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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The conclusion of the camp fire tales

17 January 2017

Every Saturday morning we drive up The Avenue to the Common for parkrun and, for several weeks now, we’ve commented on the broken drinking fountain on Asylum Green, the grassy verge in the centre of the two carriageways.  Now, while we were deciding which route the Frontiersmen and their Remount horses would have taken to Portswood, I took the opportunity to take a photo of it.  Continue reading The conclusion of the camp fire tales

Following frontiersmen’s footsteps

17 January 2017

Before Christmas CJ and I took a walk that inadvertently led us past the Swaythling Remount Depot and we recently walked through North Stoneham Park where one of the Remount camps was. Looking for more information about the Remount Depot, I stumbled upon some entertaining ‘campfire yarns’ on The Legion of Frontiersmen of the Commonwealth website. Three tales told of stampedes when frontiersmen were driving as many as six hundred horses through the city. Today, I thought CJ and I would retrace some of their footsteps, as far as we could, and share their stories. Continue reading Following frontiersmen’s footsteps

Apples in the graveyard, not walking the Cobbett Trail

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10 November 2016

This week most of my walks had been errands with nothing much of note happening apart from distance being covered. Today I had big plans to get some interesting miles under my belt. By now I should know making plans is not a good thing because something always scuppers them. This time it was CJ oversleeping. To be fair, he didn’t know I was planning to go out super early for an extra long walk to show him something I thought he’d like. Maybe I should warn him next time. In the end we settled on a pared down version of the walk I had in mind, minus most of the interesting bits. Even so, there was plenty to see. Continue reading Apples in the graveyard, not walking the Cobbett Trail

Remembering the Somme at Hollybrook

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30 June 2016

One of the bloodiest battles in human history began on 1 July 1916. It raged, in mud and trenches on the banks of the River Somme, for one hundred and forty one days. To most people this is ancient history, too far in the past to connect with. The image of all those young soldiers resonates with me though. Pappy was one of them. It seemed fitting that my walk today should take me to a First World War memorial and I knew just the place to go. In fact I’d been meaning to visit Hollybrook Cemetery for some time and the eve of the hundredth anniversary of Battle of the Somme seemed like a good day. Of course CJ wanted to come along.  Continue reading Remembering the Somme at Hollybrook