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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Abingdon

 

Banbury

 
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Bicester

 
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Didcot

 

Harcourt Hill

 
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Henley-on-Thames

 

Oxford

 

Witney

 
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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.

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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
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“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
Significance:
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
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

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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

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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.


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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 [...so 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.


 
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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
Finish:
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
Finish:
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

Richard gowerComment
Welwyn Half Marathon

When: March 17th 2019
Where: Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, UK
Course: Out and back from Gosling Sports Park on residential streets and the Cole Green Way with a loop half way around Hertingfordbury and Cole Green
Other routes touched: NCN Routes 12, 57 and 61, Cole Green Way, The Old Coach Road, Lea Valley Walk
Finish time: 2 hours 6 minutes

Richard gowerComment
Chiltern Walks: Turville, Fingest & Ibstone

Start / Finish: The Bull and Butcher Pub, Holloway Ln, Turville, RG9 6QU
Distance: 11.2km / 6.9 miles
Ascent: 183m
Duration: ~3 hours at leisurely pace
Other Routes Touched: Chiltern Way,
Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer 171 Chiltern Hills West, Henley-on-Thames & Wallingford

This walk was a little longer than our recent Chiltern rambles. Our Camino adventure was fast approaching and we needed a proper practice if we're going to do 18 km every day in Spain. We'd also heard good things about the pies in the Bull and Butcher in Turville so we needed to check them out.

Turville is an idyllic English country village in the heart of the Chilterns. So much so that its been featured in many films and TV series. We'd actually seen it a week ago in an episode of Killing Eve. Its the kind of place that's so special you don't want to blog about it in case too many other people find out about it ...

Parking in the village centre we took the footpath leading up the hill toward the windmill. Its a steep climb but we turned off the path pretty soon. I told Timi that we were going to the top of the hill so it was a relief to her that we were actually taking a flatter route around the hill.

Fingest village arrives at only 1 km into the route. If you're doing the pub crawl version of the route then the Chequers Inn will be your first stop. We avoided this one and checked out St Bartholemew's church instead. After the church/pub the route follows Chequers' Lane for just under 1km before taking a footpath west of a bend in the road.

From here the route follows a wooded valley for 3.5 km until a junction with a left hand turn and steep ascent across a field toward the Chiltern Way. This is a really lovely section and, for me, the highlight of the walk.

The Chiltern Way section is just over 1 km and takes you to Ibstone Road where you'll find the Fox Country Inn at the North of the village. Needing a rest, we popped in for a drink. It was weirdly empty for a Saturday afternoon, especially as it looked like a really nice place. The unfriendly staff could have been a clue though. We didn't stop for long. Pies at the Bull and Butcher were waiting!

Leaving the Fox we crossed the road and took the path around the Western side of Ibstone Common. From here the route follows wooded paths parallel to Ibstone Road. At the final half km, the path enters into open fields with a great view of Turville village from above. The final section is a steep descent back to the village centre.

After 11 km with fully laden rucksacks we were really looking forward to the Bull and Butcher's famous pies. Turned out that the rugby was on TV and they had stopped serving food. Doh! We had a sad packet of crisps instead and headed home.

Despite a poor experience of the pubs, the walk was amazing. This is a real gem right in the heart of the Chilterns.

 
Richard gowerComment
Camino de Ronda - Platja d'Aro to Palamós

Start: Platja d’Aro Beach, Girona, Spain
Finish: Palamós Old Town
Other Routes Touched: N/A
Distance: 5 miles / 8km. +71m ascent

After a worky week in Barcelona, Timi and I headed North for quiet weekend together. We also got our 2nd unexpected microadventure of the week.

The hotel was on cliff just off the beach at Platja d'Aro. After checking in we wandered down to the small bay to find that the Camino de Ronda went straight through it. With only 6 weeks to go until our Camino Portuguese trip, we had to check it out.

The Camino de Ronda is an old coastal route that connects villages on the Costa Brava. At 43km, its just over the length of a marathon. As much as I was excited to do it all, we we there to relax so we opted for a shorter taster version.

After completing a short section on the Friday between our hotel and Platja d'Aro beach we returned the next day for a longer stretch. On Saturday we headed North to see how far we could get in a few hours.

The first few KM ran along jagged cliffs and through beautiful quiet bays. This was off-season and there were very few people around. There was a stunning photo opportunity at every corner so we took out time. The route, or at least the part that we walked, is very well maintained and signposted.

The second half of the walk, from the beach at Sant Antoni de Calonge was flatter and busier. In summer this would be packed with tourists. Even now there were enough places open to find a nice local place for lunch and some not-horrendous 1 Euro wine.

On finishing lunch we chose the church that we could see in the distance as our end point. This was the Parròquia de Santa Maria del Mar in the heart of Palamós Old Town. By the time we arrived here it was getting dark and locals were out for the street markets. It was a nice way to finish an unexpected mini-Camino before taking a taxi back to the hotel.

I've got a good feeling we'll be back here too. Not just to finish the Camino de Ronda though. When we arrived at the harbour at Palamós they were setting up for a Trail Race the next day. We spoke to one of the organizers and took down some details. Looks like Spain will be more of a feature of future trips!

 
Richard gowerComment
Cycling Sant Pere Màrtir, Barcelona

Start / Finish: Sant Just Desvern, Barcelona, Spain
Distance: 15km
Ascent: 400m
Duration: 1 hour 28 minutes
Other Routes Touched: PRC-164, PRC-171, Carretera de les Aigües

This was the first of 2 unexpected micro-adventures on a business trip to Barcelona. Timi was there for a conference and I tagged along on a combo of working-from-hotel and a Friday off. While we were there we caught up with an old friend from work who now lives in the city. I didn't think twice when he offered to take me on a evening's ride in the nearby mountains.

I've been to Barcelona a few times and always loved it. Its has the right mix of culture, coast, city and access to mountains. It's always been a potential future place to live and this trip only reconfirmed that.

The ride started in Sant Just Desvern, a suburb to the West of the city. From here you can be off road and climbing the trails within 15 minutes. My friend knew the route well and I was in the rare situation of just following along and not really knowing where we were heading. By KM 5 were were up on the Carretera de les Aigües with outstanding views over the city.

From here there's loads of options including a longer route to Mt Tibidabo. Instead we chose to climb Sant Pere Màrtir, the nearest peak before heading back. Its not a summit you can't easily miss as the giant transmitter can be seen for miles.

By the time we reached the top it was dark and I wimped out of cycling the steep 100m first section on the other side. The combo of my weird nervousness of slipping, the dark and my lack of helmet all kicked in. Beyond that first section the rest of the descent was an amazing ride back through the trails, mountain roads and town to the start.

 
Richard gowerComment
Chiltern Walks: Varneys Wood and River Gade

Start / Finish: Red Lion Pub, Water End, HP1 3BD
Distance: 5 km / 3.1 miles
Ascent: 65m
Duration: 1 hour at at leisurely pace
Other Routes Touched: River Gade
Map: OS Explorer Map (182) St. Albans and Hatfield

This is a pleasant short walk centred around bagging the Varneys Wood Trig Pillar.

  • From the Red Lion Pub Car Park cross the Leighton Buzzard Road and take the footpath on the right hand side of the first bend on Red Lion Road.

  • Follow the footpath to the top of the hill where there is a path junction at 1 km into the walk..

  • Turn right (South-East) along the top of the hill, following the edge of Varneys Wood until you reach Wood Farm. There’s a bench with a very nice view of the Gade Valley at the mid-point of this section.

  • The Trig Pillar is buried inside the hedge on the right hand side of the lane as you walk South-West away from the farm. You can see it and (just about) touch it from the road although you can’t see the Flush Bracket. It’s slightly more accessible from the other side of the hedge, although be careful as that’s in the farmer’s field.

  • Once exiting Wood Farm continue down the hill to Piccotts End and cross Leighton Buzzard Road again.

  • After the Waterworks, take the right hand footpath and follow this for approx 1.5km North-West following the course of the River Gade. You’ll get a good view of the Wood Farm buildings from the start of this path.

  • When you reach Potten End Hill road take a right then another right on Leighton Buzzard Road to return to the Red Lion.

map below: The Red Lion Pub at Water End

 
Richard gowerComment
Chessington Valentines 10K

When: February 17th 2019
Where: Chessington, Surrey, UK
Course: Single circuit on-road route from Chessington School & local roads.
Other routes touched: Chessington Countryside Walk, Thames Down Link, Hogsmill Valley Walk,
Finish time: 53:41

 
Richard gowerComment
Portsmouth Coastal Half Marathon

When: February 3rd 2019
Where: Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK
Course: Out and back along the coast from Pyramids Leisure Centre / Southsea Castle to North-East corner of Portsea Island. Similar return route with some diversions. Nice muddy/icy beach section.
Other routes touched: Solent Way, The Shipwrights Way, NCN 2,222
Finish time: 1 hour 57 minutes

 
Richard gowerComment
Completing all Hertfordshire parkruns

As the furthest event from my house, I’d saved Letchworth until the end of my Hertfordshire collection. On the night before the event I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it though. News of cancellations was coming in from event after event after 2 days of snow across most of the country. The Letchworth team announced that things were looking OK but they would only know after a course check at 08:00 on the Saturday. This was risky as I had an hour’s drive to get there so would have to be on the road well before that. My 2 local events were also cancelled so I decided to risk it and head towards Letchworth with a Plan B and C just in case. Arriving at the park at around 08:10 I met the volunteers returning from their course check. It was slippery, but the event was on! It was just as well as my B and C options (Bedford and Great Denham) had just been cancelled. Letchworth is a great course and was stunning with frost on the ground and clear blue skies. I’m really grateful to the volunteers for going ahead and saving my Saturday.

With Letchworth done it completes the full set of 16 parkrun events in Hertfordshire. The number actually depends on how you count it as you could remove 1 for Heartwood Forest that I completed a year ago but has since closed. If you counted the historic rather than present-day county of Hertfordshire you could also add in Oak Hill, which is now part of Greater London. Anyway, whether it’s 15, 16 or 17, I’ve done them all (for now).


Aldenham

 

Barclay

 

Cassiobury

 

Castle Park

 

Ellenbrook Fields

 

Gadebridge

 

Heartwood Forest

 

Jersey Farm

 

Letchworth

 

Panshanger

 

Rickmansworth

 

South Oxhey

 

St Albans

 

Stevenage

 

Tring

 

Westmill

 

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