Category Archives: Weekends

Skimo – Berkshire East


Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in the number of ultra running races and trail races around the world with people looking beyond the standard road marathon to get their athletic fix. Regardless of what I do the option to go out running in the hills and mountains is always tempting.
The winter months give an opportunity for some down time, change the activity or generally prepare the coming season. For a while now I have been reading and watching more about skimo racing also known as randonee and ski mountaineering. Which from a racing stand point and ignoring the degrees of difference in technical descents and ascents basically involves hiking up hill either boot packing (going up hill with skis on your back), skinning (ski up hill with special material on the base of the skis called skins) and then descending the mountains as fast as you can.
When I moved to the north east of the U.S. and with the mountains nearby I went about searching for an event to enter. I found the north east rando race series. A series of events around the north east of the US and the timing was perfect. My first weekend in the U.S and there was an event on.
With snacks for the drive bought, I woke in the early hours of the morning to make the 4 hour drive up the road. The conditions over the last few weeks had been warm and the day was looking to continue this trend.
Despite this there was still a chill in the morning air and with this came the occasional blanket of fog which made for some spectacular scenery particularly where there were small clearings.
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Arriving at Berkshire east and there was one guy making an early start on the course in shorts and t-shirt. Which was a long way of my ski trousers and jacket. I hoped the day would stay cold, otherwise I was going to be ridiculously hot scaling the mountain. After getting organised it was time to start the race amongst a group of people ranging from the lycra clad to the occasional ski tourer.
Making a dash up the mountain the group soon dispersed as we made our first lap up the mountain. Before the first corner my jacket was as off and for the ascents only my helmet soon came off too. It was sweltering. First up hill done and it was the transition back to skiing down hill. The skins were off the bottom of the skis and everything switched back into ski mode for a brief ski half way down the mountain. This sounds much quicker than it was in practise, initially with the skins flapping all over the place  nothing helps speed things up with either bad weather or the time pressure of a race. That and a desire to cool down on the descent. It was then a walking stage up a steep wooded part of the route with our skis on our backs before we exited the forest and could get ours ski’s back onto ski touring mode for the last bit back to the top of the mountain. Skins off and it was time to go full speed down to the bottom of the mountain to repeat this a three more times. On the way up I ended up chatting to one of the local ski patrollers and another guy who turned out to be the owner of the ski resort which passed the time and made sure we were going at a steady pace up hill. With the U.S elections only just completed it was certainly interesting to start getting more of a local insight into it.
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Photos courtesy of Brian & NE Rando Race Series
With the day heating up I stopped to get some water from a nearby stream having used up my small water bottle over the first few laps. Despite it being in january most people had switched to open jackets or just a thin shirt. One guy had even opted to go topless.
After the third lap it was time to head to the second stage of the race on the other side of the mountain. Amazingly some people had already finished. The skiing down became increasingly harder as my legs became more tired. This was my first ski day of the season, ski touring race and I had literally arrived in the US three days earlier.
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Photos courtesy of Brian and the NE Rando Race Series
Despite this i finished the final couple of laps and very quickly ended up in the cafe for a well deserved feast of food before the prize giving. It was at this point I realised the quality of the field. Ranging from those competing for positions in the US team to the previous record holder Ed Warren for the fastest ascent of Denali before this was taken by Kilian Jornet. Certainly an impressive range of athletes.
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Experimenting with Move count app from Suunto
All in all I seriously enjoyed the north east rando race and will certainly be working out how to fill the next seasons schedule with races. It mixes mountains, skiing and running into a pretty epic combination. By the end I was sufficiently knackered, yet despite this my legs still felt good enough the following day to tear through some laps of a nearby mountain before the rain descended on the area. I can certainly see why this is the perfect winter trainer or event in its own right when you have mountains nearby.
Bring on the next season.
For those interested check out:
and for those in the UK there is always the Scottish one:
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Sky Run – Peak District


With trail and ultra running ever growing in the UK it was only a question of time before the sky running series made its way to our shores. Big in the Alps the race formats are normally marathon plus distances in the mountains with the aim of taking in peaks and ridges along the way.

At one extreme you have the Salomon sky run along the Aeonach ridge, a grade 3 scramble to others which are much less technical. This weekend was much less technical in comparison but with 29 miles and 2000m of ascent it wasn’t to be sniffed at. Especially when this height gain to distance ratio puts it in a slightly more aggressive category than UTMB or the Lakeland 100. Admittedly despite that fact being floated about, those races are a much more incredible feat of human determination and endurance.

A short recce the day before took me to the top of the first climb, Solomons Temple near Buxton with great views over the course of the following day. A final bit of race preparation was enjoying an incredible meal at the Samuel Fox inn, potentially a tad much for a pre-race meal but with this being my first outing back into ultra racing for a couple of years my aim was to enjoy the day and start getting back into it.

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Solomons Temple

 

Wondering amongst the competitors it was great to chat and hear stories of competitions completed and planned for the coming year. From quick dash fell runs to the rather more brutal races such as King Offas Dyke 185 mile race or the 268 mile Spine race in January along the pennine way.

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Pre-race kit prep

The race commenced and we made our way quickly up to Solomons Temple with short pauses as we were funnelled onto single track. Despite the forecast being of overcast conditions I was glad I had packed some sunglasses for the day with the sun beaming down on us. As we rounded the temple with a bagpiper playing up top we began to spread out as we started our decent already. This was going to set the stage for the day with every ascent marked soon afterwards by a descent and slightly demoralisingly loosing all the height just gained.

The route took a course along ridges, through moorland, bogs and of course up a number of hills.

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With a well marked course we could concentrate on the running and getting our feet in the right spot. With plenty of opportunities for twisted ankles amongst the rocky tracks being light on our feet and an emphasis on twinkle toes was the name of the game.

The only slight mistake came when chatting to another competitor about his up coming race in Oman. Taking the wrong turn we led out towards a farm building only to realise we had gone half a mile in the wrong direction. Slightly devastating as was the sight of maybe 20 odd runners who had followed on behind us. Quickly making up the ground we had lost we all made our way back into the course and meandered back down the hill side.

Running through one boggy area I came across a pair of Oakley sunglasses that had clearly dropped off one of the runners in front and were gently perched on some long grass. Picking them up I handed them into a later checkpoint. You never know when you might be in a similar situation. I didn’t have to wait long!

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About 10 mins later the course was incredibly beautiful and one I would have certainly wanted to capture more of it wasn’t for the fact I dropped my phone. Fortunately it was picked up by one of the other competitors not far behind me. A quick snap and with it firmly packed away for the remainder of the race after learning my lesson and not fancying a repeat before heading on.

The course meandered on and my pace ebbed and flowed as the terrain and distance took its toll. The three food and drink checkpoints on the route hit the spot every time. With the opportunity to refuel on chunks of banana, succulent orange slices, flapjack, soreen and of course a wide array of other goodies. I try to make these as quick as possible and continue to eat as I walk along out of the checkpoint. Partly this is to not get too comfortable and I would much prefer to finish sooner.

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Chatting with some of the fell runners it was great to see them descend in front of me. I still don’t understand how they did it so quickly other than through a bit of experience and raw tenacity to descend quickly! I envisaged face planting a rock face first if I tired the same so clearly an area I can improve on.

The route went past quiet a few climbing and bouldering spots with chalk marks on some and people clambering about in the sunshine on others. Unfortunately it would have to be  for another time.

As the day wore on I went over on my ankle. With my run going well this was pretty disappointing but deciding to walk it off for a bit I soon managed to break into a trot again. Some of the rocky ground though became much trickier to negotiate as my ankle seemed to get twisted on even the smallest of stones.

Finally the town of buxton came back into sight. I was delighted despite not being able to increase my pace a huge amount. One guy asked if we were to have a sprint finish. As much as I wanted to my legs and ankles had run out of juice. I was happy to finish the race at a plod.

Within moments of crossing the finish line I was welcome by a flat coke, my trainers coming off and my wife looking at me in a slightly sorry and apparently “grey” looking state.

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So good getting the shoes off!

Despite the ankle it was awesome getting back into the running again having been out of ultra running for a couple of years. I was remembering all the elements i had learnt about through training runs, competitions and chats with numerous runners and trainers. I finished middle of the pack which may not have been my best result ever but it was one I will certainly remember. I would certainly recommend checking out the sky running series with a greta mix of terrain and distances.

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A race to remember

Helvellyn Circuit


With a weekend of spectacular weather on the cards and a wide range of walks across the Yorkshire moors, Dales or the Lake District to choose from we were certainly spoilt choice. After much debating over these options and gaining some local knowledge we set our sights on Helvelyn in the Lake District.

With a choice of routes to go up Helvellyn including the famous striding edge it was set to be a fantastic outing.

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Our Final Route

Waking the next morning and rushing for the curtains I was welcomed to a view of low cloud and overcast hills. Not quite what we expected. Stepping outside the cool weather was perfect for walking and so I began filling a couple of flasks with hot water in preparation for some cooler ascents.

As we headed out along the a66 with awesome views over the Pennines the cloud began to lift. As we drove down onto the western side of the pennines we were greeted to glorious sunshine. The temperature began rising and the thought of no sun cream along with the hot flasks of water all began to seem like daft ideas.

Arriving in Glenridding the car parks were jam packed with rucksack and map carrying hikers. Brilliant to see but dashing our thoughts of being in the wilderness. Gathering a few final essential supplies including the sun cream and chocolate bars we were ready to begin.  The chocolate unfortunately did not make the journey as it was eaten in advance before we started.

We headed on up the valley.

Wondering along side the stream that flowed through the village. Huge chunks of it were missing and the foundations of some houses completely exposed showed just how powerful this meandering stream had become in the floods over the winter. There was still a decent amount of work to be done before everything was back in order. Still evident from the number of trucks, diggers and reinforcements being put in place.

The route up was a path that carved its way up the hillside with only a short detour taking us away from the swathes of groups heading up the hill. In front and behind of us were a steady stream of harden walker to enthusiastic opportunist, young and old, tourist and local as well as a few dogs thrown in for good measure.

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As we reached a small plateau in front of us we could see striding edge with the silhouette of walkers making their way across it. The sun was beaming down on us and it’s safe to say the sweat was beginning to stream off me at least.

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Striding Edge

The edge itself was great fun, certainly in this weather. Despite being occasionally exposed it wasn’t like tryfan or crib goch in Wales and in this dry and sunny weather it made for a great outing. Despite this you there were reminders to tougher times with a memorial to Mr Dixon who fell off it in 1858 whilst running with hounds, as well as  the occasional scrape from crampons left over from a previous winters. It would certainly be a challenge in cold, wet and icy conditions. One for another day! Darting over the rocks we paused occasionally to soak up the views and let some of the blockages on route ease up. The final chimney proved to be the biggest pinch point of the ridge yet despite this we watched as one guy virtually ran along the length of the ridge swerving round people while a rather elderly looking gentleman made this chimney look a piece of cake. There were of course many others for whom this was not quite so simple but seeing the elation and satisfaction from everyone on conquering striding edge was awesome to see.

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Memorial to Mr Dixon, 1858

Making the final ascent up to the summit which flattens into a great plateau we reached the top. To beautiful views over the surrounding valleys. Sitting down with our feet dangling over one of the slopes we munched on some sandwiches as we watched the start of some fell runners coming up from the other side looking remarkably fresh. We briefly joined the throng of supporters cheering on the competitors before they made their descent.

Surveying the surrounding routes we opted to not go for the well trodden path up Catstye Cam but to meander round along a flat ridge line. The sights and smells brought back memories from many a previous trip up into the hills.

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On reaching what we thought would be our final summit, with us both still feeling pretty fresh and the day still young we set our sights on a further peak and ridge line. Passing school groups and walkers relaxing on the slopes whilst soaking up the afternoon rays of sunshine. It was definitely far too hot for the still steaming bottles of hot water I had packed in the cool yorkshire morning.

We made our way along a final ridge with hardly a soul about. It felt much more like the walk we had both expected being slightly more out in the wilderness. With the sun beaming down on us the occasional sip on cool stream water was incredibly satisfying.

The final descent into town was through a field packed full of blue bells lit by the soft evening sunshine. It was a pretty spectacular find for the end of the day, especially as this bit had been an unplanned extension to the day. Before the final descent into town.

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Sitting down to a plate of chips and a pint of coke was a delight. We could relax enjoying the evening and the feeling you get from being outdoors all day. A mix of tiredness and satisfaction at what has been achieved. All that was left to do was get some flip flops on, essential after any walking trip and head back to yorkshire for the night.

 

Bank Holiday in the Glyders


The august bank holiday came round incredibly quickly, the weather was looking a bit touch and go. Despite the grand plans of finding the perfect campsite in the few weeks beforehand, I found us both searching frantically for one with space on the Friday morning we were due to head to Wales. If you have found the perfect campsite wherever it is then please share!

We found one right near llanberis in the heart of snowdonia national park and it had space more importantly, you can check it out on the link below.

http://www.campinginllanberis.com/

It looked like it was a great spot with some fantastic views and it all sounded very promising with camp fires allowed. A big positive was with it being near Pete’s Eats cafe, which is a great spot for a pre-walk feed that I had been introduced to on my previous trip.

Following what seemed like a fairly epic drive post work in London to the north west of Wales and it was time to setup camp in the pitch black whilst not waking the whole campsite. Fortunately despite our late arrival there were others in a similar situation. Like the rest of the perfect pre-planning of the trip I had never put the tent up before nor seen a picture of it, neither of which are a great start. I would generally recommend you do at least one of those before heading out with a tent. The weather despite the down pour as we drove into the village had subsided for long enough to find a pitch in the dry and get the tent up first time. Something was on our side! Trying to be as quiet as possible with a foot pump is a bit of a challenge with it wheezing and coughing with every compression. Before trying to squeeze in the ridiculously large double air mattress that was literally bulging out of the tent . It was a last resort due to the lack of a smaller one. As drops of rain began to descend on us it was time to jump in.

We woke surprisingly early with the tent being heated like a sauna in what felt like a very short space of time.  Although there was the occasionally wriggling about in the close space thanks to sleeping at the wrong end of the tent and the realisation that the “slight” slope actually meant sliding into one another all night.Due to the heavy one me squeezing the air out of my side,however we still felt relatively fresh.

With map in hand we headed down for breakfast at Pete’s Eats cafe, my head was beginning to kick into gear with some ideas of where to walk that day. With steaming mugs of coffee, a big plate of food each and a map sprawled out on the table the idea of heading to the glyders came about. It would be more quite than some of the other hills especially as more rain was set to come in.

The Glyder Range
The Glyder Range

It was soon chucking it down as we headed down the road in the car, looking at each other the thoughts that we were being a bit daft was certainly drifting through both our minds. Waterproofs on and that first step out of the car, which is always the hardest. After that with rain bouncing off our hoods we were off.

a wee stream, playing with a slower camera speed
a wee stream, playing with a slower camera speed

Making our way up the hill with the odd detour to take in some of the sights and have a bit of an explore. The intermittent rain, low cloud and a touch of sunshine made for only fleeting glances around at the spectacular views shrouded in thick cloud. We stopped part way up to admire some waterfalls and fill up on some fresh welsh stream water, which tastes so much better than the London water. No surprises there!

Valley Views
Valley Views

We made our way up to Glyder Fach where we had a bit of a scramble up and around the rocks including on the “famous” cantilever stone. Perching on the end surrounded by cloud certainly didn’t reveal much of our surroundings. As we made our way off the summit the cloud would occasionally lift to reveal the area we were walking as well as Castell y Gwynt meaning castle of the winds. Although not the highest peak on the ridge the stoney outcrop is still over 3000ft high but is not included in the welsh 3000’s list due to being classed as a Nuttall, Regardless of this it is a great one to scramble up as the jagged rocks are a pretty awesome sight. They were also quite sharp as I noticed a bit of a crimson mark on my trousers which after a quick look round was coming from my hand.

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Not quite the blue sky views

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The final section was up Glyder fawr, the wind was rushing up the valley and over the ridge line, with the low cloud and mist this did make for a rather spooky scene. With the time ticking on we needed to head down. As we lost height the scene became a lot clearer and so we carried on down a steep gulley which looked like there was a path at the bottom towards a wee lake and from there we could head back to the car. By the time we reached the bottom of the initially gully, the “start” of the path was in fact some rather soggy ground. The remainder of the trudge down was slow going as the paths carved out by sheep seemed to dot around the place. We scrambled over rocks, through heather, streams and boggy ground occasionally watched by a nearby sheep.

Finally some sunshine
Finally some sunshine

Finally reaching the (lake) Llyn Cwmffynnon and the stream leaving it. Despite the weather it was very tempting to go for a swim, until we felt the temperature and the thought of the walk back still to do. One for another day!

We arrived at a packed pub full to the brim and with food orders on hold the only option left was to start with a couple of cold pints with a packet of crisps before the main of a huge burger turned up. Lamb of course.

Heading back to the camp-site the place was a light with camp fires in front of every tent, it was beginning to rain again as the temptation was quickly replaced by that of jumping into our sleeping bags. .

Mountain leader training stage 1


Having been on the cards for a while I had the opportunity to go on mountain leader training with peak mountain training who are based up in the Peak District. Driving up with forecasts of rain and relatively high winds wasn’t the most appealing to be out in the Peak District but it would certainly make for a more interesting experience!

My room in the bunk house, with beautiful views onto the hills
My room in the bunk house, with beautiful views onto the hills

After the long drive I reached the bunkhouse at Pindale Farm where it turned out I was the only one in my room out of a possible 7 others. So with kit spread out I began making myself at home and although relatively basic it had everything I wanted and was comfortable enough. I woke early the next day to get all my kit ready and have a look over the map to see where I could head on my first day. Normally the course is a 6 day course but for a number of reasons outside of my control I could only start it after the first day. My plan for the day was to make a loop around the local hills before heading back. The forecast hadn’t improved as I sat with my coffee cupped between my hands viewing the map but with a plan, lunch packed and kit ready it was time to go.

Planning time
Planning time

The initial section was heading up a valley with a castle overlooking the area; the recent weather had turned the path into a wee stream as water swirled between the rocks and my feet.

The Castle overlooking the valley
The Castle overlooking the valley

The day was certainly one of all seasons with patches of sun mixed with rain, strong winds and hail that stung any patch of skin that was exposed to it!

One of a couple patches of sunshine
One of a couple patches of sunshine

While I saw quite a few groups hunkering down behind stone walls avoiding the worst of it.

My turn to hide behind a wall
My turn to hide behind a wall

I made my way round admiring the view from each of the peaks despite it being slightly imposed on by a rather large cement factory. I finished up at a cafe full of cyclists, motorcyclists, walkers and runners enjoying a final blast of coffee and a sugar hit before heading back to make homemade pizza.

another wet evening
another wet evening

The next day was much more classroom focused with us learning about risk assessing both before and during an expedition, understanding weather patterns and looking at emergency situations involving mountain rescue. This was quite appropriate given the wet conditions outside. The afternoon was spent out in the hills to put into practise the risk assessing we had been doing in the classroom into practise. Heading to some of the steeper areas I had been on the previous day where we would consider the potential for an accident and the severity of it. We also practised the art of walking slowly and I mean really slowly to the point where one bystander stopped to witness the event. Stopping for a bite to eat we tried experiencing how it would feel just needing to wait around in a relatively cool day to see how quickly we would start feeling the cold. The results were quite surprising in terms of the speed by which our body temperature fell and certainly highlighted the need for the right equipment in the mountains. Heading back for some cold pizza, soreen malt loaf and setting my tent up to make sure it was all ok ahead of our expedition phase.

Day 1 sunshine
Day 1 sunshine
Day 1 rain and hail
Day 1 rain and hail
Day 1 strong winds
Day 1 strong winds!!

The next day was our last day in the Peak District and it was due to be a pretty interesting one. The morning began in the classroom, planning expeditions before we decided to head to an area called Stanage Edge to do some scrambling and rope work. The emphasis of the exercise was that rope work within mountain leading is definitely a last resort but if the terrain, group and/ or conditions require it then we need be to able to do it safely. Soon we were all tying ourselves in and climbing up and down areas. For those interested it was using the remote belay using a rock as an anchor as it is designed to be safer method if anything goes unexpectedly wrong.

Remote belaying and the challenge of finding a suitable anchor
Remote belaying and the challenge of finding a suitable anchor
Finally in a suitable spot
Finally in a suitable spot

Whilst standing admiring the surroundings we could make out bands of rain rolling towards our position as it rain began waterproof trousers and jackets were donned. The area is very popular with climbers particularly in the area and you could certainly see why with options of bouldering and climbing on shorter pitches. The final exercise was leading an individual down and up steep slippy terrain which was now in perfect condition thanks to the recent rain. The idea wasn’t to create the impression of danger but more act as a confidence rope. With the exercises all done it was time for a quick bite to eat and driving over to Wales for stage 2 of the training.

Stanage Edge on my way to Wales
Stanage Edge on my way to Wales

Photo Frenzy


The summer has certainly hit the UK shores and with holiday season in full swing I thought it would be great to share some of your travels, adventures and weekend mini adventures. If you have any epic pictures that you would like to share drop me an email with the picture and a bit about the moment. I’m wanting to do a picture a week, I cant offer prizes or anything like that but maybe it will inspire others to check somewhere new out which is always good.

At the same time and partly because I’m currently massively behind on writing about them all I had a bit of a brain wave, doesn’t happen often but here it goes, the plan is to give you a sneak preview of a selection of my pictures or if I don’t get round to writing about it as they say a picture is worth a thousand words. Check out the link below which is also on my links, save it to your favourites and share it.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bennorawlinson/

Happy snapping and I hope if provides a big of inspiration for some photos or trips.

Lunga Estate Scotland
Lunga Estate, west coast of Scotland

Running the Chilterns


Myself, Si (tent mate from Marathon des Sables and a few other adventures) and his friend Chris finally got round to running a section of the Chilterns earlier in the year. Despite the horrific conditions that had been devastating the country and flooding parts of it we had managed to choose a weekend with a break in the weather, as sunshine was the forecast for the day.

Bridgewater Monument
I was a little apprehensive as my running training had not been ideal over the previous months but the prospect of getting out and kicking starting my trail running again was very exciting. The route for the day was due to finish at Ashridge estate visible from miles around by Bridgewater monument, after sorting out the logistics for the day we headed to the start. Packs at the ready I had definitely too much stuff and my pack was more suitable for a few days rather than a quick marathon ish distance.

The wet conditions soon revealed themselves as we found ourselves with wet feet, skating and sliding through the mud and that was within meters of starting.

We were soon eating up the miles along sections of the Chilterns way through woodlands across fields and along some of the other paths that crisis cross it which did result in a few unexpected deviations from the route. Although some of the trails were so slippy it was hard keeping a decent pace whilst running and so our pace slowed to a quick walk in places.

Checking our deviations

With the sun out we were meeting all sorts of people enjoying the outdoors from mountain bikers to Duke of Edinburgh groups all dressed in the standard green or black waterproofs with tents, sleeping mats and all sorts of other items spewing from their rucksacks. It was great to see them all out and about.
The Chilterns
Some large sections of the trail were flooded still which we tried to avoid as well as one section where it looked like a mudslide had occurred before setting solid which we had to cross. It turned it was not set as my foot sank into it ankle deep thick, gluppy mud. The most interesting of all was passing through a field full horses which in the conditions had opted to stand on the hay they were due to eat, looking slightly sorry for themselves. As we crossed the same field I think we all had similar looks on our faces too.

The remainder of the run was a lot drier and we managed to pick the speed up as the patches of blue sky and sunshine seemed to be diminishing and rain began to look more likely. The Bridgewater monument came into view high up on a ridge that we were due to finish at. Despite being a bit of a distance away still, it was a welcome sight. There was the final short and steep section just to kick us into gear at the end before arriving at the top to a welcome cup of hot chocolate.

The biggest relief being my legs felt surprisingly good, even after the drive back which can be a slightly uncomfortable experience. Now that the summer is getting into full swing have you got any routes your running, walking and exploring?