IT’S BEEN A LONG WINTER and it’s so welcome to finally see a little watery sunshine again and have a brief respite from the chilling winds of the past few months. I felt it time, upon this encouragement, to pull out some summer training gear and head out to the local villages for a canter round the pretty lanes.
Over the past six weeks I’ve been running three and latterly four miles twice a week to augment the single mile minimum I undertake to carry out every single day in order to continue my running streak of consecutive days which now stands at around thirteen years and three months. For the past few weeks too I’ve been trying to slowly awake from my winter slumbers with a short session of Royal Canadian Air Force exercises each and every day, building up very steadily.
Substituting the track suit bottoms and rain jacket with a pair of shorts and t-shirt for the first time in some six months, it was a pleasant and reassuring feeling cruising in the car down Bank Hill which overlooks the beautiful Woodborough valley, to my start point at The Nags Head at the east end of Woodborough village. Today I thought, I’ll have a slight bump up to five miles of a run.
‘From little acorns do mighty oaks grow’ is an old phrase not lost on me when it comes to running. I’ve had so many years doing this thing year in, year out, that I understand that whilst not being very fit at the moment, this will change once the ‘building blocks’ of regular training are cemented into place. It takes patience, hard work, commitment and perseverance.
With April bird song sweetly ringing in my ears I was shortly passing along Epperstone villages’ Main Street and on to the rural Gonalston Lane. Bordered by green fields and busy hedgerows, accompanied by the tip-tap sound of my training shoes. The countryside still looked in hibernation with only an odd strenuous and failing attempt at Spring blossom by a solitary cherry tree in Epperstone. Further along the route, evidence of Winter’s destructive and stormy weather manifested itself with a collapsed wooden bridge at Lowdham Mill. Grave council warnings lay pinned to the fence stating the footpath to be blocked for that reason but a ginger few steps took the runner on his way to the seclusion of the Old Lowdham Road, passing on to Lowdham Lane and the end point at Woodborough village.
A drink of cold water to finish at the gate of the Nag’s Head’s deserted garden. Just a few brave daisies push up from the grass and the bench and umbrellas wait patiently and silently for the Summer months.
Since this pleasant run I’ve been fortunate enough to have another identical run at the weekend around the villages and enjoyed it’s portents for the oncoming of summer and longer runs in the warmer weather and sunshine, hopefully. It’s time to get ‘back on the road’ again.
The good news…and the bad news. A few months ago in the depths of winter I had my bike stolen. It was a nice bike, 27-speed Japanese gearing and all that, probably well over-qualified for my generally undemanding recreational needs of tootling round the local village lanes in the dog days of summer. Fortunately, I have been recompensed by the insurers and replaced my wheels with a bike that’s slightly superior.
I have a few routes near home but I really like this one. It’s around 21 miles duration and takes in no less than six villages and passes a whopping ten pubs along its winding way. I seldom, if ever, prop my bike outside any of these pubs, apart from on the way back at the Nag’s Head but I have often done a mental pub-crawl in my head! Just recently I’ve taken to cycling from my home the extra 5-6 mile each way to Woodborough and back up and down a couple of monster hills to complete this distance. At least the view is pretty whizzing down the steep slopes of Bank Hill – even on a hazily sunny day.
A right turn at the junction on the Dover Beck-lined Woodborough Main Street takes us presently past the Four Bells public house, so called after the number of bells in St Swithun’s church which stand diagonally opposite on Main Street.
The Four Bells, Woodborough
The wheels keep rolling through the village and past the afore-mentioned Nag’s Head in the pretty and historic village of Woodborough, Notts. I’ve written about my liking for this place before so I’ll leave it there as I work through the gears down Lowdham Lane and off around the pretty Trent villages.
The Nag’s Head, Woodborough
There are few images of the Springfield Inn at Lowdham to commend it which is a shame. Here’s one I took anyway. This place is a bit of a curiosity I always feel in that, for me, it’s nearer Woodborough and certainly not within either that village or it’s address of Lowdham, rather sitting quietly off the old Epperstone Road. It’s a popular chain-run place these days though not unpleasant for all that. I remember as a teenager though when it was but a fraction of the size and a beautiful cosy pub before anyone had coined the phrase ‘chain eating place’.
The Springfield Inn, Lowdham
In practice, my little bike ride runs past the fourth pub on its journey in the World’s End at Lowdham Grange. Such a lovely rural hostelry with it’s still-remaining open fireplace a welcoming spot in the local countryside after a winter’s day walking. I really can’t comment the World’s End highly enough.
The World’s End, Lowdham
We move on however and it’s down the interesting main street in Lowdham village. The Ship Inn is an old-fashioned country pub in the centre of a popular village, traditional and welcoming, it feels like a home from home. When summer comes it’s possible to tether your bike outside and enjoy the quiet life that is Lowdham Main Street in the afternoon sun. Who wouldn’t want to? The annual Lowdham Book Festival is based opposite during every June. A marvellous and well-respected event for such a relatively small community
The Ship Inn, Lowdham Continue reading
Sometimes one just gets the bit between the teeth. Yesterday was just such a day. The day was not a particularly auspicious one as I toiled with the psychology report I am taxed to do. Administrative problems with the report were driving my blood pressure skyward and I really needed a complete change of pace and activity for the day. I had promised myself a longer run, all being well, for the day as it had been a few short months since I’d ran more than 11-12 miles in one session. This had nagged at me mentally and in truth was carving chasms in my confidence regarding running a marathon. At one time of day I was mentally strong and assured enough to contemplate any distance placed in front of me – not so these days. For the day I desired 13 miles as a maximum and would have been comparatively happy with that achievement.
So, head in something of a whirl with the frustrations of the day, I set off for my regular starting spot in nearby Woodborough and headed off down the lane pictured above at just after quarter past four. A pleasant afternoon was an encouragement as I hit the River, Trent side, at just after five miles and having passed through the pleasant villages of Lowdham and Caythorpe. Skipping through the cherry tree-lined path on the way to Gunthorpe I realised that I was doing pretty well today – feeling comfortable and about to settle into a long run. After six or seven miles I became fixated with the outlandish idea of running…yes, twenty miles.
Gunthorpe: running by the river
My footsteps were light and economical – always a good portent, and I flicked on through the unkempt riverside pastures of Hoveringham village, sunshine fortifying my way on to the powerful Hazelford Weir along the Trent. There was no going back from here.
The secluded, attractive and sleepy route of Gypsy Lane took me to my third water stop of the day at Bleasby village’s Wagon and Horses. Wandering in through through the pleasingly refurbished old county pub’s rear entrance I drank thankfully, thirstily and lengthily from the bathroom’s cold water tap. Now some twelve miles in to the run, Thurgarton village loomed as the next target, but yet some way off. Still a long way from home and a more familiar route. Mentally and physically I still felt strong for the challenge that I knew from experience was up ahead.
Tip-toeing over the quiet level crossings of the Nottingham to Newark-on-Trent railway line, Hoveringham and more water lay ahead. A peer at the GPS on my wrist confirmed the unfeasible length of time this run was beginning to take away from the ‘normal’. Hoveringham careered into my tired view and more welcome and highly necessary water in the shape of the beautiful Reindeer Inn within the village. Sated, I curiously paused a moment to look at the pictures on the quiet pub’s corridor walls of previous party times. So incongruous with the reason for my brief presence there today.
Re-emerging into now-greyed skies, I was now back on a more regular route and heartened and fortified by this. The country lane wound and wound as I kept a strict control on my head – rejecting any negative thoughts of tiring. The hamlet of Gonalston heralded a ‘final lap’ of around four or five miles. Passing the old blacksmith’s shop, past the diminutive cottages, even a mild incline registered on my legs and general posture. Straighten up. Straighten up. Gonalston has a long lane of the same name that leads to the next village of Epperstone. The historic rural area ahead often feels like a long drudge towards the end of a lengthy run but today – perspective of distances altered by a very long run – it felt good to be so near home.
Evening drinkers outside the Cross Keys eying the runner curiously I passed on, ever nearer my destination which I knew held two challenging hills at the end of the run. Why twenty-one miles? Well I arrived, bloody but unbowed, on Woodborough Main Street having registered 20.25 miles – to doodle around the village for a further .75 of a mile seemed to be the best, most perverse thing to do right now. I was extremely weary and slowing accordingly but I wanted to show that, yes, I can go that ‘extra mile’ – quite literally. Twenty-one miles. I was pleased to stop. I really was. Water, back at the car and an attempt to straighten my head.
Messages to my friends and a phone call home in which I realised that my voice had all but disappeared. A pint of water and a celebratory pint of beer in The Nag’s Head garden followed before a worsening chill saw me head back to the car and the short drive home. Sated, accomplished and triumphant. I had proved once again that I can do this thing. I will be taking part in The Nottingham Marathon in September.
So here I find myself, back in the car park of The Nag’s Head at Woodborough in Nottinghamshire. Alone and ready to run. Five days ago I filed my entrance online for the Nottingham Robin Hood Marathon in late September to absolutely no acclaim at all. There’s not much going back now. It’s a pleasant Saturday afternoon in early May and I have much work ahead of me.
First name: STUART
Race Type: Marathon – non-AAA affiliated
Date of Register: 30 April 2009
Time of Register: 09:11:06
It’s familiar road, one I’ve know so many times. I’m breezing along steadily with that small Hibernian FC Harp on my chest and a Maple Leaf emblem on my shorts. The first stream appears with a duck paddling furiously underneath the brackish water, swimming against an insistent current.
It’s always the wheels that take us there. Wheels that seem incongruous with a stride through the countryside. When the wheels have stopped and our boots are on, the day takes on a different pace and atmosphere. A different meaning. Time slows and becomes somehow more livable, somehow more rational.We carefully cross the quiet winding lane at Lowdham Grange and feel the stones and mud under our boots. The welcome and watery winter sun is bright with little warmth, twinkling down through bows and branches through to the tree-lined lane and down to the old church. We are not alone. Ahead of us lies a large limousine with its young driver leaning against it, quietly, respectfully, passing the time, fingers clasped formally in front of him. His suit tells of a duty he is carrying out. It is a sad day for one family and group of friends as a small, muted service is conducted in the ancient faded yellow stone building.