This morning we got up for a run we weren’t sure was going to happen. Hot on the heels of hurricane Ophelia came Storm Brian. It arrived on Friday night, all wind and rain battering the bedroom window. On Saturday morning I did the unthinkable and stayed in bed nursing a cold I’ve picked up from CJ while Commando went to parkrun in the howling gale. Even parkrun was in doubt but, after Commando and Rob, who was RD for the morning, walked round to check for fallen trees, it did go ahead. Meanwhile, a few miles along the coast in Southsea, the Saturday Great South Run events were being cancelled and there were some doubts whether the ten mile race today would go ahead. Continue reading Run rabbit run
With the Winchester walks, the Half Marathon and the CC6’s, it seems like years since I last had a nice quiet Sunday. When I went to parkrun yesterday morning I thought I’d be getting a lie in today. While we were having our post run coffee though, everyone was talking about races. Almost everyone was running either the Portsmouth Pieces of Eight or the Bournemouth Half Marathon. Everyone except Commando and Rob that is. All of a sudden they had a bad case of race envy. Before I knew what was going on they’d decided to try to get last minute places for Pieces of Eight and I was waving goodbye to the idea of a lie in. Continue reading Pieces of Eight
As Kylie and I strode off across Southsea Common past food vans that made our mouths water and through crowds of other spectators all vying for good positions, I rang Commando. He’d had a head start on the position finding front and told me he was on the opposite side of the common somewhere near mile five, or so he thought. Given the size of the common and the number of people, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to find him. Continue reading Spitfire spotting at the Great South Run
Another Sunday morning and another cold, early start. This time it was for one of the biggest races of the season, The Great South Run. The sun was barely up when we set off for Portsmouth. The race didn’t start for hours but we knew finding somewhere to park wouldn’t be easy and we didn’t want to miss the team photo. There was a tiny amount of getting lost and some entering Portsmouth then leaving, then reentering Portsmouth from the opposite side, but I wasn’t driving so I’m not taking the blame. Continue reading Bunny ears and the Great South Run
Something was bothering me about Commando’s half marathon as I struggled against the wind in February 2014. The alternative name was the Muddy Beach Run! Now anyone who knows Commando knows he is rather fond of being clean. He is even more fond of his car being clean and we’d driven down to Southsea in his car, not mine. Muddy Beach Run conjured up images of people barely recognisable under a thick sticky coating of, well, mud. Somehow I could see things going very badly. Continue reading So why do they call it the Muddy Beach Run? – first published 23 February 2014
The end of the year is fast approaching so the time has come to reflect. Over the next few days I will be looking back at the the highs and lows of the old year and reminding myself of the places I discovered and the lessons I learned. Along the way I’m hoping to get a little inspiration for the year ahead. Maybe there are places that could stand further exploration or mysteries that still need solving… Continue reading 2015 disasters, history, mysteries and a marathon
One Sunday morning towards the end of February 2013, Commando said he was going for a run along Southsea seafront. Of course, I tagged along to have a little walk. Commando had borrowed a snazzy gadget from a friend that linked camera to iPad to download photos so, to test it out, I took my real camera rather than my iPhone. If it worked well I might even buy myself one. Continue reading A little time travel, Southsea Sea front – first published 24 February 2013
Unfortunately it seemed the kiosk I’d found was not the fastest coffee emporium in the south. Five minutes later only one customer had been served so, after checking my watch, I left, feeling rather exasperated. Perhaps it would be better on my way back? There were lots of people on the wide promenade and a few down on the shingly beach. In the distance I could see the outline of Hayling Island where Commando and I spent our honeymoon. Suddenly a dark haze of birds crossed the sky up ahead. There were so many of them they appeared as a cloud, moving together and suddenly changing direction going this way and that.
The spectacle was mesmerising and, at first, I though they must be starlings. Then a few birds broke off from the cloud and flew in my direction. As they came nearer I could see they were actually geese. Dark bellied Brent Geese regularly gather around the Solent Harbours, although I’ve never seen them in Southampton. They breed on the Taimyr Peninsula in Northern Siberia but spend the winter on the east and south coasts of England where it’s relatively warmer. Several thousand of them are regular visitors to Southsea where they feed on algae and eelgrasses or, if these run out, head inland and look for grass or crops to eat. By the end of March they will be off to Siberia again.
Hoping I’d be able to see the huge skein up close, I put on a burst of speed but, by the time I found them, they’d settled on some grassy parkland on the opposite side of the road. In actual fact I think it may be a golf course and I wonder what the golfers think about sharing their green with so many geese? Close by there were some pastel coloured beach huts across the road from the shore which seemed quite strange. I do like a nice row of beach huts so I crossed for a closer look. There were toilets nearby so I took full advantage before crossing back to the promenade.
Almost at once I was crossing back again for a closer look at the iconic Yomper statue at the entrance to the Royal Marines Museum. This twice life sized bronze effigy of Marine Corporal Peter Robinson yomping to Sapper Hill in the Falklands was made by sculptor Philip Jackson and unveiled by Baroness Thatcher in 1992. It commemorates all Royal Marines, especially those who served in the South Atlantic during the Falklands War. Standing on a small hillock at the gates to the museum he’s an impressive sight.
The museum charts the history of the Marines from their formation in 1664 to modern times and is housed in the original officer’s quarters of the Victorian building that was once Eastney Barracks. The actual barracks are now apartments. It’s a place I’d be interested to visit, given enough time. Apparently, there are videos telling the story of the royal Marine’s part in the Falklands War and the D-Day landings plus the buildings themselves are interesting. Particularly fascinating for someone like me who enjoys an unusual story, is the tale of Hannah Snell. In 1745, after the death of her daughter and desertion by her husband, who was later executed for murder, she disguised herself as a man and joined the Royal Marines. Her subterfuge wasn’t discovered and she fought in several campaigns right beside the men. What a woman!
The flag in the statue’s rucksack fluttered in the breeze as I took a few steps inside the gates. Beside the entrance to the car park a small boat has been turned into a flower tub and two little cannons stand on either side of the gates. Much as I’d have liked to go inside I had walking to do and a finish line to get back to before Commando did so, with a last look at the giant Yomper marine, I crossed back to the promenade.
Just before the road turned away from the shore and the promenade came to an end I found another row of pastel beach huts, these actually on the foreshore. Then, as I was about to turn around and walk back the way I’d come, I spotted a trail leading up a steep grassy bank at the top of the shore and what looked like it might have been a lifeboat station in the distance. The Muddy Beach Run is held to raise money for the RNLI and I’ve never been able to resist an unexplored trail, so I decided to check it out.
The trail was narrow and boardered by a shabby plastic fence behind which I could see caravans. This, I found out later, is Southsea Leisure Park, a popular holiday park. The thin line of muddy shingle dipped up and down and was rubble strewn in places, from time to time I had to step onto the grass to let walkers coming the other way go by. Once I’d passed the holiday park it became obvious that what I’d thought was a lifeboat station was something entirely different. Behind a horrible rusty fence topped with razor wire were some crumbling buildings that looked to have military origins.
From my pre walk research I knew there was a fort on the peninsular at the entrance to Langstone Harbour. In 1859, Fort Cumberland became the headquarters of the Royal Marine Artillery, but the star shaped earth fortifications are only open by appointment. This was not the fort though, it was, I found out later, Fraser Range, named after Admiral of the Fleet, Baron Bruce Fraser, and built around the beginning of World War II. Used to train naval gunners in direct sight firing, it became home to HMS St George, the Royal Navy’s Special Duties Officers’ School in 1960. In the 1970’s it was a set in a Doctor Who episode and was also it was also used by the Civil Marine Division of the Admiralty Research Establishment to test RADAR equipment. The site was finally closed for good in 2006 and may soon be demolished. With great difficulty I managed to poke my phone against the rusty bars and take a photo inside for prosterity.
Beside the abandoned base I found a muddy path and decided to take it. From my map looking I knew there was a small Marina just behind Fort Cumberland and I thought the path might take me there. When I came out the other side onto an expanse of scrubby grass I could even see the masts of little ships moored there but a glance at the time told me I really should be turning back or I’d risk missing Commando’s big finish, especially as I still had chocolate milk to find. Reluctantly I turned away and set off along a residential street I was fairly sure would lead me back to the promenade. Before long I came upon the first of the runners.
Luckily I was right about the road and soon I was back on the promenade, sharing it with a steady stream of runners. Of course I kept well to the left, as close to the shingle as I could get without actually walking on it. Yet again, despite having a very wide expanse of pavement to run on, there were a small handful of runners who decided it would be fun to run as close to me as they could, one got so close I almost toppled onto the shingle. Quite why they do this is a mystery but, seeing as I’m doing all I can to keep out of their way and it is still a public pavement, I really wish they’d be as considerate as I am.
There were no more photos on my return journey. Right at the start Commando commented that it wasn’t as windy as last year. He spoke too soon. While I’d been wandering around in the shelter of houses away from the shore the weather had changed and a bitterly cold wind had sprung up. Unfortunately I was walking into it and it was heavy going. I couldn’t help wondering how Commando was coping. Some of the runners passing me seemed to be struggling, one was grunting and wheezing so badly I thought he was going to collapse but he kept on going. The sea was dashing wildly onto the shingle and, now and then, I could feel the spray on my face. Head down, with my hood buttoned right up, I pushed through as best I could breathing pretty heavily myself with the effort.
The coffe kiosk was just as busy when I got back there so I walked on past. The second kiosk, where I’d seen the bottles of chocolate milk didn’t have any customers so I stopped.
“What kind of coffee do you sell?” I asked, noticing a stack of takeaway cups beside the till.
“Cappuccino, latte, mocha, plain coffee, whatever you want,” the cheery man said.
“Oh good,” I smiled, “I’ll have a latte please and two of those bottles of chocolate milk.”
A few minutes later I was on my way, the chocolate milk in my bag and the suspiciously light latte cup keeping my hands warm. When I took my fist sip I could tell this was not good coffee. One more sip conformed this and told me it wasn’t even a latte as far as I could tell. One final sip made me wonder if there was actually any coffee or milk in the cup at all, it tasted as if it was made with dirt. The whole thing ended up in the next bin I came to. Then it began to rain, like freezing cold needles fired at my face.
I can’t even begin to describe my relief when I got back to the shelter of the Rock Gardens again. My watch told me I had about fifteen minutes before Commando was likely to cross the finish line and I spent five of those sitting on a bench sheltering from the evil wind blowing into my hands to try to get the feeling back in my poor fingers. With no more walking to occupy my mind I couldn’t help worrying about Commando. How was he coping with this evil wind and the shards of icy rain? I had a thick, waterproof coat, many layers of clothes, a hat, scarf and gloves, he was wearing shorts and a thin t-shirt. How would he wear his reading glasses if his ears fell off with the cold?
After a closer look at some of the huge lichen growths on the rocks I couldn’t put off going back to the windy beach any longer. There was a bit of jostling for position until I found a good vantage point to watch the finish line and, thankfully, I didn’t have too long to wait. The relief when I spotted him running towards the line wasn’t just because of the normal race worries about injuries, accidents and time, it also meant I could get out of the bitter cold gusts and freezing rain. As ever, Commando wasn’t best pleased with his time, thirty seconds over his PB. No amount of me telling him it didn’t matter and no one could hit a PB in wind and rain like that would ever change his mind.
Somehow, despite muddy legs all around, yet again, Commando managed to get through the Muddy Beach Run almost untouched by dirt of any kind. I swear he’s Teflon coated. He also still had both ears in tact!
As I was leaving work on Saturday afternoon the sky darkened. Something very strange began falling from the brooding clouds, a cross between snow and hail, fat fluffy balls that went splat as they hit the ground or me. Thankfully Commando was waiting for me in the car because pretty soon the roads were white with these odd balls of snow and ice and they were gathering under the windscreen wipers. Apparently this was graupel, snowflakes that become rounded pellets when they mix with supercooled water droplets which freeze to them in a process called accretion. When I looked out of the window on Sunday morning they were still there, frozen to the decking and the deck rails under an arc of icy pink clouds. Continue reading Rock gardens, piers and the muddy beach run 2015