Sunday, 17 August 2014

Finding 'Happy' on the Chilterns

Having run from Overton Hill to Goring at Easter I'd always intended to go back and finish off The Ridgeway at some point, though in my mind it had now moved to a weekend next year, when I'm fitter. On Wednesday this week I thought "bugger it, I need a break from the madness, I'm doing it" so I booked a room in Wendover for Saturday night and train tickets. Didn't really have time for prep, just a quick look at distances and a rough plan. 

Come Saturday morning my alarm clock got laughed at when it started it's racket at 6am. It got laughed at for a few hours, with the result that I set off to Goring much later than planned.  By the time I got off the train in G&S I realised that I might have to play it by ear with regards to where I stopped running for the night.  

Running along beside the river was pleasant enough - rivers and flat don't really rock my boat though. Then I came to a field full of cows. Right across where I had to run. Jesus wept. A man had already gone through with his dog so I was thinking 'shit they're going to be alert now'.  But there was nowhere else to go, the river was on my left and more fields of cows to the right.  So I walked through them, heart in my mouth.  Two of the bastards were over on the left right beside the river so I couldn't keep on that edge, I had to go between them.  I've never been so happy to reach a gate.  Where I stopped to take a photo and start breathing again.  

I'd had a good look at the map on the way up (and actually measured distances!) so I knew when I should be hitting South Stoke, North Stoke, turning east etc.
Grim's Ditch was a bit disappointing to start with, the name conjures up images that reality just didn't deliver.  Again, pleasant but not earthshattering. 

This is more like it! 
After a while it turned into the kind of terrain I was hoping for ^^^

It was surprisingly humid so I was glad to fill up my bottles at Grimsdyke Cottage, a litre gone in just 8 or so miles. I'd met a couple of dog walkers along the way but other than that it was quite deserted. 

Nuffield Golf Course was a mare!!!  I ran in, saw a sign for the Ridgeway pointing left across what looked like a practice green, so off I went. Got to the edge of that and really could not see a way through the brambles etc. Shit. So I went back to the club house.  The map seemed to indicate to take a tight left and I'd seen a couple of hikers stopping there, consulting their map and going down the path, so I went that way.

Came out on a road. Ok, now cross and look for the Ridgeway sign.  Hmmm. The two hikers were up the road a bit so I ran up to them and asked if they were going the same way.  They were.  A lovely young Dutch couple who were hiking to Watlington.  The guy asked if I had ALL my stuff for 2 days in the S-lab??!!  He had to take it to feel the weight lol.  We had a nice chat while wandering around the poxy golf course trying to find the right path. Anyway, the least said about Nuffield the better. Never trust a golfer who gives you directions, suffice it to say that much. We eventually found the way and I left them to it as I needed to get a move on.

A few nice ups and downs through crop fields ensued.  A little bit of road, some mini hills and onto Swan's Way. Pfft. Running on a trail between two ditches of bushes/trees that were so thick you couldn't see any scenery. It was pretty uninspiring.  And straggly.  Not pretty at all. I met a lady walker and I thought well I'm not going to get to Wendover before darkness falls and I sure as f*** don't want to be running through this on my own in the dark (it didn't feel very friendly) so I'll find out from her where's the best place to stop.

Jaysus. "I walked from Ivinghoe Beacon to Watlington once. It was soul destroying".  After a minute I was trying to end the conversation and politely leave!  I asked her about Chinnor, would I be able to get a cab to Wendover from there?  "The path is awful, it's horrible, there's nothing there".  Omg. Managed to get away and upped the speed!  I was very low on water by now so I decided to drop down into Watlington and get to the hotel for an early dinner and night.  On the way I asked a man if I'd be able to get a cab in Watlington. "Ohhhh, no, there's nothing there. You might get a bus. But it's a Saturday. So probably not".  He had hairs growing from the top of his nose. He wasn't old enough to have an excuse for that!  I was expecting his next line to be "we only have local shops for local people".  Fuck me they're a miserable bunch around there!

So I went back up onto the Ridgeway and decided to head for Chinnor come what may. 

Taken at one of the rare open spots along here

Looking at the map I noticed that Lewknor had a PUB symbol, woohey, civilisation.  Decision made, drop down into Lewknor and take it from there.  The landlady called a cab for me and I had a pint of cider while I waited. 20.5 miles run, longest run since June, can't complain about that!

Got to Wendover, had a pint, had a shower, had some dinner, another pint and up to bed. I was in two minds about what to do next - get a cab back to Lewknor in the morning and carry on from there, or start on Sunday from Wendover.  Working out the price per mile that going back to Lewknor would cost me made the decision fairly easy!  It had been a nice day of running and fresh air but missing out on running through a quarry and Chequers (where I'd probably get arrested for peeing in his garden) wasn't going to upset me much in the long run.

Had a nice sleep and then woke up around 8 on Sunday morning.  A full cooked vegetarian minus the sausage, boom, set me up nicely for the day.  The receptionist told me a shortcut to get onto the Ridgeway rather than strictly following the map. Jaysus. Put me in the middle of houses and alleyways and shite like that and I'm buggered, I had the compass out twice just to get out of town!  But I was going the right way after all and soon was out in the countryside again. 

I met a lovely blonde lady runner along here, in her 60s, fab pink top, cheery hellos - how else would you want to start a run on a Sunday morning :-) 

Today (Sunday) was definitely my favourite of the two. Where Saturday disappointed Sunday more than made up for it. The woods on Cock's Hill were gorgeous.  And Uphill was like running through light green gossamer threads.  Beautiful. Calming. Relaxing. 

Met a few mountain bikers speeding down this bit, it did look like good fun. I was going uphill though. It felt like being in the Lord of the Rings. Loved this part. I think the magic started to happen from here. 

Had to do a bit of road running through Hastoe but it was raining so that made it ok :-)  And Tring Park, what a lovely place.  Met lots of walkers here, and all friendly.  

A bit more running down the sides of fields now on the way to Tring station, nothing special but it was downhill so I got through quickly. 

Ran over this bridge then realised what it was so went back to take a photo. It's the only way I'll be running anywhere near it!  

Grand Union Canal 

Past Tring station and up onto one of the best sections of the entire run. More lovely uphill forests and a nature reserve. I'd seen lots of butterflies and a few rabbits but very little other wildlife until here.  


Then 3 deer ran across my path, so quickly and ethereally I gasped aloud.  God it was beautiful up there. Running through those woods I really started to feel the history of the Ridgeway again. I'd felt it before in Uffington, awe inspiring stuff, and now I felt how the Roman Centurions might have felt all those centuries ago marching from place to place. Didn't think it could get much better than this. 

Until I came out onto Pitstone Hill. You know when somewhere just takes your breath away? This was that place. Looking at my photos now they just don't, they can't, convey what it was like, you have to be there. It was so amazing. 

I was blown away by now, I'd had my camera in my hand for the last few miles as there was no point putting it back in my pack only to have to stop and take it out again. And then into the final couple of miles, I really didn't want it to end, but at least I was going to be running back this way to get to Tring station and there were some fab downhills through the woods to look forward to. 

Going towards Incombe Hole there were more feckin cows in a field to pass, but these guys were all lying down and looked pretty chilled. I let a walker run the gauntlet first!


Up Steps Hill, through some narrow trails surrounded by gorse and wildflowers and scrub. Perfect.

And finally, destination reached. I won't lie, it was emotional. I don't even care that I can't say I've run every inch of the Ridgeway, I've run 88 miles on or around it, and definitely got to see the best parts. Yesterday was nice, not a stretch I'd bother doing again in itself, but it got me to today and today has been fantastic. And when I'm feeling stressed or can't get out for a decent run I'll just look back on this and feel it all again

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