Mud at zero wetness

After a couple of weeks of sweet sunshine, I heard that the weather is about to break, so I capitalised on a quiet morning by getting out for a run.  I left the house about 6.45am, just after the sun came up and took the old default route out to the Royal Oak, Wivelsfield, through the woods to the industrial estate and back down the Magical Path and across the common.

Ditchling Common

It was warm enough to justify the shorts I was wearing, whilst the jacket I had worn for good measure was quickly taken off and tied around my waist.  As we enter October and the weather starts to change, I will no doubt start to comment on the state of the mud under foot, so it’s fair to say that this morning there was none.  Even in the places which are normally damp the ground was bone dry.

It occurs to me that there should be a way of categorising the mud, when it finally makes an appearance.  It’s going to be comparative and anecdotal only, but I suspect some scales along the lines of depth, wetness and slipperyness might work… other suggestions are welcome though.

Leafy crossroads

5.2 miles were dispatched in 45 minutes, which is just shy of 7mph… it would have easily been that if I’d not stopped to take a couple of photos!

Good for the sole

Falmer pond

We have had family staying across the weekend, so I was grateful that they insisted I tootle off and do my Sunday run… while they sat in the garden!

And my, what a  b e a u t i f u l  day to do it!

I met Cliff in Falmer and we set out for a short run… me for time constraints; he because he’s still recovering from the crazy Mont Blanc race!  We followed the route previously taken from here by heading up alongside the Falmer Road and then across to the copse, before dropping down to Newmarket.

Then then we ran back towards Falmer on the disused road and turned right up, up, up through Balmer Farm and all the (long) way to the top of the rise at Balmer Huff.  From here the view was stunning!

Soul food

After five or maybe even ten minutes trying to stem a nose bleed brought on by altitude, or maybe age, we then headed back down on the other side of the hillock and down Ridge Road into Falmer again, taking in more gorgeous views as we went.

More soul food

Our route was 6.85 miles and our run one hour and five minutes, but if you take off ten minutes for stoppages, you get more of an accurate sense of how quickly Cliff was going… clearly already well back on form again!

'nuff said


The 100m of cinder path out of the eleven miles of tarmac

I ran on the road this morning which should make me a road-runner, but alas, any one of the hundreds of drivers who passed me will be able to testify that I was really not moving that fast!

But at least I was out and about on this beautiful morning… unlike all the other mornings this week when, for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t!

Part of the reason for running on the road for a change was to get myself more used to it ahead of the marathon… and part because I’m wasn’t quite yet ready to trash the shininess of my new runners after the torrential rain last night!  I’m sure the Bok would understand, if no-one else!

The route was really not that inspiring and if I’m going to have to train on the road, I shall have to find a more interesting one… the picture above is slightly misleading as it’s the only 100m stretch of garden path in an otherwise flat and hard-surfaced route.

Simple (did I say boring?) route… down to Wivelsfield Station, left to London Road, left to Stone Pound Crossroads in Hassocks, left through Keymer and Ditching to Spatham Lane, left to Middleton Lane, left to Ditchling Common, Folders Lane and home.  And pretty much nothing else of note to report.

Eleven miles took me 1 hour 41 minutes which was actually quite good bearing in mind I stopped four times to stretch my stiff legs… in fact it’s pretty much the pace I ran Berlin marathon at… just over 6.5mph.

Since I’ve got a little space left, I thought I would share with you a childish game that I’ve played this weekend.  Under normal circumstances, very little would get past Kim, but she’s had a mother of a cold this week and has also been pre-occupied with a fascinating mediation course that she’s taking, so she’s not been as observant as normal.

My game was to see how many things I could do that she didn’t notice… although to be fair, I only really started playing it last night when she didn’t notice all the things I’d done while she’d been out.  So here (mainly for Kim) are the things that I did:

Saturday: Clean the insides of all the windows in the house, clean the two glazed internal doors and all the mirrors and glazed pictures, bleach the shower and then polish all the shiny bits (which she would have noticed last night and probably didn’t comment because I had my nose stuck into a James Bond film), clean the fish-tank, treat the exterior wood and decking on the tea-house with teak-oil, paint half of what was left to paint of the east wall of the house (which she would be unlikely to notice, to be fair), paint the facing side of next doors garage (rather more obvious!), clean brushes and implements and change ready to adopt a ‘I’ve been moping around the house all day’ kind of attitude for her return.  This latter she saw straight through, saying that I don’t normally mope around, but other than commenting that she liked the richness of the wood in the rain that later poured down (of the freshly oiled tea-house, otherwise dry beneath its extended canopy), she showed no signs of noticing.

Sunday: Pull the untidy tops off the day lilies and the poppies (seeds anyone?), cut the tall grasses back to give light to the other plants around them, put a second coat of decking protector on the top deck, paint the remaining part of the east wall of the house including cleaning brushes etc, do all the washing & drying (although she would have guessed that I would have done that), including her pyjamas that she had hidden on the back of the dressing room door (potentially less expected, especially as I hung them back there afterwards), drive to Focus to get some supplies but find it closed, go back, shower and adopt a similarly louche (not quite the right word, but you know what I mean) stance as yesterday.  I obviously didn’t do quite so much today, but then I did start with a long run!

Have a great week everybody peops!

Sleepy sunday

After returning late from a party in London and crawling into bed around 3am this morning and then getting up just after seven, I think it’s amazing that I even thought about going out for a run.  But I sleepily climbed straight into my running gear to help me prepare mentally, thinking that despite it being a bit chilly outside, at least the sun was shining cheerfully.

Then the sun went in.

So instead of going out for a run in the cool overcastness of the fresh air outside, I opted to visit my friend’s running machine.

It started gently enough, but realising that Radio 4 could keep me going only so long this morning, I dialled up the speed a little and settled for a shorter time-span.

Short of recounting what I heard on the radio, I’m afraid that there’s not a whole lot to report, although this will no doubt please Cliff.  Once you’ve realised that the initial gentle warm-up pace meant that the first mile took over 10 minutes and that the speed indicator now shows 8mph, most of your focus is required for merely staying on the whirring narrow band of black beneath your feet.  While the rest contemplates the philosophical meaning of the only scenery there is within sensible eye-shot, pictured below.

Less than inspiring scenery!

So 7.5 miles in one hour, which if I could keep it up would give me a marathon time of three and a half hours.  This is great until your consider that my closing heart rate was over 180bpm, which is too high to sustain.

So, more training required…. much more!  And now I come to think of it, more sleep too!

In amongst the Deans

I had a loose arrangement to meet some of the guys at 9am in Falmer yesterday.  I almost didn’t keep it as I had been up later than intended the night before reading, but somehow I managed to make it on time.  No-one else turned up and after watching a local on his bike circling the pond a few times, following his dog, who was watching him intently over his shoulder to make sure he was following, I headed out.

I had enjoyed the hills on the route that we did on August 2nd and had a vague sense that I would now be writing about doing the same route, on my own and hopefully slightly faster.  I love exploring though, so having run up the path alongside the Falmer Road and then left towards the copse, I couldn’t help but follow the path that turned right and led directly up to the top of the ridge.

In a much earlier blog I described being amazed to discover a path running up Ditchling Beacon, just downslope of the road, when I thought I knew the area really well.  Here was a similar feeling and from the top of the hill I surveyed the deepcut valley of the Castle Hill Nature Reserve which I knew lead to the, now buried, town of Balsdean and on to the sea which was clear in the distance.  I tramped the paths around here as a youngster, as a Scout and most recently on a Jogshop 20 mile race five years ago but it was still like a new land.  I opened the gate and ran down the hill, ready to discover some new routes.

Where the village of Balsdean once stood... I think

Largely covered by grassland, the valley of Falmer Bottom winds around beautifully as it makes its way slowly to the sea, with occasional remnants of its former, more intensely farmed heritage in the form of derelict farm buildings.  In order to get to the sea though, I had to run up on to the hill above Rottingdean, passing as I did a magnificent country house of a pumping station in the valley below to my left.  From the top I could see the familiar villages of Woodingdean, Ovingdean and Saltdean and I spent a good while thinking of the friends and family that live in each of those places.


Then I was running down through the prosperous town of Rottingdean, where even the shop that sells plastic buckets and spades has an air of exclusivity.  At the one-hour point, I found myself standing on a pretty, remodelled Undercliff Walk with glorious views.


Running to Saltdean on the flat, past the Lido and then through the park at the entrance to the valley, I realised that my legs were really tired and the thought of the long drag back up to the top of the ridge was now daunting.  At Pickets Hill Farm the path splits and since there was a runner half way up the steep High Hill to my left, I chose this way to go in order to have a moving target.  Though I seemingly made no ground on them on the hill itself, I had caught them by the time they reached the next gate.

Faced then with a drop back down into the valley and the steep track at its head, I opted for the slow gradient of the path that hugs the eastern edge of Woodingdean.  It was simultaneously like a new path and an old acquaintance and odd memories of growing up in Woodingdean kept dropping into my mind.


At the Falmer Road I turned right and headed up to Newmarket Hill, the highest point around and then back to the top of Castle Hill Nature Reserve, before retracing my initial steps back down the hill to Falmer.

The 12.8 mile round trip had taken me 2 hours 17 minutes and aside from the pain, I thoroughly enjoyed every retraced step of it.

Wind in the hind quarter

To get straight back into the swing of things, I met Daren at Jack & Jill this morning for a gentle run.

With the wind firmly behind us, we ran along to Blackcap, pausing to help an incongruent cyclist who first asked directions to Ditchling beacon, then later, when we caught him up again at the Beacon, asked directions to Hollingbury… it might have been easier for him to have asked the second question first!  The going was pretty easy and the conversation also flowed happily along.

Daren at Blackcap

Then we turned around to run back.

With the wind now firmly in our faces, conversation became much sparser, not least because we practically had to shout to be understood.  We watched a rain squall ahead in the distance, but were fortunate that it didn’t come our way.

Dark clouds

It felt like the entire way back was very uphill… most especially the last downhill section back to the cars!  Yet despite this, we were whooping with the joy of blasting cobwebs and force-fed fresh air… it was just GREAT!

The distance was 9.35 miles and we took about the same one hour 35 minutes that was taken on the 23rd August… not sure exactly though because my watch is still in for repair and I messed up starting the stopwatch that is standing in for it.

The aftermath

The great French getaway!

I know that my parents and my uncle Roy will all want to know the route of our travels around France, so I enclose a quick guided tour… on the basis that I can never remember the names of places when people ask me, as has already happened this morning!

The general idea was for Kim and I to take a relaxed road trip to Limoges for Philip & Isabelle’s wedding and back again, not driving more than four hours on any of the travelling days and generally getting to experience a little more of this beautiful country.


You have almost certainly seen paintings of Giverny, as it is the home of Monet’s water garden with its glorious water lilies and low arching bridges.  The village is narrow and quaint and beautiful in the evening sun.  We arrived too late to visit the house and gardens so had to endure the crowds and the drizzle the following day, but it was still beautiful.


Arriving in Loches the following evening, we were slightly taken aback that the hotel looked like a house, it’s front door opening directly onto the pavement of a busy thoroughfare.  We were however welcomed through the door into a hidden paradise that backed gracefully onto a canal with a park beyond… shown below from further up on the ramparts.  The well-travelled owners hosted afternoon tea on the terrace and gave the assorted guests the opportunity to chat amongst themselves and to a couple of interesting local friends who had stopped by.  It was a wonderful lesson in true hospitality and resulted in us dining with Katrine and Phillip, a French couple from Blois… who incidentally belong to a running club that regularly visits Lewes!


The town itself is beautiful, with its narrow streets and tall roof-lines surrounding a near impenetrable fortress of a chateau.


We wondered how the next hotel, a converted barn in Nantiat near Limoges, would compare to the opulence of Le Logis, but we were not disappointed.  It is a glorious contemporary conversion of the kind that you may well like to live in yourself… well I would anyway!  The quiet contemplative space is surrounded by countryside, but only a twenty minute stroll to the bustling village where the hosts cycle or walk each morning to buy croissants and bread for breakfast.  Ironically this getaway is run by a couple who used to live in Burgess Hill and belong to Kim’s running club!


We had been invited to a small informal barbecue at Isabelle’s parents house the evening before the wedding and we duly turned up to find a table set for about sixty… pictured looking each way from the middle below!  The caterers were excellent and the festivities went on from a glorious day and well into a cool clear evening.



The wedding was on the following day and despite a groom who looked poorly briefed about the nature and order of a French wedding (he certainly signed up to something), it was a wonderfully lighthearted and participative affair.  The sixty then decamped to a local chateau for extended festivities which continued from the afternoon well into the following morning… we finally got to bed around 3am.


We spent the following day reading and relaxing in our relaxing haven and later ate in a picture postcard restaurant in nearby Bellac.  This shall remain nameless as, run by another English couple, it was a lesson in how not to if ever there was one!  Cheap ingredients, poorly prepared and presented and thus extortionately priced.  Sorry to be frank and all!


It was always going to be hard to match the calm of Nantiat, but the studio on the hill overlooking Saumur was still quiet, despite the team of gardeners working furiously for two days to make the previously overgrown garden presentable for our departure.  Saumur itself is a lovely town and is overlooked by another of France’s great defensive chateaux, which appears to be undergoing a complete restoration.  Certainly the town below the ramparts has large sections of contemporary buildings in the vernacular, with a cosmopolitan cafe culture spilling out into shaded squares.


After all the other delightful accommodation we had visited during our 1026 mile road trip, we arrived late last night at the best of all: with it’s bright shower room and crisp sheets… there’s nothing like a trip away to remind you how wonderful home is!