15 November 2015
As if running a marathon in Toronto in October wasn’t quite enough, Commando had also signed up for the Gosport Half Marathon in mid November. Yesterday, in the wind and rain we went to collect his race pack. We parked up behind the lifeboat station and, with the wind at our backs, we walked the half mile to the scout hall where Commando confidently reeled off his race number. The ladies behind the desk looked at him a little strangely.
“Are you sure?” one said, “only that number belongs to Jane Smith and you don’t look like a Jane to me.”
For once, Commando, who usually remembers every number, from his National Insurance number to his bank account, had got it wrong. Maybe the rain had got into his brain. There was some laughter, some checking on his phone and, eventually, we left with the right race pack.
Beside the scout hall we found a footpath and, knoting how much I like a footpath, Commando suggested checking it out. It led to a small pond we later discovered was part of Stoke Lake and we wandered around it until the wind and rain got too much. Then it was back to the car park, a few moments on the blustery, wet shore and back home.
“Hopefully the clouds will have run out of rain before tomorrow morning,” I said, “and I can walk along the shore and explore the pond further.”
This morning it was obvious the clouds still had some rain left. It was another dank, blustery morning. When we got to Bay House School we huddled inside the hall with the other runners until the last minute. The pre race chat was mostly about personal bests.
“I was hoping to knock a few seconds off mine,” Commando said. “It would be a good end to the year, especially as I’ve beaten my mile, my 5k and my marathon times in 2015. With this wind though I think I’ll be lucky to finish in under two hours.”
“Whose idea was it to have this race in November?” I wondered. “You’d think it would be better in July when running along the shore might be quite nice.”
Soon enough it was time to brave the cold and line up at the start. I can’t say I envied Commando standing around in his shorts and vest. Even in my padded coat, several layers of jumpers, a hat, scarf and gloves, I was shivering. At least in Toronto there’d been blue skies and the wind wasn’t threatening to take me off my feet at any moment. When the race finally started I was glad to set off walking. At least movement was warming me up even if the wind was still buffeting me around and trying to pull the hat from my head.
All thoughts of walking along the shore had been blown away by the cold wind but I did have a contingency plan, Little Woodham Living History Village, about one and a half miles from the start line. It looked as if I could get to it along the cutway I discovered during last year’s Gosport Half Marathon and, even with some getting lost, a detour to a Costa I’d spotted nearby and some time spent exploring the place, I’d still get back in time to see Commando cross the finish line. Despite all the rain we’ve had the trail looked a little drier than it had last year and there were dog walkers heading along it so I set off feeling fairly confident.
Thankfully, there were no giant puddles on the trail and the mud was minimal. So far November has been very wet so the lack of puddles was a pleasant surprise. With the exception of the last couple of days, it has also been unseasonably warm, more April than November, and the plants along the trail seemed a touch confused. There were blackberries in flower, crushed silk petals beside bubbly green fruits I’m sure will never get to ripen. Nearby, honeysuckle was still a mass of blooms and even the bindweed was still all showy white trumpets dappled by raindrops.
On the whole the trail was fairly sheltered from the wind so I could at least stop holding onto my hat. The River Alver, inches from the edge of the path, was flat and calm, although the grasses beside it swayed and the distant trees danced. Before long I’d come to the road and decision time. Did I cross and try to find part two of the trail, hoping it too was dry, or take to the road. Out on the road the wind was howling so I decided the trail would be the better option and crossed.
Almost at once I found the other side of the river and, for a moment, it all seemed simple but the gate led to a viewing platform but no trail. Maybe I’d have to walk along the road after all. Head down against the wind and clutching my hat, I struggled on feeling puzzled. The map definitely showed a second trail so where was it? Then, just as the roundabout at the top of the road came into view and I was wondering which turn to take, there it was, a nice firm gravel track winding off into the shelter of the trees.
Away from the road the blusteryness went down a few notches, which was a relief. I was beginning to lose the feeling in my fingers from holding onto my hat. A knapweed that should have been long past flowering challenged me to take a photo. It took several failed attempts to capture it between gusts. The trail wound past largely leafless trees that swayed back and forth.
Ahead a couple were peering intently into the branches of a tree. My curiosity was piqued. By the time I reached the spot, they’d walked on and I stopped to see what was so interesting. If it hadn’t been for them I’d have missed a fine crop of what I think were Pholiota squarrosa, or scaly cap mushrooms. Once thought to be edible, these are actually poisonous, especially if consumed with alcohol. There was no way I was going to have a nibble and the strongest thing I was likely to drink was coffee so I felt quite safe as I took my photographs.
Not long after this I came to a fork in the trail. It was decision time again. A look at Google Maps told me both forks led to a common wide path. The left fork came out near a bridge and a labyrinth of trails that might possibly lead to the history village, the right fork went towards the windy road. Much as I didn’t fancy the road I liked the idea of getting lost less, besides the Costa was that way and right then a warming cup of coffee sounded good.
In the end it turned out to be a good decision. With my warm coffee in hand I easily found Little Woodham Lane, behind a new housing estate not far from Costa. It was wide and paved and there were signs for the history village. Strolling along sipping happily I felt quite pleased with myself. Then I came to the entrance to Little Woodham Living History Village. There was a wire fence, a large gate and a sign saying CLOSED.
Feeling deflated I turned back along the lane. My slow walk from the start line had taken me about an hour, including the detour to Costas, queueing and a few photo stops. Even if Commando beat his personal best I had rather more time on my hands than I’d have liked. A little way along the lane I spotted a trail heading off in the general direction I was going and thought it was worth a try. If it all went horribly wrong I did at least have time to turn back.
After some initial muddiness the trail turned out to be as dry as all the others and the sun was shining through the overhanging branches. Although I didn’t know it, I was walking through Wildgrounds Nature Reserve and it had a little secret to make me smile. Just a few minutes from the start of the trail I stumbled upon an old pillbox. The entrance was blocked up so there was no getting inside to explore and the brickwork was cracked and crumbling in places but it certainly made up for my earlier disappointment. Gleefully I walked around it hoping I’d be able to get a glimpse inside. In the end all I managed to see were cobwebs.
The trail led me back to the fork I’d dithered at earlier and I was soon on my way back towards the road and the first trail. Not long after I’d passed the tree with the scalycap mushrooms a bird flew over the river. It looked very much like a heron and I stopped to snap a few photos, none of which left me any the wiser.
Before long I was back at the road with the wind tearing at my hat again. Here the reeds on the river were being whipped this way and that and even the oak galls beside the road were bobbing about madly. Even holding a branch it took a long time to get a steady shot of one. Getting back to the original trail and out of the wind was a huge relief. Goodness only knew how poor Commando and the rest of the Spitfires were coping running along the shore.
With more than twenty minutes before Commando was likely to finish, even if he did beat his personal best by some miracle, I dawdled back along the trail. Some scraggly and confused Mayweed caught my eye and filled a minute or two as did clusters of snowberries which were at least autumnal. Even with stops to look at cow parsley and teasels I was standing on the finish line with a good ten minutes to spare.
Standing around clamping my hat to my head to stop it blowing away wasn’t really my idea of fun but I cold hardly complain when Commando was being buffeted by the same wind in just his shorts and vest. At least being early meant I got a decent spot to watch for him and I was surprised when he appeared well before I expected. Despite the wind he had beaten his PB, finishing in just one hour forty seven minutes. Maybe the wind blowing against him had been cancelled out by the wind pushing him on. Either way, for once, he was actually happy with his time. Even better, the rain held off until we got back to the car.