Goodbye, hello, Remembrance and mud

10 November 2018

The end of October brought the end of the warm weather. It had been one of the longest, hottest summers in living memory and getting out jumpers, hats and gloves seemed like a welcome change of pace. So, wrapped up warm against the chilly autumn air, we set off across a Common softened by mist and bathed in golden light for our second parkrun of the month. It was going to be a day for goodbyes.

Goodbyes are not usually happy occasions but, in this case, no one was actually going anywhere. John, the Southampton parkrun Event Director for the last three years and his wife Rachel who’s is a regular Run Director, had decided to step down. Overseeing one of the biggest parkruns in the country, regular Run Directing and being chairman and welfare officer of a running club while holding down full time paid jobs are far more work than most people realise. John and Rachel were well overdue a bit of time to rest and relax.

John’s favourite band, Ukulele Jam, had turned up to surprise him and there was a general air of festivity about the event. Before RD, Kate, got into her pre run briefing, Rob presented John and Rachel with a beautiful framed map of the parkrun course. Rob is one of Southampton parkrun’s most experienced RD’s and he will now he be taking over the ED reigns.

As soon as the goodbyes and hello’s were over I tramped across the grass to the Old Cemetery. This is always my favourite part of Saturday morning and, with the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I coming up, I had more than an inkling there’d be something interesting to see. The still misty morning light burnished the autumn leaves and turned the cemetery paths into a cathedral of colour.

My aim was the chapel at the far end of the main path but the scatterings of bright berries, the moon in the deep blue sky and dappled sun on interesting graves threatened to distract me with every step. The Old Cemetery is difficult to walk through with any purpose, there is just so much to see everywhere.

It was well worth persevering and ignoring all the things that caught my eye along the way. When I reached the chapel I discovered one of the interesting commemorative sculptures that have popped up all over the city. These cast iron figures were created by the Royal British Legion to mark the centenerary of the armistice as reminders of all those who died.

This one was a suffragette. She caused a bit of a stir amongst those who didn’t fully understand the role the suffrage movement played in World War I. Before the war some women waged a campaign of civil disobedience, violence and hunger strikes. In 1914, when war broke out, the suffragists and suffragettes put aside their battle for equality and did all they could to help the war effort. They set up hospital units in France and helped at home by taking on jobs that would previously have been done by men. Their actions proved, once and for all, that women were capable of doing men’s jobs and more than worthy of the vote.

While the statue in the Cemetery was no surprise to me the tea lights candles and lanterns all around the war memorial were unexpected. There were dozens of them, many actually alight, in all different shapes, sizes and colours. Who put them there is a mystery but it was a beautiful and moving tribute to those who died. For some time I stood looking at them and thinking about the sacrifices made in those dark days.

Much as I’d have liked to stay a little longer and maybe visit some of the other war graves, I had to get back to parkrun. There was just time for a quick look at the Belgian soldiers memorial. This too was surrounded by glass lanterns.

A few spots of rain were falling as I walked back across the grass. They didn’t come to anything though, apart from a rainbow over the parkrun finish funnel. Tempting as it was to go off in search of a pot of gold on the trail around Cemetery Lake, Commando and I had to leave quick smart. We had another race to go to in the afternoon.

The race in question was the next Hampshire Cross Country League event in Aldershot. Commando had never been there before and my only experience of it was a brief visit in June 2012 to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Aldershot football stadium. Suffice to say we got lost. It also began raining torrentially which didn’t help matters much.

Eventually we found the place but couldn’t find a way into the car park. In the end we parked up at the side of a lane some distance away and traipsed through the rain and mud to the start line. It didn’t look like it was going to be a fun afternoon in the slightest.

The course could best be described as a quagmire, there had been two earlier races so the wet ground was well churned up before the race even began. The rain was so hard I abandoned any thought of getting my fancy camera out and, instead, stood dripping, squinting through my foggy glasses and tried my best with my phone. Commando was almost gleeful at the sight of it. He’d just bought some new spikes for his running shoes and was pleased to be able to test them out. Have I mentioned that runners are very strange people?

If lap one had seemed bad, lap two was even worse. The rain had been falling steadily and the runners had turned the mud into a dirty pond. Photos were getting harder and harder to take, mainly because everyone was so covered in mud it was difficult to recognise them.

There was a third lap, but, by then, I’d put my phone away and given up trying to take pictures, although I did whip it out once, to capture a very wet, muddy Commando heading for the finish. This was undoubtedly the muddiest cross country race I’ve ever watched. Later I learned there was a small stream on the woodland part of the course. On lap one it was easy to step over. By lap two it required leaping. On the final lap the stream had grown to such proportions the runners had to wade through. Still, it did wash off some of the mud briefly.

At the start of the day, in the soft mist and dawn light, putting on a jumper, hat and gloves seemed like a pleasant novelty. What I hadn’t bargained for was needing a dry robe and waders by the afternoon. Suddenly autumn and cross country race spectating didn’t seem quite so charming after all.

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Slip sliding to the final running school 28 August

28 August 2018

Today was my final Running School session and I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or sad. The previous sessions had all been extremely tough, pushing me to my limits but there was something almost enjoyable, in a masochistic way, about being tested and getting through it. Maybe enjoyable isn’t the right word and maybe the joy part when they were over was more about having survived. Either way, I set off this morning with mixed feelings. For once there was a good chance of getting wet along the way and I was actually wearing a thin raincoat. Continue reading Slip sliding to the final running school 28 August

Tales from the Old Cemetery

November & December 2017

On a Saturday morning I often find myself with time to kill while Commando is running parkrun. Sometimes I hang around chatting to the other spectators, sometimes I go off to get a coffee but, most often, I just wander around the Old Cemetery on Southampton Common. It’s good to leave the hubbub of parkrun behind and find a few peaceful moments wandering amongst the graves. The morning light and the changing of the seasons, along with the inscriptions on the stones, make it an interesting exercise. Sometimes I take a photo or two, sometimes my phone stays in my pocket. Usually there are not enough photos to warrant a blog post but I thought I’d gather a few together and share them with you.  Continue reading Tales from the Old Cemetery

Big changes on the butterfly walk

19 April 2018

After weeks and weeks of rain and cold, the surprisingly balmy evening running through Victoria Country Park seemed like it might have been a turning point, at least weather wise. This morning the sky was a beautiful shade of blue and cloudless. Spring seemed to have finally sprung and it felt like time for a walk at last.  Continue reading Big changes on the butterfly walk

An accidental run in the woods

18 April 2018

The beginning of April was less April showers and more April downpours. The world seemed to be all about huge puddles, gloopy mud and perpetual dampness. It was also cold, so, just when we should all have been thinking about light spring jackets and losing the layers, we were wrapping up in big coats, scarves and hats instead. None of this made me relish the thought of the first RR10 of the season at Victoria Country Park but, as it was the Spitfires marshalling event, at least I wouldn’t be standing still in the cold and rain.  Continue reading An accidental run in the woods

North Stoneham, hidden trails and building work

23 February 2018

Commando has signed up for a course at the Runnung School to try to improve his technique. He’s hoping it might knock a few seconds off his parkrun PB and maybe help him avoid future injuries. Today was his first class and, as it was in Old Stoneham Lane and the day was wonderfully springlike, I went along to have a little wander while he was learning.  Continue reading North Stoneham, hidden trails and building work

Two bridges lite

4 January 2018

The first proper walk of 2018, if you don’t count lots of dashing about shopping or wandering around the Old Cemetery in the mud, was a version of Commando’s two bridge challenge. Frankly, at under four miles, it wasn’t much of a challenge but it was the first ‘just for the sake of walking’ walk of the year and there were swans, mud and some climbing that probably wouldn’t have seemed half as bad if I’d had breakfast before I went out.   Continue reading Two bridges lite

Late autumn rivers and lakes

16 November 2017

This year, with little in the way of wind to ruffle them, the trees seem to be holding onto their autum leaves. Today, as the weather was bright, if cold, I thought a nice long walk was in order to enjoy them while they were still there. CJ and I set off fairly early for the river. We had a plan to walk to Eastleigh and back with a quick stop off for coffee in the Swan Centre. Continue reading Late autumn rivers and lakes

Coffee, cake and mud at Whiteley

1 October 2017

October started with the first CC6 of the season, at least the first one the Spitfires could run. Last year there were a hard core of around eight Spitfires who turned up to run this series of winter cross country races, along with one mad photographer. It isn’t easy dragging yourself out of a warm bed on a Sunday morning to go out into the cold and run around a piece of muddy woodland. The more the merrier, or so they say, so this year the master plan was to get more people interested. There had certainly been enough of them turning up for the marshalling race  last month.  Continue reading Coffee, cake and mud at Whiteley

The fairies of Archery Woods

20 September 2017

We left the sea and the tall flats behind and cut through the buildings to Archery Road. At this stage my plans were vague. Maybe we’d walk back towards Woolston and wind our way through the streets there. Maybe we’d head along Swift Road or Weston Lane towards Sholing and Millers Pond. Then again, we could walk through the woods, if they weren’t too muddy.  Continue reading The fairies of Archery Woods