THE COVENTRY WAY by Bob Brandon
To be read in conjunction with ‘A Coventry Way’ booklet or the O.S. Land-ranger map 140.
Those that know me as a ‘part-time’ Sphinx runner will be aware that I am a ‘full-time’ orienteer and have been for some thirty years. Along the way I have met many people with an interest in running or walking through the country-side. One such chap is Cyril Bean, who has recently been promoting a forty-mile footpath circuit of Coventry. The route remains approximately five miles from the city centre, following mostly footpaths with the occasional short stretch of road.
As a result of Cyril’s friendly persuasion I found myself at 10 o’clock one Saturday morning late in July setting off from the Queen’s Head at Meriden on a clockwise circuit. I had a six-hour schedule and a seven-hour schedule, nothing scientific just pro-rata. I had offers of support from Cyril & Iris and Keith & Greta & Sue Hallett plus promises of company along the way. I set off with Brian Roberts up the road through Eaves Green leaving a group of well-wishers behind.
Soon the route took us through Meriden Shafts Wood. In the fields the other side I stopped for a pee whilst waiting for Brian to catch up. At this point I was I was determined to stick with the six-hour schedule for as long as possible. Birchley Hay Wood was reached and circum-navigated. We attracted the attention of children near to Birchley Hall Farm, who spotting my map, reckoned we were delivering newspapers.
At Corley Moor Sue Bicknell had run up Windmill Lane to meet us. The rest of the support team were ready with a supply of water at the main road. Refreshed, Brian and I set off across the common and over the M6. This leg I had only done in the dark before (and going the other way). In daylight we found the way quite easily and were able to give some heifers a wide berth. Soon we were on the Fillongley Road along which we trotted to find Cyril (and Iris) with water.
Here the footpath goes through someone’s back garden. The next bit was quite an adventure, the route took us through crops that were way above our heads. Three days before there had been no obvious way through, however just like the Red Sea a pathway had appeared as if by divine intervention. Nice one Cyril. We soon arrived at the fishing pool at Savage’s Square (5.3m). More water from the support team. At this point Brian was fed-up with the six-hour schedule and took a break, travelling the next leg by car. The route I took from here was by running the road to Breach End Farm. Cyril and Bob Carey have since installed a couple of stiles enabling the corner here to be cut in future.
I experienced more bullocks at Breach End plus more crops (more crops – less footpath). But I soon arrived at the next road near to the site of the old Newdigate colliery for more water. Why was my watch display blank? Brian joined in again for the half a mile of road before we set off over the last fields before Bedworth. We were running well together now. Soon we passed under the A444 (9.1m). In Bedworth the route passes the front door of Maureen & Jim Chapman who were ready with refreshments on the garden table. With all the water I had taken on board already, I was more interested in their loo.
Bedworth was the 10 mile point, I had taken about 86 minutes, down on the six-hour but well ahead on the 7 hour schedule. Brian had stashed his car at Bedworth and was on his way home as I went on my way leaving Bedworth behind. As I came over the hill at Hollyhurst farm (11.1m), I set off for the farm track, I knew from experience that the footpath would be under the crop. Soon I spied a lad waving from the track. I waved back thinking it was Simon Wright, but upon reaching the track I found a local lad who had been warning me of the sign he could see requesting to keep to the edge of the field. Oops!
At the road Bob Carey and his Dad had joined the support team. More water then over the road and on to Barnacle. Working my way through the footpaths which riddle the village I came across the two Bobs nettle bashing, a role they took on for most of the day. As I set off out of the village I fell over whilst running beside a particularly rough field of rape. This gave me quite a jolt, though I was able to pick myself up and run on through more crops before passing under the M69 (13.1m). Sue Bicknell was at Ansty to open the gate and join me on the run. We were on the narrow footpath about to cross over the canal, when Sue started to tell a man as we approached to get out of our way. Upon closer inspection we found it was Bob Carey so intent on his nettle bashing that he didn’t hear us coming. I must apologise to Sue for I soon left her behind at the golf club as I set off along the tow-path. Sue asked a narrow-boat skipper to keep an eye on me, but I was able to outrun the boat! I wasn’t expecting to see anyone for a bit, so I was surprised to notice Bob C lurking in the bushes at Nettle Hill (15.2m). Keith Greenall was there too with his video-camera plus water.
The canal was not as boring as I had been anticipating, though I felt a bit lonely as I had been expecting to see people at Coombe Abbey Farm. Nevertheless I trotted down to Pedlars Bridge and over the fields towards Brinklow (17.7m). It was beginning to rain a little and I was beginning to feel a bit knackered and had a little walk. Cyril & Iris and the video man were at the playing fields where I was persuaded to eat a banana and have a pot of my beloved custard. I noticed that the women & children had departed the support team, presumably gone on to the other Queen’s Head at Bretford for lunch. As I ate Cyril told me that Bob C was bashing the nettles at the exit to Brinklow. Cyril also suggested that I needn’t do the tour of Brinklow castle, I told him that I hadn’t come all this way to miss out on the sights, besides my trek up the hill behind the church would give Bob more time to deal with the nettles.
I eventually caught up with Bob who hadn’t done a bad job, but we’re talking serious nettles here. I took my time up the hill before Bretford (you won’t notice one on the map) not just because the path was muddy but I was suffering (the wall?). As I ran down into the village (19.9m) the two Bobs were again at the nettles. The video-man had bolted his pub-meal and the support team were complete. Greta allowed me some more custard and Sue escorted me along the road, this time I couldn’t keep up with her! Sue was saying all sorts positive things which didn’t coincide with any of my current thinking. However she left me to cross the fields on my own to Wolston Priory where I met Cyril & Iris and the two Bob’s looking disappointed that there were no nettles here. With more water and a pocket-full of raisins, I set off through the village, catching sight of the Bobs driving past as I crossed the main road.
The footpath from Wolston (21.9m) is practically all through the crops. At this time of year the rape is particularly unkempt. Unfortunately the reaction of the raisins hitting the two cartons of custard already in my stomach now took my attention. I decided to settle the matter by pausing in the wilderness of the rape for a few minutes. Feeling much better I trotted on to reach the A45 near to Ryton. As I was walked up the hill to the underpass (23.8m), Sue came running down to meet me and I raised a run, walking again once we had passed video-man.
Irene Rogers was to accompany me from here, but not before Colin had offered me the biggest tub of custard – I managed two spoons. We passed through the colourful underpass to be given water by Greta. Soon we were passing between two large ‘tarmac’ fields where the local farmer here cultivates Peugeot cars. Across the Oxford Road we met Cyril with some water, and round the corner the two Bobs were hard at work on the nettles. I don’t remember much running along the way to Bubbenhall. Irene was able to confuse me quite easily as to what the time was, I hadn’t a clue whether I was on a schedule and had little control of the matter. On the outskirts of the village (25.8m) the video shows me walking and Greta comes to meet me with the water.
The route takes a detour via the village church. The field beyond was strewn with new mown grass. The going felt comfortable so we start running passing the two Bobs hard at work before meeting up with Sue who lead us round a small loop I had planned to miss out. We passed the Bobs again before crossing the road and passing through someone else’s back garden. After this point the route crosses a fence into the nettles only to cross back 50 metres further on. I decided to run in the nice grassy field, but we were spotted by the two Bobs who had turned up to do their business. Bob’s Dad has to go now, I guessed he was off for a well earned night on the tiles.
Irene and I made good progress running across the fields to the road near Tantara Lodge. Colin plus the two Bobs (?) were here. I walked on quickly whilst Irene stayed to gossip. Irene soon caught me up and we walked on to Stareton (28.5m) where Greta and the video-man meet us. I tell Greta that I have arranged to meet Andrew Skinner at the A46 at half-past two. Greta tells me that it is now three o’clock. At last knowing the time, I felt a little disappointed, but ran on through the Stoneleigh estate passing Megan on the little footbridge over the Avon. As we passed through Stoneleigh village I allowed a myself a smile as we disappeared up a footpath, I had caught sight of the arriving support car out of the corner of my eye. We were we were speeding up? Greta got her revenge, this time as we ran up the hill towards the A46 she ran away from me with the water.
Andrew Skinner was patiently waiting at the A45 (30m) idly talking to Colin. Irene handed me over to Andrew, who seemed surprised to find me setting off straight away. The weather had got better, the sun was threatening to shine. The next section includes several potato fields with their deep furrows. Prior to the worst field, Cyril & Iris were supplying water. The fields were not too bad, I suspect Cyril had spent the previous day walking it. Next Andrew & I crossed the Kenilworth golf course in boy-scout fashion with bursts of running. As we left the course we found more nettles, but no two Bobs. We climbed up Common Lane, the big hill of the day.
Everyone seemed to be at Crackley (32.4m). From here Pete Guillaume on his bike was to accompany Andrew and myself along the disused railway track to Burton Green and beyond. I set off on this 4 mile section at a run, but soon settled for a fast walk. Pete and Andrew chatted away whilst I drank regularly from the bottle Pete offered. Occasionally we would go under a road bridge. Sue Hallett and Irene would descend to offer me a banana. At the next bridge I would hand Sue the empty skin. Bob C junior was back.
As we left the track Pete turned back to Kenilworth. The grass field felt good and I ran for a while. When we arrived at the road near the Beechwood railway tunnel (36.5) everyone seemed to be there. Here I was chastised for not having eaten much all day. I was sent off with a mouth and a pocket full of mint-cake. It tasted good, I had forgotten all about it. Greta joined me and Andrew, she had been stretching as we had approached, Greta meant business. Andrew then produced a mobile ‘phone from his bum-bag and ‘phoned Dilys asking her to meet him at Meriden, he was going all the way. Well, if Andrew was….
The three of us progressed well, I even received complaints of running too fast! The final field prior to Benton Green had no path through the crops, so we made one until Bob C guided us from the far side by pointing out the best line. Here Keith replaced Greta, and I took off my helly as it was turning into quite a hot afternoon. Along the next bit Keith was quite chatty, recognising features from his foray two days earlier. At Back Lane Sue Bicknell was waiting to join in for the final section of just over a mile. Perhaps she could keep up with me after 39 miles.
The reception at Meriden was quite wonderful, nearly everyone who I had met during the day was there plus some others. Greta produced a bottle of champagne, Barry King a pint of bitter. I had taken 7 hours 27 minutes.