It was a Saturday morning that saw me sat in bed, breakfast in hand and an Ordnance Survey map stretched out on the duvet in front of me. It turns out that I need a large scale map in order to feel good about the distances I’m running at the moment. My aim was to find a new route to run, as my enthusiasm for the Granite Way had started to dip slightly in recent days.
As I dropped a steady stream of toast crumbs on my map, I considered my options. At this stage there were really only two. Left or right. I could either turn left and run down through a wooded valley and back alongside the East Okement river. Or, I could turn right and make a loop out of my existing run, heading onto the edge of Dartmoor on the way out and then returning via my well-worn route along the Granite Way. Baby steps, I thought. Let’s not get too carried away. I know I can run back along the Granite Way so why not make a loop out of that route? I need a bit of a challenge, but not too much.
Once out of bed, Mrs RB and I spent a few hours in the nearby town of Tavistock under the guise of running some errands, but mainly because they have a rather good selection of cafes to choose from. After a spot of lunch and some gentle meandering around the town we headed home, I kitted up and headed out for my run. The conditions were pretty good: the odd ray of sunshine poking through the clouds and not too much wind. It wasn’t far from home that I diverted away from my now-comfortable running route and made a break for the unknown.
The unknown hurts. Turning a corner, I found myself running straight up a hill onto Dartmoor. Why hadn’t I taken more notice of those tightly packed orange lines on my map? The hill immediately reduced me to a slow, shuffling jog that was barely quicker than walking pace. My route crosses both the railway and, worse, the A30 dual carriageway; one of the main routes into and out of the West Country. Those lucky enough to have been driving it on that Saturday afternoon would have seen a pathetic figure, inching his way slowly uphill whilst turning a quite remarkable shade of beetroot. Luckily for me, once on the other side of the A30, I could take a path off to the right that headed immediately downhill again, allowing me to catch my breath and to return to a colour that wouldn’t send passers-by scrabbling for their phones and ringing for an ambulance.
This path winds past the Bracken Tor Youth Hostel and then heads gently uphill, through trees towards the open moor. Underfoot, the 4×4 track was a new sensation: uneven and rocky in the tyre ruts or grassy and spongy in the middle. I stuck with stony but firm and battled slowly upwards along the track. As the trees open out, the 4×4 track turned off to a house (A house? Out here?) and I found myself on an uphill stretch of soggy Dartmoor bog, masquerading as a path. This was around 100 metres of squelching uphill, somewhat akin to running in rice pudding, which coated me to my knees in mud and sapped the energy I had recovered since overcoming that initial steep climb.
At the top of the rice pudding hill I took as long as I could, in all good conscience, over opening and shutting the gate to the next field and then ran on along a gently rising slope through some bemused looking sheep. This section of the route also took me past the medieval settlement of Saxongate, a collection of stones and sunken pathways on the edge of the moor. As the field levelled out I found myself running along a grassy path, Dartmoor rising to my left and, to my right, the sun illuminating the hills across the valley. It was exhilarating. This is surely what exercise is meant to feel like.
I left the top of the hill via a ladder stile that took me over a dry stone wall and into the next field. In the absence of any other directions, I headed straight down the hill, back towards the A30 and the Granite Way. It was at this stage that my three year-old pair of trainers with no grip left on them really came into their own. That, and gravity. I happily skipped over the first few rocks and stumps that appeared in my path, but soon found that I was building up a pretty good head of steam as the slope of the hill steepened and my speed increased with it. My legs decided to make a break for it and the rest of me tried desparately to keep up. I was now flying with no great control down the hill, barely avoiding the various impediments to my progress: rocks, trees, bushes, sheep. “Pull yourself together” I thought, as I gave myself an on-the-hoof pep talk, “you’re an animal, channel the animal, tame the hill. Remember YOU are in control”.
It turns out I wasn’t.
It was of no great consolation to me that the local sheep population had their day brightened immeasurably by the sight of a light blue streak, arms windmilling wildly, tearing downhill through the undergrowth shouting “I’M A GAZELLE” at the top of its lungs.
So, in conclusion, I think I need a new pair of trainers. And, in the much shorter-term, a new pair of underpants. And while it’s undoubtedly fun to try new routes, don’t bite off more than you can chew. So it’s back to the Granite Way for me; perhaps I’ll get a few more runs under my belt before I go off-road again. But it’s definitely a case of unfinished business with this route. I’ll be back, and next time I’ll be ready. Readier. Ready-ish…
*Just a helluva lot faster than it went up!