The mud in Goodwood


On account of my fencing yesterday (I had particularly tight shoulders and, er, butt-cheeks for some reason!), I didn’t feel like running this morning.  So despite the thunderstorms, we took a drive out to visit the Sculpture Estate at Goodwood.

This is a 26 acre wood, filled with over 70 outdoor sculptures that have been commissioned by the Foundation.  It’s a beautiful, peaceful place to wander around is the perfect place to showcase the pieces, more magical today with the wood steaming from the last rain shower.  As well as a slightly soft layer of mud, so I felt right at home.

The sculptures are all for sale, but with prices up to £290,000 (although there were a couple of £POA’s, from which you can draw your own conclusions!) it’s fun to just look!  The one pictured above (Sunday Sport by Paul Day) is a cool £45,000, but it is amazing!

We decided to go back to the little visitor centre at the end and timed it perfectly with a really heavy downpour.

Entry to the Estate costs £10 per person but that’s a very small price to pay for the tranquility and the magnificent views north across Sussex.

We did think it was a shame that they did not have a small cafe to get a cup of tea though… until we followed their suggestion and drove down to the Goodwood Park Hotel.  This is a four star hotel with real manners and though we only wanted tea and cake, they treated us like royalty. 

Even to the extent that someone went to the other side of the hotel to find some cake, which a chef then iced especially for us!  It was the most delicious coffee cake I’ve tasted in a long time.  They then found us some newspapers so we could sit in the supremely comfortable leather chairs and read.  I braced myself for the price of our simple afternoon tea… £6.90, all in. 

We’ll be back!

Fencing in shorts

Yesterday morning was beautiful and as we sat outside eating breakfast I wondered exactly how I would spend the day relaxing.

Last year I removed the fence between us and our neighbours on one side, with the intention of replacing it with something more sightly.  With the fence gone though, all agreed that it not being there was a marked improvement and it had stayed that way ever since, allowing the afternoon sun to filter gently through the leaves. 

One downside however, was that as the honeysuckle and roses died back in the winter, so it became a little too open for my taste, so some time ago I conceptualised a cunning modesty panel.  I use the word conceptualised quite deliberately, as I had no idea how I was going to do it.  The panel would abut the wall and sit gracefully across the end of a gazebo, but this was too wide for a stock item.  So, as an insight into how my mind works, I approached the problem thus:

First, I worked out where the post would go and drove a steel post holder into the ground… back in November!  It was in a tricky place to swing the sledgehammer and there are some tenuous roots at that point, so inevitably it went in slightly skewed… and that’s how it stayed.

Next, early in April, I bought a stack of wood.  And last weekend, a roll of bamboo screening. 

So, yesterday morning, because it was sunny and I couldn’t think of the best way to relax… and because our neighbours went out (I hate an audience when I think I’m going to make a fool of myself!) I put on my shorts and worked out how I could fix a post neatly around the back corner of the garage.  And then, having cut, drilled the pieces and assembled them, fixed it in place.

Next, I consulted my craftsman friend Andrew regarding the twisted post holder and he suggested the judicious use of a five-foot iron bar (which I just happened to have laying about!) to twist it into the right place.  With some ingenuity (using a bar-size drill-bit and a couple of 2×4 offcuts) I coaxed the holder into the right place and dropped the post neatly in.

Now the tricky bit.  Who knows how to construct a fence panel?  Not I, as I had been more than aware for several months!  Helpfully, I still have a few fence panels around the garden so I had an excellent template… and I scribbled down how mine would work for good order. 

I first measured the space between posts, then cut and laid out two simple frames sandwiching two layers of bamboo screen, pretty side out.  And firmly screwed it all together… which actually wasn’t that difficult.  With the help of my excellent assistant, who had been weeding, cutting edges and generally catching the sun, we lifted it snugly into place and I screwed it home.


Et voila, there was a modesty panel.  Not exactly what I had in mind for the day, but at least the legs came out as promised!

Redirecting the garden lights created a pleasing tableau and I now can’t wait for the weather to be warm enough to sit out in the evening!


Short d-run-ken

Nick and I went to an (er…) interesting networking event in Spitalfields on Friday night for entrepreneurs in the social digital space.  If that term makes no sense to you, don’t worry, as most of the people there were making it up as they went along.  We went for two reasons.  Firstly, to chat to other like minded people about our idea and second, to enjoy a publicised free beer.

It got off to a poor start, as when we arrived half an hour after the event commenced, the music was too loud to talk to people inside, the free beer was gone and the Sol was £3 a bottle.  Whoever was coining it in did not appear to be among the bulk of the people that we talked to, or who spoke from the rostrum in a series of short presentations (against an increasing groundswell of bar-room chatter).  Whilst the general ideas presented were interesting, there tended to be a lack of thought given to the business model… as in, er, how does this make money?

Leaving after the presentations and a few bottles of (captive?) beer, we strolled past the cafe culture of Spitalfields until we realised what the time was.  Twelve minutes to train o’clock.  I remember some time ago Nick mentioning to me about running after a few beers before and I also remember reminding myself not to try it myself, but here we were, of a sudden, running down Bishopsgate like a couple of bag-snatchers.

What was quite surprising was that the beer made little difference to our progress and we ran effortlessly down Gracechurch Street, avoiding the myriad pedestrians, over London Bridge, in to the station and right up on to the platform.  We even beat the arrival of the train by a minute or so.  Probably not our fastest run, not our longest at just over a mile, but definitely the funniest!

More mud!

A short run this morning for two tired blokes …which reminds me that I forgot to mention that I had the £80k Vogue on two wheels at a couple of points yesterday.  Anyway, it was a sunny morning and both my jacket and longs were pretty much superfluous.  Which means that my shorts (and by extension, legs) may make an April showing if the weather is okay on Sunday.

We almost opted for a pavement run, but went the muddy way after all.  Out around the common, with it’s marshland areas, up through the woods with its sticky mud, across the wet-land part of the common and back down Folders Lane. 

It was 4.5 miles in 40 minutes: an average 6.8mph, but with a top speed of over 13mph according to Nick’s now functioning utility watch.  Interestingly, these speeds are not dissimilar to yesterday!

All mud and no running

Would it surprise anyone if I said that I spent yesterday crawling around in the thick Chiltern mud?  I don’t suppose so as any regular readers will know that I’m always up to my knees in the stuff.

But the main aim of yesterday was not to get too muddy, but rather bump and splosh around at an elegant ride height at least a couple of feet above the ground.  Courtesy of the Land Rover Experience.  The function of this truly excellent centre is to demonstrate to potential buyers the ability of this most English of Chelsea Tractor.  In extremis. 

I can tell you first hand that the streets of Kensington & Chelsea are cared for in a way that puts other councils to shame, with perfectly paved, level sidewalks, motorway standard tarmacking and regularly cleaned gutters.  Outside of the garden squares and patio pots, mud does not feature widely. 

This centre, by comparison, has an awful lot of the stuff.  Deep, slippery ruts and complex cross-cuts, tracks submerged in watery mud, teflon-coated muddy grass, steep muddy inclines and dizzying drops, tree-lined forest tracks with mud mixed with roots… you name it, they have it! 

I know from ice-driving in Sweden how much difference tyres make to safety so I was stunned to find out what kind they proposed to use to cope with this dictionary of muddiness: standard road tyres on all but one fairly old, green Defender.  Moreover, all but the aforementioned were completely standard vehicles in every aspect.

During the day I got to drive the green Defender through the very worst of the mud and deep water, a Range Rover down through the forest trail (avoiding all but three of the myriad tennis balls suspended strategically from the trees), a new silver Defender round a typical time trial section with awkward gates, tricky changes in camber and surface and the very worst of the ruts and cross-cuts (Penny and Pete will know what I mean) and a Range Rover Sport out on the road. 

To prove how truly amazing these vehicles are, we persuaded the team to let us drive the final vehicle, an £80k Range Rover Vogue TDSE, not out on the road as planned, but over some extreme bumps and at some fairly radical angles both sideways and endways.  I’m pretty comfortable driving most anything, but we were at such an angle sideways at one point that I thought I was going to fall out of my seat!

I was so enthralled that I completely forgot to take any pictures, but late in the day I caught a short video.  Watch the horizon very carefully to get a sense of what we were doing in a perfectly controlled way, in beautifully appointed comfort.  the-drop.mp4

All-in-all a totally mud-tastic day!

Up memory hill

It was a good run for thinking today.  I didn’t get out in the week so I rose early, had my quadspresso, read another chapter of Richard Askwith’s The Lost Village and then set out around 7.50am into the quiet morning.  I headed down the road and within five minutes, keen to experiment, had chosen my destination.  I would see if I could run to the beacon a more direct route than normal.

So it was out onto Folders Lane, round the muddy footpath past the vineyards and across the road to Ditchling, then down through all the chicken farms to Ditchling itself.  The ground had definitely dried out, but there were still pockets of slurry here and there, which is why my runners are currently soaking in a bucket of water, outside in the sun.

Ditchling is such a beautiful village and my route took me a new way through between the hidden houses and their idyllic gardens.  Thrust back out from this bygone age near the crossroads, I decided to run along the beacon road, since there were still not many people out and about driving.  With Richard Askwith’s prose still humming around my head, I looked afresh at  houses that I normally pass in the car, imagining them newly built when the road was a track and a coach and four was a highlight.


At the base of the beacon, I took the path to the right and instantly the last twenty or so years fell away back to the first time I remember walking up it.  My friend Cliff had decided to do this completely mad thing of joining the Raleigh expedition and needed to raise a fair amount of money through sponsorship.  As far as I remember, he decided to climb the height of Everest by going up Ditchling Beacon; I forget how many times, but quite a number.

With a gang of supporters taking it in turns to keep him company and making sure he was kept fed and watered, he had almost finished by the time I arrived so I thought I would walk up once with him.  It was a really tough climb, as the path goes more or less straight up the scarp slope, but I was so exhilarated on reaching the top that I continued and did the final four or five laps with him.

That day was baking hot, the ground firm and the legs young, but today the steepness of the slope and a thin layer of mud meant that anything other than a walk was out of the question.  Mist covered the top and standing, munching, by the side of the trig point was a white cow… I’m not sure who was more startled!

I was a touch disappointed, as it had still taken me an hour to get there despite seemingly going a faster route, so I determined to try to make up time on the way back.  I only discovered the main bridle-path down the Beacon last year and it’s still a thrill to run down, although today it was slippery enough for me to recall passages from Richard Askwith’s earlier book, Feet in the Clouds about the completely balmy sport of fell running.  This video downthebeacon.mp4 shows my progress although you don’t get a sense of how steep or slippery it is!  And by the sounds of it, the fell runners would call me a wuss for not throwing caution to the wind!

It was round about here that I had a revelation and Richard, if you happen to read this, expect a call from me shortly!  Others, whose interest might be piqued, please wait patiently to see whether it turns into an interesting project.


I took a different path at the base of the beacon and thus ended up running back to Ditchling crossroads, where I turned left, circled around the back of the beautiful church and village pond and headed up a single track road.  At the top of the hill, having seen a property that I would happily aspire to (no, it wasn’t just because of the Aston parked in the drive) I reached the mill that Nick and I passed last weekend.  But rather than repeating our mistake, I took the footpath that headed north which eventually brought me out a good way up the keymer road towards home.

Which was a very good thing because I was already knackered!  I felt like I hobbled my way back past the old houses lining the route home and eventually found myself leaning, panting, against my front door-frame.  The 45 minute return journey reflecting not my speed, but the fact that I’d finally discovered a more direct route. 

Or so I thought.  Actually, the distance each way was almost exactly the same at 5.1 miles, which actually makes me wonder if I was so knackered on returning that I misread my watch by ten minutes.  Otherwise the return leg was at 6.8mph, which it certainly didn’t feel like at the time, even if it does right now!

Cars or cards?

I cooked, but before you think of me as a capable kind of guy in the kitchen, I know only how to cook two things: the ubiquitous male Bolognese and a chicken dish that has bacon, leeks and honey.  Last night it was the turn of the latter and Nick came to share so we also had a couple of bottles of wine between the three of us to help it down.  Which is probably why I have a headache right now.

The spare bed claimed another admirer: pretty amazing for a relatively inexpensive, light as a feather, one-sided mattress on an old futon base.  Whatever its secret, it’s zzzzlicious so if you’re suffering from sleepless nights let me know and we’ll try it out on you!

It was beautifully sunny when we got up and after the obligatory quadspresso, Nick and I set off in our running gear.  It was really springlike and for about ten minutes I wished I’d just worn shorts & a t-shirt.  Until I realised how cold it was in the wind on the exposed stretches.  We headed out across the Common and then took a path south that I’d not introduced Nick to before.  He had complained that his shoes were dirty (barely so, readers!) and that he planned to wash them later, so I chose this path partly because I knew it would be good & muddy.

It didn’t disappoint… it was the muddiest I’d ever seen it down there.  As we slithered and slid, laughing all the way, so I enquired as to whether, given the choice, he preferred cars or cards.  Well used to my daft questions he obliged with a comprehensive answer (basically, cars) and he was not then in the least fazed five minutes later when we were faced with a small river to cross by a pretty cottage.  I took the bridge whilst he had to contend with the Ford, which he did with consummate grace!

As the mud got worse, so I was forced to tighten my shoelaces so I didn’t lose my runners as I ran through the middle of it.  We turned west onto a tarmac road and cut down and through Ditchling and carried on behind Keymer to the railway line.  Then our run started to fall apart.  There were a series of grassed fields, each with a well worn path around the edge, so we gradually headed north until we suddenly ran out of path.  There was a well worn cut-through so we ducked past a fence onto another path and headed north again… except this turned out to be someone’s driveway.  Someone with a dog.

I grew up around dogs and even used to walk two in the lunchtimes at my primary school, but somewhere around aged ten an Alsatian bit my football, the owner was unrepentant and I no longer felt comfortable around them.  So as this dog challenged us and Nick quickly folded his arms to make it more difficult to lose them, I quite literally cowered behind him!

The owners were lovely and very helpful and allowed us to continue through and down their lane.  But then we had a really close call.  There appeared on our right a gate of the kind that walkers and runners are very familiar with, so thinking we had found a bridle-path we headed through into a field.  Something didn’t seem right and as we paused so a lady shouted for us to get back on the lane.  We obliged and as we headed down to where she was standing, a large Alsatian came racing across the field at full pelt, gnashers out ready for breakfast.  Which we clearly would have been and ‘Trespassers will be Eaten’ would not have been an inappropriate sign!

Back on the right side of the law again, we headed back to the house for breakfast ourselves.  Ten miles in one hour 54 minutes works out to a pedestrian 5.3mph, but it was muddy, we did get lost and we also had to stop a couple of times to save our bacon.  If success can be measured in terms of the amount of mud Nick would have to wash off his runners when he got home, it was a very successful morning!

The run didn’t clear my headache and neither has the writing, so I may just have to go and catch forty winks on the spare bed!

Message for Daren


Dai and I set the world to rights today with a bottle of Merlot over lunch and a relaxed stroll along Brighton seafront on a gloriously sunny day. 

If anyone is wondering why the English have a reputation for talking about the weather, last week was gorgeous, there were floods on Saturday, two inches of snow on Sunday and we were back supping Earl Grey tea in a beach cafe today… go figure.

Readers of Daren’s blog will be familiar with the way that he taunts us with pictures of glamorous beaches and idyllic sunsets, so back at ya Daren!

Monday morning exercise


After the snow and freezing temperatures on Sunday, I was back helping my friend John with the base for his new garden shed on Monday, pictured after the first load and again after the second – or should that be the 5th and 6th as Nick & I helped him in with the 3rd & 4th last week. 

I’m sure he’ll call me a wimp, but I ACHED yesterday having pulled the float machine up and down a dozen times!  There was great camaraderie amongst the friends helping though and it was fascinating to see how it all came together. 

And I have actually enjoyed discovering some dormant muscles!