virginian on the ridiculous

A first Virginian long run beat up the birdlegs, despite all of that hilly mileage conditioning on the SWCP.  Nineteen miles to loop around the south and then north banks of the James River.

There are two excellent foot bridges that cross the water from downtown: the flat, slightly-bouncy-when-you’re-running Potterfield from Browns Island, and a more humped one directly under the Belvidere Street bridge to Belle Isle.  On this occasion I took the latter, snaking across the island to join the excellent and mildly-rugged Buttermilk trail heading west.  I then joined Riverside Drive through Westover Hills, a quiet, but winding road with a fair few blind corners to navigate, and then had the worst road section of the day, luckily short, on Forest Hill Avenue, crossing above the Powhite Highway.  There’s no sidewalk, not much of a shoulder, and not really anywhere for the runner to avoid the four lanes of speeding traffic here.  I kept to the left, which seemed the slightly less egregious side of the road to be on, and had a fair old wait to cross over when I needed to.  There’s no obvious alternate route to avoid it to keep following the river west.

I turned north as soon as possible to wind through a quiet residential area of Willow Oaks and, after a wrong turn or two, made it to the car park and trail head in Pony Pasture, a small waterside park with short loop trails, kayak put-ins, and fishing points.  First through the woods, and then back on to Riverside Drive right by the riverbank, this section made for flat, pleasing and speedy running.  One has to keep a close look out for a right turn onto the Huguenot Woods Trail further west to maximize off-road run time.  This path leads a short distance under the Huguenot Bridge and to a parking lot where Riverside restarts once again.  I looped south and then north to cross over the wide concrete expanse of the bridge to recross the river.  A wide sidewalk on both sides of this bridge, I’m happy to report.

Remaining on the lefthand side of the bridge road, there’s a narrow, unmarked, gravelly trail called the Gambles Mill Corridor according to gmaps.  I sought that out to run north alongside a country club golf course, and then swung right and east along the top of the course on the start of the return journey back towards downtown.  There are then a number of options to pass through the residential neighbourhoods to the east of the University of Richmond.  I spent some time along Grove Avenue before snaking southeast on a few fairly uncomfortable, uneven, bricked sidewalks through Windsor Farms.  There is probably a more foot-friendly route through here somewhere.  Heading as close to the river as possible, I then crossed the Powhite again via Douglasdale Road to meet Maymont Park.  One could then either head for the North Bank Trail or up through Byrd Park, but I somewhat randomly chose a street route due east and north of Hollywood Cemetery, and then up to the main VCU campus, turning right towards downtown.

Overall:  a varied and interesting long training run.  A few places are a challenge due to the proximity of heavy, fast-moving traffic and no pedestrian spaces, but the trail sections make up for it.  Street running on the northeast side of the river was generally no problem and not a million miles from similar sections of e.g. Queens in NYC.  Sadly there doesn’t appear to be a way to avoid that short section on Forest Hill Ave. if one’s heading west to the south of the river.


marsh, mare, minehead, mileage

The Final Fling of the Southwest Coast Path across the hills to the Finish Line in Minehead.  Out of Porlock Weir this morning under splendid, bright skies, another stark contrast to the morning previous.  A superb change in scenery as we traversed the Sparkhayes Marsh.  Bird life a-twittering; interesting snag formations; a damp, but worthy path across infront of Porlock inland and to the village of Bossington; more friendly equines.

From there we hiked a pleasant wooden section before heading up a long, grassy climb to Hurlstone Point and Hurlstone Combe.  Joined the Rugged Coast Path option from there to climb a few more times and pass through gorse-lined, clifftops paths eastwards to Minehead.

Our final stretch took us along the seafront to the ‘map & hands’ sculpture that delineates the finish, or start, depending on one’s journey, of the Path.  The etching on the tarmac has faded somewhat over the past decade and a half.

The obligatory summary:  a total of 623 miles over 46 days.  A guestimate of approximately 100 of those miles running. Included a cumulative climb of about 110,000 ft / 34,000 m / 21 miles up.  That seems ridiculous, but it appears to be the case.  All those ascents, both short and shallow, plus long and steep, apparently add up over that distance and this terrain.


through a pint-sized parish to meet the person from porlock

Not a great deal of fun for most of today’s route from Lynmouth to Porlock Weir due to yet more relentless, blowing rain, particularly early on on the way out and past Foreland Point.  The view was mainly of fog down to what would no doubt have been impressive clifftops and rocky shorelines.

The majority of the day was spent on woodland trails getting slowly more damp.  Some lush, verdant vegetation; impressive snags; and frequent little waterfalls down the narrow combes.

Weather finally cleared a little at Culbone.  Visited its tiny parish church, St. Bueno’s, parts of which date from the 11th to 14th centuries, seats a mere 33, and can only be reached on foot.

Thence to Porlock Weir.  Thinking of Coleridge’s ‘Person’…

hele, the hangmen, the haddon, and me

The last long, physically taxing day of the Path.  Twenty tough miles from Ilfracombe to Lynmouth via a good few steep north Devon hills.  Started out swinging by Hele Bay, Watermouth and Combe Martin primarily on relatively uninspiring roadside trails.  Good to see a low a mileage count to our finish line show up in the latter though.

From there a couple of long, but relatively gentle, grassy climbs to the tops of Little Hangman and Great Hangman. The latter is the highest elevation one reaches on the whole of the SW Coast Path.  Great views from up there inland and out to Wales across the Bristol Channel.

The route then wound around the clifftops on first grassy and then sharp-stony paths, a challenge to the feet.  Not always that much in the way of direct sea views at times, but when the Path did swing seaward, the drops were dramatic, precipitous, and different in nature to previous clifftop routes.  The rocky promontories are rounded, sort of elephantine, and smoothly-imposing here.

A hard right turn led first inland and then sharply downards to the River Heddon near the turn to the Hunter’s Inn further inland.  A superb woody path along and over the river, before a knackering climb up the top again.

Following a few more mini headlands, the path dropped down to Mortenhoe and Woody Bay, along tracks and a road, with gorgeous, but very fleeting, glimpses of the nearby bays and cliffs through the trees.  Pleasing to see a sign at Woody Bay pointing the Way Home…

A mile or two to the west of Lynton, the Valley of Rocks suddenly came into view.  Hard, jagged rock outcrops with more steep drops down to the surf.  Sadly no goats around – a wildlife feature the area is known for.

From there it was a relatively short distance into Lynton above, and Lynmouth below. We rode the fun funicular railway up and down the cliff:  a simple but very effective water-driven mechanism drives the cars up and down an extremely steep gradient. Less positively water-related, Lynmouth is famous for its devastating flood of 1952:  the UK’s worst flooding disaster on record.

more sand, more rocks, and wales…lurking

A windy, overcast day from Croyde Bay to Baggy Point, and then north across the long expanse of Woolacombe Sands.

From there, we turned around Morthoe Point where the geomorphology got unqiue and interesting, before taking our final Big Turn right.  Now heading due east for the last few days of our jaunt towards Minehead.  For the first time Wales came into view in the murky distance:  Milford Haven and the rest of Pembrookshire lurking across the western extremity of the Bristol Channel.

Passed by the stumpy lighthouse at Bull Point, climbed upwards and downwards a couple of times with jagged-rock beaches below.  Thence to Lee Bay, a long climb up a narrow Devon country lane, and finally into Ilfracombe via a few zig zag trails.

The Ilfracombe harbour hosts a, mildly controversial, Damien Hurst statue, ‘Verity‘.  Somewhat unusual choice for a seafront in a place such as Ilfracombe, perhaps.

sauntonering along the sand

Over twenty miles covered at relative pace on relatively flat terrain today.  The route a hard swing inland east and back out west via the Taw Estuary, the paved Tarka Trail (named after the fictional otter), and then north via Braunton Burrows and Saunton Sands.

After all of the cliff walking and running, climbs, and descents of late, today presented a pleasant shift in challenge, views, and aspect.  The grassy sea bank and extensive sand dunes of Braunton Burrows were impressive, but just a precursor for the outstanding and humbling experience of running along the massive, empty expanse of the low-tide beach of Saunton Sands.  Several miles running into a blasting headwind in a unique and compelling peopleless, flat open space.  Invigorating stuff.  Who knew such space and solitude existed in southern Ingerlund?

The views back at the northern end were superb.  Thence to Croyde Bay and a night at the excellent Thatch.

hum that dune

In a successful effort to avoid another foot and body soaking, skipped ahead today via the little village of Abbotsham, but not before a quick wander around Clovelly in the relative sunlight of the morning.  The donkeys that traditionally pull the sledges of supplies up and down Clovelly’s steep and cobbled street are as friendly as the local, abundant cat population.

Our run took us back out to the coast, to Westward Ho!, the only town on our route to exclaim itself bodly thus.  From there a long, large loop around the dunes of Northam Burrows, a bit wind-sand stingy on the tops.  Then a swing right and southeast to follow the dual estuaries of the Rivers Taw and Torridge to Appledore.  Sadly, our final ferry crossing of this trip was cancelled due to high winds on the other side in Instow, but luckily the ferryman was on hand to generously offer us a lift in his ancient Land Rover via the Bideford bridge.

cobblestone cats & swampsocks

Very wet.  Very glutinously muddy. Very misty.  Not the most fun part of the trip to be out on foot between Hartland Quay and Clovelly in North Devon today.  Only a fleeting view of the lighthouse on Hartland Point on the way past.  Some particularly damp climbs and wooded valleys crossed.  Stung to fork by nettles.

Very little of any vistas or views en route.  Some friendly horses.  Many flighty pheasants.

The unique, cobbled single street and harbour of Clovelly as picturesque as ever.  Friendly cats.  The coast here is shipwreck central.

1, 2, 3 steps to Devon, plus a frigginlonghighclimbrightafter

Another damp day, although things kicked off relatively bright out of Bude this morning.  A gentle grassy and sandy start through Bude and towards Duckpool.  Long views south along the surf.  Then a series of stiff, steep climbs further north.

A brief stop at Hawker’s Hut: a driftwood lean-to perched on a cliff edge close by the very northern Cornish village of Morwenstow, built by the eccentric, pig-walking Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker who buried shipwreck victims (whether they were dead or not) in the Morwenstow churchyard in the early 1800s. He allegedly sat smoking spliff in this very hut whilst composing hallucinatory poetry. Village residents recalled his ten cats following him into church every Sunday. Hawker is credited with bringing the Harvest Festival back into fashion and he found fame by writing the poem “The Song of the Western Men”.

Then down to Marshland Mouth to cross a little wooden footbridge to leave Cornwall behind and three steps to Devon once more.  Has been a long jaunt around the entire Cornish coast since Plymouth.

Walked atop rugged, precipitous cliffs in increasingly persistent precipitation.  Dropped down to Speke’s Mill Mouth and ogled its impressive waterfall, enjoying a healthy flow in the current weather conditions.  Thence to Hartland Quay and the Wrecker’s Retreat, 16 weary miles on the pins for the day.

just say ahhh across widemouth

A number of further steep climbs awaited us this morning heading northeast out of Crackington Haven.  Seems to be the general flavour of our final fling along the Cornish coast.  Headed up and past Drizzard Point via some seriously steep paths (no surprise that the name Drizzard is derived from the Cornish word for ‘bloody steep’) with some precipitous-looking approaches.  Frothy, crashing surf accompanying us below most of the way.

Reached the 500 mile milestone and strolled through the damp grass past a benched mileage marker indicating the remaining distance into Minehead, our finish line in just over a week’s time.

The weather cleared from then on, presenting bright, blue sky views of North Devon and Hartland Point ahead.  The long, crashing waves of Widemouth Bay serenading us towards Bude.

Stopped by the 1880s Storm Tower, AKA Tower of the Winds, on Compass Point on the clifftop on the way in and then down along the unusual Bude Canal.

crackington fiend

Relieved to relate that the fickle southwestern English weather turned once more for another calm, dry, relatively sunny day today.  Boscastle Harbour looked somewhat sexier in the morning light than the late afternoon dirge yesterday.

The Path took us on a few steep climbs including winding up Beeny Ciff and to the very top of the creatively-named High Cliff, the highest point in Cornwall.  Great views back to Tintagel and all the way to Pentire Point, which we rounded a few days ago.  Plus a preview vista ahead to the North Devon Coast, first views of Lundy Island, and inland over Exmoor and into Somerset.

The hiking got a little gentler into the afternoon.  Some grassy clifftop sections, further interesting rocky shoreline to look down on from above, and then into Crackington Haven, nestled in its gravelly beach cove.

13 significant, steep hills: successfully climbed; 4 ungainly, slippery spills: thus rendered on the behind

The insanest chunk of the Coast Path trip thus far this morning.  Fickle Cornish weather moved from yesterday’s gentle, bright, windless peace to violent, gusting rain hurtled from the landward side.  Meant for some pretty ‘exciting’ times on the clifftops.  The first section of today’s route from Port Isaac eastward, turning north around the bay to Trebarwith Strand included multiple steep descents and immediate accents.  A few of the early downward trips were considerably mud-slick slippery, hence the spills.  A couple of places got the adrenaline flowing proper with sudden and sporadic seaward wind gusts over narrow trail or wooden walkways, high above sheer drops down to the frothing surf and dark grey, jagged rocks below. Not for the faint of heart them.

Things calmed a tad towards Tintagel, best thought of for all things Arthurian.  Through a short tin mining area before winding around the remnants of the castle.  Plenty of towering rock faces and swirling waters to look down on.

Then around the corner to head east again through the aptly-named Rocky Valley, a stunning natural cut through the rock with rushing water below.  Thence to Boscastle via Willapark and its lonely lookout turret, once known as the ‘Pleasure House’, although no one seems to know exactly why.  Humans have been using this headland as a lookout for some time now:  settlements apparently stretching back to 200 years BC.

mmm, rumpage

More splendid cool, bright, rain-free weather as we left Padstow, hopped on the ferry, and started walking/running from Rock north and then east.  Our route took us along the western side of the Camel Estuary, around Daymer Bay and through Polzeath.

From there we rounded Pentire Point, ogling views back to Padstow and the headlands walked or jogged around yesterday. Some fun place names en route.  E.g., Peniwiglie Point; Pengirt Cove; Com Head; Lobber Point; Great Lobb’s Rock; and of course, the Rumps. The Rumps are firm, rounded and pleasing on the eye…

Heading due East from there, the day’s inclines and declines became steeper and more quad- and calf-taxing. The sea as calm and mill-pond-like as it was a boiling, turbulent froth a day or two ago.  Interesting rock formations, rounded headlands, sea caves and arches along the way. Passed through the coves of Lundy Bay and Port Quinn, and finally to Port Isaac, made famous by, the somewhat insipid, Beeb sitcom Doc Martin over the past decade, although its pier dates back to Henry VIII’s reign, so the village has been around as a hub for a while.

Checked the cumulative ascent climb since Poole on August 24th just out of curiosity to discover over 80,000 ft / 24,000 m have been climbed.  Heading towards the equivalent of three Everests shortly if that’s accurate.

various heads & booby’s

A glorious day’s running along the clifftops around Constantine and Booby’s Bays, Trevose Head, Haryln and Trevone.  Weather was a perfect mix of patchy sun, light winds, and comfortable cool temperatures to jog through.  Traversed a couple more sandy beaches between the relatively gentle climbs – this stretch of the North Cornish coast is surfer friendly.

The ocean wave action continued yesterday’s show for the first half of our day.  More entertaining crashing surf below on the hillier, more rocky sections of the coastline.  The water’s mood changed drastically when we turned southeast around Stepper Point to hike/run along the banks of the Camel Estuary towards and into Pastow next to calmer waters washing over the infamous Doom Bar.

pig souper

A day ‘off’ ended up with a good 8 miles of further walking, 5 or 6 of cycling, and two flights, two taxi rides, and a double ferry crossing on a day trip to, around, and from the Scilly Isles, perched, as they be, a good way southwest from Land’s End.

The flights were fun on a little twin-engine Otter.  Great views of the coast south from Newquay:  miles covered by foot over the past week; and then the Isles themselves.  Landed on St. Mary’s first and then took a boat to and from the more barren, rugged Tresco.  Wandered the wide, white sands of the latter.

Today was mostly spent in a pea-souper north of Newquay back on the Path.  Could hardly see the sea at times.  The famous Bedruthen Steps were mere gray, looming shadowed chunks of rock below.  Legend has it that a giant named Bedruthan utilized these stacks as stepping stones to gain a short cut across the bay.  They’re forever changing as the softer rock gets eroded.

The surf got up its hackles properly for the first time on our route.  Crashing water; bubbling, boiling froths into rocky coves; booming wave action.

Weather cleared for a while into and out of Porthcothan. More friendly, entertaining porcines check us out, and us them.