Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Templer Way


From Templer Way


This trail follows the route once taken by granite quarried on Dartmoor down to the sea. The eighteen mile route begins at Haytor quarries and follows original granite tramway tracks and a derelict canal to the quays, now a Local Nature Reserve, at Newton Abbot. The trail then follows the southern banks of the Teign estuary (low tide only) to Shaldon, where a short ferry ride takes you across the river to a beach a stones throw from the old piers from where granite was shipped to places like London for the building of the British Museum. Quarried clay was also shipped from here to the potteries in the midlands.

Highly recommended. The route is a contrast of natural and industrial landscapes with some good old fashoned British seaside thrown in at the end.

Another good bit is that it's all downhill!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Tor bagging

From the top car park by Haytor Rocks, I headed south towards Bag Tor before turning west to follow the curving line of an ancient stone wall.

Found a way up throught he gorse to Saddle Tor and then cut back southwest to Rippon Tor - the trig on the top had a refreshingly remote feel to it. Then some compass bearing practice over to Pil Tor.

Again, I learned the lesson of trusting the compass. Having added the magnetic variation, the Pil Tor I was looking at lay in the wrong direction, soon later I realise that I've been looking at the wrong tor and that my original bearing was bang on! The direct line between these tors required a lot of gorse-wading.

Pil Tor to Top Tor, then Bell, Chinkwell and Honeybag Tors. Award meself a Tor for the rocky high point to the north of Hedge Down.

There's a short section of land that's not marked as open access on the map that I now need to cross. A thoughtful landowner has put a gate in the fenceline and then tied it shut and put up a No Walkers sign. I excercise my own right to roam!

Then Hound Tor, Greator Rocks, Holwell Tor and back to Hound Tor to complete a very satisfying circuit.

With a nod to 4Winds, I expose wet, white skinned feet for the final - somewhat effeminate - trot back down the soft turf to the car...

Monday, 23 August 2010

Brecon Beacons fell race

The mangled pile of aluminium should not have been there. The memorial, adorned with poppies, should not have been there. The big cliff up above on the left that kept appearing and then dissapearing into the cloud and wind-driven rain should not have been there. More importantly, the four of us should most definitely not have been there either.

It was the second time that day that I had been 'temporarily misplaced,' as my book on mountain navigation likes to put it. The earlier time had been when, preoccupied by the atrocious weather conditions and concerns about the race, I had looked with a horrible sinking feeling past manicly flapping windscreen wipers at a big green sign that said, 'Newport'.

I'd made it to the start just in time to see a body of runners heading off at speed. Resigned to a solitary run around the first half of the course, I got changed and trotted up to the start where a car full of marshals was just leaving...

The race organiser jumps out:

"Late entry? Name? Sign there. They've just gone. You look like you should be able to catch them," he grins.
"Have you got a map?"
"Yeah, got a map. Did it last year."
"I remember him, give him number 12," a woman's voice from the back seat. He writes 12 on the back of my hand.
"We had a retiral. Someone didn't pass the kit check."
"Have you got full kit?"
"Full kit, yeah," I say.

He points me at a clag-covered lump of landscape and I'm off, running along the top of the Taynont Dam! I'm in the race! No warm up! No nothing!

Buzzing from the reprieve, I push my way up through the soaking head high bracken and brambles and into the field above. A direct line up the edge of the wood and a hop over a fence and I'm on the lower slopes of Tor y Foel with the back markers in sight.


The race route itself covers 19 miles and 4000+ ft ascent. Organised by the Mynydd-du, the circular course takes in the Beacons themselves but also a number of other, less populated hills along the way. It's run in opposite directions year on year. This year was clockwise, and conditions couldn't have been more different from twelve months ago when Mike Wood and I had staggered across tinder peat bogs and burned up in the heat. This year everything was saturated due to the prolonged heavy rain.

... overtake a distinctive-looking runner with an improvised splash guard over his specs, made from a visor from a motor racing helmet...

... overtake a couple more on the monotonous track before the heavens properly open and the rain stair rods down...


...short cut a direct line on a bearing over the tussock and bog of Bryniau Gleision, and make places on others who have been more energy efficient and followed the track...

Self doubt creeps in for the first time as I run alone in the heavy rain and cloud on the featureless moor. It's reasurring to see footprints left by the runners ahead. At the second checkpoint, the trig on Pant y Creigiau, a woman's voice from beneath a drawn-in hood cheerfully says, "Number 12" - I take my hat off to her - literally - for it is a very bad day indeed to be marshalling.

The rain somehow manages to come down even harder as I descend to the road. Without meaning to, I reel in the guy ahead on the forest trail that follows by concentrating on a low gear steady pace. Away over on the hillside to the left, sodden clouds congeal in patches over the conifer plantations.

The roaring peaty brown water beneath the footbridge over the Upper Neuadd reservoir overflow is exhillarating.

The path up the steep hillside to the beginning of the Beacons horseshoe has become a stream. It's a hard climb back up into the cloud.

The grey cairn on the summit of Corn Du develops a blob. The blob waves an arm, and I run up to another inexplicably cheerful marshal. It's the same on Pen y Fan, except that this marshal has brought his dog and is handing out waterlogged bits of banana. The rain stops for a short moment on the climb up to Cribyn and I manage to get the camera out of the plastic bag and take a snap.

So I'm running along with a friendly guy from the Rhonda Valley. He's a keen climber and we're getting on well as we make our way along the Bwlch y Ddwyallt. We find the path off to Waun Rydd and are joined by two other runners who have doubled back - one of whom looks pretty cold in his vest.

I've been here before, albeit in good weather and going in the opposite direction. But I know it's featureless. So I get out the compass and set it to the pre-measured bearing of 117 (i'd done me homework). I sight along it, feel confident, and then follow a path that goes in a different direction. The path becomes a trod and then peters out. And then a pile of mangled aluminium comes into view...

Like sheep, we press on...

Try as I might, I can't make the features that I'm seeing relate to where I know we should be on the map. Luckilly, one of our number has a brain and locates us half a kilometre to the south of where I'm looking - wait for it - beneath a crag and, lo and behold, near a memorial...

Meantime, one guy has already headed off down into the wrong valley. The rest of us head back to the end of the crag and climb back up to the top. Aiming off a little bit, we follow a bearing to a little tarn and pick up the path proper. Drama over.

The rest of the run is nearly all down hill and I start to overtake the same people again! I enjoy the last stages of the race and happily chug over the line with what feels like plently left in the tank.

A great race. I'm sure that it would attract a field of several hundred if held in the Lakes, Peak or Snowdonia. As it was, on this day, there were only 45 of us.

A special thank you is due to the Marshals, who must have really put up with some grim conditions so that we could enjoy our race.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Standish Woodland Chase


It sounds as if someone is setting off a roman candle away down in the valley. This puzzles my fried mind until I separate out the sound from a background of gasping breaths and slapping footfalls and realise that it's actually the mewling cries of buzzards up above the closed leafy canopy above. I'm on the second lap, and it's not going well.

The legs are dulled, my spit (yes, I know it's disgusting) has become adhesively difficult to get rid of and there's a dehydrated throb of a headache beginning to couple-up my temples. I'm losing places and there is not a lot I can do about it.

It had started ok. Any race that runs out from a farm where you queue for registration in a barn with a distinctive backdrop combination of smells - dusty hay, spilled oil and cow shit has go to be ok. Echoey cow sounds from the big metal barn on the other side of the car park and hens scratching around, doing what they do. A hundred and fifty or so runners and a measured approach create a happy atmosphere for this modest race that is run every year in aid of a small school in Gambia.

The course itself begins with a mile or so uphill on the road. It's quite steep and effectively thins out the runners before the main part of the race, which consists of two undulating loops on the trails around Standish Woods. About 9.5 miles in all.

Mike stays apace on the way up the hill, but drops back as the gradient steepens. At the top, on the tracks across the fields to the woody section, I'm mildly concerned to realsie that there's another club member on my shoulder, pacing off me. Toby, it later turns out, is 25 and a fit as you'd expect for someone who's into rowing in a big way.

There are four of us: a scrawny muscley guy with a beard who takes a lot of short quick steps, a Vet from the Forest of Dean AC who looks like he's consistently put in hard fast times for the last three decades, the aforementioned fit youth and a balding father of twins (who had considerately woken up their dad at 5.30 that morning). We set a hard pace: 6.30min miles to start off with according to the garmin.

We pace off each other, taking turns to lead the group. We overtake the Bitton Roadrunner ahead, but only because he's stopped to throw up. Then I take a wide line on a corner and slingshot my way into a downhill, taking the Vet with me. The other two seem to fall back as we force onwards. But it's way too fast for me. I know I can't sustain it.

The key point comes after a downhill that I've pushed as hard as I can. In the dip at the bottom and going into the next climb, a Stroud runner comes through and the Vet goes with him. They power away up the hill. There's no way I'm going too.

I run the second lap of the wood with a bloke of rugby player's build. Together we begin to reel in the guy ahead, before I begin to drop away again. The garmin says 7.30 min miles now - and there is most definitely not a spring in my step.

As they clap us up the last climb out of the woods, I know that I must have lost half a dozen places.

Out of the woods the humidity hits and I'm concentrating hard as I push it down the rough stoney track to the road. ("C'mon, you did four miles of this on the Snowdon...")

Then the slappy descent down the tarmac. A Gloucester AC lady comes past, running (as they say) like hot snot. I watch her catch up and then battle it out with the rugby player up ahead.

"Yay, first Almost," shouts Chris's wife Joss and then I gurn the final few hundred yards to the finish to be met by the beaming Vet (Steve) with a cup of water. Toby's in a minute later, Chris a few seconds behind. Ed and Mike about a minute behind again.

Due to poor turn outs by proper running clubs, we won the first team prize! I am dead chuffed because I haven't won anything in a race since I cheated in the egg and spoon, Kirkbride, Cumbria circa '78 (apologies, Mr Aitchison).