Thursday, 22 August 2013

No 45 A day with the Army

I couldn't believe my luck when I found a mid week event that we could do on our return journey. The Shipton Star from Shipton Bellinger on the edge of Salisbury Plain. A local walking group was putting on an event with a difference. There would be 4 routes of 10km and also 4 of around 5km. You could do as many as you wished and in any order, all for £2! ( I have tried to do a map but can't see how to get a pdf uploaded here)

 We found a quiet camp spot just before Stonehenge and had a leisurely drive on Wednesday morning. By 8.35 we had registered and were off on our first leg. We had no maps of this area and so were totally reliant on map memory from the village hall and had to read the written descriptions carefully as we ran. Fortunately the organisers had been out with electrical tape and each route of the 'star' was a different colour. Once you got used to what you were looking for it worked well and I made very few errors. My first leg was trickiest as it was marked with red tape but the army had been all over the area marking with red, orange and other colours. It took me north and east but that was about all I could remember once I started running. My start included a steep uphill on a chalky tank track.

 It also included some beautiful woods and typical grassy Downs. So mostly fantastic running and despite stops for peas ( no- not a typo, I really did find peas to eat) and the most enormous blackberries I have ever seen I was back at HQ within an hour. I quickly swapped my paper for the yellow route and set off again. This time I followed paths north to Tidworth camp and got to admire superbly manicured polo, rugby and football pitches. (now I know where my taxes go). After a wonderful little wooded section I emerged on a heath to find two tanks lumbering past and a land rover doing about 50mph up my path.

Not many photos- hazy and few things to prop my camera on
 Our route skirted their training area before heading into woods and then running along a ridge at the edge of the Ranges. The instructions said to follow the gravel road but I found a nice little path parallel but just inside the woods. I had a brief rest and chat at the end of this leg. The organisers were more used to walkers and it seemed rude to rush off. A bite to eat and I was fuelled for the green leg. This took me west past many firing ranges and along  grassy tracks to Bulford Camp. We then climbed onto a ridge for the return leg.

The views across Salisbury Plain were great, if a little hazy in the distance. I missed the chalk Kiwi that the New Zealanders carved in the ground back in 1919 but did meet some young soldiers out on a training walk? ( they had no gear and were not running). I lost the green tape for a short while but fortunately the visibility was good and I could see the village church and the scar of the chalky tank track from my first leg. My final leg took me back east, first along an ancient cart track, then up through woods, past some all weather gallops and then up to a burial mound.

This was now heathland and cereal crops again and I stopped to admire the poppies and other wild flowers. Heading back on good tracks I found yet more blackberries to eat. So four loops of the star meant I had done 40km or 25 miles.

 The debate was what to do next. The shorter/ 5km routes pretty much mirrored what I had done already so I tried to pick the one that looked most interesting. A chat before I set off gave me extras to look for- apparently this area is visited by a rare butterfly and people travel from all over the UK. It was out today so I looked carefully. I might have seen it but although I identified at least 4 different sorts I'm not really sure.

When I finished this short leg I found Bob was also back and was eating. He was happy to have done 3 laps and to have covered 20 miles in a respectable time- I will make an ultra runner of him before the year is out! The routes had been such good value we had no hesitation in buying the food they had laid on  and adding a bit extra for their trouble. I had not really eaten except a savoury muffin and all my foraging in the wild but now we were back I was hungry and very very thirsty. I treated myself to a lie in the sun and three litres of water  before we set off on the long journey north. We met some heavy showers as we drove but yet again we had run in sunshine.

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