Posted in Personal life, Travel

What’s in a Name? Plenty, When It Comes to Gloucestershire Sporting Events

Runner in the Tetbury Woolsack race
It’s an uphill struggle at the Tetbury Woolsack race (Image:

With the end of May heralding the Cotswolds’ most idiosyncratic sporting events – the Tetbury Woolsack Races and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling –  I’ve been thinking about the inextricable link between event and setting. These two ancient rites would not attract the same following if removed to other places. Hefting a Woolsack the length of Chipping Sodbury’s level high street or rolling a cheese through Bourton-on-the-Water would be nowhere near as exciting. 

Artist's impression of the first every Marathon runner
The original Marathon – not a happy ending for the runner (Image: Wikipedia)

You can stage a marathon anywhere in the world, but it will never be the same race. Ask anyone who has run in London, Paris, New York, or, er, Marathon.

This fact first dawned on me when, in my pre-baby running days, my husband and I signed up to enter the Cheltenham 10K.

This will be a sedate little number, we thought, passing elegant Georgian facades and corporation planting. We warmed up with a few shorter runs: a pleasant 5K jaunt around Bourton-on-the-Water, followed by the Chippenham River Run, both events equally defined by their setting. The post-race refreshments left a bit to be desired, but we were looking forward to Cheltenham’s more genteel offering: cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey, perhaps?

Running for Our Lives

Reconstruction of a fire service rescue scene
Where’s the fire? (Image:

But it was not to be. A week before the race, a letter announced that due to unforeseen circumstances (a row between the Town Council and the event organisers), the race would now take place at the Moreton-in-Marsh Fire Service College. Ok, we thought, Moreton-in-Marsh is pretty too. Not a problem.

Only on arrival did we discover that the College is set well away from the town and offers quite a different scenario: surreal mock-ups of emergencies in which firefighters may hone their skills. We ran past crashed aeroplanes, burnt-out buildings, overturned railway carriages and motorway pile-ups. It was like fleeing from the apocalypse. Well, that’s one way to cut minutes off your personal best.

Introducing the HU5K Run

Photo of the stretch of the Cotswold Way that will be part of the HU5K route (Photo: Steve Green Photography)
Follow HU5K’s Yellow Brick Road

Which is why I’m particularly pleased to be organising a race this month in a much more peaceful setting: what’s dubbed by local runners “The Yellow Brick Road” – the level stretch of the Cotswold Way that skirts Hawkesbury Upton, with fine views down to the Severn Valley. On a clear day, both Severn Bridges wink back at you in the sunshine. The HU5K Run will take place on Saturday 15th June, starting at 10am, giving woolsack-toting, cheese-rolling racers a couple of weeks to get their puff back first. All ages (7+) and abilities are welcome. Leading the way will be former Team GB Olympic runner Nick Rose, veteran of the Olympics in Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984. Now there’s a man who can tell you what a difference a venue makes.

Former Olympic runner Nick Rose and Dave of the Hogweed Trotters
Former Team GB Olympic runner Nick Rose is an inspiration to runners of all ages

Registrations in advance are preferred, to make sure we’ve got enough medals to go round. For more information, visit our the official HU5K website or call 01454 238401. I’ll race you to the starting line!

This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser’s June 2013 edition.

Posted in Travel

Foreign Holidays: Who Needs Them?

Looking up Water Street from the Brook - Castl...
Castle Combe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Preparing for a two-week stay by an American teenager on her first trip to England, our list of “must-sees” soon fill a page. When we try to slot them in to the available fortnight’s calendar, we find there are simply not enough days.

Most of the destinations on our roster are less than an hour’s drive from home (and I don’t drive very fast). The Roman Baths, the Cotswold Way, Berkeley Castle, Slimbridge, Castle Combe, Bristol Zoo… we are spoiled for choice. Foreign vacations: who needs them, when we have such a wealth of tourist attractions on our doorstep?

English: Nonsuch Palace by Flemish School
Nonsuch Palace, Cheam

Here is further confirmation (not that I need it) that I’ve chosen to live in an idyllic part of England. But when I think about it, I could say much the same about the other places I’ve lived.

Even in the duller bits of suburban London, (Sutton and Cheam, anyone?) unexciting in themselves, have been a stone’s throw from astonishing places of historic and cultural richness – and I don’t just mean the obvious suspects in central London. Tucked away in Cheam, for example, was the site of the former Nonsuch Palace, Henry VIII’s grandest project –  enough to set any historical novelist’s imagination on fire and a far cry from the suburb’s more famous resident, Tony Hancock of 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam. Similarly my home town of Sidcup, in south east London, has a wealth of historical associations including the nearby Eltham Palace, now owned (and treasured by) English Heritage. This was the childhood home of Henry VIII (he got about a bit, you know).

English: Frontage of Heslington Hall, York, th...
Heslington Hall, the administrative centre of the University of York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My three years at university in York were like living in a museum, though the campus itself, a couple of miles beyond the medieval walled city, has dubious architectural value, other than in the Elizabethan manor house, Heslington Hall, reserved for admin staff rather than lowly students.  (Think of the film set of  “A Clockwork Orange” and you’ll be along the right lines.)

Walter Rothschild and zebra-drawn carriage
Walter Rothschild and zebra-drawn carriage – not yet stuffed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Post-university, I discovered that Tring, though not renowned as a tourist attraction, had a great deal to offer the discerning visitor. Not least was the wonderful Rothschilds’ Natural History Museum, which I discovered a couple of hundred yards from my front door at 10 Frogmore Street. Its bizarre legions of stuffed zebras on shelves, once seen, justify a special trip to this small Hertfordshire town. For years, my husband or I had only to say “zebras on shelves” to each other and we’d be transported back, smiling, to many a pleasant afternoon. When, after a few years, we announced to my young nephews, frequent visitors to our home in Tring, that we were moving to Gloucestershire, their response was an anguished cry of “But when will we get to go to Tring?”

I admit that I’ve lived largely in middle-class, middle-England rather than in any gritty industrial regions, but even so, I think tourism is a state of mind rather than a consequence of postcode. There can’t be many people living in Britain who couldn’t reach somewhere spectacular and interesting within a 30 minute drive/bus ride/walk.

Cotswold Way in the setting sun...

But actually, even without that much effort, I think I could have a pretty good summer holiday just in my back garden, especially if we had the luxury of a bit of sunshine. A week ago, my daughter and I spent a lovely afternoon out there, giving our tiny pond a belated spring clean, playing badminton (very badly), and having our own mini-Olympics. We picked some raspberries. We built a bug hotel (a great way to clear the garden of sticks and stones and broken bamboo canes: another fine example of  Janet’s theory of how to get something done by doing something else). As we went  indoors for tea, I found myself looking forward to our summer holidays, not to planned trips to the Zoo or Slimbridge or National Trust stately homes, but simply to spending more time in our back garden. There’s a whole world of adventure to be found out there. All you need is the right route map.

Still prefer foreign destinations? Then you might like to read a bit about my trip to France last year! (Hypocrite? Moi?!)

Lost In France

Or Scotland:

Dorothy Was Right – There’s No Place Like Home

Posted in Personal life

Changing My Spots: How I Evolved From Sloth to Jaguar

English: a 2-toed sloth at the Jaguar Rescue C...
The sloth – not going anywhere fast (or the right way up)  Photo credit: Wikipedia

In the last 10 years, there’s been a new and recurrent theme in my life: running. Mostly I’ve not run more than 5K at a time – a nice round number, long enough to impress but not far enough to exhaust. I’ve done Race for Lifes, the Chippenham River Run (no, it doesn’t involve walking on water), and a couple of 10Ks too.

My first 10K was meant to be in Cheltenham. But then the organisers had a difference of opinion with the Town Council and relocated the race to the Moreton-in-Marsh Firefighters’ Training College. Instead of pottering gently round the elegant streets of a sedate Georgian town, we were faced with a route like Armageddon. We were surrounded by fake disasters that trainee firemen use to hone their skills: derailments, plane crashes, overturned cars and burnt-out buildings. There’s nothing like fleeing disaster to make you run a little faster.

And now there’s the first ever Hawkesbury 5K to look forward to. If the sun’s shining, that section of the Cotswold Way fondly referred to by some as The Yellow Brick Road will be glinting and golden. It will be hard not to slow down to enjoy the view.

I have not always been a runner. In school, I ran round at the back on cross-country, chatting away to my best friend Elizabeth, who was equally unenthralled with running. We kept our tights on under our shorts. She was my partner in crime in Geography too. The teacher scrawled in my exercise book “Why are you and Eliz. being so slow?” The reason: we’d got carried away with our drawings of an Oil Derrick, going on to design an Oil Graham, an Oil George, and an Oil Stanley. Our hearts were simply not in it.

Yet now one of my chief pleasures on holiday is to run in new territory. Round castle walls, along seafronts, down cobbled streets – it’s a great way to unite my adult interests of running and geography. The teenage Debbie would have been astonished at what she grew into: this leopard really did change her spots.

So if you’re not a runner yet, don’t write off the prospect. The new Hawkesbury 5K on 16th June 2012 might be just the thing to convert you. One of the great things about running is that your age doesn’t matter – you can still be running marathons when you’re 90. I’ll report back on that one. See you at the 2050 Hawkesbury 5K, if not before.

And she’s off… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This post was originally written for the Hawkesbury Parish News, June 2012.)

If you’d like to read more about running in Hawkesbury Upton, try this: Running In Wonderland (You Can Call Me Alice)

Or for more nostalgia about my schooldays, how about this tribute to my former history teacher, Ms Trebst.