The Steyning Stinger Team – Grit, Alasdair, Alex, Kerry and John
6th March 2016
It is cold and grey with hail pounding heavily against the window as I write this on the afternoon of the Steyning Stinger but this morning conditions couldn’t have been more perfect for the event. It was cold but the sun was out and there was just a gentle breeze. Underfoot it was muddy in parts but hey who would want to do the Stinger without a bit of mud? On the Downs the views were breath taking!
I think I am willing to stick my neck out and say this is the perfect ever race.
There is a community feel about it and it is very inclusive. If you are not a runner, you can start at about 7am and walk the half marathon course. If you are a runner but a little bit slow then you can start early and still get a time. If you are mega fit then you can even enter the full marathon course – which must be really gruelling. You can even change your mind half way through, but I wonder if any “Halfers” decide to upgrade! You can join the mass starts, or run the race peacefully by yourself.
There is no commercial feeling about this event, it cost less than £30.00 to enter and you get an organisation which is simply the best I have ever encountered. At the end you get a decent looking medal, free photos by Sussex Photography and to cap it all a free full English breakfast served to your table by the local cheery schoolchildren.
As for the run itself it is wonderful especially if you like hills! It is 90% a trail run with just the odd quiet stretch along tarmac road. It is a run you need to train for as the ascents are quite taxing although they are all runnable. That said many runners take the sensible decision to fast walk the steeper parts without really losing any time. I know they didn’t lose any time because I decided to run the whole thing and couldn’t gain on the walkers on the steep inclines. The route takes you on a long uphill path onto the South Downs where it joins the South Downs Way in parts. There are some fast stretches along the top (not for me though) with long views to the sea on one side and inland to the north. The descents are interesting and require some technique. One downhill through the woods follows a chalky hollowed out path which is rutted and covered occasionally in slippy chalk slime, occasionally in leaf mould and sometime loose flint boulders. I would be interested to know how many get injured on these paths. Maybe St Johns Ambulance have some figures. I suspect the tired marathon runners must find these descents even trickier.
I ran the race with my nephew Alex and his partner Kerry who confidently overhauled me after a few miles and finished in about 2 hours 7 minutes. Grit, John and myself all fell in behind. It is not a race for PB’s and you would need to be pretty fit to get in under 2 hours.
During breakfast we clocked a large contingent of German runners and wondered if they had come especially for the run. They certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves washing down their breakfast with Strongbow Cider!
We were doing it as part of our training for the Scottish Islands Three Peaks Race at the end of May. Next up is the Three Forts Race.
Will we do the Stinger again? Of course we will!
My new Salomon Speedcross 3 brand spanking new. Don’t they look lovely!
I’ve signed up for the Scottish Islands Three Peaks Race on the good ship Brimble so some panic training is needed. Next week we are running the dreaded Steyning Stinger, one of my favourite races. My old Salomon Speedcross 2 shoes are unbelievably still quite serviceable although I fear they will clap out just before the race so I decided to buy some more. This time I decided to buy Speedcross 3. I hate buying online but none of the London shops had size 12.5. I don’t normally take size 12.5 but my old ones were this size and I tried size 11.5 and they were too tight. After a three week wait it transpires the shoes were left in a local sweet shop but no one bothered to tell me. I never have a smooth ride with online purchases. I picked them up this morning and decided to give them a go in Oxleas Woods. The new shoes have the treads moulded to fit the shoes whereas the old ones the tread was cut from a regular pattern sheet resulting in nobbles very close to the edge. They both have a great lace system. It looks fragile but it is really tough. You just pull on the clip to tighten then tuck the excess into a little pouch. The shoes are really well padded, I reckon you could run a half marathon in them from new without any trouble. They are really light and grippy. During the last Scottish Islands Three Peaks Race my running partner was wearing Inov8 shoes which lost all their nobbles on one scree slope! These Salomons will be good for several years. Highly recommended but take care on the sizing.
My old Speedcross 2 still going strong after four or five years! They just need a good wash.
After my first run, seemed a shame to get them muddy.
Once upon a time Southwark Council had a vision of a balanced community but sadly it has vanished now. What happened to all those jobs? Where did the 3/4 million square feet of industrial estates go with the 15,000 jobs? Now they want to build on one of the last remaining pieces of light industrial land by erecting two luxury tower blocks on top of the boat yard. What happened to their commitment to low rise housing?
Massive development on top of South Dock Marina Boat Yard
7th February 2016
I didn’t attend the latest “consultation” about the plans to build two tower blocks on top of the South Dock Marina Boat Yard. Southwark Council still don’t appear to have my name on their mailing list. Actually they only seem to have three of the houses in Dockmaster’s Quay out of about eighteen so they aren’t making much effort. During the last “consultation” I was told by Bruce Glockling that they are proceeding with their plans no matter what we think so I couldn’t see the point of wasting a day at this latest farce. Good job too as apparently they have decided to make these grossly over-scaled tower blocks even higher! Apparently they realised there weren’t enough parking spaces so they had to increase the area devoted to parking and then had to slap on a few more floors of flats to help pay for it. Here is an interesting game to play. Choose your favourite property search program. If you haven’t got one then try Rightmove or Zoopla. Now enter “South East London” as your search area and restrict the search to “Flats/Apartments”. You will find about 5,500 available to buy and about 4,750 available to rent. It is a well-recognised fact that the market is now swamped with new build flats. That is before Greenwich Peninsular, Convoys Wharf, Canada Water come on stream and not mentioning the Vauxhall/Battersea developments to the west. The Far Eastern investors are already pulling out and apparently defaulting on their deposits. The Property Developers are getting scared. The lovely new tower blocks springing up everywhere are dark at night because no one actually lives in them. They were built as money generating farms and sold to naïve foreign investors. No Londoner in their right mind would buy one of these new tower block flats. A property crash is just waiting to happen. It’s not rocket science. Now try part two of the game. Change the settings on your property search site to “commercial property” and filter to “Warehouse/Light Industrial”. Click the button for “South East London” and you will find two available to buy. One is an up and over garage for £9k. I have been through this situation when I needed to expand my company. In the end I had to move the company out of Southwark (with 40 employees) because all the industrial property has been converted or demolished to build new flats that no one wants. So now we have established that it is impossible to buy an industrial property in the area, why not try renting? Ah, that’s better there are 30 warehouse light industrial available in the whole of South East London. Maybe I can rent an industrial building for my company to expand and remain in South East London. Let’s see how many buildings between 7,500 and 25,000 square feet are available. Oh dear, just one in Spa Road. In the whole of South East London there is just one decent sized warehouse/industrial building available to rent! It looks like we may have to move out of London entirely when our lease comes up. It would be a shame for all our employees who live here.
I’m not saying there isn’t a need for housing in Southwark but someone needs to shout out for jobs too. Southwark needs housing for the local people, not another tower block of flats costing a fortune which will probably remain empty as buy to lets. Southwark needs proper council housing and affordable homes but it also needs decent jobs. We can’t just rely on Canary Wharf to keep us afloat. We all know what happens during financial crashes. The South Dock Boatyard should be developed to provide more decent real jobs not fewer. Southwark has precious little industrial land available. Let’s save what little is left. The constant granting of planning consent to convert industrial land to flats will cause a massive problem in the future.
As it happened it wasn’t cold despite being January. It was however wet and windy and it was interesting to see whether our clothing was up for it. My Montane jacket made from Event was already leaking during my bike ride to work so I decided to buy a new one. There was a Mountain Equipment jacket made from Gortex Active on sale so I bought that because it was the only one with a decent fitting hood (list £200, sale price £160 ish). Grit had a Mountain Equipment Pro Gortex jacket that was about a year old. It was leaking so badly that she wore a £1.90 poncho under the jacket to try to keep some water out. My brand new jacket also let the water in, firstly on the shoulders then all over. We were both wearing Devold merinos under and they were wonderful. They kept us warm despite being wet. The great thing is that they dry reasonably quickly and they don’t smell at all. I wore Arcteryx high trousers made from Gortex Pro Shell with merino Long Johns under. I was never hot nor cold but in gale force horizontal rain it powered its way through so I wasn’t dry. They cost around £400.00 but are about four year old. My socks were Devold Action Socks and they were amazing. My Mammut boots were waterproof until ploughing through one foot deep flooded roads. The Mountain Equipment gaiters were helpful but a seam ripped apart and needs mending. Grit’s Scarpa Boots did seem to leak but we haven’t tracked down how. My Osprey Rucksack might as well been a string bag as it provided zero protection from the rain. Waterproof dry bags inside did do the trick.
The morale of the story is that we were clothed from head to foot in Gortex and were soaked. Basically it doesn’t seem to be able to cope with really bad weather. Would it have been better to wear loose fitting totally waterproof PVC clothing in these wet conditions? Probably. The merinos however were wonderful.
Having to wear a £1.90 poncho under a £300.00 Pro Gortex jacket seems a bit weird!
I have posted this walk upside down and haven’t a clue how to swap it around. It will make more sense if you start on Day One and work your way through chronologically. Sorry about that!
26th January 2016
Day 4 Combe Martin to Ilfracombe
This was just a short walk as we needed to get a bus to Barnstaple and the train back to London. It is not the best section of the coast path as the path has to merge with the road at times however it takes you past the lovely natural harbour of Watermouth. Judging by the hundred or so yachts on the hard this must be a busy sailing spot in the summer. Eventually Ilfracombe comes into view but don’t think it is all over for there is a real best of a climb up Hele Hill before the town is reached. We went to see Damien Hirst’s Verity statue on the port side and had an excellent, although extravagant lunch in his café, which seemed to be the only place open in town. I didn’t think it was over priced for the quality of the food just a bit more than I usually spend on lunch! (£60.00 for two including drinks and puddings yum.)
Another great country bus ride to Barnstaple then the little train to Exeter and the big train to town. The train cost us a staggering £104.00 including using a Network Card – no wonder people fly.
We had breakfast at 9 which was a bit late. By the time we were on the road it was probably after 10. Today the tail end of the great storm that struck the East Coast of America was due to hit Britain. It was raining heavily and blowing a gale. I’ll do a separate short description of the clothing we were wearing after this blog but it is not good reading if you are a Gortex fan!
It was a hard walk leaning into the wind and rain which was painful on the face. We decided rather than buying some food we would stop for lunch at the Hunter Inn which is about 6 miles walk. We arrived there very wet! Although it is just about half a mile off this famous coastal path this inn doesn’t seem to recognise the needs of walkers. There wasn’t a single coat hook in sight or a place to de-boot. It seems a shame as it could be an iconic walkers pub. Maybe they are searching for more wealthy clientele. We draped our wet gear over whatever we could find and ordered an excellent bowl of soup and bread and a ploughmans lunch. One of the staff came out with a cloth and started mopping up the little drips of water on the terracotta floor to make us feel guilty.
Sadly time had passed and it was 2.30pm before we were back on the path. It was tanking it down with rain and the wind was near gale force on the cliff tops. The paths were running like streams and by about 4 pm visibility was dropping. Water was beginning to cascade out of the heath and we were having to jump deeper areas. As the path was due to lose height before the formidable Great Hangman climb we decided that the volume of water and the approach of darkness was a combination which could have been quite tricky. We had seen a sign a a while back pointing to a car park so we decided to retreat and take the road. The road was flooded too and we need to walk through calf deep areas to continue. Gaiters kept a lot of water out but not all. It was a long and rather dire walk into Combe Martin, without decent torches it would have been lethal. We arrived at Combe Martin High Street to learn that it is the longest high street in Britain and we were at the other end! Combe means wooded valley. It seems the whole village life on the High Street. We eventually arrived at Melstock House to a warm greeting by a couple who knew what walkers need. A big plastic tray for the boots, plenty of places to hang things up and a pot of tea to warm us up. They told us tales of rescuing walkers at midnight and sending out search parties. They are on day three of the path and some walkers are really suffering at this stage with nasty blisters from new boots and weary muscles.
The walk to Lynton was only a little longer at about 14 miles but don’t forget these are hilly miles. Just outside Porlock you walk through the romantic creations of Lord Lovelace. Strange castilated towers and arches were constructed to emulate the gardens he had seen in Italy. These woods were frequented by Coleridge and are referenced in The Rime to the Ancient Mariner, the greatest sea poem ever written. Coleridge not only invented the “Zombie” but also invented the sport of mountaineering. I believe he was the first person to write about climbing for pleasure rather than work. It was the beginning of the “Sublime” era. Soon we came to Culbourne Church, the smallest church in Britain which is only 35 foot deep and 12 foot 4 inches wide. Somehow churches wouldn’t sound right in metric.
After visiting the church (which some people sadly don’t take the trouble to do) the path continues through wooded cliffs which are home to very rare whitebeam trees some species of which are only found along this coast. Eventually Lynmouth comes into view. In 1952 Lynmouth suffered a catastrophic flood when a storm on Exmoor caused an already saturated heath to swell the river sending huge boulders and tree trunks down to destroy the town. 34 people died and hundreds were left homeless. The town has been rebuilt to match the old attractive buildings. Lynton lies a couple of hundred metres above Lynton. There is a cliff railway but it doesn’t operate in January so we tackled the steep zig zag path to the very top. It is a hard climb at the end of a long walk. We asked where the Village Inn was and the man apologised and said it was in Lynmouth at the bottom of the hill! So off we went back down again. The Village Inn is a very friendly pub which serves really excellent evening food and a good breakfast (and a good pint).
Number of walkers seen on the path – 0
Trees are left to rot where they fall unless they block the path
After the Louis Vuitton mast job in Paris and the London Boat Show I needed a bit of a breather and decided to go on a long distance walk. Being mid-January I ruled out anything that could be halted by bad weather and plumped for an old favourite – the first three days of the South West Coast Path, starting at Minehead and walking towards Ilfracombe. Even in January it is unlikely that the weather would be too severe to complete a section. I was wrong there!
We took a train to Taunton and then a bus to Minehead. I love bus rides in the countryside. We booked in at The Waverley bed and breakfast. I’m always impressed how clean B and B’s are nowadays. No beans for breakfast lost them one mark but a minor point.
Day 1 Minehead to Porlock
We set off on Sunday towards Porlock with rain in the forecast but actually it was pretty much a dry day. It is only about 10 miles so there was no hurry. Minehead gets it’s name from the Welsh “Mynedd” which means hill in Welsh. The path starts by climbing the hill that dominates Minehead. It rises in zig zags to around 250 m. It sets the scene for the whole path which eventually finishes in Poole after 630 miles, making it Britain’s longest path. The total ascent is the equivalent of climbing Everest four times – or to put it another way it is very hilly. Once on the top of the cliff we choose to take the alternative rugged path which hugs the coast and enjoyed some pleasant coastal walking before rejoining the main path and dropping down to Porlock Bay. The was no accommodation in our preferred stop at Porlock Weir so we booked in at The Castle Inn in Porlock. We diverted off the Coast Path which runs behind the marsh up into town. The Castle Inn was very smartly decorated with comfy sofas and a modern room. The evening food was pretty mediocre but it was the middle of January so I expect it improves with time. Breakfast was fine, with beans!
Number of walkers seen on the path – 0
In the summer you can arrive in Minehead by stem train
The hill besides Minehead
The official start to the South West Coast Path
Watch out for the shingle bar if sailing into Minehead
I needed to enter a race before the busy season at Arthur Beale takes over my life. The last time I entered the Marlow Half if was badly flooded. This time it was dry but foggy and rather warm at about 14 degrees. The sun managed to burst through the fog on the hills and the autumn trees looked at their finest. The race started with a big firework going off bang. The start is crowded as we all squeezed through a narrow gateway with the chip timing mats but then it opens up along the high street until we all turn off onto the narrow roads and lanes which make up 90% of the course. It is gently undulating with a couple of small hills and all on tarmacked surfaces. The route is very pleasant countryside with a few small hamlets. It was awash with ambulances and their were plenty of marshals and well staffed drinks stations. I was a little upset to see some runners had dropped their gel wrappers in the road but I am sure the organisers will pick them up. It is a bad habit when out in the countryside and I hope it doesn’t catch on. A chap seems to run the course each year with a video camera and I am sure he upload his video to You Tube any minute now. At the finish line Dave the DJ did an amazing job encouraging the runners in. He gave me the feeling that he personally knew the whole fleet. Dave had some good banter about Rosie who was being waited for by some members of the crowd. He kept suggesting a search party should be sent out but in reality she ran a very fast race. Full marks to Dave the DJ.
The race was very well organised with friendly staff and everything you could possibly expect, save perhaps the slight shortage of toilets at the start – but that is a pretty common problem and runners always seem to cope. My time was 1 hour 49 minutes and 29 seconds which I was quite pleased with considering my lack of training. I’m sure I will be back.
Update: The chap with the video camera was John Pennifold who has sent me a link to the final video. I bet it took a long time to sort out – it always takes me about three times the time allocated to get a video uploaded – so a big thank you to John!