Setting up camp at Thunder Run

20 July 2018

Frankly, a three hour drive to Walton on Trent was probably not the best thing for my back. Two or so hours in, when we reached Warwick Services, I could barely get out of the car. There was some hobbling around, a loo stop, some much needed food and coffee and then it was back to the car for another interminable, painful hour. At least there was a hotel at the end of it and a chance to walk around, albeit like an old lady who’s lost her walking frame. No photos were taken, apart from one of the hotel door so I’d remember the number when I came back from my hobbling. All this, was yesterday and it was just the precursor to Thunder Run, a twenty four hour endurance race. As far as I could see, at that point, I’d already endured quite enough and it hadn’t even begun yet. 

Later in the afternoon, we drove to Catton Park, thinking we’d be allowed to peg out a camp area for us and the team of assorted Lordshill Runners plus one who had not yet arrived. Unfortunately, although Rob has done this every single year for the past nine years, this year the answer was no. All we could do was go back to the hotel and try to come up with a plan.

This morning, after a night in a soft bed, a nice warm shower and a very early breakfast, I did feel a little better. Overnight, with the aid of actually reading the event details rather than relying on knowledge from past years, a decision had been made about the camping spot. It turned out there was a special area reserved for solo runners like Rob and Commando. It had the advantage of being close to the start finish line and all the food stalls. As there are not many runners stupid brave enough to run solo, the area would be fairly empty. Even so, we drove to the site while the team runners were still sleeping and Rob and I pegged out a camp area for them. Then we went to the local supermarket to stock up on food for the next two days.

By late morning, we’d had our fill of the free coffee in the hotel foyer, checked out and, leaving the team runners at the hotel, had found a spot for our tents on the almost empty solo area.  The wisdom of spending two nights in a tent seemed questionable but at least I didn’t have to run 10k laps the next day and we had a little pond to look at. It was also not raining, which, after the torrential downpours last year, seemed like a huge bonus.

We’d learned a lot from our first year at Thunder Run. This year we had a bigger tent. Commando had not left the air bed and the sleeping bags at home. We had a folding table, a camping stove, kettle, deep frying pan come saucepan, a tin of real grated chocolate to make hot chocolate and assorted plates, mugs, bowls and cutlery. Some forward planning had gone into what we were going to eat and we’d made better shopping choices. At home I’d made a huge bag of my patented running snack, chocolate salty balls, a combination of dates, peanut butter, coconut oil, coco nibs, coco powder, seeds, seasalt and powdered milk. We also had a camping loo for the middle of the night when it’s dark and dangerous.

The tent setting up and unpacking was a team effort. Commando, Rob, Kim and I worked well together and soon the tents were standing, the air beds were blown up and the kettle was whistling. As camping goes, it all seemed quite civilised. We sat in our camp chairs, drinking coffee and relaxing in the sun while we could. We’d managed to achieve all this and, so far, the team runners hadn’t even arrived.

Sitting around all afternoon in the burning sun was never an option for me. My leg was still aching and my toes were numb from the long drive yesterday. What I needed to do was keep moving. The roads around Catton Park have no pavements, more’s the pity as there are interesting things to see in the area, and the traffic is fast and furious.  Walking on the road would be almost suicidal, especially with all the traffic heading for the event. Walking the course was an option but things were still in the process of being set up so it would hardly have been quiet and I might well have got hopelessly lost or in the way. Luckily I knew just where to go to stretch my legs.

Across the road from the Thunder Run field, is the large field behind Catton Hall. It’s used as a car park for the runners but, at this point, it was fairly empty and walking the perimeter, with my eyes turned towards the River Trent, had been one of the joys of last year. The hall, was cordoned off by some low ropes with yellow no access signs, but it was still easily visible from the field. The current building was built in 1745, by William Smith, and replaced the original fifteenth century Manor House. The Manor of Catton was originally presided over by Roger Horton, and his family members served as High Sherriff of Derbyshire. Today the hall is owned by the Neilson family, descendants of the Hortons. Apparently there is a chapel behind the house, built in 1892, boasting a Norman font. Sadly I couldn’t see it from my spot on the field.

Much as I’d have liked to see more of the hall, the real draw was the river. In contrast to the dry, straw like grass, the banks were green and bursting with wild flowers. With the burbling of the water soothing me, I strolled along the bank trying to stretch out my poor old legs. Last year I’d seen Canada geese and swans here but today there was no wildlife at all.

Quite soon I reached the place where the bank has crumbled, leaving a convenient ledge to sit on in quiet contemplation. Although the main purpose of my excursion had been to walk and stretch my legs, I did stop for a short while, close my eyes, breathe deeply and enjoy the smell and sound of the Trent.

Moments after I climbed back to the top of the bank and began walking again, I noticed a man coming down the river on a paddle board. He said hello as he passed and I replied, “that looks like fun.” Where he came from and where he was going is a mystery but I really was quite envious. It seemed it would be far cooler on the river than standing on the dusty bank.

At the top end of the field more or less in line with a slightly rickety wooden fence, there’s an interesting looking island. This, I guessed, was where all the wildlife was hiding. As said fence barred my way into the next field I followed it back towards the road. If memory served me right I’d be able to cross the road and get back into the top gate of the Thunder Run field. This would give me a nice circular walk back through the campsite to our tents.

There were hundreds of sheep in the field and a red brick building, probably a farm house, on the far side. The grazing sheep looked at me askance over the fence and shuffled towards the middle of the field suspiciously. Some gave me wary, accusing looks, as if they thought I was up to no good, maybe about to steal their wool or something even more sinister.

When I finally reached the road I was slightly dismayed to find the top gate of the Thunder Run field, sercurely locked. Briefly I thought about climbing over it but the idea of getting stuck, falling, or being caught by the campsite security guards didn’t seem worth the risk. In the end I simply walked back along the car park field beside the hedgerow and back through the gate I’d originally come out of.

While I’d been walking, the clouds had rolled in. If anything the heat was even more oppressive and I was fairly glad to get back to our camp and have a cool drink. It was now late afternoon, time to try out the new camping stove. My hastily concocted one pan pasta meal, with fresh pasta, a bag of Lloyd Grossman sauce and some pancetta worked better than I’d expected. There were clean plates all round and no complaints.

To help our dinner go down we all took a stroll to the team campsite. They’d all arrived quite late, having spent the day at a local zoo and had also just finished eating.
“The food’s all gone,” Pete joked, taking a bite from a burger.
We stood around chatting for a while but, before long, it was clear standing around wasn’t doing my back any good so I left the runners for one last tour of the car park field before we all tried to get an early night.

When I reached the river I noticed the swans had decided to make an appearance. They had three, or maybe four, fluffy little cygnets in tow, along with a whole family of Canada geese. Frustratingly, they were all on the far bank, a little too distant for decent photos. I might have stayed longer but a few spots of rain were beginning to fall. Mindful of Rob’s prediction of thunder storms at some point in the evening and, remembering last year’s torrential downpours,  I thought it was probably best to head back to the shelter of the camp.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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