Stressy packing, and not finishing

Stressy packing, and not finishing
Ware, United Kingdom

Ware, United Kingdom

Many things to do. Not many of them being done, in honesty.

After being quite drunk on Monday night with Marianne I avoided getting too drunk on Tuesday night with Sarah. “A girl friend?” mum had asked, or possibly, “a girlfriend?”-she refused subtitles-and I’d answered “a friend who is a girl, anyway”. I digress.

As you know, if you’ve read much of this. Wednesday started off none too painfully, at any rate, albeit with the ‘stressing me’ factor of having to get rid of my car. A self imposed deadline, I’m sure I could have left the car in the drive, but it would be in the way and, even more importantly, in e way to no good effect. If I don’t come back before the end of October, it would have had no tax or mot, I’d have had to fill in an SORN remotely and then do something with a car that was no longer road legal. Plus three months of insurance and tax would have run out when they might have been nestling in a bank account (that’s not how you spell ‘foreign bar’, ed). This was a car with no exhaust end, squidge brakes, a slow puncture on the left front tyre, lights that don’t give out the recommended amount of light, a cam belt way beyond the recommended schedule for replacement and with no servicing for three years.

Writing all that, I remember why I’d not expected it to make it round Ireland. Perhaps I should have warned my hitchhikers, used some kind of waiver to be signed on entry. Maybe not for Useless Patrick, he would have just asked if signing the waiver would bring him any nearer to a bog. I rang B&T motor services, nearby in Cole Green, and the harassed manager there said yep, if you can bring it in, we’ve too many jobs. It’ll be £140. Being a noob, and one whose opinion of his car had changed from “ha, magic car now does 500 miles on a tank of petrol” to “this thing is a burden”, and remembering mum’s old car being towed away for nowt, I thought perhaps I had to pay. I blathered something about hoping someone would give me a tenner for it, and that confused Russell enough that he upped the offer to £150.

Red fiesta and a black focus, parked on a gravel drive
One of these cars is dead.

Figuring he wasn’t now punishing me by upping the price, I dug out the registration document and mot and got straight over there, changed and ready to run home. It turned out Russell was a very busy man, transport manager on holiday, piles of customers to ring and jobs to sort out thanks to a power failure on the Friday before. Not to mention.

Sorry. Silly figure of speech, that one. But not to mention a holiday that weekend to prepare for. He happily told me all this, and I decided I liked him a lot; properly an excellent bloke. I a daring moment of on the fly generalisation I decided it is just the posher white collar British who are standoffish. He also described the car crushing process, stilled at that moment for lunch. I was pleased that I was just fascinated, not upset at all at what faced the old banger, even if it was an old banger I had expected to be rid of at the start of my year off and which had taken me many many miles since then. I didn’t ask to drive the car crusher, perhaps I should. We did the deal, I took my cash, stuffed it in a pocket, took some kudos from the staff downstairs for running home, and took my certificate of destruction and tax disc with me, along with my now hand held Tom Tom. It picked out a walking route home that was only 6miles where I had driven 8, but as it took me down a private road and past St Joseph RC private school I bottled it when the route took me into a field. There was a tapping at a window behind which I took for a local taking umbrage, but I turned.

I made it home after 7 miles, this time taking a shortcut down the road-path-road past local stables that Tom had tried to make me take in the car. Maybe it used to be a road, but I was glad to see that my ignoring his advice from a couple of days before had been the right thing to do. My niece and nephew were in the house, being cute as you like, and I spent the day whooshing, finally cutting back the bush dad had asked me to, mowing the top of the lawn and making sure my tax refunded request was in the post before the end of the day. Worth £17 if they accept it was in before the new month the next day, worth an effort.

My feet, my nephew, my niece, mum and dad
Little. Cute.

But not much actual packing. Worse, no booking of train to Moscow or myriad other jobs, though there was news from potential Moscow contact asking for a scan of my passport, which means I’m either in real trouble or that the last weekend being sold out is going to pose no barrier to the likes of me. Or me, anyway.

Summary: me, stressed. Car, dead. Bush, lost. Niece, cute, nephew also cute: rendition of ‘little bird’ on piano vg, though both mum and I sang along at different times only to be put in our place; “it’s not little bird. It’s another song with the same tune”.


Thunder, thunder, thunder-ho!

Thunder, thunder, thunder-ho!
Barton-under-Needwood, United Kingdom

Barton-under-Needwood, United Kingdom

“It’s like a running festival.”

Camping, outfits, food, atmosphere. Check. Sleep deprivation, queues for what shower facilities there are and toilets that, whilst a cut above, struggle to deal with what people throw at them. This year, for the first time properly since the original Thunder Run, also buckets of rain. Big fat buckets, too, looming and promised for 7.00 on Saturday. But yes, replace music with running, and you’ve got a festival, and a fine one. I had a place thanks to Kevin’s bad luck – a calf injury at just the wrong time had ruled him out, though he opted to bring fiancee Ev up and help organise us.

First things first, we had to get there, for most of us this was a Friday effort-I had some faffing to do and got so into it that I didn’t leave till after 2, arriving nearer 6 than, um, 3. Mission avoid rush hour, failed. I’m hugely grateful to the early risers who were up with the sparrows to bag a good campsite, and if it wasn’t originally meant for all the Ware Jogger associated teams, sharing was no problem.

I arrived, thinking that captain Chris’ plan for us to get 35 laps in and have a go at first would mean a level of athlete seriousness to which I am unaccustomed, aside perhaps from those, er, five weeks in Ethiopia, and running with a proper (semi-proper?) runner in Ireland. But still, before I recurse inversely down an ever lengthening path, any such thoughts were squashed by my having a beer thrust upon me as soon as I arrived. It only slowed the tent pitching slightly.

Friday evening has an odd feeling. The course is marked out, everything in place but no running takes place, other than a quick sports day (hour) hosted by marathon talk presenters Tom and Martin. Our adult male four was champion of he ‘pass running shoe between your knees’ race, but we had the advantage of being the same height, unlike the family groups who took part.

The family groups who we mercilessly crushed into the ground.

After that, though, time for food, gentle drinking and sitting in the sun. An early night, and he morning was similar-the event gets under way at midday, so we had plenty of time. I was back on site at 10.30, with everyone thinking I had enjoyed the missionary position of all lie-ins (**** metaphor if it requires explanation, but still: involves the mother of all lie-ins with the father of all lie-ins squeezed in on top). In fact, of course, I had left at 7.30 and gone to parkrun; Kingsbury Water, in fact. Second running, several other thunderers there despite Conkers being closer, and a lovely event, volunteers in place before 8 to allow us through the car park barrier without forking out £3.50. Just make sure you look like a runner or ask, otherwise they’ll assume you’re about to pay.

Kingsbury Water parkrun route
Kingsbury Water parkrun route.

I had a fairly gentle run, albeit one in which I was unable to resist accelerating: mile splits around 7:15, 6:45 and 6:05.

Mini-railway at parkrun site; low picket fences and low-down signals
Mini-railway at parkrun site.

Job done. Back on site we were ready to go, but with only one member of each of the three teams on course at one time, some of us had a wait. Nick, stepping up from an 8 to a 5 man team, got himself right to the front to make sure he could go off too hard and duly did, but he spent the whole weekend seeing such positives in everything that I’m sure he could break a leg and be grateful for the opportunity to build up the other. Our runner, Tom, was fresh from Endure24 and had previously won here, so settled sensibly into the front of the field and with cheers, high fives and in blazing sunshine, it was go.

I was off fourth, so had time to wander around, keep drinking water and see the sights. The Barnsley Harriers were nearby so I kept an eye out for the boy Darby but was disappointed. Garden City runners were off to one side, with Russell, who I’ve raced in the Haileybury 10k and do my usual thing of remembering him every time and watching his slight embarrassment, giving directions. I was later to bump into parkrun’s Tom Williams (okay, not so much bump as ‘walk up to and say hello, interrupting him from his business) along Rikki P and Suzy H from the Poland trip. Safe to say all points of the running compass were represented here. While Tom was running his oppo Wayne was getting ready to go off next when a fairy walked through our site, looking for his tent. He realised just in time that he was in the wrong spot – Wayne offered him joint use of his tent, and in his confusion he just might have accepted.

I read. Apparently there’s something of a final push to catch Nazis in Germany; Operation Last Chance II. Sometimes sequels are better.

Thunder Run route map
Thunder Run route.

The running started. The changeover point is chaotic, with everyone seemingly convinced their runner will be next, and standing at the front; they move happily out of the way, but struggle to stay out of the way if you want a quick start. We had Capn Kev spotting, picking out our runners then bounding over to runners as they waited, giving us a minute’s warning. I went. Cap on, sunglasses on, long socks on to protect the calf, Ware Joggers top. Frankly, I was slightly overdressed, but I set off steadily. The course heads slightly downhill for 800m or so, on grass, before turning sharply into some woods, zig zagging through; first up steeply, then down. We came out into grass again for another climb, with my mile marker beeping at me, before swinging back into the arena to run through the part of the campsite nearest the start for some support. The first half of the course has more climb than the second, though it has some downs too – to make sure you have some slow quick slow, rather than working to go up and then enjoying a downhill second half. Around 6k was the Conti (dying to be graffitied, I say) Climb, with chip mats marking the special section. Only in operation between 6 and 7, I found out later, so was glad I hadn’t tried to sprint it – I would have failed, as this was the end of a mostly uphill 2k section, but was glad anyway. Into the woods, with a zig-zag course far from clear to a first timer at a glance. When I first went in I could just see tape marking off all areas, but it’s obvious when you run through it – right turn, tip-toe through the tree roots, pass people kind enough to step out of the way, then back on yourself and come back along the other side (hence there being tape in front – you’re initially looking at part of the course that is yet to come). Before 8k you’re out onto grass again, climbing slightly before a sharpish turn, downhill into the campsite, a swooping turn and one short sharp hill. A case, in the dry, of lengthening the stride and flapping arms, in the wet of shortening the stride and going as quickly as possible. I knew the course brought you back onto the campsite, having cheered Tom and Wayne on from our pitch, but didn’t realise how big the site was until I spotted the tents were on the wrong side, even after the 9k marker. Not quite the final sprint, then. But one last turn up tanker hill (the tankers for the showers are parked here, allowing gravity to take water down) and we swooped into the changeover area. Our plan was to aim for a 42 minute average lap, with the front four running a little under to allow the back four to go over. From the start the front four were close to 42 in the heat, and we’d need help from the weather to get to our average. Help we were not to get. The rain started at 5, with a shower, cleared when I came to run my second lap nearer 8.00, but I ran into light rain which became torrential fairly early on. Wayne had warned us that the course was getting greasy, but I opted to save my new Inov8s Baregrip 200s for later, tactically figuring I couldn’t do too many laps in flat, aggressively soled and new shoes. I went out harder this time, with my first two miles 10 seconds quicker each, but then slowed, slipping in the woods. That meant I took a fall whilst following a gritty runner through the woods, but caught him on the grassy hill, and overall managed a slightly quicker lap – for this one I actually felt I was racing, helped by my wearing just shorts, shoes and vest this time. The rain made it a little darker, but it was still light. Officially we needed torches if we set off after 8, and the unofficial announcement was “wear them when it’s dark, but I recommend them now”. To me that seemed daft, and indicative of yet another person who switches the lights on at 7 in summer. Oh good, broad daylight, only now everything is slightly orange. A strange number of people switched their headtorches on for the woody sections, which were perfectly visible without, but we’re addicted to our unnecessary artificial light.

Ware Joggers runner, gazing at a bagel
Baggers breaks a smiley face.

Meanwhile, non-running Martin was helping organise the other 8 whilst opening a beer every lap, as a great morale booster to the rest of us, while our 5-man unit (Nick, Mark, Paul, Howard and Steve) were clocking up laps not significantly slower than us, making for much shorter recoveries. I ate, read and lay down, not really sleeping till near the end, listening to the rain belt down and wondering whether my tent would hold out. I could hear occasional drips, but had defunct magazines to soak up any excess and was fairly unruffled.

Lap 3. The rain abated, and I thought for a moment of taking my cap off. Maybe for 5 minutes, in fact, i considered it, but the rain started again. By god, torrential once more. Frankly, the waiting was worse than the reality, and I set off in the Inov8s, immediately more confident of my foot placement. These shoes are fantastic, dealing with the mud happily. I didn’t realise quite how muddy the course had got, and initially tried to go round puddles, before realising I was wet through and that going through puddles would, as ever, let me go past people. The one at 7k was special – it looked like any other, but was in fact several inches deep, enough to trip you. The carefully painted roots were by now just lumps in the mud, and it became a case, for safety, of stepping or jumping over any lump and accelerating off the other side. My new headtorch was doing a decent job too, with the addition of a torch (bike front light, ta) letting me double check the ground. Runners’ reflective gear lit up beautifully – finally a proper use for reflective gear; it’s not just for people who run in the road, or who think drivers will be negligent enough to mount the kerb, but paying enough attention to avoid them when the hi-viz clues them in. I was also pleased I have such noisy feet, that allowing me to warn people of my approach without warning them, though at least once I apologised that someone had moved over so early – “sorry mate, miles away, just noisy feet”. Not a slip, though, not a one. I even had a race, a proper race, in the middle. A runner in a blue top came yomping up behind me and passed on the hill at 3k. It turned out, though, that he did not have majestic shoes and though he’d gone past me like I wasn’t there, I passed him again in the woods. That gave me some incentive to keep it up, so I pushed on through the twisty woods and beyond. I must have taken a chunk out of him but he was so much quicker-Luton ac, I reckoned-that at 9k he came past and disappeared from view. Some running, but did show the benefits of, ooh, the shoes.

I handed over to Kav in just under 48 minutes, as the rain thought about easing off. Both teams had finger lights – the 5 used green, while we had red/white/red on our middle fingers, which worked brilliantly, allowing us to pick each other out from a distance in pitch blackness. It saved us from the fate of several others – “John!..John!” etc. All that was missing for the full festival experience was an “Alan! Alan! ALAN!” The Joggers’ gazebo was being warned by the coals of a barbecue (and plenty of ventilation to prevent 21 runners becoming 16). I stood in the glow, topless, pondering my aching muscles. By now I had stopped worrying about my perpetually sore knee, but my plantar right foot was aching, I had done something to the same ankle that had a sharp pain, my left calf had felt like it might go whilst on the run and my muscles ached. Lying in my sleeping bag shortly after, in fact, I tried to stretch and several times nearly cramped. In the best tradition of ‘it’ll be fine’ I opted to sleep and hope to wake up feeling fine.

I didn’t. I had slept, once people stopped opening and closing their car doors, waking in time to hear Kav talking through his injury on the phone. 6.45 was bright, and Kevin was already up – only four hours for him, determined to help as much as humanly possible and, perhaps, soak up as much atmosphere as he could. He spotted me limping and commented and, in honesty, I felt like it really didn’t “look good”. Four laps each was the original plan, such that only doing three really didn’t feel like enough. I walked about, and the ankle eased a bit, but my left calf was very painful. I had plenty of time, as slipping around had lost us some time, so wandered about inconclusively then went for a lay down, reasoning I’d get up and decide when Wayne returned and Jon was running. With Kav out, and Gemma unable to grip the floor at all, doing 3 would not be embarrassing.

With that thought running through my head I rolled my calf on a foam roller. The calf got no better, but then it was never going to. Almost in a daze I pulled out bits of running gear, making sure that I wouldn’t count myself out by default. Top, shorts. Timing chip on the calf, but it popped off when I flexed – a bit too muddy to stay on. Found some socks, checked my shoes – they barely seemed to have held on to water, at least inside; the outside was wet but they weren’t uncomfortable to wear. Finally I left the tent and walked about. I felt just the same, but put my number on. Ah, sod it, I’ll get over to the start, might be about time to show my face before we stop really early. On the way I bumped into Kevin and Ev, who were concerned but let me know I had half an hour before Jon came in. I opted to wait in the sun – after all that rain last night I had been gagging for some sun and wasn’t about to waste it. Jon appeared, we handed over, and I went.

Boy, what a run. Knee didn’t hurt. Shoes worked. Calf held on and refused to get any worse, and although my muscles ached I was managing to jog through. By now the camaraderie was all encompassing, with walkers happily moving over and taking a pause to allow runners through, and mutual back rubbing all round. A queue of 6 slopping up a hill joked that if the one at the back was stopping, they all ought to, and I took great pleasure in being able to run past – the shoes, the shoes. On a downhill I got a “well done…crazy fool!” and was able to shout back the manly “good shoes!” for a quick laugh. I felt slow all round, with no idea of time thanks to a dead garmin, but as I yomped through the campsite various supporters seemed to think I was flying. “It’s all relative” but this was a good relative.

Total redemption, then, of a morning of worry. I’d loved my running yesterday, once on them, but there had been some long sections of ‘please stop, please stop’ to the rain in between 2 and 3. Before 4 I really thought I might not make it round or, worse, would take so long that those waiting wouldn’t have time for their laps, but now I put in a lap quick enough to surprise K and E – it might even have been a 45minuter. A muddy run in the sun, chatting to fellow runners and lapping up what my body could do, whilst ploughing right through the middle of the muddiest sections JUST BECAUSE. Without the shoes, those sections had only one line. With them, I could run anywhere – partly that’s confidence, but once I had it, I was moving past pairs of people who picked cautiously along the edges of muddy sections while I ran-trying not to woop, or head downhill with an annoying-to-anyone-struggling-WHEEEE-th rough the middle. Alright, I hadn’t managed 6 laps like the 5 man crew, but I’d hit what I’d wanted to and was finished. Chris took over for what turned out to be our final lap, an we had an hour left, but by now we’d need 2 more laps to maybe, possibly, take third, more likely 4th or 5th, and we were out of runners (we ended 6th-lots of teams on 29 laps, but we of course finished way before them-the team name ‘go hard or go home’ looking a little sad, though perhaps we could claim we went hard then did indeed go home, early). Tiredness made me as emotional as the end of any marathon, and watching the last runners head up tanker hill I could feel tears beginning to prickle. I had it under control, but please don’t let anyone be running in a charity vest with a name on, or start up Abide with Me. We got a laugh from two Penny Lane Striders, surely aware of the scouse stereotype, who had half inched one of the motivational message boards and were finishing their final lap with it. Watching those who had done the thing Solo was beyond my ken – yes, we’d all experienced a hot run, a wet run and a muddy run, but they’d toughed out hours of heat, then pouring rain, and watched the course get muddier and more waterlogged around them; you might justly apply the word epic, even awesome, of their experience and achievement.

I left, with the high sense of sadness that follows a great break. Leicester forest east services are too depressing to pause at for long, but Watford gap was a minor riot of bright yellow allin24 t-shorts, my high five of one fellow runner felt more like I had walked the line of everyone there, bathed in fumes of mutual respect.

I did say I was over emotional.

A fantastic event, with a fantastic group of people. Thank you to all those who set up our gazebos, who gave so much support when bed beckoned and to everyone involved. As we all said. Never again.

Summary: lap times 41:49, 41:48 (check it!), 47:55, 48:33. Team 6th (of 250 odd). We all did very well.

Kit - club vests, three pairs of shoes, head torch, watch, water bottle. And muddy, muddy socks
Thunder Run kit.

South coast

South coast
Bognor Regis, United Kingdom

Bognor Regis, United Kingdom

It’s so warm in the UK that it’s essentially a pleasure to be anywhere, but I decided the seaside would be best. With a friend in Hastings it made sense to revisit Bexhill for lunch. It was hot, very hot, offset by the wind on the beach-trying to set up a tent on a pebbly beach was entertaining. But we got there, ate, paddled, played. I even managed to be relaxed about going over time on the car park-having made a pig’s ear of reverse parking for free I punished myself by paying. Perhaps they’re slack at checking, seeing as there’s free parking for two hours almost everywhere, and just as well, as I overran.

From Bexhill I headed along the coast, stopping at Seaford because it has a nice quiet beach, easy access with lots of free parking (no reversing here) and so on. I parked behind a bench. Nice bench. It was enough to block my vision and confuse me when I appeared from the pebbly dip, and I was temporarily convinced someone had nicked the car. The most unlikely theft in history, it would have been-even if someone had managed it they’d probably take one listen to the engine and put it back where they found it. And then be surprised it made it.

I camped in Bognor Regis; seemed a camp sort of a place. There was no sign of anyone at the first place I stopped, and the barrier was done. Arriving after 8 makes camping more difficult, it seems, than it might be, but at least the second site had a late arrivals camping area. Given that a member of staff still appeared to give me a key to the shower block and, after negotiation, take some money from me (the prospect of my leaving early in the morning to go and run elsewhere impressed him but also forced him to solve the conundrum of ‘office locked, need security deposit, pay when office open at 9, oh you leave before then’) the place obviously isn’t completely locked up, but I suppose they avoid having people drive onto the campsite after 8 and upsetting the peace and quiet. It being late, I forwent that day’s run in favour of a walk to the supermarket for self assembly dinner and booze. Mmm, booze.


Congleton and Charlecote

Congleton and Charlecote
Stow-on-the-Wold, United Kingdom

Stow-on-the-Wold, United Kingdom

Congleton parkrun route; round the lake at Astbury Mere Country Park
Congleton parkrun route.

“Live to learn. Learn to live.”

Wooden furniture, ornately carved and shining
The, um, er… look up its name.

The motto of the Lucy family, as carved on the fire mantle in the library at Charlecote house.

The morning started with parkrun. Mindful that the postcode was a ‘nearest’ one I thought the sat nav had taken me to a housing estate from which I’d need to walk to the start, but I looked up and there was a car park, and two dancing men with large foam hands waving me in. I’d not spotted signs to Sandy Lane, as the instructions had promised, but here I was, Congleton parkrun.

View over the lake, Congleton parkrun
Congleton parkrun.

It’s a three lapper, which may not sound appealing, but this is the perfect example. First off, you’re running round the edge of a lake, so it’s beautiful. The lake itself is just about a mile round, so perfect for pacing, and ideal for a warm up and jog afterwards while milking the last applause-finally on my second cool down I got a smiling “I’m not applauding you, you’ve already finished”-and picking up a few more photo ops.

I was fairly sure I should take it easy, with a half tomorrow. But after a warm up my tired legs were ready, I started near the front, behind a man who had ‘set my garmin to exactly 6m/m pace’ and let the hares go whilst staying in touch. Ideal positioning for a chase, then, and that’s what I did, picking off some youngsters early, sitting on third’s shoulder halfway round the lap then heading off to hunt down second, catching him before the end of the first lap. That mile, I reasoned, was comfortably under 6; now for the others. First place was a youngster who had flown off at the start. He probably had more, I figured, but I pushed a little on the second lap, while he was out of sight, in case he was coming back to me. He did briefly, but always had a gap, though he finished in “a poor time” given the lack of a competitive push. I was happy with 18:22, without a full on effort.

Long gravel drive up to Charlecote House
Charlecote House.

After lounging on the sun for a while, stretching-can you lounge and stretch?-I headed off, south to an NT house near Warwick, Charlecote house. Again the M6 was a pain, closed near stoke with queues all around so I found my way cross country, not getting to the house till around 2. Lord, but it was hot, and the cool of the house was welcome. Along with the shrieking dreadful bloody woman giving the costume talk, there were some very friendly and talkative guides, the one in the dining room telling me all about the elaborately carved enormous piece in the room. The dining room itself is large but somehow intimate, as is the library. That room isn’t big by country house standards but is ranked no.3 by the trust for its contents. I liked the racing calendars, every one (I didn’t check, mind) from 1753 to 1854. It’s what I grew up with, the collectors’ mentality.

After looking at the carriage collection, very grand things, and listening to some kids screaming while pretending to be monsters, I ended the afternoon sitting by the car, listening to the cricket.

Stow on the Wold for my evening, a chocolate box Cotswolds town. One final thought-who the hell decided that such a hot day was a good day to advertise a pet shop sale-20% off-by dressing two people (at least) in furry costumes and putting them on local junctions? They were dancing, so I guess they had taken to it well.

Conwy and Ilam

Conwy and Ilam
Conwy, United Kingdom

Conwy, United Kingdom

“Ello alma, where are you?…we’re on oliday”

Conwy looked pretty on the way past yesterday, was recommended by several and is another walled city for my list. Of two, I think, both from this trip, but all lists start somewhere. So that’s where I headed.

I started the day with a run. To head straight down the hill or up? I’d had a look at the up the evening before so went that way, knowing it wasn’t rocky all the way. About half a mile up is a Neolithic burial mound, then there’s a grassy track leading off to the right, and up, but the up put me off and I decided to stay in the footsteps of Macro and Cato and keep to the roman road. It ended well, with the road undulating before opening out ahead of me with a view of the estuary. Even with that view I decided to carry on a bit, making it over the next bump for an even better view before turning back, sticking to the same path rather than taking on the descent to the village and the hill up. It’s 1 in 3!

But I sort of wish I’d done it.

Conwy is a lovely town, compact in the way medieval walled cities tend to have to be-they weren’t walking off space for millions. The quiet of the wharf was temporarily broken by the conversation up top, but I ignored them. I managed the city walls walk, though they’re not as wide and comfortable as the Derry walls. There’s just one tower for you to go up, with the views your reward, though the battlements are low enough to give me pause.

Big pause. Like a bear.

People were out in force, with scouse accents the most common. I passed a dad and son, the former repeatedly intoning “come on mummy,” I think in a bid to have his toddler pick it up and use it whenever mummy did, finally, hurry up. I didn’t stay for the denouement, but wandered on, spotting the noisy phone lady at the visitors’ centre, boring the bloke at the next table. “We’re from the West Midlands” her partner said, in a broad brummy accent. “No ****,” I added, in my special quiet voice.

I left the castle alone and instead paid a visit to the oldest house in the village, Aberconwy house, from the 14th century, which is a remarkable survivor. The Victorians tore down everything else, but this medieval house remains, with enthusiastic volunteers. No fans of the Victorians, these. I must check whether the stories force origins of ‘cross the threshold’ and ‘burn the candle (or rush light, as was) at both ends, as my apocryphal alarm was ringing loud.

To get out of the sun I dipped into the library. The Telegraph really is a rag, at least till you get to the comment and features section where it looks like there may be a modicum of journalism going on. A highlight was the chap who had thought it worth writing in to say “I suggest that on the birth of the royal baby all the church bells throughout the land should chime in celebration to herald its safe arrival”. Were I to criticise, I would barely know where to start. With a long journey to Ilam hall ahead I left, enjoying some proper traffic congestion at last. How I have missed it-the M6, I love you. But I made it in plenty of time for a bike ride and to enjoy the special atmosphere given by a large church group. There must be better ways to advertise yourself-group of friends, anyone?

Congleton parkrun in the morning, then kicking about somewhere Nationally Trusted, probably, till I can check in at Stow-on-the-Wold(er, fire in the sky-ies).

Up the coast

Up the coast
Nefyn, United Kingdom

Nefyn, United Kingdom

My hosts headed off to Bangor for a train to London, and ultimately the Isle of Wight, but I was left in Nefyn. The painters were in, doing the place up, so I could stick around without having to lock up after myself, so I went for a run-slow, visiting both ends of the Nefyn and Morfa Nefyn beaches-and then cycled 20 minutes just because. Returning there was a minor panic-my hostel for Friday had to cancel me, had got my out of office and phoned work to make sure I got the message. Cue phone messages from work and hostel, but it just meant I would stick around to internettally book a hostel near a different parkrun.

After 12 I left, heading to Penrhyn castle. If I hadn’t joined the Trust in NI I wouldn’t be going to these places, but it’s a great boon.

Penryhn castle
Penryhn castle.

Finishing the walk, I raised my hand and baahed in reply to a sheep. I got no reply, but a cow mooed from further into the field, so I raised my hand and slipped into cow. I’m even less fluent in cow than sheep so wasn’t wholly surprised to again get no reply, but then it occurred to me that raising a hand is a bit like a bird tweeting a hello and then flying off-it’s just accentuating the difference, isn’t it?


Hoose. Smaller on the inside than it looks
Hoose. Smaller on the inside than it looks.
Ty Coch pub, many beer mugs hanging from the ceiling
The pub, with bonus cousin.

School sports and sunshine

School sports and sunshine
Nefyn, United Kingdom

Nefyn, United Kingdom

By now, I’ve slipped with happiness into the life of the house. At least, in such a way that doesn’t involve actually getting up to join in first thing. But I hear the girls moving around and chattering and hear some of the content later-Rocky wandering in to Ali’s with the iPad, for instance, “is this a good idea?” I can picture the accompanying smile vividly. Always a privilege to be able to hang around with other people in their daily life, and we’ve been to the beach, I’ve run along the cliff top, cycled to Aberdaron and lounged.

Aberdaron Beach.

I have been around to play with the little ones, enough that I hope I haven’t been the victim, as some young playmates were, of a sotto voce Rocky “I don’t like…” I am proudest of giving Libby her head, as she had “great idea” after idea, trying to tie the skipping rope to the tree so she could stand on it. It didn’t work, but at least we tried and failed rather than me pulling the boring grown up “I don’t think so”.

Ali emerges from a swim.

I also hit school sports day. The school is fairly small, and all were arranged the other side of the grass running strip while onlookers were the other side with strict instruction not to sit with their kids. Organisation was slick, if incomprehensible-this being North Wales, welsh announcements were mandatory. Each year group ran over to the start line, were organised into heats if there were enough, and ran for their houses. Four colours, whites generally in plain shirts, blue in a nice mish mash of shirts from different events, red generally in football shirts-Rooney was popular-and green, well you felt for the parents trying to find green shirts. Fun in the sun, with the kids chanting the names of whoever ran for them in each race. For the grown ups the mum and dads’ races were highlights, with only two mums getting up and the larger one-large and larger-powering through, Bolt style. For the men, first there was one, then three, four, and finally, having checked the competition, the winner joined in. There wasn’t much space at the end-kids who won clearly veered straight across to the sweet table-and I’m pretty sure he not only won but hurdled the high fence at the end. Pretty sure because I didn’t see it. The original contender wasn’t the lightest either, and had the misfortune of a central lane. He sprinted off, stumbled and bounced from lane 3 to 4, caught himself, stumbled again and bounced into lane 2 before gravity finally won out. On closer inspection those middle lanes were not so flat-a gentleman would never blame it on the mums’ race-and his fall was really not his fault.

It might have been a little amusing, though.

Ali arranged a babysitter and we headed for the pub on tuesday evening. The Ty Coch is in the next bay over, a short putt putt in the boat or walk around the cliff path, and we opted for the latter. Right on the beach, it’s idyllically located, and there’s a lifeboat to peer at which always pleases me. After a few, Ali even managed to bite back any ‘told you so’ as my shirted self had to go indoors for warmth, but we wandered up to the golf club for our cab. We were early, enough to start wondering if we might call, but he was bang on time.

Run, cycle, eat, pub, sun. Other bliss may differ, but that will do me.

Ferry, cross the Irish Sea

Ferry, cross the Irish Sea
Nefyn, United Kingdom

Nefyn, United Kingdom

Last night’s goodbye turned out to be temporary. I spent plenty of time in Howth before heading to the ferry port for about 9. So early, and presumably out of step with any arrivals or departures, that the port was pretty much deserted. I congratulated myself on finding the port without needing to use the toll tunnel (you can get obsessed with avoiding tolls, it seems) and pulled in to the services. Wandering to wash my hands I wondered if they had wifi, and they did, so I left the iPod connecting.

Sitting down in the small lounge with chocolate, thinking that I might as well be here for some time, perhaps with the laptop, sorting out the blog, I checked the email that was coming in.

There’s one from Linda, still in Dublin. Flight not rearranged and it turns out she is, in fact, about a mile and a half away. I dragged my brain out of its comfortable ‘here for a bit’ feeling, checked the map and decided it was worth driving in to the centre. I’ve had a blind spot with town/city centres throughout, feeling that taking the car in would be a pain, and nearly parked in the first free spot I saw. It turned out, though, that there was free parking right in the middle and I walked to the hostel.

The burly bloke on reception was a little intimidating, but seemed to understand that my ‘friend has sent me an email saying she’s staying here, can I have a look?’ was important, and took me to the communal gardens and her room. Both empty of Lindas, but he was saving himself for a flourish. As we walked to the exit he added “there is a tv room, too”, diverting me that way. And there, sat in a corner, journaling while the TV spouted unhelpful content, she was. Burly man left us to it, I think with some sense that this was not a standard meeting. We had to have another goodbye, of course but first could Bam! and potato/pohtato our way around Dublin.

Jeannie Johnston, ship, in the dark of night
Jeannie Johnston.

I headed back to Dublin port around midnight. Again ferociously early, but saving last minute angst, plus I was so close to getting round Ireland without losing my bike or having the car die that I wanted to finish this step almost as much as I wanted the ferry to be cancelled and give me another night. Eventually we rolled on and I found a seat for some sleep-2.55-5.45 ferry, yawn. Luckily I’d taken both jumper and gilet, because after a warm day the air conditioning was doing an unwelcome job of keeping everywhere cool. With sporadic sleep it was, though, a calm crossing, pulling in to Holyhead on time. Unlike my first ferry I was off in quick order, with early morning sunshine lighting me away from Holyhead (batman). I’ve been on the train/ferry special to Ireland before, with time to explore Holyhead, and it didn’t warrant a second visit. Instead, I was in Caernarfon by 7, looking for the Sunday paper I’d been denied the previous day and some breakfast. Service Welsh style was stroppy as the spar had only just opened, but hobnobs and lucozade in the shadow of the castle with the sports section was my idea of bliss.

View of the bay
Rubbish views, Welsh style.


A goodbye.

A goodbye.
South Dublin, Ireland

South Dublin, Ireland

Last night I’d checked the route and printed Linda’s barcode, so we were ready for parkrun first thing. The hotel was only 25 minutes away via the M25-sorry, M50-so we were there with time to follow the tourist directions, have a warm up and meet Joe and Jacqs. The directions took us to the far end of the park to the start/finish line, but it’s only a short jog from there, and there are underused toilets on the way as a reward. I like a reward, and I’ll take what I can get. The run was scenic, one small anticlockwise loop of the initial field then a gently twisting course through tree-shaded paths before a final clockwise loop to finish. I raced those ahead for as long as i could keep accelerating and managed to isolate myself in sixth after a mile or so, which helped make my splits ugly, but I was reasonably happy. Linda was just behind; “two for two,” as she put it, though I doubt I will stay ahead if we race again. Afterwards Jacqs’ kids and parents joined us all on the grass and we chilled out under a cloudless sky. My ankle had been fine, I forgot all about it, with only a small twinge to remind me I’d gone over on it the night before.

Ruined church in front of a marina
Church and Ireland’s Eye.

Linda and I left after 11 to find a pub. I’d not cased one out but figured it wouldn’t be long before we spotted one from the road and so it turned out, as we listened to the end of he first half before hopping out, with perfect timing to miss the Australian try at the end of the half but also to catch the whole of the second. Whoever wrote the script did a great job. Nervy close win, series nearly in their hands before a close loss, looking to have it won at 19-3 before having to, as they say, go out and win it again from 19-16. Boy how they won it. 41-16, running tries in for fun in a burst from 20 or so minutes to go, making it comfortable.

Marlay park, parkrun venue
Marlay park.

That was the last thing we could do together. Linda had a flight at 4.15 she could probably switch to, not wanting to hang around for her originally scheduled 10/7 flight after I’d gone, so we packed and headed in comfortable thought filled silence to the airport.

Goodbye. At least for now.

I found myself at a loose end. My original plan involved finding a Sunday paper, but I didn’t spot one at my first spot. I realised why later, glad I hadn’t looked too hard. The airport is north of Dublin, and I headed out ignoring the motorways, figuring that would take me to the coast. It did, along with most of Dublin; at the first stop, near Baldyhole (or something) there were Garda managing the parking, and I thought it was going to be a nightmare. Just up the road, though, was a lay-by with space and I pulled over with a book and Lidl lunch. The views were spectacular. Again. And I could see, round the coast, the reason for the parking mayhem further along; more sandy beaches. My pebbly beach did me fine, and I snoozed before heading off, my engine waking up the gent who’d decided to snooze in the lay by rather than walk down to the beach. At least I hadn’t left the car in gear and made it a permanent snooze.

Conscious of the need to pay the motorway toll from the day before by 8.00 I rolled on aimlessly, ending in the next town. At Howth I managed to pay my toll charges then wandered. The small pretty seaside town was thronging on a sunny day but the cafe culture is only partially successful-all the patrons of two restaurants that lose the sun in the early evening were wrapped up in blankets against the sea air.

Harbour view
Harbour view.

The town is on its own peninsula, and has a two pronged harbour sweeping out to sea. Once I’d explored there and taken in Ireland’s Eye, a short distance out to sea, I turned inland which, in a burst of greediness which has surely led karma to create the sights of, say, Slough, has its own views, with great hills and a tree lined horizon, with cyclists coming in both directions to take on whatever challenges the peninsula offers. Spotting a ruin up on the hill I climbed, towards ‘historic Howth’, where a lane of pubs and shops turns into a tiny lane that seems tiny and quaint when closed in, then offers dramatic views of The Eye where the view opens up. As the sun disappeared I browsed my suddenly empty boot-somehow I filled it on my own then after a few days had room for Linda’s pack but now the latter’s absence left a hole. I found that I had finished all my real books without realising so was on I the kindle and fish and chips, killing the hours before the ferry.

Wales awaits, as I make my own Lions tour.


Checking in with a reservation

Checking in with a reservation
South Dublin, Ireland

South Dublin, Ireland

After the smooth natural progress round the coast of the first few weeks, this week I’ve been a bit scatter gun, first heading North thinking we’d hit Northern Ireland, then South before finally settling on the midlands, though even then I headed west only to come back east again. Plenty of sights to see, though, and the driving is a pleasure, opening up new vistas as the landscape undulates.

We’d headed west yesterday so that I could come back east towards Dublin today. The phrase ‘my sense of progress’ popped out of my mouth the other day, but I’ve realised how important it is for me to feel like I’m moving towards something when travelling, and even when running or cycling. We had a day where we passed Cork from both directions and that did my head in a bit, but today was a smooth slide down the road to Trim for its ‘castle with dramatic views’. Those views are only available if you take the extra keep tour, but with entry to the grounds 3€ and the keep an extra €1, it makes sense. The climbing gave me the willies of course, but the roof is a great secure spot for a vertigo twit. Our tour group was large so in places we were promenading slowly round the smaller rooms, looking at the stone walls, but otherwise a good tour. Trim in the sunshine, glory be.

The Keep, Trim Castle
Trim castle keep.

I’d made us a reservation, and at a hotel, too. Getting there I’d tried to avoid the M50, with its toll, but unlike the M6 toll road, this one is totally useful, to the point of there being little way to avoid it once you’re near enough to Dublin. We found the hotel, which looked uber posh-it only belatedly occurred to me why Linda wasn’t commenting on the fact that I’d obviously made a reservation, that she was thinking I had gone for a terribly lavish hotel stay. In fact the place was only a smidge more expensive than our Cork b&b. Walking to the room for the first time felt a bit like the stroll from lounge to gate in an airport, though having a room numbered 1813 is probably a clue that things may be a distance away.

Pink, red, yellow and white/purple flowers

We ran. I had checked the map-again avoiding spontaneity, but since we were bordered on one side by the N7 (road) and another by a retail park, I had wanted to check there were real places around. We found them, small village of Saggart-small enough that the phone denied it existed-led into Rathcoole and towards the end of the run we got into more countrified areas. Good, tough running on a warm evening, not ruined by me cracking my ankle over on a kerb. It felt better as I ran on it, so I figured it would hurt but be okay the next day.

For dinner we headed to Rathcoole and found an enormous place, which had a bar on one side, a bar/eatery on the other, with that leading into a huge restaurant. Joined up meat all round to mark the near end of the break.

Summary: castle 1, run 1, lost in countryside trying to avoid M50 2.


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