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Tuesday 25 September 2012

Castles, Sherborne Gooseberries & Scrumping Apples

I was back in Dorset again this weekend. It feels wrong to be there and not go for a run. So I decided to head out despite the long runs in the previous week. The weather was a bright, crisp Autumn morning and although sunny, there was a bite to the air.

Despite my misgivings, I agreed to run with The Mr. He’s been running for YEARS and is a seasoned runner but as a rule I refuse to run with him any more as he moans, grumbles and then sulks (en-route) because I’m quicker than him.

Our last run together started with him falling face down in mud 5 minutes into it, then moaning about the puddles on the path. Then he got a stitch. Then he got a blister. Then he just wanted to go home. This was a 4 mile run.

However, this time I was impressed. He started out with a minimum of moaning (just a quick grumble because his Garmin wasn’t picking up the signal) and no complaining at all. Or falling over.

We pegged it down the side of the A30, putting our lives in our hands – and the hands of the psychotic car drivers – and skipped through the gap onto the footpath by Old St Cuthberts’s chancel and stopped to give the Garmins a chance to pick up the satellites.

We ran across the small field and hurdled a stile, adding nettle stings to our ankles. Still no moaning. Had to do a quick check to confirm he hadn’t fallen into the hedge or been left behind. Nope still there.

Under a tall stone railway bridge which echoed our footsteps on the dried mud path and into a grassy field. The grass was short and good to run on and we flew diagonally across it following the footpath and heading for a stile on the far side. There was a farmer driving a tractor wrapping the bales and the black polythene was loose and flapping in the breeze.

My knee twinged a little bit so I kept the pace steady and just enjoyed being out in the sunshine and enjoying the cool air. The next field was mowed stubble but the ground underneath was firm and nice to run on. Over another stile and into an upwards sloping field of mowed hay, dodging in between the wrapped bales and heading for the woods at the top of the field.

Through the gap in the trees and blinking in darkness for a moment until our eyes adjusted and then following a twisting, dry dirt trail path between trees. Ducking under branches and avoiding nettles and brambles and hopping over branches in the path. A perfect trail. Could hear vague muttering coming from behind but ignored it and concentrated on the trail.

We came out on a stony lane which emerged onto a paved road leading through the Digby country estate. Down an incline with the rolling grassy hills laid out in front of us like a landscape painting. Turned left onto a lane leading to a farm, passing trees on the verge laden with red apples not qute ripe enough for eating.

We dodged right before the farm, following the footpath through a field of sheep that scattered before us. A high stone wall barred our way and we moved through a high kissing gate designed to keep the deer in the park beyond. The grass was short and smooth here and it felt springy to run on but the incline was sharp and sharpened dramatically towards the crest of the hill.

The enormous hill (which looks quite mild in this pic!)
I kept moving up the hill, but gave in to the incline and wimped out and walked up it. Just as I got to the top I saw a couple of walkers coming the other way. I started running again but they called out that they had spotted us walking. Busted.

The trail went through another high kissing gate and down a shady path bordered by tall bracken and brambles. Over a stile and out onto a stony path and back into woodlands on the other side.

Simon in the background

I’ve run this trail many times but somehow I managed to miss the turning. I turned left into the woods and should have passed a barn hidden in the trees but the path I was following went straight on and bordered a field on the left and trees on the right with piles of sawdust on concrete foundations. There were several big oaks in among the younger trees and they sat squat and dark like bloated toads.

The foundations were from the Nissen huts as this was a Polish camp after the Second World War. The huts were there mainly intact, until about 10 years ago, painted black and made of corrugated iron with small windows. There was also a tall red brick building hidden among the trees, about 3 stories high with iron handholds going up the walls. My friend and I climbed the tower once when we were about 15 and sat on the top floor looking down and hidden among the trees. It has been knocked down now and there is nothing to mark where it once stood.

We passed through the woods and back out into sunlight at the top of a hill. Sherborne lay in front of us in the distance and a nice steep – down - hill directly in front of us. Bracken to either side with an occasional old, tall tree. Down the hill, my body wanting to go faster than the feet, storming past a couple of walkers eating lunch on a fallen tree and past the shooting lodge at the bottom, all boarded up with heavy pink wooden shutters.

Through another high gate and onto a long, flat track between wire fences with fields on either side. The dirt was dry and firm, but there were loose stones being kicked as we ran. Past the trees and past a metal trough that our dog used to love jumping in, and a vista opened up on the right.

A lake as blue as a periwinkle and a castle, with tall windows and green lawns all around it. Not one that a princess would live in – no turrets! But definitely one a prince or a Lord would like.

Past the castle and up onto a grassy footpath. A choice of the higher narrow path wide enough for half a foot or the lower grassy footpath wide enough for half a foot. Or one foot on each and a strange wobbling gait.  Into the trees and through the kissing gate surrounded by railings.

Simon 'enjoying' the hill

Down a steep grassy bank and yet another iron kissing gate and out of the estate by Perli. Famous – among school children - for its conker trees.

We followed the pavement all the way back to Oborne, passing – lots of Mums out with prams – and the Sherborne old castle – in ruins, a postman with a fully laden cart and a tree laden with apples leaning over the pavement.

In the joy of running I reached up and plucked an apple as I ran – saving it as my post-run victory treat.

A left off of the main road and onto the lane to Oborne. Meadows and a stream running down the left of the lane and houses on the right. A small girl cycled her bike across the road and disappeared into one of the drives. I waved at people gardening as I passed and called “Hello” but didn’t stop to chat.

Past Lower Farm where a plane crashed during the war and through the village where the stream widens and where we played Pooh Sticks as children. We used sticks – for the record.

Turned right into Stony Lane and onto the steep, broken path. It’s impossible to run this lane. I’ve tried many times but after pinwheeling my arms and spinning my legs like a Roadrunner cartoon, I’ve learned to be sensible and walk this hill. Besides, sometimes you miss things when you run. I picked up a small round stone the size of a small marble. It was a fossil cockle shell of a sort called Sherborne Gooseberries as they’re so common round here.

Made it up to the top and enjoyed the nice half mile downhill all the way back to the A30 between the high hedges and the occasional gateway giving a glimpse of the village laid out like a child’s playset with toy cars and houses on a patchwork of fields and lanes.

Another 50 metres up the A30 and home. Apple eaten. Goosberry inspected. Run finished.

Apples scrumped:                    1
Sherborne Goosberries:          1
Castles:                                    2
Falls in Mud:                            0
Blisters:                                    0
Miles:                                        6

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