Completing all Bedfordshire parkruns

Bedfordshire has 6 parkrun locations, of which 3 are grouped around Luton and 3 around Bedford.

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Dunstable Downs

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Great Denham


Houghton Hall

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Luton Wardown

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Millennium Country

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Richard gowerComment
Cycling The Assendon Stream

Part of the Chilterns Rivers series
Start / Finish: The Quince Tree, 21 B480, Stonor, Henley-on-Thames RG9 6HB
Distance: 15.1 km / 9.4 miles
Ascent: 205 m
Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Oxfordshire Way, Shakespeares Way, Chiltern Way, Chilterns Cycleway
Map: OS Explorer 171 Chiltern Hills West, Henley-on-Thames and Wallingford

Having described yesterday’s Ouzel trip as “obscure and tenuous”, this one goes one step further by not even being there. The Assendon is an ephemeral chalk stream that is dry, even in wet winters. The best source that I could find on the stream is the JBA Trust Report on the last time the stream appeared in 2014. The document also shows the course of the stream, starting in Stonor Village and flowing South East to the Thames just North of Henley-On-Thames town centre.

Cycling along the course of the stream is very straightforward as the B480 and then A4130 follow it all the way to Henley. The map in the JBA report is too low-res to tell, but it looks like the source is on the West side of the road then switches the the East side for most of the route. There’s a small green in Middle Assendon with a big ditch and a wooden bridge which I assume crosses the stream. Once you get onto the Fairmile cyclepath along the A4130 you’ll follow a long grassy ditch which becomes a concrete ditch following the pavement. Look out for the gravestone of Jimmy The Marmoset next to a tree before the stream diverts from the road under some houses. Presumably the stream meets the Thames in the grounds of the Phyllis Court Club. It’s a private club so if you’re not a member you can access the Thames via a footpath to the North.

To return to the source via a more challenging route, take the Marlow Bottom Road for 1.5km North and turn left up Icehouse Lane towards Fawley. Turn right at Dobson’s Lane, then left at St Mary The Virgin Church At Fawley. Here you can see two impressive mausolea in the grounds before you take a steep descent down to Fawley Bottom Lane. The rest of the ride is a steep climb North, then an even steeper descent on a bridleway through woodland along the boundary of the Stonor Park estate.

The Quince Tree cafe used to be a great place to start and end the ride but it closed down in 2016. Its still a good place to park but you’ll need to find other places for rest stops. For the childish amongst you there’s also the enjoyment of getting the full-house of smutty signs: Pishill, Bix Bottom, Lower Assendon and Cockslease Farm. Not that I would do such a thing …

Blue = course of the stream, red = cycle route

Richard gowerComment
Miswell Farm Trig Pillar & Wendover Arm Circular

Start / Finish: Layby on Little Tring Road, North of Tringford Pumping Station, HP23 4NR
Distance: 5 km / 3.1 miles
Ascent: 20 m
Duration: 45 mins
Other Routes Touched: Grand Union Canal Wendover Arm, Tring Route 5 (Cycle)
Map: OS Explorer Map (181) Chiltern Hills North

This is a really short but interesting walk in the North Chilterns. I only discovered it when setting off to bag the Miswell Farm Trig Pillar but also found a nice circular walk around an abandoned section of the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal.

The best place to park is a small layby just North of the Tringford Pumping Station. A footpath from here leads to the West and joins a dry section of the Canal. This is in the process of being restored and presumably will be re-filled and reconnected with the wet bits at either end of the walk. About 1 km along the towpath you can cross a footbridge that marks the end of the dry section and take a steep South-Easterly path up the hill. At the top of the hill there’s a locked farm gate which gives a short-cut to the Trig Pillar at the other side of the field. For an easier and less trespassy route to the pillar, continue down the hill until you reach a footpath heading North-East at the bottom of the field. When you reach the far fence of the first field you can follow the fence until you reach the Pillar, returning the same way.

The rest of the walk follows a straight North-East line along the edges of sheepy fields until you reach the Canal. This marks the end of the Eastern part of the restored section and you can follow this to road with the Pumphouse and the layby.

Richard gowerComment
Cycling The River Ouzel

Part of the Chilterns Rivers series
Start / Finish: Dagnall Church, HP4 1RL
Distance: 31.2 km / 19.4 miles
Ascent: 191 m
Duration: ~2 hours
Other Routes Touched: Icknield Way, Grand Union Canal, Two Ridges Link, NCN Route 6
Map: OS Explorer Map (181) Chiltern Hills North

This one firmly belongs in the “obscure and tenuous” section of my Chilterns Rivers project. It counts because the source of The Ouzel is in Dagnall which is firmly within the boundary of the AONB. However, it soon escapes and 95% of its course is outside of the Chilterns. From Leighton Buzzard the river follows the course of the Grand Union Canal to Milton Keynes where it splits off and joins the River Great Ouse at Newport Pagnell. I wasn’t up for cycling the Grand Union yet again so I confined my ride to exploring the first 12km.

Dagnall Church is a good place to start the ride. From here take the B440 North and take a right onto the B489. The Ouzel rises in the farm bounded by these 2 roads and crosses the B489 before the sign for Central Bedfordshire. This is the first first and most underwhelming of the 5 road crossings en route its way to Leighton Buzzard. The rest of this outbound section is a pleasant meander through small country lanes and villages with a few pubs and cafes for rest stops along the way.

At Leighton Buzzard, the return is very simple as it follows the Grand Union Canal towpath for approx 6.5 miles to Cheddington. From here, cross over at the lock and, after a farm, follow Chapel Lane through Ivinghoe Aston back to the B489. The end point at Dagnall is 3 km from this junction.

Its a bit of a weird route but actually quite interesting. There’s good views of Ivinghoe Beacon and the Whipsnade White Lion from several parts. From Dagnall you can pick up the River Ver and trace that South to the Colne. Alternatively, the Ridgeway and Icknield Way converge at Ivinghoe Beacon.

Blue = River, Red = Cycle Route

Richard gowerComment
Traverse of The Picos de Europa

Unlike most of my adventures which are conceived and planned a year in advance, this was a last minute affair. This year’s summer trip was meant to be Part 3 of the big cycle trips following LEJOG and Titanic Ireland. LEJOG started with 6 of us, finished with 5 and by Belfast we were down to 3. By early June this year it was pretty clear that no-one else shared my excitement about the 2019 trip.

I loved last year’s High Peaks of The Balkans trip so much that the KE Adventures website was my first port after killing the cycle trip. Of the 4 possible trips in July the Picos de Europa Traverse stood out. With my current Camino obsession it also ticked a couple of boxes. This would be another Northern Spain trip tucked between the routes of the Caminos Frances and Norte. I could even do a tiny bit of the Norte when passing through Bilbao.

So, 6 weeks later, I was wandering around Bilbao airport looking for 11 random people that I would spend the next week with. I'd done group trips like this a couple of times before so I knew what to look for: rugged types, alone or in couples with big bags, also looking lost. Eventually we all found each other and the local Guide and started the 2 hour drive into the National Park.

The Picos de Europa is split into 3 massifs by the Cares and Duje rivers. This trip covers the Western and Central Massifs in a continuous 6 day trek. Day 1 was a good intro with a long, steady day, a 2,026m summit and a variety of terrain. As well as a taster day for the trip, it gave our guide Rosanna an idea of abilities in the group.

The first night was the Vegarredonda Refuge where we had an outbuilding to ourselves. Even having done my share of refuge/albergue stays, it still takes a night or 2 to get used to the communal sleeping and basic toilet facilities. This wasn’t a bad start though and still luxury compared some of the stops in the Balkans.

Day 2 was the least memorable and mostly covered in low clouds. It started with retracing our route back to the parking spot then heading East to Lago de la Ercina. This was the day where I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy the trip. In hindsight it was the Balkans that set my expectations too high. Having had such a great experience on that one I was too eager for this to match it from the outset.

Any fears of being underwhelmed vanished on day 3. This started with a 4-hour steep descent into the Cares Gorge. The gorge splits the Western and Central Massifs and it’s a beauty. The footpath follows a man-made channel that takes water from the Cares River to a hydroelectric plant further North. The trail provides some easy walking with dramatic views along the steep limestone walls.

That evening gave us a break from the refuges as we stayed in a nice hotel in Poncebos. We were now at the lowest elevation of the trip so the only option now was up. Day 4 gave us the most elevation in 1 day at nearly 2,000m metres. We had the option of taking the funicular railway to avoid the first third of the climb. We’d already learnt not to take any of the easier options as there was always something amazing to be missed. This was no exception as the completely enclosed funicular misses a rewarding climb. This day finished at the Vega de Urrielu refuge under the imposing Naranjo de Bulnes, a popular climbing spot.

Day 5 was the technical day with more steep scrambling sections. Our guide did well to manage our expectations on the difficulty of it. After last year’s tricky climb of Montenegro’s Zla Kolata I figured that it couldn’t be so bad. It definitely wasn’t, but it was still an exhilarating diagonal traverse of the back of Torre de los Horcados. The end of this section rewarded us with a summit of that peak and a lunch stop at the quirky Cabaña Verónica.

The rest of the trip was mostly downhill with pleasant walking. There were still interesting diversions like the stay in a hotel once owned by the King of Spain, an abandoned mine, a final summit and an excursion to Potes, an historic town near the end of the trek at Espinama.

While this didn’t have the drama of the Balkan peaks or any country high points, this matched that trip in overall enjoyment. The lack of heavy tourism will keep it a hidden gem and one for those of us wanting something different. As a tour company, KE Adventures more than lived up to expectations and I'm sure I'll be signing up for several more of their trips.

Day 1 - Lago de Enol to Vegarredonda Refugio

Date: Monday July 15th 2019
Aparcamiento Pandecarmen near Lago de Enol, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Vegarredonda Refugio, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Rest stops: Mirador de Ordiales, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Distance: 12.4 km / 7.7 miles
Ascent: +958m / -577m / Net +429m
Walking time: 6 hours 32 minutes
Other Routes Touched: El Anillo de Picos, PR-PNPE 5 Bufferera-Ordiales
Summit: Pico Cotalba (2026m)


Day 2 - Vegarredonda Refugio to Refugio Vega de Ario

Date: Tuesday July 16th 2019
Vegarredonda Refugio, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Refugio Vega de Ario, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Distance: 14.7 km / 9.1 miles
Ascent: +694m / -521m / Net -173m
Walking time: 6 hours
Other Routes Touched: El Anillo de Picos, PR-PNPE 4 Vega de Ario


Day 3 - Refugio Vega de Ario to Puente Poncebos

Date: Wednesday July 17th 2019
Refugio Vega de Ario, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Hotel Garganta del Cares, Lugar Puente Poncebos, 0 S N, 33554 Camarmeña, Asturias, Spain
Distance: 17.6 km / 10.9 miles
Ascent: +830m / -2,168m / Net -1,338m
Walking time: 8 hours 34 minutes
Other Routes Touched: El Anillo de Picos, PR-PNPE 3 - Ruta del Cares


Day 4 - Puente Poncebos to Naranjo de Bulnes

Date: Thursday July 18th 2019
Hotel Garganta del Cares, Lugar Puente Poncebos, 0 S N, 33554 Camarmeña, Asturias, Spain
Naranjo de Bulnes: Refugio Vega de Urriellu, 33554 Cabrales, Asturias, Spain
Rest stop: Refugio de la Terenosa
Distance: 11.9 km / 7.4 miles
Ascent: +1,748m / -20m / Net +1,728m
Walking time: 6 hours 42 minutes
Other Routes Touched: El Anillo de Picos, PR-PNPE 3 - Ruta del Cares, PR-PNPE 19 Canal de Camburero, PR-PNPE 19 Vega de Urrielu, GR202 Ruta de la Reconquista


Day 5 - Naranjo de Bulnes to Refugio Aliva

Date: Friday July 19th 2019
Naranjo de Bulnes: Refugio Vega de Urriellu, 33554 Cabrales, Asturias, Spain
Hotel Áliva, Puerto de Áliva s/n, 39588 Puerto de Aliva, Spain
Rest stops: Cabaña Verónica, Parque Nacional Picos de Europa, s/n, 39570, Cantabria, Spain
Distance: 11.8 km / 7.3 miles
Ascent: +685m / -989m / Net -304m
Walking time: 6 hours 42 minutes
Other Routes Touched: El Anillo de Picos, PR-PNPE 23 Horcados des Rojos, Mirador de El Cable - Cabana Veronica
Summit: Torre de los Horcados Rojos (2,506m)


Day 6 - Refugio Alvia to Espinama

Date: Saturday July 20th 2019
Hotel Áliva, Puerto de Áliva s/n, 39588 Puerto de Aliva, Spain
Hostal Restaurante Nevandi, Barrio Espinama, s/n, 39588 Espinama, Cantabria, Spain
Distance: 10.3 km / 6.4 miles
Ascent: +255m / -1,036m / Net -781m
Walking time: 4 hours 21 minutes
Other Routes Touched: PR PNPE 24 - Puertos de Aliva - Fuente de, , GR202 Ruta de la Reconquista
Summit: Pico Valdecoro (1,841m)


The Full Traverse

The full 6-day Traverse from North West to South East. Note the overlap between Days 1 (Red) and 2 (Blue)

Richard gowerComment
Completing all Oxfordshire parkruns

The present-day county of Oxfordshire has 8 parkrun locations, of which 2, Harcourt Hill and Didcot, were part of Historic Berkshire.

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Harcourt Hill

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Cycling The Beeches Cycleway and Jubilee River

Start / Finish: Black Park Country Park, Black Park Rd, Slough SL3 6DS
Distance: 36km / 22 miles
Ascent: 156m
Duration: 2 hours 15 mins
Other Routes Touched: Beeches Way, NCN 61, Grand Union Canal Slough Arm
Map: OS Explorer Map (172) Chiltern Hills East and OS Explorer Map (160) Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell

Having visited Black Park parkrun well over 100 times I’d often passed the signs for the Beeches Cycleway and even cycled on parts of it. This was the trip to find out where it went.

The Cycleway starts at the entrance to Black Park and follows Black Park Road North along the Western perimeter of the park. I already had a better idea and cycled through the park along the Western path until Fulmer Common Road. Turning left on here you connect back with the Cycleway heading West. Following the Beeches Cycleway takes you past Stoke Common and Farnham Common and into Burnham Beeches. From here the Cycleway turns South through Bunham Village and meets the A4 Bath Road by the railway bridge west of Taplow station.

After around 750m you’ll meet the NCN Route 61 South off the A4 and will follow it along the Jubilee River. Although the Cycleway signs were previously pointing to Dorney Lake, they seemed to stop at the A4. If you actually wanted to go to Dorney Lake you would need to turn right off the Jubilee River at Lake End Road. This would give you an option of a longer circular route using the Thames Path. Instead I continued along the Jubilee.

About 1km before the end of the Jubilee River at Datchet you’ll reach a wooden footbridge. Follow the signs for NCN 61 and cross the bridge, then the M4 crossing into Upton Court Park, home of Upton Court parkrun. Follow the NCN 61 through the Upton Court Park and Ditton Park, the North through residential areas of Langley. Just over 1km after the Grand Union Canal you’ll reach the edge of Langley Park and eventually the A420. Cross over this (carefully) and you’ll reach the South-East entrance to Black Park, From here its a few minutes ride back to the main gate.

Beat The Boat 10k

When: June 30th 2019
Where: Eton Riverside, Berkshire, UK
Course: Out and back from The Brocas park at Eton with a large loop at Eton Wick and a small loop at the start and end.
Other routes touched: Thames Path, NCN 4
Finish time: 52 minutes

This was a fun 10k with a difference. The route was mainly along the Thames Path between Eton and Dorney chasing 1 of 5 pacer boats down the river. I was aiming for the 55 boat but I got overexcited when I overtook the 50 boat with 1 mile to go. I thought I'd smashed it but didn't realise that the final half km was a lap of the big field at the finish, so the 50 boat caught up. I still beat the 55 boat with 3 minutes to spare.

Richard gowerComment
Cycling The Ewelme Brook

Part of the Chilterns Rivers series.
River Source: Ewelme Village, Oxfordshire
River Mouth: Confluence with the Thames just North of Benson Lock
Elevation of Source: 82m (estimated)
River Length: 2.3 miles / 3.7k
Date travelled: 29th June 2019 by cycle
Route Start / End: Circular from Ewelme Village
Route Stats: 12 km in approx 1 hour, +130 m elevation gain
Other routes touched: Thames Path, Chilterns Cycleway

After my New Years trip along the Mimram I was happy to claim my Chilterns Rivers project completed. Then I remembered the Ewelme Brook .... and then discovered the Ouzel too. This project would take a bit longer.

Even after remembering the Ewelme Brook I nearly didn’t bother going there. It’s only 2 miles long and it's on the far Western edge of Chilterns. Didn’t really seem worth the effort of getting there. It was only the coincidence of doing a tourist visit to a nearby parkrun that got me there.

I was so glad I did. It’s beautiful. Ewelme is a lovely Chilterns village most people have never heard of. Given the low readership of my blog that likely to remain the case for a while. Having said that, Ewelme was an unlikely location for a recent episode of Black Mirror so it may be attracting more geeks like me.

There’s not a lot online about the Ewelme Brook so I wasn’t sure where the exact source was. The village pond seemed like a good a place as any to start and it more or less matched the start of the Brook on the map.

From the pond the Ewelme-Benson road follows tightly to the Brook for most of its course to the end. At 1 km in you'll reach the boundary of Benson RAF base and several signs at the end of the runway to keep people out. At Benson High Street the Brook disappears from the road, appearing again as it crosses under a small lane parallel to the A4074.

The confluence with the Thames appears to be in the back garden of a private house called Silver Waters, although you can see the Thames from the lane. For a better view continue South for about 100 meters to a footpath that takes the Thames Path across Benson Loch.

Rather than retrace my steps (treads?) I made a loop of the trip by continuing South until Clacks Lane. At the T-Junction turn left onto Beggarsbush Lane which takes you through Benson RAF vase and back to Ewelme.

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  • Elevation above is for the circular cycle route.

  • Map left: blue shows the course of the river, red shows the cycle route.

  • Map below: Ewelme village centre and approx source of the Ewelme Brook.

Richard gowerComment
Western Wales County Tops

“Remote” and “obscure” are relative terms. If you live in Aberystwyth then Arran Fawddwy, Plynlimon and Foel Cwmcerwyn are all local and accessible peaks. If, like the rest of the us, you don’t then they’re a bugger to get to.

Over my 7 years of County Topping I’d managed to pick off the rest of Wales. Snowdon came first and I’d repeated it several times. The rest of the North was ticked in one trip in 2016, the South in 2014 and all between came on weekend adventures over the years. The final 3 are pretty well spaced out so they could only be done on a road trip rather than a single location adventure. If I’d known earlier that this trip would be such fun I’d have tackled these much earlier.

As is mandatory for all weekend trips now, travel happens on a Friday after work. Saturday starts with the nearest parkrun not yet done. This time is was Dolgellau, a beautiful course along the Afon Mawddach river and Madwddach Trail. The Sustrans signs along the route reminded me that I’d passed through here before on my NCN8 end to end Wales trip in 2010.

  1. Arran Fawddwy

Significance: Historic County Top of Merionethshire
Member of: Hewitt, Marilyn, Nuttall
Elevation: 907m,
Date climbed: 22/06/2019
Coordinates: 52.7880° N, 3.6881° W
Route Start / End: Out and back from Llanuwchllyn, LL23 7TR
Route Stats: 18.2k / 11.3 miles + 898 / - 898 m elevation
Subsidiary tops on route: Arran Benllyn (885m), Erw y Ddafad-ddu (872m)
Other routes touched: none

Llanuwchllyn, our start point for the Arran Fawddwy, walk was only 20 minutes from Dolgellau so we were on the trail by 11:00. We were lucky with the weather and had a the most amazing sunny day with clear skies and view for miles. The 360° view from the summit was a rare prize amongst so many cloudy summit days in my Welsh trekking experience.

Arran Fawddwy is a long but easy trek with only a small bit of scrambling in the last 20 minutes. It’s quiet up there too. At 2976 feet it narrowly misses out on being in the Welsh 3000s and the nearby Cadair Idris gets much more attention. If it wasn’t for it being a County Top I’d likely never have gone there either. That would have been a shame as this was one of my most enjoyable UK hikes in several years.

Once off the mountain we drove an hour South to the YHA at Borth. I didn’t know what to expect when I booked this one. My friend who was in charge of accommodation booking had made such an arse of it, I had to take over with only a month to go. This one was booked on the only criteria that it was near Plynlimon and still available.

As it turned out, Borth was a hidden gem. It’s an old Seaside resort that missed the memo about the need to become cheap and tacky. Our room in the YHA was spacious and had a sea view. Dinner in the seafront Victoria Inn and a beach walk back topped off a perfect adventure day in Wales.


2. Plynlimon

Also known as: Pumlumon Fawr
Significance: Historic County Top of Cardiganshire
Member of: Hewitt, Marilyn, Nuttall
Elevation: 752m,
Date climbed: 23/06/2019
Coordinates: 52.4675°N 3.7828°W
Route Start / End: Out and back from parking place on Nant-y-Moch eastern road plus a loop of Pumlumon Fach
Route Stats: 8k / 5 miles + 400 / - 400 m elevation
Subsidiary tops on route: Pumlumon Fach (664m)
Other routes touched: none

Plynlimon is just a few miles as the crow flies from Borth. We were driving though so it took a winding 45 minute trip so many hairpin bends and a route around the Nant-y-Moch reservoir.

The start of the trail is a small parking spot on the Maesnant road where it meets a farm track. There's 2 options from here: an out and back following the Maesnant stream or a circuit of the Pumlumon Fach. As we were following Jonny Muir's guide an wanted a more interesting route. We opted for the circular plus a couple of detours to bag the summits of Pumlumon Fach and an unnamed peak nearby.

Plynlimon was a much shorter trek than yesterday's Arran Fawddwy trip so we were back down by lunchtime and quickly on the road towards Newport YHA. Even with a short stop to bag a bonus Trig Pillar near Cardigan we arrived at the YHA by 15:00. I'd not read the check-in instructions so didn't realise that we were 2 hours too early. We could get a whole other mountain bagged in that time.


3. Foel Cwmcerwyn

Significance: Historic County Top of Pembrokeshire
Member of: Marilyn
Elevation: 536m,
Date climbed: 23/06/2019
Coordinates: 51°56′44″N 4°46′29″W
Route Start / End: Out and back from parking place on B4329
Route Stats: 8k / 5 miles + 400 / - 400 m elevation
Subsidiary tops on route: Pumlumon Fach (664m)
Other routes touched: none

By the time wed reached the parking spot for Foel Cwmcerwyn it was proper rainy. The summit was apparently not far away but we couldn't see anything. Sticking to the GPS route and a straightforward path we arrived at the Trig Point in under and hour. The completion of the Welsh County Tops was a bit of an anticlimax in a damp field with views stretching across the nearest 15 metres.


4. Werfa

Also known as: Mynydd Llangeinwyr
Present-Day County Top of Bridgend
Member of: N/A
Elevation: 568m,
Date climbed: 24/06/2019
Coordinates: 51.6412°N 3.5726°W
Route Start / End: Out and back from parking place on B4329
Route Stats: 8k / 5 miles + 400 / - 400 m elevation
Subsidiary tops on route: Pumlumon Fach (664m)
Other routes touched: none

Having conquered both Plynlimon and Foel Cwmceryn in 1 day we had a spare morning before heading back home. We researched the Welsh Present-day County Tops we settled on Werfa, the high point of Bridgend. It ticked off our main criteria of being an actual mountain, not far from the M4 and having a Trig Pillar.

Based on other people's Blog Posts we parked at a layby on the A4107 and took a bearing up through the fields to the Trig just behind a radio transmitter. In a clear day the massive wind turbine would have been a useful target. Low cloud meant that we could see the bottom 10m of it and only when we were already up close.

From the Trig Pillar we followed the access road back down to the road, crossing it and heading North to Crug Yr Afan, another Trig Pillar. In hindsight the parking spot on the road between the two trigs would have been better. The map here shows the route using that spot.

All in all, this was a great weekend adventure and an efficient way to bag these 3 relatively remote Welsh County Tops. With Wales and Northern Ireland now completed, next year's summer trip must surely be the final 3 in Northern England.


Richard gowerComment
Race To The Tower

When: June 8th 2019
From: Bird In Hand Farm, Whiteshill, Stroud
Broadway Tower
: 84.5 km / 52.5 miles
Elevation: +1,939m / -1,880m. Net +59m
Course: Mostly following the Cotswolds Way National Trail from Bird In Hand Farm, North of Stroud to Broadway Tower.
Other routes touched: Bruce Trail Friendship Trail, Wysis Way, Gustaf Holst Way, Gloucestershire Way, Cheltenham Circular Footpath, Wynchcombe Way, Isbourne Way, Warden’s Way, Wychavon Way (old), Windrush Way, Donnington Way, Wyche Way
Finish time: 14 hours 47 minutes

I wasn’t really up for this one. On previous Ultras I’d been mentally in top form, over excited and raring to go. I’d done my usual zero training, so no change there. What was different this time was that I also didn’t feel that I’d got enough rest or nutrition. Those were both my “keys to success” and I’d done neither. The problem was that Tower is renowned as being the toughest of the Race To The series.

Race To The Tower is 10 miles shorter than the Race to the Stones but it's significantly hillier. I got a reminder of this as my train pulled into Stroud through a steep valley. It was raining too. Booking a hotel right next to the train station was too tempting. I could just get on the first train back in the morning and not worry about it.

The thing is: that’s not me. I love Ultras and I never give up. It was still drizzling in the morning, but I woke up with my normal sense of puppy-like excitement. This would be an awesome day.

It was.

In the taxi ride to the start line I remembered my first Ultra. Back then I had absolutely no idea whether I could go that distance. It didn’t help that everyone I spoke to was on their 5th or more Ultra. The biggest tip that one of them told me that day was to run your own race. Don't change your plan on the day just because you’ve heard that someone else does it differently. Don’t worry about how fast, slow or gracefully other people are running. Just do your thing. I’ve always remembered that and it always works.

I was feeling good that I was now one of those that had done 5 Ultras. Then I met Gobi Man. Not only was this one of a long chain of Ultras, he’d also done several multi-day runs abroad. He’d done Marathon de Sables, a Peruvian Amazon Rain Forest Run and this race was just a warm up for a seven day Gobi race. I made a note of the company that runs these events (don’t tell my wife).

Suddenly it was race time and I snuck into an earlier wave to get off 10 minutes earlier. As usual I’d prepared a spreadsheet with detailed minutes-per-mile and checkpoint locations. After a few years of over-optimistic planning I’d refined my pace and stuck to 12 minute miles for the first half-marathon distance. After that I would drop a minute per mile every 10 miles.

As with previous Ultras, Timi (the wife) and my mum were my Support Crew. They drove to the Cotswolds late morning to meet me half-way. By then I was already an hour ahead of plan so we met further along the route. By then the damp start and a few misjudged puddles had soaked my trainers so my feet needed some attention. As much as Timi complains about the madness of the big runs, she does an outstanding job of patching me up and feeding me. It’s always a massive motivation to see both of them in the tough final stages.

The Cotswolds Way is stunning. Ultras tend to be in interesting areas but this was exceptionally beautiful. I love the UK National Trails and an Ultra is a great way to fully experience them. The varying terrain keeps you focused and helps you to be fully present in the environment in a way that road running often can’t. I did listen to some podcasts along the way, but for the majority of the 15 hours out there I was in "The Zone", fully present in the race.

I was surprised to see Gobi Man when I overtook him at mile 40. He’d started in the Wave before me and I’d assumed that he’d already be a couple of hours ahead. It turned out that he’d taken a wrong junction and gone 2km in the wrong direction. After that he’d lost his mojo and was having a tougher race. I felt bad for him but it secretly made me feel good about my own efforts.

In stark contrast to the evening before I felt on top form throughout the race. Even the long lonely twilight stretches were fine. These are the bits that can wear you down. Runners are now well spaced-out and you can go for a long time without seeing anyone. The long flat section towards Broadway was actually a bit of a slog. I could see Broadway Tower in the far distance from about 8 miles out. It didn’t seem too far but the final part was a curve into the town so it didn’t get closer for a few miles.

By Broadway it was fully dark and running through the High Street was a highlight. It’s a pretty village in daylight and magical when lit up at night. It was a warm Summer evening and the outside dining areas were packed. The claps and cheers of encouragement were much needed.

Just past the High Street it got quiet and dark again. The route turned right off the road and into fields again. This was the final mile and it was a bastard. There was no gentle finish, just a seemingly endless climb up to the top of the hill. Timi and mum had been there for half an hour. I was still 45 minutes ahead of time but slowing down. Finally, at the top of the hill and through the trees, the Broadway Tower appeared, lit up in lime green and marking the end of the double marathon. Timi was there at the final 100 metres and joined me to cross the finish line.

It’s a very different feeling crossing finish lines now. I used to get a wave of emotion about finishing something I didn’t think I could do. Now it’s not about proving anything so the feeling is more about satisfaction, enjoyment, excitement and just a bit of being absolutely bloody knackered.


Start: Bird In Hand Farm


End: Broadway Tower

Vitality London 10,000

When: May 27th 2019
Where: London, UK
Course: Flat, on-road out and back (ish) from The Mall taking in Trafalgar Square, The Strand, Chancery Lane, St Pauls, Bank of England, Whitehall, Westminster Square and Birdcage Walk
Other routes touched: Jubilee Walkway
Finish time: 52.5 minutes

Icknield Way Part 3 - Pirton to Knettishall Heath
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Start: The Motte & Bailey, 1 Great Green, Pirton, Hitchin, SG5 3QD
Finish: Knettishall Heath Nature Reserve, Knettishall, Thetford IP22 2TQ
Overnight stop: The Black Bull, 27 High St, Balsham, Cambridge CB21 4DJ
Other Routes Touched: Icknield Way Walking Path, Greenwich Meridian Trail, Harcamlow Way, Lark Valley Path, The Great Barrow Walk, Angles Way, NCN 11, 12, 50, 51
Distance: 87 miles / 141 km. Elevation: + 1768 / - 1823 m

Post-Camino withdrawal symptoms were kicking in and the wife was away for the weekend. A new adventure was needed. My "Adventure Ideas" folder is constantly overflowing so there was no danger of lack of inspiration. This time my completer-finisher urge took over: I needed to finish the Icknield Way.

I had already walked the first 30 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon to the Northern edge of the Chilterns at Pirton. There was still another 87 miles to go and the rest of it was relatively flat. This would be a cycle trip rather than another walk. Pirton is a really good place to start the cycle trip as the Icknield Way walking path and riding trail intersect here. The Chilterns Cycleway also passes through it.

Having snuck in the Dunstable Downs parkrun (also on the Icknield), I met my friend Brian at 10:30. Brian joined me on the previous 20 miles at Christmas and also featured in my Peddars Way adventure a few years back. It seemed only right that he join me on the route that connects the two.

Day 1 was straight-forward, passing through small Hertfordshire towns and villages. Pubs on the route were few and far between, although I'm sure we could have found more with some minor diversions. The first pub we found was in Melbourn, 20 miles in. We were glad we stopped for lunch as we wouldn't pass another one for another couple of hours.

We were following the GPS route linked from the Icknield Way Trail site. It was accurate except for one short stretch when you hit the A505 South of Melbourn. The path through a field must have been blocked since the GPX file was created so we needed a diversion. The simple workaround is to take a left on the A505, then first right at Flint Cross and you're back on track.

The weather was perfect for cycling except for a 30 minute downpour about an hour from our overnight stop. We hid in a pub until it stopped and cancelled our plans to go into Cambridge for the evening. All we wanted to do now was get to our hotel and find ways to dry us and our clothes. The Black Bull at Balsham is a great overnight option. It's more or less half-way and there's few alternatives. As it happens it's a really nice place. We got dry very quickly by sitting in front of the open fire with a few drinks while we waited for dinner.

The morning of day 2 was lovely. The misty morning soon became sunny with clear skies. This was Cambridgeshire with long straight, flat stretches of road that helped us get a few miles under our belt. The final 20 miles were really tough. We were now in very rural Suffolk and spent most of the time on sand and gravel farm tracks. We made very slow progress all the way to the end point at Knettishall Heath.

The end of the Icknield Way is a bit of an anti-climax. There's a car-park with a sign but nothing else. From here you can continue North up the Peddars Way to the Norfolk Coast or take the Angles Way East to Great Yarmouth. For us, we'd had enough adventure for one weekend and took the road West to Thetford. From there its an easy trip back to Pirton, taking the train to Hitchen and a 20 minute cycle back to the cars.

Having revived myself with a pasty at the train station I felt a genuine sense of completion. I'd now conquered the Ridgeway, Icknield Way and Peddars Way. These 3 form a single ancient trail from Avebury to Hunstanton. The obvious follow-on adventure is the Wessex Ridgeway, starting back at Avebury and heading South West to Lyme Regis. Brian didn't seem too impressed with the idea when I mentioned it on the train. I think I'll leave it a couple of months before I bring it up again ...

End Point at Knettishall Heath, Norfolk

Start Point at The Motte & Bailey, Pirton


Above: 2 day route including overnight at Balsham


The Icknield Way in Full

Map below:

Sant Ya Go 10k - Santiago de Compostela

When: May 4th 2019
Where: Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain
Course: Road and cobbles meandering route. Start in the Old Town in front of the Convent of San Francisco, heading out North for a loop around the University, loop in the Parque Alameda and a final 3k in the Old Town to finish in front of the Cathedral.
Other routes touched: End points of all of the Caminos de Santiago
Finish time: 58 minutes

Walking The Camino Portuguese

I can’t even remember when I first got excited about walking a Camino. It was probably around 13 years ago when I read The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. Since then the 800km Camino Frances was firmly lodged in my bucket list. It stayed there for a long time though. I’d only considered doing it as a single trip and taking 6 weeks off work wasn’t something I was keen to do. A Camino remained as something I would do “in the future”.

Much had changed in the following years. I got married and, unlike a lot of post-marriage men, I became even more adventurous. The tipping point was when Timea, my wife, also got the adventure bug. Sometime in 2018 she decided that she definitely wanted to do a Camino too.

We still weren’t in a position to take 6 weeks off so we discussed how to get a 1 week Camino taster. On studying the route of the Camino Frances I worked out that the section from St Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona could be an option. I even researched the dates of the Bull Run in case we could “accidentally” arrive for the start of the event (and it would be rude not to take part). Timea quickly realised what I was up to and vetoed that idea immediately.

Our plan came together when we talked to our friend Adina. She had already done a couple of Caminos and convinced us that 1 week was not enough. A true Pilgrimage experience, whether it’s Religious, Spiritual or simply a personal journey needs at least 2 weeks. The section of the Camino Portuguese from Porto to Santiago would fit nicely into a 2 week window. Throw in the 2 country, 2 time-zone factor and I was completely convinced.

Day 0 - London to Porto

We arrived in Porto on Good Friday. Rather than taking a taxi from the airport as we would have normally done we got the Metro. Just like the Pilgrims of yore. Our destination station, Sao Bento conveniently gave us a walk past the Cathedral on the way to our apartment. We stopped by and got our first stamp for our Camino passport.

Our apartment was 3 minutes from the Cathedral door and in a old renovated building hugging the cliffs by the river. Our apartment had an old part of the stone wall and Cathedral steps exposed in the bedroom. The wall has been built in the 1200s to protect the Cathedral during a war. Over time they had been built over and forgotten about only to be found again when this building was being renovated.

The apartment was a great place to explore the riverside of Old Porto. We’d been here a couple of times before so we could relax knowing that we didn’t need to cram in all the sights. This is a truly beautiful city and one I could spend a week getting lost in. For now a nice evening walk and a Cataplana (fish stew) was enough. There were new adventures to come in the morning.

DAY 1: Porto to Gião

Date: Saturday April 20th 2019
Porto Cathedral
Casa Mindela, Travessa da Joudina, 265 ou Rua da Joudina, 427 Gião - Vila do Conde Portugal
Rest stops: Jeronymo, Rue das Flores / Cafe Simpatia, Leça do Balio / Café CL5, Vilar de Pinheiro
Distance: 23.9 km / 14.9 miles
Ascent: +444m / -462m / Net -18
Duration: 5 hours 40 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima

We left the apartment to be back at the Cathedral in time for the 9:00 bells. From here we picked up the first of what would be many thousands of yellow way-mark arrows that pointed to Santiago. Stamp #2 came from a cafe in Rue das Flores where we had a relaxing breakfast before restarting at 10:00 having only travelled 0.5km so far. Pilgrimages need some suffering but we weren’t planning on doing that on the first day.

The rest of the day was quite diverse as we followed the route from the Old Town. We passed through the outskirts of the city, nice villages, motorway crossings and an industrial zone. By the 20km point the city was well behind us and we were in the countryside that would be our host for the next 2 weeks.

We didn’t make it as far as the end of the first stage described in the guidebook. Rather than complete the trip at Vilarinho we stopped in a lovely hotel in the grounds of an old farm near Gaio. The place had been in the same family for generations.

This was a beautiful place with a friendly owner. She even called the local restaurant to bring us some food to have on the patio. Day 1 was long, hot and tiring but we were already loving our Camino adventure.


DAY 2: Gião to Rates

Date: Sunday April 21st 2019
Start: Casa Mindela, Travessa da Joudina, 265 ou Rua da Joudina, 427 Gião - Vila do Conde Portugal
Albergue de Peregrinos, São Pedro de Rates, Rua de Santo António 138, 4570-503 Rates, Portugal
Rest stops: Companhia Do Pão, Largo de Vilarinho / Restaurante Regional O Peregrino, Póvoa de Varzim
Distance: 15.7 km / 9.8 miles
Ascent: +236m / -243m / Net -7
Duration: 3 hours 40 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima, Camino Costa / Camino Central link at Arcos, Ecopista do Ramal da Famalaciao

After a nice breakfast we left the farmhouse over an hour earlier than the previous day. At 40 minutes in we reached the monastery in Vairão, a popular 1st night stop for many pilgrims. Another 30 mins and we were in Vilharinho, the end of stage 1 in the guidebook. Having already had a long day yesterday, a single day trip from Porto to Vilharinho seemed inconceivable. There was also no need for us to keep up with the pace set by the book. We only needed to average 18 km per day so we had an extra 3 days to play with.

We had planned to stop in Sao Manede for lunch after 11km. The town was a lot smaller than we expected and passed right through it without noticing. We even popped into the cafe to pick up water thinking we had another 2km to go. By the time we realised it was too late to turn back so we headed on another 2 km to Arcos. We were tired and hungry when we got there but nothing was open. We sat in the shade outside one of the closed restaurants to contemplate our options.

We phoned ahead to a hotel 10km out but it was fully booked. Our best option now was to head to Rates, 5km away, and spend the night in the albergue there. As we closed in on the albergue we met a nice mother-and-son team from the Netherlands. He was a Camino convert and had brought his mum on his second Portuguese trek. This week was a warm-up for him as he was 6 weeks away from starting a 7 month Camino from The Netherlands to Santiago.

We also bumped into a guy and his dog who we’d seen a couple of times before. He tried to book into the farmhouse the previous night but it was fully booked so he pressed on until the Monastery at Vairão. We also met him halfway today when he overtook us. Bringing a dog on a Camino adds extra adventure as most places won’t take dogs. He went for the fully unplanned version of the Camino and didn’t even have a guidebook or a phone. Pretty impressive.

We ended the day watching the sunset over the hills between the town and the coast sharing a bottle of Port with our new Dutch friends.

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DAY 3: Rates to Barcelos

Date: Monday April 22nd 2019
Start: Albergue de Peregrinos, São Pedro de Rates, Rua de Santo António 138, 4570-503 Rates, Portugal
Art'otel Barcelos, Rua de Santo António 138, 4570-503 Rates, Portugal
Rest stops: Café/Restaurante Noémia, Góios
Distance: 16.6 km / 10.3 miles
Ascent: +257m / -283m / Net -26
Duration: 3 hours 54 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima,

Our first night in a public albergue wasn’t a resounding success. It all started well with a very friendly Hospitaliero, a welcome cake and first pick of the beds. The trouble started when the lights went out and we found ourselves in the Finals of the European Snoring Championships. I’m a bit of a snorer myself so I’m often concerned about keeping others awake in a public dorm. I didn’t need to worry that night as our new Dutch friend was making a great impression of a Harley Davidson all night. I managed to get some sleep but Timea (a light sleeper at the best of times) had to move to the sofa in the common room. At 05:30 Timea shook me awake and announced that we were leaving. I think that was the first time ever that she had been awake at that time.

The early departure gave us a quiet road to ourselves after a social and noisy evening. It was a nice cool temperature and the mist gave the fields a magical quality.

We ended this day in Barcelos, a town famous for its many rooster statues. The town's story concerns a rich man that threw a big party. When the party was over, the man noticed that his cutlery had been stolen by a guest. He accused a pilgrim of the theft and let him go to court. He protested his innocence, but the judge didn't believe him. The judge was about to eat rooster when the pilgrim said: "If I am innocent, this rooster will crow three times." When the pilgrim was about to be lynched, the rooster crowed and the judge released the pilgrim. Since then the rooster has been the symbol of the town and can also be found across Portugal.

After the lack of sleep in Rates we were more than happy to spend a night in a nice boutique hotel. Just us, no bunks, no snoring and a very good shower. Ending the night Timea proclaimed that she was broken and didn’t want to move for at least 2 days. In the next sentence she asked what would happen if we arrived in Santiago early. Would the hotel give us an extra couple of nights? I told her not to worry about that for at least a week and a half.


DAY 4: Barcelos to Lugar do Corgo

Date: Tuesday April 23rd 2019
Start: Art'otel Barcelos, Rua de Santo António 138, 4570-503 Rates, Portugal
Albergue De Peregrinos Casa Da Fernanda, N204 2, 4990-680 Vitorino dos Piães, Portugal
Rest stops: Café Arantes, Lijó / Restaurante 2000, Senhora da Portela / Pastelaria Sra. Lapa, Aborim
Distance: 20 km / 12.4 miles
Ascent: +372m / -313m / Net +59
Duration: 2 hours 44 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima

We left Barcelos at 08:30 after making the most of breakfast at the Art hotel. We had used up our luck with the dry weather and left the hotel in light drizzel after a full night of heavy rain. The rain turned out to be fine and it was nice to feel a bit cooler after a few hot days.

We were also feeling lighter. Maybe it was because we were getting used to the trekking and we were more rested. Maybe it was just the combination of all the toothpaste, deodorant and plasters we’d used up the days before. It also reminded us of something the Hospitaliero at the Rates Albergue said to us. He said that his rucksack represented his sins but every time he removed stuff from it it still felt just as heavy. Maybe we didn’t have as many sins as him to start with as we were getting lighter.

Today we made some Camino friends. Mark and Sienna were a father-and-daughter from the UK who we’d briefly met when leaving the Rates hostel and Kati from Germany was walking alone. We all found ourselves on roughly the same pace and would walk together for the next few days.

Evening accommodation was at a private albergue called Casa Fernanda. We were hesitant about staying there as we’d already been put off the albergue experience. There were few other options that day so we took what we could. As it happened, this was our best night and probably the one we’ll most remember from the whole experience. The place started small. It used to be a private house on the Camino where one night a Pilgrim knocked on the door asking for a place to stay. Not wanting to turn anyone away, Fernanda gave her a bed in her home. From here it grew and became a popular place for Pilgrims to visit. Fernanda is a lovely caring person who does everything to make a Pilgrim feel at home. She has 12 beds in a cabin and hosts everyone for dinner in her kitchen. That night there was 25 for dinner, including several Pilgrims who she found rooms for amongst her neighbours.

It was a late night with lots of Port, conversation and some outstanding singing and guitar playing from our new friend Sienna. This was the first time we really felt that we were experiencing a true, special, pilgrimage experience.

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DAY 5: Lugar do Corgo to Ponte de lima

Date: Wednesday April 24th 2019
Start: Albergue De Peregrinos Casa Da Fernanda, N204 2, 4990-680 Vitorino dos Piães, Portugal
Mercearia da Vila, R. Cardeal Saraiva 34, 4990-076 Pte. de Lima, Portugal
Rest stops: O Farinheiro - Padaria E Pastelaria, Correlha / Sabores do Lima, Largo António de Magalhães, Pte. de Lima
Distance: 14.5 km / 9 miles
Ascent: +182m / -263m / Net -81
Duration: 3 hours 21 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima, Camino de Santiago Braga

Today started with breakfast with all the people at the albergue and a few big hangovers. Timea found some painkillers and decided that she was never going to drink Port again.

The day was short at 15km and, despite being mostly raining, it went fast. We got to know our new Camino friends better and shared stories of our various adventures.

This was the point where we understood the advice that we were given by our friend that one week of Camino is not enough. The first few days were a nice walking holiday but it was only now that it was becoming an experience. If we only had 1 week we’ be heading home soon. With 2 weeks the experience could get deeper day by day.


DAY 6: Ponte de lima to Pecene-Cossourado

Date: Thursday April 25th 2019
Start: Mercearia da Vila, R. Cardeal Saraiva 34, 4990-076 Pte. de Lima, Portugal
Casa da Capela, N303 116, 4940-132, Portugal
Rest stops: Pescaria, Mouro / Cafe Cunha Nunes, Labruja / Café São Sebastião, Rubiães
Distance: 22.3 km / 13.9 miles
Ascent: +616m / -388m / Net +228
Duration: 5 hours 37 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima, Camino de Santiago Braga

We left Ponte de Lima under a cloud. Our friends from yesterday were already slightly ahead of us as they were staying in the albergue in the other side of the bridge. They were already up and out as we sat down for breakfast giving them an hour's head start

This day includes a climb up to Alto da Portela Grande, the highest point on the Camino at 405m. The weather gradually improved during the morning and we made the most of rest stops at the 2 cafes before the ascent.

Views from the top are fine but not spectacular so we didn’t hang around long. Within 5 minutes of starting the descent we got caught in short but fierce downpour. This was our first real test of whether we’d brought the right waterproofs. We didn’t. I was fine as my jacket kept out the rain and I never wear waterproof trousers anyway. Timea’s didn’t keep out much damp at all and she soon became soaked and cold.

By the time we got to Rubiães we were soaked. Timea popped into the albergue to change her trousers as we still had another 45 minutes to walk. As much as we were not keen on more walking it was much better than dealing with the lack of heating in the albergue. The final push to the guesthouse was more than worth it. It was lovely and, more importantly, gave us a chance to get completely warm and dry again.

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DAY 7: Pecene-Cossourado to Valença

Date: Friday April 26th 2019
Start: Casa da Capela, N303 116, 4940-132, Portugal
Pousada Valença, Baluarte do Socorro, 4930-735 Valença, Portugal
Rest stops: Cafe A Toca, Rua da Viega, Valenca
Distance: 13.6 km / 8.5 miles
Ascent: +153m / -353m / Net -200
Duration: 3 hours 12 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima, Camino Portuguese Coastal, Grand Rota Travessia da Ribeira do Minho

The previous day’s soaking had taken its toll on Timea. She woke up ill and was caught in a dilemma about whether to walk for the day. In the end, she made the right choice and took a rest day while I continued on my own.

The silver lining on Timea’s rest day was that she met another lady at the guesthouse who was in a similar position. She had hurt her leg and was resting up while her husband continued. This couple would soon be added to our collection of Camino friends that we would see over the next few days.

For me this was a short day and mostly downhill. I soon caught up with the 3 friends from Day 4 and we walked together to Valença. The rest of the walk was nice but unspectacular. The route was pleasant but had little to distinguish itself from other days. We arrived in Valença at midday to meet Timea and her new friend in a cafe in the main square.

To celebrate the end of the first half of our Camino we stayed in the Poussada Valença. This is a very nice hotel high up on the hill overlooking the Minho River that marks the border between Portugal and Spain. Yes, its expensive, but if you’re not into the albergue-only type of Camino it's a great way to reward yourself for a big milestone in the trip.

Timea’s Facebook post for the day is a great summary of how we were feeling:

So, today we are celebrating many things:

- We are half-way through our journey both here and metaphorically / spiritually speaking.

- We have come to the end of the Portuguese section: we walked 129 kms so far.

- I decided to be mindful of my body and didn’t walk today. I didn’t feel too well after yesterday’s hike and took a taxi instead. It was a hard decision but the right one! #MyCaminoMyWay

- I’m 43 and as one wise man said yesterday, this is age is the spring of the Summer of our lives. I will start fresh as of tomorrow, so watch those spring flowers grow and help to feed them when needed.

- I’ve decided to change how I work in the future and to anchor that I will throw a stone into the river half-way on the bridge tomorrow.

- I have bought a new pair of hiking shoes to continue the journey in. They are so comfy and dry.. just what the doctors ordered!

- We have the sun back and there is an amazing view over to Tui in Spain from our window. That alone would be enough to celebrate!


DAY 8: Valença to Porriño

Date: Saturday April 27th 2019
Start: Pousada Valença, Baluarte do Socorro, 4930-735 Valença, Portugal
Hotel Internacional, Rúa Antonio Palacios, 99, 36400 O Porriño, Pontevedra, Spain
Rest stops: Cafe/Snackbar Ultreia, Magdalena 19, Ribadelouro / San Campio, Rua Centeans, O Porriño
Distance: 20.3 km / 12.7 miles
Ascent: +305m / -302m / Net +3
Duration: 4 hours 44 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima, Paseo de Louro

We left Valença early and crossed the bridge from Portugal into Spain. A new day, new section, new country, new timezone. We were now completely immersed in the Camino experience and everything was becoming a “metaphor for life”. The crossing of the bridge into Spain is a great example as many Pilgrims mark this as a metaphorical end to their past life and the start of a new one. For Timea it was significant as it marked her fully letting go of her old corporate life and her readiness to start up her own business. I was just excited about being able to tick off another border on my travel spreadsheet.

We’d heard this was going to be a tough day through grim industrial roads but the new diversion made it one of my favourite days. We followed a Roman Road through lovely woodland along the Rio Louro and took a diversion that avoided the main industrial areas.

Timea did her good deed for the day when she found a lost phone and found a way to contact the owner. It belonged to an Italian/Spanish couple who were an hour of 2 ahead of us. After a few confused calls in simple English we arranged to leave it at a Petrol Station at the edge of the next big town. Later that day we discovered that we were actually staying at the same hotel as them.

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DAY 9: Porriño to Redondela

Date: Sunday April 28th 2019
Start: Hotel Internacional, Rúa Antonio Palacios, 99, 36400 O Porriño, Pontevedra, Spain
Convento de Vilavella, Praza de Ponteareas, 15, 36800 Redondela, Pontevedra, Spain
Rest stops: Tapería Flora, Mos
Distance: 16.6 km / 10.4 miles
Ascent: +299m / -359m / Net -60
Duration: 3 hours 58 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima, Senda del Agua

We had a slow start out of Porrino today. I had developed an unexplained limp and the the 17km of mostly concrete didn’t help.

Our morning coffee stop was at Mos, 6km in. Kati, our German friend, was now walking on her own and was powering through each day. She had stayed here the previous night and was nearly 2 days ahead of us already. It was Sunday and not much was open but we found a small cafe for our morning coffee, cake and passport stamp.

By now we could also spot the nationalities of Pilgrims by the guidebooks they were carrying. A long lilac-coloured book meant they were English and using the John Brierley guide. A square orange book meant they were German. Our big life-hack that we’d picked up from Kati was to take photos of the guidebook pages each day. This means you can keep the book in the bag and just have your phone out for navigation.

We had left the rain well behind us in Portugal and the Spanish section was pleasant and sunny. The rest of today was a steady descent into Redondela where we had a private apartment in an old Convent.


DAY 10: REDONDELA to Pontevedra

Date: Monday April 29th 2019
Start: Convento de Vilavella, Praza de Ponteareas, 15, 36800 Redondela, Pontevedra, Spain
Hotel Ruas, Rúa Sarmiento, 20, 36002 Pontevedra, Spain
Rest stops: Cafe Bar Jumboli, Estrada Cesantes, Redondela/ Cafetería Pastelería Acuña, Calle Rosalía De Castro, 16 Bajo, Arcade /
Distance: 22.2 km / 13.9 miles
Ascent: +525m / -535m / Net -10
Duration: 5 hours 31 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima

We woke up full of energy after a peaceful night in the convent. Over breakfast we chatted to the only other guest in the convent, a Mexican guy walking on his own. He explained that has an annual solo walk while his wife goes to see Ricky Martin in Vegas. We loved the quote he told us: “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. I also loved how the Camino can get you into a deep philosophical conversation with a Mexican at 07:30 on the morning in an old Spanish convent.

The first 10k out of Redondela and into Arcade was smooth sailing. It was bright, warm and full of Pilgrims all in high spirits. We stopped at a cafe in Arcade and met our 2nd Mexican for the day. This one was a world traveller with a backpack full of sewn-on patches to prove it and a randomly Dutch accent.

Timea’s unlimited energy in the morning disappeared by mid-afternoon and we slowed down significantly. The final 5km were particularly tough for her and it took me all of my emergency Haribos to coax her out from under a tree to finish the section.

The reward once we made it to the end was the town of Pontevedra. It’s one of the largest on the trip and the capital of its region. A must-see is the Santuario da Peregrina, a Pilgrim chapel built in the shape of a scallop shell.

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DAY 11: Pontevedra To Caldas de Reis

Date: Tuesday April 30th 2019
Start: Hotel Ruas, Rúa Sarmiento, 20, 36002 Pontevedra, Spain
Alojamiento Caldas de Reis, Calle Laureano Salgado, 5, 36650 Caldas de Reis, Pontevedra, Spain
Rest stops: A Pousada do Peregrino (Cafe) San Mauro, Portela
Distance: 21.1 km / 13.2 miles
Ascent: +289m / -293m / Net -4
Duration: 4 hours 46 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima

Another solo day for me as Timea took a rest day having overdone it on the previous day. I left by 08:00 on a faster 5k per hour pace. Today was pleasant and far easier than yesterday for a similar distance. My little toe blister has either gone away or I just don’t notice it now but the shin splints on my left leg feel worse. I ploughed on anyway.

Timea spent the morning in Pontevedra and took a taxi around lunchtime. By coincidence we arrived at exactly the same time to the bridge into Caldas de Reis. Timea was now feeling much better but I was knackered so I hid away in our apartment for a long afternoon nap. I would have stayed there all afternoon but Timea coaxed me out with the promise of meeting San Roque in the nearby church.

The town’s church, Ingexa de San Tomé Becket is named for Archbishop of Canterbury who passed through the town on his own pilgrimage to Santiago. The town’s patron Saint, San Roque, is also the saint of pilgrims and dogs. Legend has it that he become ill whilst on pilgrimage to Rome during the time of plague. His life was saved by a dog who licked his wounds and healed him.


DAY 12: Caldas de Reis to Padrón

Date: Wednesday May 1st 2019
Start: Alojamiento Caldas de Reis, Calle Laureano Salgado, 5, 36650 Caldas de Reis, Pontevedra, Spain
Private apartment near Xardín Botánico de Padrón, Rúa Franco Salgado Araujo, 13, 15900 Padrón, A Coruña, Spain
Rest stops: Café-Bar Esperon, O Cruceiro / Autoservicio San Miguel, Lugar San Miguel / Mesa de Pedra, Lugar San Miguel
Distance: 19.2 km / 12.0 miles
Ascent: +326m / -352m / Net -26
Duration: 4 hours 28 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima

Timea was feeling much better to day and the lack of a rucksack helped enormously. We decided in Pontevedra to reduce our load to 1 backpack and send the other ahead to Santiago. Now that we were only staying in hotels, we didn’t need sleeping bags and various other non-essentials.

Today was spent deep in thoughts or just giggling and playing with dogs whilst walking among wonderful trees in a gentle wind. I had decided that I had now embodied the spirit of San Roque and was on a new mission to get a selfie with every dog that I could find on the route.

Padron, our destination for the evening, was where St James preached and where his body was returned to before being moved to Santiago de Compostela. Padron is also famous for its hot peppers but we’d arrived before the start of the season so nowhere was serving them. We did manage to get the Padronia, a special pilgrim certificate for anyone walking to the town via the main sites.

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DAY 13: Padrón to Parada de Francos

Date: Thursday May 2nd 2019
Start: Private apartment near Xardín Botánico de Padrón, Rúa Franco Salgado Araujo, 13, 15900 Padrón, A Coruña, Spain
Casa Rural Restaurante Parada de Francos, Rúa de Francos, 43, 15886 Rúa de Francos, La Coruña, Spain
Rest stops: O Lagar de Jesus, Vilar, Escravitude / Bar Restaurante La Milagrosa, 15980 A Picaraña
Distance: 13.2 km / 8.3 miles
Ascent: +214m / -131m / Net +81
Duration: 3 hours 02 minutes
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima

The Padrón to Santiago section is normally done in a single 26 km section. We were in no rush though so we split it in 2 and stayed overnight in a lovely small hotel in a tiny village.

Part of us was dreading the end of our trip. We had adopted a very simple way of life: get up around 07:00, have breakfast, leave at 08:00 walk a bit, have a coffee and a rest, walk a bit more, another rest, walk to wherever we were staying, have dinner and then sleep. Along the way we would talk about important things that we don’t normally get to as work and other stuff gets in the way. We also made new friends, saw some beautiful countryside, took photos of dogs and granary houses. Gradually this felt more like “real life” and home life was something we did as a distraction.

The old cliché of “it’s the journey, not the destination” is especially relevant to a pilgrimage. Whatever the reason you do it, whatever the thing you’re looking for happens on the route, not at the end. There’s no single moment of revelation, just a gradual realisation of whatever you needed to find.

A lot of people say that arriving at Santiago is an anti-climax and a major disappointment. We were close to finding out whether that was true.


DAY 14: Parada de Francos to Santiago de Compostela

Date: Friday May 3rd 2019
Start: Casa Rural Restaurante Parada de Francos, Rúa de Francos, 43, 15886 Rúa de Francos, La Coruña, Spain
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Praza do Obradoiro, s/n, 15704 Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Spain
Rest stops: Cafeteria Casa da Cultura Do Milladoiro, 15895 O Milladoiro
Distance: 13.3 km / 8.3 miles
Ascent: +386m / -246m / Net +140
Duration: 3 hours 19 minutes
Rest Stop(s):
Other Routes Touched: Camino de Fátima, All other Caminos de Santiagos converge at the Cathedral.

They were wrong. There was no anti-climax on reaching Santiago. We took the morning slowly and made the most of the final few hours on the road. Countryside turned into suburbs which gave way to a large city, then eventually the Old Town. We got to the Praza do Obradoiro shortly before mid-day. The sun was out and the square was full of pilgrims celebrating whatever long journey they’d just completed. It was a magical moment and we only felt happiness to be there. We took our time there, took photos, observed the other Pilgrims and I fell asleep in the sun for a while.

Later that day we joined the long queue to get our certificates at the Pilgrims’ Post Office. We still had the rest of the weekend to explore the city, meet up with some of the friends that we had along the way and reflect on our adventure.

For Timea the journey represented her much needed career change from working for Corporates to working for herself. If there was a breakthrough moment it was on the bridge on the Portuguse border. More importantly, she’d walked significantly further than she’d ever done before, survived a night in an albergue and officially became a Pilgrim.

For me it was different. It was just as amazing an adventure but I didn’t start with a particular thing that I needed to achieve or solve. The most important thing was doing the journey with Timea and supporting her in whatever came up on the trip. You can’t not have a deep experience though. I still got into deep thoughts and discussions, still worked through problems that were bugging me and got inspired along the way. Most of all, I had an amazing couple of weeks in a beautiful place and in the company of some really special people.

It won’t be long before we’re back on the trail. There’s another 7 Caminos to do ....

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The Full Route - Camino Portuguese from Porto to Santiago de Compostela

The Camino Portuguese from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. Each colour shows a single day section

50 Half Marathons

On April 6th 2019 I completed my 50th Half Marathon. Here’s what it looked like …

The Stats

See the Run Index page for links to blog posts on all 50 courses.

Numbers by region

46 Half Marathons in South England

50 Half Marathon Course Routes

All 50 courses from #1: Broloppet top left to #50: Prague bottom right.

Richard gowerComment
Prague Half Marathon

When: April 6th 2019
Where: Prague, Czech Republic
Course: Single circuit loop next to / near the river Vlatava starting and finishing at the Rudolfinum (Prague 1) extending South to Lihovar and North to Libeňský most.
Other routes touched: Svatojakubská Cesta, Česko střed, Cycle routes X1, VCC, A2, A13, A15, A24, A254
Finish time: 1 hour 57 minutes

The idea for "50 Half Marathons before I'm 50" came to me in 2015. I was on a year-long series of challenges to mark my 40th birthday and to raise money for charity in memory of my Dad. By the end of they year I'd racked up a total of 24 Halfs. It didn't take very complicated maths to work out I'd only need to do 3 more per year to reach 50 before my 50th birthday.

The rules were pretty simple. They had to be organised Half Marathon events and a different one every time. Now that I had a mission, I focused on finding mostly local ones on weekends when we didn't have much else planned. I'd got the routine down to a fine art: arrive an hour before the race; use the toilets before the queues formed and they got rancid; pick up my race number; buy a coffee; do a token 3 minutes of stretching and then we were off.

With a large number of races there were the inevitable mix of highs and lows. Some were fast, flat city courses like Bristol, Bath and Southampton. Some were boring: on forgettable residential streets like Ealing and [ boring I forget the rest]. Others were fun, tough trail events like Marlborough and Dunstable Downs.

I've never been concerned about speed so my finish times were quite a mix. My fastest was Oxford at 1:46 and slowest was an hour slower on the muddy and hilly Bledlow Ridge. My average was around 1:55 but anything below 2 hours was something to be happy with.

By my 40th event at Harpenden I was starting to think about how to celebrate my 50th. I was doing far more than 3 per year so I would overachieve my target by 6 years. It needed to be something special. It needed to be Prague.

Prague will always have a special place in my heart. I lived there for 2 and a half years in my early twenties. I loved it. So much so that when I returned to the UK I had a real problem adjusting to normal life. I kept returning for 5 years to see friends and attempt to keep up my life there. Around 2007 I decided I needed a clean break from Prague so that I could move on. Twelve years went by and I rarely thought about the place.

When I realised that my 50th half would coincide with the 20th anniversary of my first time in Prague it was obvious to me that I had to return. The place that once gave me such a deep and mixed range of emotions now only gave me excitement about the prospect of returning.

I was woke up early on the day of the event. There had been a bit of confusion in the previous few weeks about whether I could pick up my race number on the day. After a few email exchanges with the organisers where it first appeared that I definitely couldn't pick it up, it turned out that I definitely could. The downside was that the pick up point was the Prague Exhibition Centre which was nowhere near the start line.

The extra adventure of finding the Exhibition Centre was a blessing in disguise. It was a beautiful morning and the walk there was the start of a flood of memories coming back to me. I got a bit emotional at the start line. Part of it was the prospect of being on the brink of completing a big challenge milestone. Mostly it was the overwhelming tide of positive memories. I'd spend months exploring the city in my early twenties and knew every inch of it. The main thing I noticed on the walk to the start line was that nothing had changed. It looked exactly the same.

The biggest emotional anchor for me was when they played Vltava by Smetana over the speaker system in the last few minutes before the start. Czech Airways used to play it as I landed at Prague airport on business trips. It was the track that told me that I was home and in my happy place.

The first 3 km followed the Vltava embankment South to Podskalí. My old apartment was in this district and this was a route I'd walked (staggered) many times, mostly drunk after a night out in the centre. The route first crossed the river at Palackého bridge, taking in a loop past the Staropramen Brewery at Smíchov. At 6 km the route doubled back on itself and headed North. Having taken nearly 8 minutes to cross the finish line I'd had the 2-hour pacers in my sights and overtook them on the bend. I worked out that I was only 4 minutes behind the 1:50 pacers and I was determined to catch them up.

The route passed close to the start/finish line at Rudofinum. Two minutes after I passed it the race winners were on the home straight. The winner, Benard Kimeli, completed the race in 59:05, twice as fast as my time. This was a tougher stretch for me. The sun had come out and it and there was the downer of running away from the finish line. The thoughts it had of a close-to PB time I had in the first half quickly vanished. I dug out my emergency Haribo and pushed on.

Despite being roasting hot, the second half was an interesting part of the route. Whereas the first half was on territory that I knew well from my previous life in Prague, I didn't know this part. At 15 km the route crossed back over the river and heading back South toward the finish. I'd already given up on trying to catch up with the 1:50 pacers but I hadn't expected to get overtaken by the 2-hour pacer in he final 1 km. I definitely wasn't that slow and I worked out that I was still well under 2 hours due to the time it took to cross the start line. Even so, I wasn't going to let the 2-hour guy overtake me. I found a bit of extra energy and sped up to pass him.

The end came suddenly. I was still concentrating on keeping ahead of the pacer and hadn't realised how close I was to the end after crossing the final bridge. After a sharp left turn at Jan Palach Square the finish line was right in front of me. I looked out for Timi who was watching from the VIP area but completely missed her. Suddenly it was over: both the best Half Marathon that I'd done and my complete set of 50 different ones. I loved it all.

With the race over we still had the rest of the weekend and a whole new adventure to rediscover my old memories of 20 years ago. That's a story for another time though. This won't be my last Half but I'm not in any rush to sign up for new ones right now. I've got at least six months of other adventures worked out anyway. If any interesting course comes up I'll give them a go. For now 50 is enough and to finish the set in Prague, my favourite city, was the perfect way to finish it.

Richard gowerComment
Cycling The South Downs Way - Eastbourne to Bury Hill

Having completed half of the South Downs Way on Race To The King, I was keen to do the rest. I’d also attempted a cycle trip on the Trail about 13 years ago but abandoned it after 30 miles. Deep mud had slowed us down and, in pre-GPS days, we didn't know where we were. Not being one to be happy with unfinished business, I needed to complete the first 50 miles.

Day 1: Destination Ditchling

Start: Eastbourne Railway Station, Terminus Rd, Eastbourne BN21 3QJ
White Horse Inn, 16 West St, Ditchling, Hassocks BN6 8TS
Distance: 51km / 32 miles
Ascent: +1188m / -1140m
Duration: 5 hours
Other Routes Touched: Weald Way, Vanguard Way, Sussex Ouse Valley Way, Mid Sussex Link

It was Saturday so a parkrun had to be included in the plan. We chose Tilgate as it was a new one for both Mark and I and he needed a new letter for his Alphabet Challenge. By the time we’d done the run, picked up the bikes and got 2 trains we were in Eastbourne for 13:30. It was getting on a bit for this time of year so we didn’t hang around.

The first 14 km to Alfriston were familiar as I’d already covered them on the Beachy Head Marathon. Unlike my previous cycling attempt the ground was dry and mud-free. Even so, we were making slow progress as it had been a while since we’d been out on the bikes.

This was also a Trig Pointing adventure and we took the opportunity to bag some Trig Pillars on the route. There are 14 Trig Pillars on or close to the route. See below for the full list.

All went pretty well until Southease when Mark's bike decided to break. Going over a small bridge his back wheel lost a spoke and buckled. It didn’t take long to decide that the bike was “buggered” (technical cycling term) so we needed a Plan B. Luckily we had just passed a station and a train would be passing through shortly. Not having many other options Mark headed back home by train and I continued alone.

By now I was concerned about the daylight. It was already 17:00 with max 90 mins of daylight and at least 2 hours to go. I took on some of my emergency Haribo and tried to cover as much ground as possible with the remaining light.

By the time I’d reached the bridge over the A27 it was completely dark and I still had Ditchling Beacon to climb. The next hour was a mix of slow cycling and pushing. At the top of the hill the trail was wide and relatively smooth. The sky was clear and the chalky trail was easy to see. I found it easier to turn my lights off and let my eyes adjust to the twilight.

I’d reached Ditchling Road by 20:00. The pub where I was staying was at the bottom of the hill and I wasn’t looking forward to taking the road down. Instead I discovered a path that goes parallel to the road. This was possibly more dangerous in the dark as it was steep and rutted. Even with carefully pushing the bike I still almost slipped over at least 3 times. By 20:30 I’d made it to the White Horse in Ditchling. After a shower, wine and fish and chips I took advantage of now having the twin room all to myself.


Day 2: Ditchling to Bury Hill

Start: White Horse Inn, 16 West St, Ditchling, Hassocks BN6 8TS
Bury Hill Trig Point near Amberley
Distance: 45km / 28 miles
Ascent: +1147m / -1056m
Duration: 4 hours
Other Routes Touched: Mid Sussex Link, Downs Link, Monarch’s Way, Wey-South Path, West Sussex Literary Trail

Day 2 started with a full English Breakfast at the pub. This was mainly so I could make a Ditchling Bacon joke on WhatsApp. I’m still not convinced that my mates found it as hilarious as it deserved though.

On leaving the hotel I cycled back through the village, this time in daylight. Turning onto Beacon Road you get a great view of the imposing wall that is Ditchling Beacon. I was determined to get to the top without stopping or pushing and I made it. Just. The Beacon was my first trig point of the day after a very sweaty 2 miles.

In contrast to the previous day's overcast grey skies, today was sunny and clear. This would be a very different day altogether. There were similar amounts of ups and downs but it felt easier with a lot more smooth downhill stretches to pick up speed.

My second trig pillar was Devil’s Dyke at 13 km in. In my original planning I’d wanted to stay here only for the amusement of spending a night on Fulking Hill. The fact that the Devil’s Dyke Inn isn’t a hotel put an end to that. It was just as well given how late Day 1 turned out to be.

The rest of the day was a joyous trip along the South Downs. The warm early spring weather had brought a lot of people out walking, cycling or horsing(?) their way along the trail. I made a plan to say a cheery "hello" to everyone I passed to see their reaction. Horse-riders won with 100% "Hello"s back while walkers came joint second with mostly pleasant responses. Cyclists and runners came about even with either no responses or awkward grunts.

Amberley would be the natural destination for the first 50 miles of the Trail. I needed to go a bit further though as I needed to join the route of last year's Race To The King. The Ultra started a few miles South at Slindon, meeting the South Downs Way at Bury Hill. There's a Trig Point just off the Trail there so I made it my destination for this 2-day trip.


Trig Pillars on or near the South Downs Way (Eastbourne to Bury Hill)

All visited on this trip unless stated. Numbers in brackets show approximate kilometres from the start of the Trail at Eastbourne.

South Downs Way: Done

Map below: Blue = Beachy Head Marathon, Green = This cycle trip, red = Race To The King Ultra Marathon