War and Peace Revival Festival 2015

Having only just returned from my trip to Auchterarder,  there was about enough time to run a half-marathon training route and pack up my desert combat uniform in order to head south to Folkstone Racecourse, between Hythe and the Channel Tunnel.

As usual, the War and Peace Revival Festival was billed as a five day event, running Wednesday through to Sunday.

Unofficially the event includes an  obligatory monsoon on the Friday night turning the entrance to Kitcheners field (where we have camped for the past 2 years) into something akin to the morning after Glastonbury and a mass exodus of half of the exhibitors on Sunday morning trying to beat the Sunday rain storm and the queues on the M20…..

I’ll be referring to the site throughout the post, so here’s the layout:

War and Peace Site Map
War and Peace Site Map

Also as usual, our arrival with the 1993 Landrover Snatch was about 6 hours later than anticipated due to spending far longer than expected packing up all the camping stuff into the Snatch and constructing the barbecue! At least I had to do my packing in advance of travelling south!

Either way, we arrived at roughly the same time as we did in 2014 but with the added bonus that we knew how to assemble the tent. So it took about an hour to get moved in, rather than about 4 hours last year :-)

The rest of Camp SOC (Snatch Owners Club) had already arrived by this point and as we set ourselves up, the warning signs were attached to the boundary tape and we were there, ready and camped.

Camp SOC
Camp SOC

In our tent there were three humans and a dog – Simba, a 14 month old Mastiff/Lab cross who was already as big as any Lab, but with the bounce, enthusiasm and lunacy of a puppy. Having erected the tent Simba took us for a walk into the event arena to get some food as by this time it was 10pm.

Simba and me upon arrival
Simba and me upon arrival

Wednesday – The Show Opens

We set out across Kitcheners and into the event arena with Simba keen to meet anyone and anything.  However, the first sounds of heavy shelling from the battle in the arena freaked him out and Chris took him further away to recover whilst Paul and I watched the German re-enactors kicking the stuffing out of the USA re-enactors (this seems to be a common theme of all the battles we’ve watched at the show).

Once we met back up with Chris and Simba on the opposite side of the grandstand near the Home Front exhibition, we met some other exhibitors with their cross-bred dog – this time Mastiff crossed with a…… PUG!

A Mastiff-Pug cross - let's home the Pug was the father!
A Mastiff-Pug cross called “Chunky” – let’s hope the Pug was the father!

We found out at the last minute that the Hythe procession for post-WW2 vehicles was that night by which time Chris, our only driver, had drunk a couple of cans. So he remained at Camp SOC keeping Simba entertained whilst Paul and I jumped in with other drivers, and off we went.

Here’s a nice bit of footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxt2Iu6eeVk&sns=em

Paul was passenger in Snatch number 2 and I was passenger in Snatch 3. And the French Onion Sellers were neither French. Nor Onion Sellers……..

Very menacing - I don't think
Very menacing – I don’t think

The enjoyment of the procession was tempered when we got back to camp to find Chris had been taken ill. Following a visit from about 6 Red Cross paramedics, Paul drove Chris and Simba back to their home to recover.

Thursday – a closer look at the show

The temporary departure of the others left me camping alone for about 20 hours although having Camp SOC on hand meant I was far from lonely!

Due to the late hour of their departure I ended up cooking on the gas ring in the dark, but the pasta meal hit the spot nicely and I got a reasonable night’s sleep despite the 1am fireworks courtesy of the North London Barmy Army.

During Thursday I walked around the site at length, my pedometer suggesting something like 23600 steps, taking in the many surplus stores and the living history sections. In all honesty there was an element of Deja Vu with many of the sellers occupying the same locations as they did in 2014. Similarly a number of the living history exhibitors rolled out the same stuff as last year – with Camp Bastion having the same walls (and same lack of content) whilst the Blackhawk Down exhibition was bigger and grander (and even more impressive) than in 2014.

I took my GoPro out with me to get some snaps whilst I was wandering through the living history. Having left my small camera at work and not wanting to drag the DSLR around with me, this was the best option as my camera phone is very poor quality. It seems that the Go Pro does however suffer badly from barrel distortion and the verticals look somewhat banana-like, albeit in a non-yellow edible sort of way.

To say I was knackered by the time Paul returned to the site in the evening was an understatement!

But Thursday was about to become far more interesting when one of the group announced that we had been given some evening arena time. Whilst Paul was insured on the Snatch he’d never driven it. He was given a few verbal instructions about driving a vehicle with a choke, was told by Camp SOC it would have to be a baptism of fire and off we went.

In fact when our convoy got there, we were filmed using a professional camera drone system, the footage which we had a sneak preview of being amazing, save for the random vehicle in the background burning rubbish at the back of the arena. Well, you can’t have it all your own way. See it here!

Camp SOC on manoeuvres
Camp SOC on manoeuvres

Friday – Ready for the Storm

Friday was a day of anticipation of the incoming storm, due in at midday, but actually striking at about 6.30pm, at the point where Paul and I were roughly as far from Camp SOC as we could have been (I’d guess about 1.25 miles away) whilst we were working our way around the Living History exhibitions. So we got a little wet.

As the wind picked up and the rain intensified, we had a bit of a panic that the tent may fly away or flood, so all belongings ended up in the Snatch. As it happens, Armageddon didn’t come and everything was returned to the tent in the morning.

Saturday – When everyone else visits

Despite the fact the show opens on Wednesday, Saturday tends to be the busiest day with all those who work in the week visiting at the weekend.

Due to the 10 or so hours of rain the night before, the site was now rather boggy underfoot. In addition, all the roads in the area were entirely gridlocked due to queued up lorries on the motorway and some other catastrophe on the A20. Despite all of this, by lunchtime the place seemed well attended.

I picked a few items of gear which I needed/wanted however unlike in previous years, I didn’t get carried away. A couple of the stalls were from Leeds which was helpful as it’s an accent I’m much more familiar with than the more local South-East accent, and thus much easier for me to understand!

We managed to track down other friends Kevin and Coral who exhibit their landrovers as part of a Green Howards exhibition. Whilst chatting Coral mentioned there was a Challenger Tank in the exhibition. There are not many occasions when one could walk past something that big and not notice it. Yet I managed to do this although I’ll blame that on the large number of other vehicles on the site…….

So after we left them we visited the food area and then went for a mooch. We chatted to the RMPs who were no site to advertise themselves along with a few other parts of the British Army. A slightly odd situation where Paul recognised one of them from a wedding they’d both been at several years earlier.

It’s one way to get a conversation started!

We then went and looked at the tank, which I even got to sit in. Despite it being huge, there’s not a lot of room for someone of my size. Which to be fair isn’t particularly big! I’m hopeful there is a photo out there to capture this event :-)

The evening, as last year involved Camp SOC sat around a fire talking nonsense. When I say ‘fire’ what I mean is a red glow-stick and two small paraffin lamps. Paul produced his Pimms recipe for the group which to my untrained eye appeared to involved a lot of fruit, a thimble of lemonade and a bottle of Pimms. I’m a non-drinker, so perhaps this is the correct method of production…..

In 2014 this esteemed forum introduced the genre of ‘Action Romance’ into common use in the English language. Whilst no new genres were discovered in 2015 the bizarre concept of an LED-lit Cucumber cock-ring received some discussion and ultimately resulted in some fruit-based graffiti on the front of one of the vehicles.

I'm not sure what the penalty is for the misuse of fruit on a military vehicle.......
I’m not sure what the penalty is for the misuse of fruit on a military vehicle…….

We are all grown ups after all. I blame the Pimms.

Sunday – mass exodus and more rain

We got up very early Sunday morning. Mostly due to the vast amount of noise generated by other campers dismantling their tents and beeping their horns to each other as they set off home.

The ‘Rules’ of the event state that exhibitors should stay to the end, which is only fair as anyone paying to attend on Sunday deserves to get a full exhibition – after all, they’ve paid the same as any other day visitor.

However, vehicles were leaving left right and centre. The traffic chaos on the M20, coupled with the fact that a significant number of exhibitors were from mainland Europe and thus needed to battle through it to get to the ferry port made this worse. And of course there were a number of casualties of HGVs stuck in the mud, just to churn up the ground even more.

At least today the showers were working and hot :-)

After breakfast, Paul and I emptied the tent before I walked all of my gear across to one of the stores who had, as in previous years, allowed me to leave my bags with them so it was only a 5 minute walk to the train rather than a 25 minute walk. This was important as at this time it was still dry. The forecast was very much rain and more rain, and this started as I walked back.

Paul had by this time flattened the tent and between us it was packed away into the Snatch as the rain became more persistent.

Goodbyes were made to the rest of Camp SOC and with all our belongings now packed away we went into the main arena. Where the main spectacle appeared to be the queue of exhibitors and campers trying to leave the site! Some of which were rather up to their axles in mud.

We took shelter in the Victory Tent where the charity ‘Scotties Little Soldiers‘ were brewing up (how can I refuse a cuppa when the proceeds are going to a great charity) before heading over to the nearby Westenhanger Castle for a Sunday Roast, a meal hands-down better than anything we’d eaten all the time we were camping!

Paul and me in the victory tent
Paul and me in the victory tent

To anyone looking in it must have been a very odd sight – two 1990s era soldiers eating with a WW1 British army officer and a similarly vintage Russian fighter. As we ate, Chunky and his owners also came in for their dinner!

Although my train journey was supposed to begin at 4pm, as it wasn’t too wet at 3pm, I decided now was a good time to make an exit, taking the view that an hour spent at Euston Station would be at least a little drier than the weather forecast for the rest of the afternoon in Westenhanger. Walking to the station, the place felt very much emptied from the previous days, with many stalls having vacated their spaces and others all closed down. There weren’t that many people walking around (hardly a surprise).

Far from it being a big exciting end to a festival, it was more a whimper. And a wet one at that. Overall though the time away was very welcome, giving me a good break from home and a chance to catch up with friends a long way from home.

I’m sure we’ll do it all again in 2016!

Back to Manchester

I must admit that the two weeks in Scotland have flown by. And it has been a mostly pleasant and relaxing time, away from all I had left behind at home.

With being physically fit this time around it meant that I was able to explore a little more of the area which was great, despite the Scottish weather’s best efforts to put me off.

Do they not know I’m from Manchester and therefore used to it? 😊

Whilst most people at the centre I was staying at departed for the weekend, I set out to see a friend over in Dollar, about 15 miles away by road. I was tipped off about a trail through Dollar Glen, which helpfully reduced the distance by a just over a mile and got me away from the traffic on the main road, most of which appeared to be heading towards the T in the Park event close by.

Route to Dollar
Route to Dollar

The weather held out at least until I got to my destination, and this was finally my first half marathon distance north of the border! being driven back later in the evening however and the clouds were firmly down over the mountain route that Dollar Glen cuts through. which would probably explain the rivers underfoot which I encountered earlier in the day!

Note the final descent into Dollar as shown on the graph…..

Having a social catch up with another local friend on the Sunday allowed the legs to recover, although a trip to the physio a couple of days earlier resulted in a pile of stretches which would be beneficial.

Despite it being my second visit in the area it was only in the next week that I began to explore Gleneagles itself. Now I’m not one to hit the shops,or the bars in these places, however there is a route designed for runners and cyclists which covers both the Kings and the Queens courses, which of course I had to try. And then try again in order to see if I could do it any quicker (curse you, Strava!).

Gleneagles Golf run
Gleneagles Golf run

My final run from Auchterarder was in the nearby hills, looking to visit a number of the Strava segments that I’d not run. This is less about trying to beat the world at running (besides I’m not fast enough) but an opportunity to see where other people have run and felt it worthwhile to tell the world. It is in fact one of the ways I look for new routes.

Cenotaph and the old church
Cenotaph and the old church

 

St Margarets hospital
St Margaret’s hospital

My final couple of days were far more reserved. Mostly because I was physically exhausted but I was also struggling a bit myself. Perhaps it was talking through some of the issues which had led up to the visit in the first place, but it dampened things down. In many ways it was a shame as the fortnight had been positive for the most part.

The trip back was marred by a bunch of drunken and leery Scots on the way to destruction it would appear in Preston, thinking it was acceptable to play loud music and swear loudly throughout the journey. On arrival in Manchester their counterparts – a gaggle of girls on a 40th birthday do screaming at each other from either end of  platform 13.

North-bound

Contrary to the lack of updates on here of late, it has been a rather involved time.

I hesitate to call it a ‘busy time’ because that would largely negate the purpose of taking time out to recover.

I was last in Auchterarder in late May 2014 following the piriformitis/sciatica fiasco of the spring before it. Two weeks of intensive physio got everything moving right again and Challenge 2014 was completed successfully when I crossed the finish line of the Chester Marathon during October 2014.

When one is dealing with the more hidden aspect of the mind, a parallel approach needs to be taken to fix things. That can involve training, via education and exercise as well as time out to recuperate and allow for the natural healing processes to take over.

What is rather more difficult is the lack of visible ‘injury’ and similarly the lack of any ‘visible recovery’. A broken leg looks obviously not right, but over time as it heals the improvement is clear to see.

Getting away from home is very difficult for me at the moment. I can find every excuse under the sun to stay put and even as I headed out of the door part of me was wanting to turn around. I understand why I feel this way, but it’s far from helpful!

As last year, I broke my journey north with a stop in Edinburgh to catch up with a friend. This being the first weekend away that didn’t have a bike or running shoes in tow, although to be fair the relevant footwear was in the suitcase, primed and ready! The weekend was very pleasant, with a lot of conversation and the change to walk around the city in reasonable weather.

Edinburgh
Edinburgh

Come Monday morning and it was time to continue further north for my stay in Auchterarder. Last time I visited the area was awash with roadworks as the council tried to make all its repairs to the roads and infrastructure ahead of the Ryder Cup which was being played at the nearby course of Gleneagles. Despite the sleepy appearance of the area, it was all hands to the pump again in 2015 with the music festival ‘T in the Park’ being staged only a few miles away.

In fact this latter point left me a touch miffed with all the road closures, which went through the exact middle of one of the runs I undertook in 2014! So without further ado, I figured I would get a run around that route as soon as I could, before the stewards tried to turn me back whilst a band I’d never heard of were being paraded on a nearby stage to the acclamation of their fans (who were probably young enough for me to be my kids)!

Bearing in mind last time I was here running was going to be a struggle because it was running-related muscles that I had injured, I figured I should be able to hammer my route. However it does seem to be as tricky as I remember it and whilst I did knock a few minutes off the 6 mile route, I thought I might need oxygen after I’d finished!

I must say it was nice to be back in the area as the countryside is wonderful with the mountains in the near distance and a more gently rolling landscape closer to.Whilst I would be getting some support whilst here, most of the purpose of the visit was to be away from everything that was my ‘normal life’ – so away from the usual sights and sounds and routine as well. And with plenty of un-explored roads up here to run along it would give me plenty of space to consider the weighty matters I need to come to terms with, both from the education and from working through the ‘where from here questions’ which have been with me since everything came to a head in April.

Castlebrae
Castlebrae

My second run went out away from the festival site, although I spent a lot of it dodging HGVs bringing various bits of stage and performers into the area – not great on country roads but I managed to not get squashed by anyone’s caravan so took that as a positive sign. I followed the signs to Gleneagles, which bizarrely point past where Gleneagles is, and having ended up at the railway station, far beyond it, retraced my steps back home so I could consult the map.

My next trip on foot took me to the hamlet of Dunning, about 5 miles from Auchterarder, a place with a 12 Century church including Commonwealth graves, and a big monument marking the spot where a witch was burned in the 17 Century. Now I must say I was a little worried as I was carrying my mobile phone at the time to record my run route – hopefully that wouldn’t be construed as witchcraft. Although it’s only a 2013 low-end phone so there’s little magic to be seen………

Dunning Church
Dunning Church

Despite feeling a little tired I managed one further run, heading into Gleneagles a different way, only to fail to find the centre of it. On turning around I ended up giving directions away from the festival site to a driver completely boggled by the road signs – I would have anticipated that looking for the main road to a major city would suggest one would not drive up the road that says ‘local traffic only’ – but then I was lost too so I can hardly make a comment on that front.

So after some relaxing, a lot of reading, two massages, a physio appointment, 32 miles run and a lot of puddings later, I feel this week has been beneficial. I’ve not managed to answer any of my own questions that I brought north with me, but then I wasn’t expecting to be suddenly able to do that. But having the space and different scenery has been of benefit.

Run Fluffy Run

Over the past few months, my running has been my primary outlet for all the emotions that have been spinning around following the events of this spring. However, chuck in a whiff of a challenge or a competition and that side of my brain seems to be very much alive and wanting to give the world a good kicking.

I’ve mentioned in the past about the two main fitness sites I use on the internet – Strava, which is for multiple sports and is pretty well known these days, and Smashrun, a site purely for runners, and which is much lesser known.

Both have free membership for the basic information and I highly recommend you check them both out.

Whilst Smashrun has its challenges set up in electronic badges (it’s very cute I guess but effective) which reward individual achievements, Strava has monthly challenges which can be done against other athletes as well as for the individual. Until recently Strava catered very well for cyclists, but there were precious few running challenges.

So when a couple of these came along, I grabbed them both, and set about working on them. Unfortunately they were both three-week long challenges and they started a week apart, resulting in a high concentration of effort.

Elevation is all you need….

Strava usually themes it’s monthly challenges and the ‘Dipsea’ Challenge was based upon the fact that this famous trail race has an increase in elevation of 2200ft. So the challenge was set at achieving 6600ft of elevation in 3 weeks.

So one might plan to aim for 2200ft per week. Or if you’re me, discover you’ve only achieved 1900ft by the end of week two.

For reasons unknown, I decided this challenge was still alive, I mean how hard can it be to do 4700ft elevation in a week…..

Thankfully living on the edge of the Peak District and close to the hills surrounding the Cheshire Plain, there is plenty of interesting running to be done. And with another spell of reasonable weather I set out to find new routes, in particularly ones with big hills and I achieved the remaining elevation in 4 more runs.

The first was a 15 mile jaunt out across Marple Ridge, over Jacksons Edge and across Disley, taking the hills all the way up to the Bowstones, before dropping back through Lyme Park.  The wind was doing it’s best to blow me back down to Disley from Bowstones but it was mission accomplished with a total climb of over 1600ft.

3 days later and I returned to Marple, the Ridge, and the Edge in both directions running a further 11 miles distance and another 1040ft climb and clocked up three Strava course records in the process (how, I don’t have a clue). So over the half-way mark of the outstanding feet of elevation.

24 hours later I was out again, this time in Pott Shrigley, and the 2 mile climb of Bakestonedale Road. I actually started back at the main road in order to maximise the climb, doing a linear there-and-back 10 miler and adding 1175ft to the tally.

Near the top of Bakestonedale Road
Near the top of Bakestonedale Road

On seeing this course a colleague pointed me towards another local hill with very much a challenge to do it. So Friday morning I was back in Pott Shrigley, running over to Bollington and up Blaze Hill, a 1.5 mile climb up to the Macclesfield Hill Tops. I say running, the body was screaming at me before I even started the hill, telling me it didn’t really want to do any more hills, ever! But I persevered with the 7.5 mile loop containing 1040ft of elevation, and amazingly completing the challenge!

Climbing challenge complete!
Climbing challenge complete!

Yes, I use kitten pictures from the internet as avatars for my websites!

Feet? No I mean kilometers!

Now, in a perfect world I’d have stopped then, got an ice cream and slept for a week (having consumed the ice cream). But there was a matter of the other challenge, 148km distance (92 miles) in 3 weeks.

Now the combination of the previous week and my hill-attacking current week had clocked up 54 miles in total, and with 6 days of the challenge remaining I had a lot of work to do. Not least given day 6 I would be cycling around Snowdonia and therefore wouldn’t be running. And Day 5 I’d be driving to Snowdonia….. No pressure!

There is a disused Railway Route, called the Middlewood Way, stretching from Rose Hill Marple to Macclesfield. I have run segments of, but never run the whole route. So I set out steadily on Tuesday to see if there was a pot of gold of either end of this rainbow route which I can confirm there is not! However, having run 13 miles away from home, I still had the matter of getting back again which resulted in a 24 mile round trip which brought me back along the canal, a route quickly thought out because in the time since I’d set out the weather had got rather warmer and sunnier, and I only had a limited about of water with me (schoolboy error, I’ll admit). The logic was that the canal tow-path would be more sheltered than other routes but also I was able to beg some water from a barge-owner part way back.

From Marple to Macclesfield (and back!)
From Marple to Macclesfield (and back!)

The response on Strava wasn’t so much ‘wow what a run’ but instead ‘why didn’t you run the full 26.2?’

I had considered it but with 3 miles to go (a 10% of the distance) I decided I wanted to be home in one piece. And there wasn’t a t-shirt or a medal at stake either and besides, I had a load more running to be done that week (me, competitive???)

The following evening, my birthday, and buoyed with the incentive of a commemoration mug (of a gala, not of my birthday), I participated in a 5 mile trail race around the Reservoirs at Tintwistle. Now, I’m not saying it’s anything to do with a limited number of mugs, but I ran that course as quick as I could. Not that I’ve used the mug yet……..

A hard-fought mug!
A hard-fought mug!

But back to the challenge and having 10 miles to find within the next couple of days whilst preparing for a long and hilly bike ride. there was a tactical decision to be made regarding how I should do this.

A number of short runs to get to the target distance would be sensible.

I think you can probably guess that instead I went all out the following day to nail the remaining miles as I did a reprise run through Lyme Park, picking up the road I failed to find on my route down from the Bowstones a week earlier.

149km run - 101% of the challenge!
149km run – 101% of the challenge!

So come the end of June, I’m 2 electronic badges better off and 106 miles have been chalked up in the process as well as managing the Snowdonia bike ride. It’s been fun, but I think I’ll be holding off the challenges for a little while.

Smashrun - check it out, it's great!
Smashrun – check it out, it’s great!

Or at least, that’s the plan………….

Anniversary time

It’s taken me a good while to get around to writing this post. As you can imagine, the anniversary of the death of one’s spouse is a very painful time, and with all that 2015 has thrown at me as well, it has only compounded the matter.

It is a time where I need space; a time where the theoretical wooden hut in the midst of an impenetrable forest (with wifi) comes to the fore in my mind. It is however very difficult to get through to other people that I need that space, and the natural habit seems to be for them to smother me in attention and contact, where in fact this causes me a great deal of distress.

Anniversary #3 occurred on a Thursday this year. I had already planned to be away from home, albeit not far, just enough to be out of the way. I imposed ‘radio silence’ as best as I could, leaving computer accounts logged out and the phone on silent and left at home and had a trip out into Derbyshire.

A lunch at ‘the Bee Hive’ in Combs was very pleasant in the warm sun, although tempered by the groups around me also eating which in a way emphasised the lone-nature of my meal. However I hadn’t just gone out to eat, it was a recce – the lanes looked interesting from a running point of view.

At least they did on Google Maps. On visiting the in person, it became clear that the nice-looking lines on a map represented more of a scramble challenge than the hillside run I had imagined. It didn’t stop me having a great walk in the hills though, and remembering to bring the camera with me was a bonus as this is the item I usually forget when I go somewhere nice!

Despite the relevance of the date, the day itself to this point had been uneventful and pleasant and importantly for me, given me a lot of space. Unfortunately getting home had the opposite effect with repeated phone calls enquiring after my well-being; all well meaning, I accept, but ultimately very destabilising.

It was perhaps fortunate that I was at my local bell ringing practice in the evening, and it took my mind off everything, not least the fact that it was about that time in the evening, 3 years ago, that I was sensing there was something badly wrong prior to the devastating news of Mark’s passing away.

It was also timely that I had one of my medical appointments the following morning which allowed me to discuss the events of the past 24 hours and to achieve an approach which would allow me to bury the feelings which by this point were exaggerated to a point of embarrassment.

What I found was interesting was the consultant’s analogy of grief which he’d picked up from a conference in the past. It moves away from the adage that grief diminishes over time. Instead the grief remains the same, but one’s life experience expands, so the grief itself whilst the same large blob takes up the same volume, but in a larger space, as demonstrated by some glass bowls (life experience) and a red sponge ball (grief):

Sponge-ball grief bowl
Sponge-ball grief bowl

And whilst my photo-manipulation skills are unlikely to win many awards, it’s a visual demonstration of the concept which to me holds a lot of truth – others may disagree, but for me the matter of grief reducing over time argument simply doesn’t work.

Etape Eryri 2015: Cycle Sportive in North Wales

The last few weeks have been somewhat *complicated* to say the least, and as a result I’ve not been able to write or update the blog at all. The plan is to pull together a few articles over the next wee while which covers the main things I’ve wanted to say, but been unable to do so. However, I don’t want to have something which makes War & Peace look like a short story either and so I’m grouping it into more manageable chunks.

This weekend just gone I spent in my favourite place, North Wales. Driving less than a couple of hours west from the hubbub that is Manchester takes me into a world of hills, mountains and space. And it’s a great exercise in peace and relaxation.

Having spent many childhood holidays in and around the area it has been the sport aspect that’s brought me back in recent times, with a number of long distance runs being the attraction. Last year I added a cycle ride to that list, and returned again this year for another go at the Etape Eryri.

This is a cycle sportive (non competitive event) held in the Snowdonia National Park, setting off from Caernarfon Castle, along the coast, before heading off into the hills for a jolly before returning to the Castle. In 2015 there were four flavours of pain – the  Toddler course (Bach) which is 47 miles, Teenager course (Canol) which is 76 miles, the Grown up course (Mawr) which is 103 miles, and finally the sadomasochistic option which is to do all three back to back.

This year, like last I took my stabilisers along on the Bach course, although I met up with some colleagues who are far more experienced cyclists who went straight in for the Mawr.

I was a little concerned about how my legs would hold up anyway. The week before had been a ‘recovery’ week from previous events which will have their own write-up, and the net result had been a significant amount of running – 39 miles in 3 days – to clear my head. With only two days recovery time I did wonder if I’d pushed my luck, but thankfully all was well in Wales.

Caernarfon is a place that I visited on numerous occasions as a child. I don’t have many recollections of the town itself, only the marina area, which includes the swing-bridge entry and the coastal road away from the town. I’m sure the town has changed – I don’t think Wetherspoons were there 30 years ago (although I could equally be wrong as it’s not something I’d have been interested at that time!) – but the Marina area looks exactly the same, with car-parking on one side and a windy road on the other.

The weekend started with getting the bike checked out, and discovering that perhaps getting it serviced once in a while would be beneficial, with the gears not really wanting to play ball. But it was good enough to get around without any part of the bike or rider coming adrift from the rest so that was something.

I resisted on purchasing an event t-shirt on the grounds of having far too many t-shirts as it is. But I did get hold of some more gels and energy bars (can not have too many of these) and along with colleagues sat down for the pasta-party – basically all you can eat pasta for £6. It appears I can eat quite a lot of the stuff, but there is definitely a limit!

During the meal I received a message from a friend who was going to be feeding the cat whilst I was away. It seems that I’ve built a new porch since they last fed the cat, and as such couldn’t get in! Thankfully it’s only an overnighter and I’d left plenty of food out before I went anyway. But OOOPS all the same.

My colleagues on the longer ride set off at the crack of dawn (well, not quite – the sun had been up for 3 hours by 7am) whilst I tucked into a cooked breakfast. In a B&B it would be rude to to turn down the ‘&B’ at the end of the day. Given my hotel was within the castle walls, I only had a two minute ride to get around to the start line.

This year, I took the GoPro, although unfortunately it wasn’t tightened enough in it’s mount and filmed about 80 minutes of fast-moving tarmac and precious little else. So I can’t bring you footage of the views – unless you like tarmac, which to be fair is the same as in Stockport, but without quite so many pot holes.

Drws y Coed
Drws y Coed

I could certainly feel the improvement of my fitness over last year, even despite trying to kill my legs during the week. In fact the ride should have taken me a lot less time but unfortunately following the timed up-hill mile (which is in the photograph), another cyclist had a major coming together with an oncoming car on the descent which resulted in a road closure, two air ambulances and a whole host of cyclists carrying their bikes over barbed-wire fences and across scrubland to reach the road after the closure. Thankfully it appears that the doom-monger rumours about the fate of the cyclist were somewhat exaggerated, however at this time I believe they’re still in hospital being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

This incident put a downer on the ride because there was a belief that it might have been a fatal accident (thankfully not) but I kept going and soon lost myself in the beauty of the Llanberis Pass. I soon found myself again at the top of the Pass when I met the strong headwind blowing along the route which was less than welcome! But at least it wasn’t raining.

The final hill in the last 10 miles finished me off in 2014. And again it appeared in 2015. I thought last year I was just weak, but it would seem that the hill itself is rather steep as well.

Etape Eryri Bach route
Etape Eryri Bach route

By the time I returned to Caernarfon Castle just under 3.5 hours after leaving it, I was ready to get off and go home. Which I did!

I got home to find a cat with a full bladder waiting to go out. It seems the litter tray is reserved for when the weather is bad! I also booked the bike in for a service :-)

Summer. Ish!

Summer has arrived.

What I mean is that it’s still blowing a gale but we don’t seem to be at risk of any frosts this weekend. But it’s June so therefore it must be summer.

It’s been a bit of a mess of a few weeks weather-wise. You think it’s going to be OK and plant out all the baby flowers in the garden, only to have them flattened by 50mph winds which we seem to have had for about a month now.

In fact I’ve made a good stab at trying to tidy up the garden, so it’s less like ‘the neighbour from hell’ and more like what is acceptable in a conservative neighbourhood. Not that it should matter that much, but I do like things tidy.

It’s probably fortunate I don’t have god-like powers otherwise nature would all be straight lines and perfect edges.

That aside, I’ve cut the lawn back so it isn’t in the midst of the flower borders any more. It seems mightily frustrating that grass seems to thrive anywhere where you don’t want it, but steadfastly refuses to grow in the lawn itself.

Even the cat seems to approve. When I say approve, he’s discovered he can take refuge in the edges so the wind doesn’t keep waking him up!

The garden fettling has encroached on my sport of course however I’ve managed to get along to my Tai Chi classes and have managed a few longer runs.

The latest visit to the physio was a positive one and after 3 months I’ve been given the all clear although I still have a list of body-mangling leg stretches I need to do  to keep my hips where they’re supposed to be, rather than migrating up into my neck or something equally unplausible.

So a week ago I took my legs for a gentle bounce along the Middlewood Way – an old railway line between Rose Hill Marple and Bollington, condemned by Beecham in the 1960s which is now a route for runners and cyclists and a toilet option for horses, judging by the amount of manure on the path. Having got to Bollington, I ran up a few hills, got completely lost, asked for directions from a couple of dog walkers who seemed completely bemused that I’d be running back towards Stockport, and then continued back home – an 18 mile round trip and the longest I’ve done since the Chester Marathon in October 2014.

I will admit to being a little achy afterwards, but I think that’s allowed.

Clearly having gone a bit mad with the long distance I held off for a few days before going out again – at least it gave me the opportunity to relocate several plants in the garden and to straighten a few others flattened by the wind.

When I did venture out, I seemed to confirm my suspicion that all paths and tracks in Poynton inexplicably end up on the Middlewood Way, as if they get drawn to this mystical pathway. Either that or they were planned by the owners of horses wanting to relieve their animals on the Middlewood Way…….

Actually it was a nice trip out as rather than going along the same routes I’ve used over the past few years, I just disappeared up and down different paths – albeit to still end up in the same place – but the route was different. And the GPS track of the route was different still and involved more yogic flying through buildings, but I digress!

Having gone for a flat run (mostly) during the week, I planned something a little hillier today and with the opportunity to get lost en route.

Confirmed, it was very hilly. Confirmed, I got lost.

But it was 14 miles of lovely views from the hills above the Cheshire Plain and forest paths before descending into Lyme Park. And no horses. Actually there was one who got in the way on the main road, but we’ll ignore him. It was blowing a gale as I went up the hills though, and the final ascent towards the Bowstones felt at times that I might end up being blown back down the hill (I’m only little).

I must start taking the camera out and sharing some of the views. I feel very lucky to be able to run from home to some great scenery without having to drive out there first.

I've tweeted, Flickr'd, Facebooked, Google plussed and probably done a whole host of other things too yet I seem to prefer the blogging world for rambling about the world I live in.

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