To mark a big birthday, Association Secretary Anne completed a 60-mile countryside walk along the route of A Coventry Way on 5 June.
This is Anne’s report of the day as it unfolded;
Alarm bells rang at 0400. Really? Yes, this was the day of my 60@60 Challenge – one and a half times around A Coventry Way (ACW) countryside route. My massive bowl of muesli and pint mug of tea were consumed whilst listening to the dawn chorus. It was going to be a grand day out.
My daughter, Hannah, and I left the house at 0445. I drove to Meriden while she drank coffee, ate a sandwich and put on her shoes. Nothing like being ready! We set off from the Queens Head, up the steps, at 0502. Not cold, hardly any wind, perfect trotting weather. As our legs got a dousing from the long, wet grass, Hannah remarked that I was definitely in ‘event’ mode: arms up, longer-than-usual stride and a ‘get on with it’ demeanour. This did not stop us chatting though. Quality time away from the children.
As expected at that time in the morning, everywhere was deathly quiet. Even on the usually busy Kenilworth Greenway, we met only two masked cycle riders. I imagined them as highwaymen in days of yore with trusty steeds and capes flying as they raced by. Kenilworth Golf Course was delightfully full of hopping bunnies, scampering squirrels and twittering birds. We were really enjoying ourselves. Soon we crossed the A46, the River Sowe and climbed Motslow Hill to the welcome sight of my husband, Vaughan, and our motorhome, Bismarck, at CP1 (0715, right on schedule). Vaughan knew we were approaching due to Hannah’s very loud miaowing in the field. The cats’ chorus was overheard by a lady runner, who clearly thought that she had stumbled into some very weird people, and avoided us by at least 10 metres!
A couple of bottles of chocolate milk and Bounty bars saw us on our way down to cross the cute packhorse bridge, the River Avon and up to Stareton. The route to Bubbenhall is fairly convoluted and includes a horrible high stile at the top of a lavender field. I made a mental note to avoid this on my second lap, ie by staying in the adjacent field, which is obviously used by those ‘in the know’. Approaching Bubbenhall Church, it struck me that majority of footpaths seem to lead to churches or pubs; and must have developed as rights of way for people visiting these iconic establishments. The field paths were not only a short-cut, but also safer than meeting highwaymen on the roads.
Along the track after Bubbenhall, it was time for a video call with my parents. It was super to see them and their rendition of Happy Birthday rang out across the fields! I know that they would have loved to be sharing my special day with us all.
New housing estates are springing up everywhere and along ACW route is no exception. We had already commented on the new houses at Crackley Cutting; now there was a forest of them at the end of Warren Fields in Ryton. Resisting the temptation to stop at the Co-op, we carried on through the fields to Wolston, only stopping to allow an enormous digger and an even more enormous earth-moving truck trundle across the quarry track. Unless, it’s the actual ACW challenge day (when the Community Centre is CP3), I would highly recommend using the woodland path into Wolston. It’s much more preferable than cul-de-sac ends and garages. From Wolston it’s a mere hop, step and a jump to Bretford, via the barking Alsatians and another crossing of the River Avon. So, we arrived at another Queens Head and CP2 at 0915, to be warmly greeted by my great friend and running buddy, Wendy. Fantastic – time for a pint of tea and an egg mayo cheese-topped roll. Yes!
Waving goodbye to Hannah and Vaughan, Wendy and I set off up Tutbury Lane full of the joys of not seeing each other for three months. Wendy lives in an all-male household, so has been desperate for some female company. However, the spring in our steps faded somewhat when we were blasted from the heavens by huge hailstones. Together with the heavy rain and encroaching nettles, our entry into Brinklow was rather tainted. The motte and bailey went by in a blur of raindrops and we were soon out of the village, across another cute packhorse bridge and onto the Oxford Canal towpath. Normally, I find this section tiring and tedious, but it seemed to pass by very quickly; probably because we were chatting non-stop.
Then there was another squally shower, just in case we weren’t soaked enough from the first one. The horse field after Ansty had been an awful swamp all winter; then baked hard into ankle-breaking lumps; now it was lumps with slimy, slippery tops. Not the best walking surface at all. Also, the powdery earth in the crop fields became very sticky and, as well as having soaked feet, there were now balls of mud building up under our shoes. Having had lovely light dry shoes in recent weeks, it was hard lifting up heavy wet, muddy ones. Our outlook immediately improved upon entering Barnacle. The sun shone, the mud fell off, we started to dry out, and best of all there was Vaughan and Bismarck (CP3 and 1100, ahead of schedule, hooray!).
Fortified with chocolate milk, banana and flapjack, we pressed on through the fields, via Hollyhurst Fishing Lakes (surprisingly busy), over the Coventry Canal, and through the Miners’ Welfare Park, into Bedworth. I couldn’t believe that, at 30 miles, I was already half way, and still feeling really good. I think the fact that I know the route so well and therefore had no navigation to do, and it’s relatively flat (only 626m of ascent in 60 miles), meant that I could just concentrate on enjoying myself and the company of my wonderful supporters. The worst path on the whole route is under and alongside the A444. Vaughan and I call it ‘Carling Alley’!! There is generally a lot of litter and it’s very nettley. However, I just ploughed through the nettles, ignored the litter and followed Wendy’s chatter.
Astley Lane was very busy, as usual, and the path up to Vaul’s Farm was not reinstated, as usual. I did not feel guilty stomping up through the crops. Lo and behold, on emerging at Breach Oak Lane, there was Ken Nicholas (A Coventry Way Association (ACWA) challenge entries co-ordinator) at his usual ACW challenge CP location. It was great to see him and we exchanged a few words before meeting the horses in the fields to Square Lane. Walking up the field from the fishing pools, there was yet another squally shower, which blasted sideways across the field, causing face-numbness. By the time we reached the top, I also had cramp in the backs of my legs. A stiff-legged waddle and packet of crisps sorted it quickly, thankfully. A short deviation from ACW brought us down to Corley Ash and CP4; again arriving early. Woohoo! And the sun was shining again. Wonderful!
More tea, veg pizza slices and carrot sticks sent us back up Red Hill. As we trotted through the fields, crossed the M6 and weaved across Corley Moor (dry!!), I was feeling really excited about completing two-thirds of my 60@60 in such good shape. The intimidating signs and red/white tape had all been removed from the paths between Windmill Lane and Meriden Shafts (most of it by me). The landowners here have refused ACWA’s requests to install kissing gates, instead of stiles, around Birchley Hayes Wood and in the horse field opposite Ivy Farm House. Clearly, they do not like having footpaths on their land and will jump on any bandwagon to try to stop people using them. All the more reason to use those particular paths, I say. They must hate it on ACW challenge day. Ha! Ha!
Trotting along Eaves Green Lane, we were met by Vaughan, Hannah (plus George and Athena), Debbie and Aimee. All in fine fettle and very jolly. We had a lovely picnic (so much yummy food!) in the Queens Head car park in Meriden. What fun and 40 miles, the whole of ACW, done. An excellent feeling.
Waving goodbye to Wendy, Aimee and I climbed the steps (second time for me) at almost exactly 1500. I still couldn’t believe my amazing scheduling. It was great to catch up with Aimee and the next section flew by. After only an hour and a half, we were met by everyone having great fun climbing and jumping off the mounting blocks at the Crackley Lane layby, including Aimee’s grandparents. It was great to see them looking so well. Time to sit down and enjoy numerous custard pots, fruit cake and more tea. Oh, and another video call, this time with Max and Clare (son and would-already-have-been daughter-in-law). Their wedding is postponed to October (everything crossed).
From here I was on my own, but no matter, I was in a ‘zone’ and jogged along merrily. Well, I thought I was jogging, but it was probably more like a caterpillar shuffle. The Greenway was pretty busy. Unfortunately, I was desperate for yet another ‘call of nature’. Eventually, I managed to crawl into some bushes and hoped that a dog wouldn’t find me. This was the only really annoying thing about my 60@60: having to stop so many times for similar episodes. I reckon that they added up to at least 30 minutes!
By now the weather had significantly improved. In fact, it turned out to be a fantastic evening. I had a momentary thought that I might continue after Bretford to do ACW ‘double’. But no, the thought was only fleeting. I had set myself 60@60 and psychologically that was what I was going to do. I knew that it would have taken me all the hours of darkness to do another 20 miles and I did not really fancy that. Kenilworth Golf Course was also very busy and I even had to wait for a couple to tee off (unheard of!). Approaching the River Sowe in Stoneleigh, I thought I recognised the two walkers on the bridge. They were John Aylmer (ACWA Treasurer) and Bob Rainsley (who also did 60@60 some years ago). It was great to see them and they took photos of me not looking at my best. On automatic pilot, I made my way along the Stareton Road and through the fields towards Bubbenhall. I remembered to stay in the field up the hill, avoiding the high stile climb. This is another landowner who refuses to let us put a kissing gate in instead. Going through Bubbenhall churchyard, I saw the most wonderful sight: Bismarck was parked just there. Hooray!!! I didn’t have to climb up Spring Hill and back down again; and it saved the extra half a mile as well (so I did 60.3 miles, instead of 60.8 – every little helps). I enjoyed more chocolate milk and several pots of fruit jelly. Only 6 miles to go and still feeling pretty good.
The remainder of the route went by in an uneventful haze. Vaughan met me in Wolston – we caught up on the day and enjoyed each other’s company to the finish at the Queens Head, Bretford. Ken and Vron Nicholas were there to greet me and to congratulate me on my achievement. It was only 2030. Fifteen and a half hours. I was chuffed!
Weirdly, I did not feel like it was such an achievement. The whole challenge had been a relatively ‘easy’ experience. I was pleased at being able to keep on schedule and my supporters were amazing!! Very special thanks to: Vaughan for also going one and a half times around ACW, reminding me to keep eating and drinking, and for not letting me get too comfortable at CPs(!); Hannah and Wendy for accompanying me for 20 miles each (no mean feat in itself); Aimee for making 7 miles fly by; Debbie for her unfailing good humour and playing with the children; Barbara, Steve, Ken, Vron, John and Bob for coming out to cheer me on.
Also, thank you to my ‘virtual’ supporters, especially Richard for managing the tracker, and everyone else who was watching my progress, sending me messages of encouragement and just being there. It’s incredibly motivating.
My birthday weekend celebrations continued in very jolly fashion. I was especially excited by a visit from Max and Clare. We played lots of games, ate lots of food and had plenty to talk about. Certainly, a memorable milestone.