I decided I’d get changed into my gym kit and go from there. That worked of course. It always works. Sitting around in lycra at home smacks of kinky things and slight perversions. Whereas RUNNING in lycra involves putting yourself through pain, rubbing Vaseline on certain areas and safety pins. Lots and lots of safety pins. It’s COMPLETELY different. (Cough, cough)
Let me take you on my run.
We'll start with a suicidal dash down the main A30 to get to the footpath before you’re mown down by either a) a lorry trying to get past another lorry in the narrow road b) one of the 85 year olds who insist on driving despite the fact they’re no longer able to see over the steering wheel or c) one of the local chavs driving a Fiesta at 80mph despite the fact the car is well over 20 years old and parts are dropping off it like confetti. However, I made it down the hill at speed and managed to make it into the safety of the footpath despite a car being parked directly in front of it. Probably a bit of a passive-aggressive protest at the ramblers. Or runners.
Past St Cuthbert’s old chapel, tucked away in long grass and iron railings. The grass along one side worn down slightly by feet passing, a green pathway in testament to the old man that lives there now, tending the churchyard and no longer of ‘No Fixed Abode’.
Over the granite stones set vertically as a stile, no brambles today - too early in the year so my calves are safe - and over into the tractor-tyre-rutted and dried earth and under the railway bridge. A brief moment of cold and dark away from the sunshine and out into the sun again.
A choice of paths but no hesitation to me who has run this route many times. A swerve to the left and into the field of young crops, following the line down the centre to avoid damaging the plants. In the distance a runner in a white shirt being trailed by a black dog.
To the edge of the field and into the next, soft ploughed earth moving under my feet and confirming that today I’m doing a PROPER cross country run. None of this dusty smooth footpaths and stopping-at-the-pub-for-a-cider stuff today. Although, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a Dorset cider should the opportunity present itself.
Over another stile and into another field. Long tussocked grass, green and lush, impeding my progress, brushing my ankles as I run towards the gate on the far side of the field and into the woods beyond. And cold! Away from the evening sunshine, the shade and shadows of the wood are cool. Following the smooth-worn dirt path which winds between the trees and jumping over the fallen trees impeding my progress at intervals. This is one of my favourite parts of the run. I always feel alone and very free on this section. The woods are always green and always smell the same. The scent of earth and dark leaves.
Out of the woods and onto a stony path which stretches to the left and right. I follow the left fork and come out into the sunshine onto a small road. It is well maintained but is part of the private estate. In front of me hills stretch upwards, with tall old oak trees as standing sentinels on the slopes.
I turn left before the old stone bridge and turn towards a grey stone farmhouse. In the autumn the trees are heavy with fruit along the road and hang red apples before me in temptation. I turn right before the farmhouse and an old man in the garden raises a hand in greeting. I wave back and turn into the field and start the climb towards the top of the hills.
The grass is long and tussocky and sheep have been in this field. They bleat at me and scatter from the fence in the field next to me, the fence to my left. I run up and up towards a high stone wall with a 7 ft iron turnstile – which clacks as I turn it - and up into the deer park. I have never been attacked by a deer here, although I hear that they can and sometimes do. I’m not sure I could outrun a deer, even with the incentive of not being speared on the long pointed antlers. I’ve seen them here but not recently.
I start the climb on the short rabbit-nibbled grass up to the top of the hill. My breathing is harder and the gentle slope of the hill steepens. I see that the runner in front of me with his dog has stopped and I stop and walk with him until the top of the hill, the black Labrador running in between ankles and stopping to sniff the dog-interesting smells on the grass.
We start to run at the top, through another turnstile – clack, clack, clack – and onto a smooth path with roots and banks lush with grass and spring flowers. The branches of the trees dapple the sunshine and the path is as spotted as the belly of a trout.
Over the stile at the end and onto a road, I look across the brown ploughed fields to my left although my route lies under the dark trees ahead. Through the pines and conifers – smelling the deep green scent - and onto a concrete path, laid in blocks. The path is the remnant of the refugee camp for the Jewish families who lived here in wartime. Now running on it in the sunshine, there are no signs of the Nissin huts which stood here when I was younger, but the woods still retain a faint sadness. Or maybe I am imagining it.
I run through the trees and out through to the sunshine on the far side. When I was younger, those woods seemed to last forever. Now they last but a few minutes.
Another turnstile and a view across Sherborne and the tops of the oak trees growing on the lower slopes of this hill. The path winds downwards and gets steeper and steeper until I’m running flat out and I’m not sure my feet can keep up. One day I will fall and tumble all the way to the bottom of this hill but today is not that day.
The shooting lodge sits at the bottom of the hill, unchanged, boarded up as usual. It looks like a cottage from a fairytale waiting for a witch to inhabit it who would be the guardian of the path and who would challenge all the foolhardy travellers – and runners.
Turnstile and clack, clack, clack and onto a road of stones and dirt hemmed in with fences. Fields lie to the left bordered by the wood, the edge of which I skirted earlier. To my right a lake shines like a mirror laid on the land – a grey gleam. The tents and marquees of the fair are white blocks set up to celebrate Spring and the castle glows a dull sandstone yellow, its towers and turrets a familiar sight to anyone who has lived in the town.
The road slopes gently down drawing you into the castle grounds until a set of iron kissing gates lead you onto a grass fringe between ploughed fields and up a steep slope to the woods at the top. This is awkward as whether you take the lower or upper path on the grassy strip you have one foot in a ditch and your graceful run is transformed into a Quasimodo style stumbling gait. Even Liz Yelling wouldn’t be able to flow gracefully on this path.
A quick breather at the top of the hill and a turn around to admire the view and the path snaking backup the hill behind me. I wave goodbye to my fellow runner and the black Labrador called Tom.
Decisions. Do I turn right and follow the road and grey pavements back home? Or do I turn left along the grassy hill, enjoying the evening sunshine on my back and searching for more hills? Is there a decision? Of course not. I run along the side of the hill and down towards the gates at the bottom.
A steep path winds upwards through the hill ... and above my head something huge and red roars with the breath of a dragon. A hot air balloon, the basket surely skimming the tops of the trees above my head moves ponderously above me, yellow flames shooting into the colourful sphere above the invisible people.
Up to the top of the hill, playing fields stretching out to my right and the evening sunshine stronger and hotter than earlier. The grass as bright green as a painting against a sky bright and blue as a butterfly’s wing. No wind at all. A perfect evening.
I pass a house, quiet and secluded. A man lies on a wall with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigar in the other with his back to me. I pass him unnoticed. The smell of cigar smoke in the air.
The lane winds upwards and becomes narrower and turns into a dirt track. Spring flowers are blooming in the shaded banks and I pass these under the shade of the trees, glad for a coolness and to be out of the sunshine.
As the track becomes rutted, I start walking for a while enjoying being out in this evening. Smelling the green of the banks and trees, away from the roar of cars and smells of exhausts. The tang of fresh sweat on the air and my hair in my eyes. The sun is warm on my shoulders and it is nice being here alone. I will remember this when I am working at my desk, in the bustle and chatter of an office with the air conditioning and the hum of computers. I will remember the sunshine and the flowers and the hard ruts under my feet and knowing that there is no rush today.
At the top of the hill there is a crossroad. I pretend not to know which direction to go, choosing the left fork which I know finishes at a pair of heavy iron gates flanked with tall weathered stone posts with English roses carved into the stone. I run to the gates and pause to admire the view across the fields to my right before turning around and coming back to the crossroad again and the rutted tracks criss-crossing.
I turn to my left at the crossroads, taking the fork straight on and it goes downhill to a track carved out of the dirt by a tractor, ankle twisting ruts and a tall mound of grass in the centre. Again this path terminates at high iron gates and a gatehouse. I retrace my steps back up the track and choose the final arm of the crossroads.
Onto the smallest trail and into the shady woods. Bluebells make a blue carpet under the trees and the sunlight is dappled on the ground. It is shaded and cool in here, in this tunnel of trees.
I run on and occasionally catch a glimpse through the hedge of fields stretching out towards the hills and a speck on the horizon is a red hot air balloon.
The path finishes abruptly and out onto a grey pavement and a main road with cars roaring past. I look down the hill to where Sherborne nestles in the valley and turn my face towards home. Down the pavement and the sharp hill, faster, faster, trainers flying out and car drives looking on at this lunatic flying down the hill who is laughing with the speed. The cars keep away from the pavement, leaving me a wide margin as I sprint down the sharp slope, but I trust my feet and these trainers. They have run a marathon with me and have taken me up hills and through mud and around tracks. I arrive at the bottom of the hill breathing heavily but safe and smiling.
I cross the road and up onto a grassy hill, mowed smooth. Rabbits scatter towards their burrows as I run past them and up across the crest of the hill to the stone steps. I pay a quick visit to Dick’s bench and sit for a moment to admire the view, then on again into the avenue of trees and towards the deep cut path shaded by curving trees down to the bottom of the hill.
Onto pavements, I pass Perli and remember Autumn days collecting bags of conkers from these trees, their wide trunks and high branches stopping generations of children from climbing them to collect their spiky treasures directly fom the trees. Past the gates of the new castle and up to the bridge and over the river – a streak of blue reflecting the sky. Up and up over the railway line, the old castle’s ruined towers stretching upwards. Yellow sandstone against blue sky.
Onto the quiet roads, past the high stone walls bulging out onto the pavements, tendrils of dusty ivy reaching out. On past the stables where I had riding lessons at school, now a B&B, no longer the tang of horse on the air as you pass or the noise of hooves from the yard.
Up the hill and looking out at the view to my right, cows coming out into the fields and a patchwork of hedges and fields and the castle in the distance. In front of me, a final pavement to follow, a hill and home.