A parkrun far far away

20 July 2019

Sleeping in a tent in the rain isn’t easy. This year though, we’d dispensed with the, frankly, useless air beds that never seem to stay inflated for more than an hour or two and bought proper camp beds with us. They looked narrow and uncomfortable but were surprisingly good to sleep on. Because of the rain and the fading light we’d gone to bed quite early and I woke equally early. Commando was still sleeping but I sneaked out of the tent and went off for a wander. It was just after five in the morning.

As expected, there was a fair bit of mud but the rain had stopped. The sky told me this was probably just a brief interlude but everything looked beautifully green and fresh. Briefly I thought about walking the 10k course but then I remembered the ghostly mist in the woods last year and decided against it.

Much later, when everyone else was awake, there was talk of going off to the local parkrun. There are two parkruns nearby, Conkers and Rosliston but, in past years, we’ve visited neither because the men have been saving their legs for Thunder Run. The fact they were now discussing which parkrun to go to suggested they really did intend to take it easy this year. Kim and I were both shocked.

In the end they plumped for Rosliston, mostly because Rob had already been to Conkers years ago. So we got in the car and headed off into the unknown. We passed through the tiny village of Rosliston and, with no major mishaps, managed to find the Rosliston Forestry Centre.  The forestry centre is part of some two hundred square miles of trees planted in the 1990’s from Leicester to Burton upon Trent to create a new National Forest. Rosliston Manor, once called Redlauseton, once belonged to Earl Algar. He was the son of Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva, the one who rode naked through Coventry to try to persuade her husband to stop taxing the poor. 

Usually, Rosliston parkrun has around one hundred and eighty runners. Today, thanks to Thunder Runners, their numbers were swelled to three hundred and twenty seven. Kim was not amongst them because, not believing for one minute that the boys would really take it easy this year, she hadn’t brought her barcode with her to Thunder Run.

Together we watched everyone head for the start line. The sky looked heavy with rain as the runners set off and we looked gratefully towards the visitor centre with its nice dry cafe.

Once the last runners had passed us we headed towards the cafe but got slightly distracted by an interesting looking gate into a small sensory garden. It wasn’t actually raining so we went to have a look. This turned out to be a brilliant move. The garden was filled with interesting sculptures and scented plants.

Beside something that looked like an old stone fireplace we found a beacon, similar to the ones in Hatch Grange and on Netley Common. This, it turned out, was built to commemorate the queen’s diamond jubilee. There was a small stone pagoda commemorating the twinning link between South Derbyshire and Toyota City, a lovely sun dial dedicated to the local Women’s Institute, and a beautiful area of mosaic paving.

We wandered along the paths, crushing a leaf here and there trying to identify each scent and plant. We stumbled upon a mini beast lair under a trap door but there were no beasts, mini or otherwise, at home. A little further along we thought we’d found a beehive but it turned out to be a compost bin in disguise.

There were flowers everywhere, lavender, rosemary, chamomile, curry plant, mint, lemon balm, comfrey, evening primrose and many I couldn’t identify for sure. They brightened the dull day with their flowers and enchanted us with their scents. Not far from the false beehive we found a real one, safely behind a locked gate. If there were bees in it they were all asleep though, or maybe out foraging amongst all the flowers.

The little garden was filled with so many curiosities we hardly knew where to look. These included a whole array of interesting benches, mostly memorials to local folk. One looked just like an old leather sofa until we got closer and discovered it was carved from a large block of wood.

The rain held off and, with so much to see, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the garden. In the end though, we knew we needed to head back to the parkrun course and try to spot our runners.

Rather than go back to the finish line, we followed the course for a while, looking for a good spot to take photos. The woodland trail was beautiful and there were more curiosities along the way. We found a chainsaw sculpture of a badger, a wooden bench carved with a giant oak leaf and some kind of giant sundial we couldn’t quite work out. Maybe if there’d actually been some sun…

Then the runners began to come past, a trickle at first, then more and more of them. Rob was the first one we recognised and we both got our phones out and began to snap away as he ran up the hill we’d just walked down.

Commando wasn’t far behind. He powered up the hill, overtaking a couple of other runners as he went. Once he’d passed, Kim and I took a more sedate walk back up the hill and headed for the finish line to look for our runners.

The finish line volunteers did a great job considering there were nearly twice as many runners as they usually had to deal with. Once both barcodes had been scanned we finally went to the cafe for a coffee and a sit down.

If Rosliston parkrun was closer to home it might become a favourite for some parkrun tourism. The boys said the course was interesting and not too taxing and Kim and I thoroughly enjoyed the sensory garden. Sadly, it’s not likely we will be back anytime soon though as a drive of a hundred and fifty odd miles seems a bit excessive for a Saturday morning run.

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Burton Upon Trent, beer, marmite and rain

19 July 2019

Summer came late this year but, when it hit, it hit hard with weeks of high temperatures and high humidity. The thought of a little camping at Thunder Run in mid July was a bright spot on the horizon. Both Rob and Commando said they were going to take things easy this year, do a few laps but also relax a little. We didn’t really believe them but I still imagined Kim and I chilling in the gazebo in the sun, sipping cool drinks and walking a lap or two ourselves.

The last thing I expected to see when I checked the weather for this weekend was wall to wall rain. Rain and camping really don’t go together very well. There were a few hasty changes to the packing list, including my stout boots and our dry robes plus the removal of unnecessary skimpy t-shirts and sandals. It seemed this camping trip was not going to be nearly as much fun as we’d expected.

Yesterday, as we drove up the M3 towards Burton upon Trent in our hired van, the rain seemed to be following us. After more than a year driving an automatic car, the gearbox and clutch came as a bit of a shock to Commando but, thankfully, the windscreen wipers worked a treat. Sitting in the van for most of the day meant I didn’t get nearly enough steps in, even with a few very damp evening laps of our first night hotel.

This morning it was still mostly raining. Kim and I made the most of the hotel facilities, including hot showers and a lovely breakfast, while Rob and Commando went off to bag a good pitch in the solo area and put the tents up. Somehow I think we got the better deal.

Our next task was to drive into Burton and get supplies for the next two days. This was accomplished fairly quickly. As the rain was falling steadily and sitting in a wet tent was fairly unappealing, we decided to spend a little time exploring Burton before heading off to the camp site. Two previous very brief visits to Burton upon Trent had given me a tantalising glimpse of wonderful old industrial buildings and lots of history I’d love to have explored so I was quite excited by this prospect.

The little market town is the administrative centre for East Staffordshire and is known chiefly for brewing. Burton boasts eight breweries and is also the place where  Marmite is produced. For those who don’t know about Marmite, it’s a thick, vitamin rich, brown black spread used on sandwiches and toast in the main. People either love it or hate it. In our house CJ and I love it and Commando hates it. Anyhow, it was invented in the late nineteenth century by Justus Von Liebig, a German scientist, who discovered brewer’s yeast could be concentrated, bottled and eaten. The Marmite Food Extract Company was formed in Burton upon Trent in 1902. The yeast used to make it was a by product from the local brewery. 

Unfortunately, heavy rain cut our outdoor exploring short almost before it had begun. Luckily, before we got too wet, Commando and I discovered the Cooper’s Square shopping centre and ducked inside. Originally called Burton Shopping Centre, this indoor mall was opened in 1970 by Princess Alexandra, with a roof being added in the mid 1990’s when the name was changed.  We weren’t really in the mood for shopping but we were in the mood for staying dry so we wandered around window shopping and took advantage of the toilets while we were there.

In the middle of the shopping centre we stumbled upon a really beautiful bronze sculpture of a cooper making a barrel by James Walter Butler. The Burton Cooper was commissioned in 1977 and originally stood opposite the town market. When the Cooper’s Square shopping centre was refurbished in 1994, the sculpture was moved to its present position, despite quite a bit of local protest. I was very taken with the Burton Cooper, especially the expression of concentration on his face.

Eventually there was no avoiding going back outside, it was still raining and, as we’d come out of a different door to the one we’d entered, we weren’t quite sure where we were. Trying to find our way back to the place we’d started we walked around the outside of the building and stumbled upon another sculpture. This, I later discovered, was called the Malt Shovel and was by Andy Hazell. It was unveiled in 2001 and is a rather quirky thirty foot high stainless steel shovel with a human sized beer bottle cut out in the blade.

The wet paving stones below the sculpture were equally interesting. They were imprinted with miniature beer bottles and the chemical formula for the fermentation process. Unfortunately, there was a little too much H2O around for my liking.

Around the corner we were soon back on the High Street and things began to look familiar again. Then we stumbled upon Market Place running off to our right. Standing side by side with the modern buildings were some of the beautiful old red brick buildings I’d so admired on previous visits. There was also a small market selling lots of interesting plants. Of course we were too far from home for me to buy any but looking at them kept me amused. 

Behind the market was an interesting looking clock tower. A closer look told us this was the tower of St Modwen’s, the mother church of Burton. This rather angular red sandstone church was built on the site of Burton Abbey in 1719. The church was designed by brothers Richard and William Smith of Tattenhall but both brothers died before it was finished and the work was completed by their younger brother Francis Smith. 

Surrounded by greenery it looked like an interesting place to visit but the door was closed. Besides, we really needed to get back to the High Street and try to find Kim and Rob. In the end, although we did explore a little bit of Burton on Trent, and I did take a few wet photos of the lovely Victorian architecture, the weather and time meant I didn’t see nearly as much as I’d have liked.

We found Kim and Rob not long after we left the church. By now the rain was getting heavier and heavier so we decided to cut our losses and head back to the cars.

Our eight or so mile journey to Catton Park, Walton on Trent, where out tents were waiting took us right past the Marmite factory. I looked at it longingly through the wet window of the van, wondering if they did tours and, if so, whether they might give out samples? It rained all the way there, which made negotiating the very narrow bridge just outside the tiny town of Walton on Trent a little more tricky than it might have been, especially in an unfamiliar hired van. In the end we had to fold the mirrors in to get through.

It carried on raining all afternoon. We spent a great deal of it huddled in the middle of the rather windy and damp gazebo, trying not to get wet. The rain finally stopped just as the sun was going down. We went to bed wondering what on Earth the Thunder Run course was going to be like after so much rain?

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Thunder Run miles and miles

21 & 22 July 2018

When the runners finally began to emerge from their tents, blearily rubbing the sleep from their eyes, I was sitting under the gazebo in a garden chair alternately reading Joanne Harris’ Runelight on my kindle and dozing. My dawn walk of the course felt like a strange dream but there were a handful of photos on my phone to prove it had happened and my leg and back felt better for it. Now there was a burst of activity. A big, one pan, breakfast of sausage, bacon, tomatoes and eggs was cooked, mostly by Kim, hot chocolate and coffee was consumed. Running gear was put on along with race numbers and timing chips were strapped to ankles. At midday the race would be starting. Continue reading Thunder Run miles and miles

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.  Continue reading Setting up camp at Thunder Run

The legendary Solo Dave

22 July 2017

When I got back to the tent Mark was already back and Tamsyn had set off on the next team lap. So far neither Rob or Commando had run along the final part of the course in front of our tents so I settled down in my garden chair to watch and wait. Runners were coming past all the time. My eyes were firmly fixed on the race numbers as they approached, white numbers were team runners red were solo. We cheered everyone who passed but the red numbers got the loudest cheers. A pair of solo runners dressed as a bride and groom came past together. Maybe they’d just got married? If so it seemed an odd kind of honeymoon.  Continue reading The legendary Solo Dave

Rain and the Thunder Run

22 July 2017

The rain didn’t stop. In fact it got worse and worse as the evening wore on. There was a brief interlude of almost dryness, just long enough for Pete the Meat to cook burgers and sausages on a couple of reluctant portable barbecues under the awning of Rob and Kim’s tent then it got so bad everyone retired to their respective shelters. We slept on our new air bed inside our new sleeping bags with the sound of rain pounding on canvas as a lullaby. It was a sleep broken by worries about floods washing us away. The name Trent is Celtic for strongly flooding and the river is renowned for it.  Continue reading Rain and the Thunder Run

A little camping adventure

21 July 2017

Way back before Vancouver, achilles tendon problems or RA, Commando entered a twenty four hour endurance race. For months Rob had been filling his head with talk of the Thunder Run and how much fun it was. Frankly, running a hundred kilometres or more in twenty four hours sounded anything but fun to me but, at the time, Commando was marathon training again and an endurance race sounded like an interesting challenge to him. He’d been talking about ultra marathon and endurance races for a while anyway so he didn’t need much persuasion.  Continue reading A little camping adventure