Archive for March, 2008

Ancestral voices

March 27, 2008

 Just before I went on the last torch-lit TACH run of the spring, before the clocks change, I came across the following passage from the War Diary of my great-uncle, Billy Bloor, who was killed in the First World War:July 30th 1917

At midnight stopped at Opoutre about two miles from Poperinghe, which was as far as the train could go, as Poperinghe was being shelled and a train, which had run in there two hours before, had caught it nicely – with about 80 casualties. The R.T.O. at Opoutre informed me that the guide sent for me had been killed en route, but he told me my destination, and showed me the way as best he could. I had to leave my kit there and start a seven mile march without a map on a pitch black night and through rain which was falling – this after 23 hours in the train. Arrived at Ouderdom at 2-30 a.m. and spoiled Captain Sutherland’s beauty sleep (of the D.A.C). He was jolly glad to see me none the less and turned out the Adjutant, who got the men in somewhere – and jolly tired and fed up they were, too. They found me a couple of blankets and put me up on Colonel Stanley’s bed – he being on leave, and after a drink – or two – and a good long “chin-wag” I turned in about 4-30 a.m.

Obviously navigating in the dark with a drink to follow is wired in the blood!

The Rising Sun

March 23, 2008

We did a bit of the Green Man Challenge route from the Rising Sun at Pensford last Thursday. I was hoping Turtle would turn up as he got lost on this route last year and I thought he might enjoy it better this time. As it happened, he was on baby-sitting duty so there were just the six of us, half being Woodwoses.

The pub is a bit more down market than the George and Dragon on the other side of the Wells Road; but the parking is infinitely better.

The planned route was a version of “The Caterpillar,” which is described among the free-shorter routes on the Closer to the Countryside website ( ). I would have included it my first walk book, but there is a section of the original route from the Whitchurch Sports Centre that has been erased by a farmer, which he can get away with due to the negligence of past councils. However, it works really well from Pensford, if you don’t mind a bit of climbing on minor roads.

We started by following the Community Path across the fields to Publow and then took off up the hill towards Charlton Field and then took off across the fields towards Blackrock, which involved a bit of a paddle up a stream. Another hillclimb on the road took us up Hursley Hill to the A37.

From there we went through a series of flat buy wet firlds, past a garden nursery to Whitchurch. We negotiated the Dundry Hill housing estate to get to another sharp climb up East Dundry Lane, which leads to the footpath folowing the contour through the fields to Maes Knoll.

This iron age hill fort offers quite splendid views across Bristol on one side and Chew Valley on the other; but on this night, the ferocious winds cured the inadequately dressed of their ability to appreciate such things and they descended as if they had been blown off the hill. Unfortunately, the two Woodwoses who knew the way were dawdling at the back, so the hasty ones overshot the footpath down and had to climb back up about 90 metres to get back on track.

The cross country route back to the pub through Norton Malreward was negotiated without further incident, but I did notice Woodwose 1 looking askance at the slightly off-right-of-way path we took down to the river! As we arrived back at the pub, my Garmin registered 7 miles exactly, but it would have been slightly less if we hadn’t gone back to look for the hast ones on Maes Knoll.

The Rising Sun was sufficiently cosy and friendly and there was a choice between well kept Bath Ales’ Gem or Thatchers’ Cider. We managed to find a table that would accommodate the six of us and a good time was had by all.

The Grizzly – over the hill?

March 10, 2008

The awesome Grizzly used to be one of my all-time favourite races. The course, starting in Seaton on the southest coast of Devon, can be anything up to twenty miles long and winds across the shingle, along the coast path up steepsided, wooded valleys, through streams and knee-deep black mud, more hundreds of metres of shingle, up a winding path up a cliff and across the grassy cliff-top path, which offers spectacular views of the shingle beach leading to the finish on the esplanade two miles below.

The race is a community affair and all sorts of people participate in the organisation. There were pipers on the hills and bands of all kinds at strategic points, including a folk band and a folk duo and  a drum band in a barn booming out across the hills.

Out on the course, everything was as I remembered it, except my ability to cover the terrain, which rather got in the way of my appreciation of the Kantian and Taoist jokes and Buddhist shrines along the route. At the pace I started, I used to pick people off as the race progressed. But this time I had to look on as fat old men and young girls hurried past me in the later stages. In my late fifties, I am definitely over the hill, and it was silly to suppose thatI would find it easy, just because I had managed to complete the 45-mile Green Man Challenge a few weeks before. As my much younger Green Man partner, Peter DeBoer, remarked it is whole different thing – and he too suffered in the last three miles (although he was way ahead of me!)

But at over 20-years old,the Grizzly too is showing its age. In the past, the race had the use of a holiday centre with a big hall, in which the participants could meet up before the race and could congregate afterwards to exchange experiences and wait for the prize-giving.

Now all that has gone. The only group of runners that were able to pose for a pre-race team photo were the Axe Valley Runners who organise the race. Members of other clubs, who I happened to bump into at the start and on the course, had no idea whether other members with entries had actually made it to the race. In the absence of a proper gathering place afterwards it would have been impossible to find out afterwards either. 

I found the post-race experience a let-down, a definite anti-climax. It could have been better if a hail storm hadn’t driven everyone into the surrounding pubs, restaurants and cafes shortly before I finished. But this year’s perfunctory Grizzly T-shirt was definitely below the standard that had been set by earlier models and the organisers cannot possibly rely of fine weather at the beginning of March for a satisfying end to the Grizzly experience.

Woodwose 7

March 4, 2008

I have just received Martin Beale’s report of his record breaking circuit of the Community Forest Path to complete the Green Man Challenge. I have published it in the adjacent pages, so it will always come up near the top.

Hydration is obviously the big problem in an unsupported solo attempt. As Martin noted, the streams on the route can not be regarded as safe. He used the Tesco Express in Bradley Stoke, which is a little way off the route. Woodwose 1 and 2 used the White Horse at Hambrook and the Lockkeeper at Keynsham to top up their reserves. I think there is also an external tap at the White Horse. It might be worthwhile to produce a definitive list of rehydration opportunities.