us across Eastfield Hill, down to Pond Bottom and then the only way was up and up and up.............

Finally reaching the ridge at the Turning Point we broke for refreshment - champagne, flapjacks, chocolate and a welcome chance to take a breather and enjoy the view.  A group on horseback passed us -the riders enviously eyeing our refreshments, some of the runners coveting their horses!

An easy run along the ridge now with all the climbing behind us and then the descent to Stratton and finally a pub that was open - the Saxon!  This was the point where the foolhardy were sorted from the sensible - after some real alcohol and a break from the weather which had decided to turn particularly damp and unpleasant, our gang was greatly diminished and just nine of us set off on the final leg.  In fairness Charlie and Dave also continued on foot but had decided to get a head start on us. The rest of the group sensibly decided that enough was enough and the ever popular Mike found that he was everyone's best friend once it was discovered that his car was parked in Stratton!

Injury and illnesses were making it a bit of a struggle for some and the rain began in earnest.  It was like making a long car journey with children in the back of the car "Are we nearly there yet?" being heard at regular intervals.  The Chalk and Cheese was a welcome oasis of warmth and Mike and Di were waiting there as Jim finally gave in to his post flu symptoms and made the final leg by car. Richard also wisely decided that there was no point passing up his front door and so it was that only seven of us sloshed up the path by the river back to our starting point - where Mike and Di were again waiting to greet us with mince pies for everyone.

What a great way to start the New Year, despite the weather and thanks to everyone who came along and made the day such a success.  A few pictures which Martin took are up on the MNR Facebook page: