Whenever I go away for a few days, whether it’s an idyllic weekend in the countryside, a vibrant city break or a month spent backpacking around Neptune1, I always like to squeeze in a run or two.
Ideally, this will be at the beginning of the trip, because there’s no better way of getting your bearings than by wheezing your way around a completely alien environment while sweating your soul out, accidentally insulting every local you meet and getting lost approximately three times every two-and-a-half minutes.
I have some lovely memories of run-touristing in various locations around the globe.
Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire isn’t one of them.
That sounds terrible doesn’t it? I should probably make it clear right from the offset that Woodhall Spa is in fact a very nice town. It’s huddled around a selection of independent coffee houses, book shops and the world’s smallest shoe shop, and the people all seem to be genuinely cheerful and welcoming. But while it is indeed a lovely little town, I still managed to have a less-than-lovely run there.
We were staying in a log cabin just on the outskirts of town, and in the welcome pack there was some information on local walks. To my mind, “walking route” is the same as “trail run route” but with more beards and those funny little walking sticks, which I assume are for fending off hungry tigers. I noted that one of the routes had been voted “fourth best walk in England” by a national newspaper. Lincolnshire is generally pretty flat, and so I assumed that this walk must have some hidden secrets in order to put it in the same league as some of the more panoramic parts of the country2. Perhaps there’d be a hidden valley, forgotten by time and populated entirely by supple ladies riding dinosaurs. Or maybe the route would be punctuated with a nice little sweet shop every mile or so. There was only one way to find out…
Five miles later I’d run along a stretch of road, through a golf course and along another stretch of road. I’d breathed in the fumes of several lorries as they thundered past me, and I hadn’t seen a single bloody diplodocus. As I plodded along a grudgingly-maintained right of way at the edge of a field, I could have been anywhere in the country3. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t in any way a bad run. It was just that the words “fourth best walk in England” had conjured up a certain level of expectation, and this had then been put through the sleep-deprived reality-filter that passes for my brain. The end result was like being promised a magical cowboy hat that grants wishes and instead being given a duck that doesn’t.
Like I said, it wasn’t a bad run in itself, and there were some high points. There was a lovely half mile stretch of gloopy mud, and a countryside smell so rich and manurey (real word) that if you threw a pitchfork into the air, it’d stick. Oh, and there was a lovely moment when I ran up behind a posh dog-walker who hadn’t heard me coming, and she shouted “Cripes” in surprise. That’s the first time I’ve heard that word used outside of the Beano.
So, why did they describe such a bog-standard, inoffensive route as the fourth best walk in the country? I can only imagine it’s for one of the following reasons…
- Woodhall Spa seceded from the United Kingdom in 2009 as a protest against Jedward getting voted out of the X Factor, and is now a country in its own right. It’s like the Vatican, but with more locally-produced fudge.
- It was entirely voted for by the readers of “Mediocre Bridleway Monthly”.
- There was some very very very very VERY small print just before the word “fourth” that aw said “nine-thousand-and-“.
- They lied.
1 I stuck the “Neptune” thing in there just in case anyone happens to be reading this blog post in 2018, by which time such a holiday will surely be commonplace.
2 The sort of places that wouldn’t look out of place in the opening credits of a TV drama series about a vet. As the title sequence rolled, we’d see his Land Rover making its way across the bumpy landscape. No doubt he’d be on his way to save a family of owls from an unscrupulous, impatient taxidermist. It’d cut to a scene where the vet (let’s call him Dr Timothy Finger, for the sake of argument) silently shouts at a farmer for overfeeding a goose. Then, as the theme music plays on, we’d see him trying to deliver a calf, except when he finally pulled his gloved hand out of the mother cow, he’d be clutching a handful of treasure. The camera would pull in close on Dr Tim’s face, as his eyes narrowed in the realisation that a mystery was afoot. It turns out that the cow was in fact a baddy in disguise – none other than his arch nemesis, the notorious jewel-thief and all-round bad egg, Otto Von Mauspuncher. We cut back to the Land Rover, except now it’s driving the other way, and seems to be chasing someone wearing the front half of a pantomime cow costume. In the last scene of the opening sequence, we’d see Dr Tim relaxing in an armchair holding an armful of happy little piglets, and chuckling to himself. Oh, and he’s a time traveller.
Ah. I’ve gone off on a thing, haven’t I? Sorry. Remember when this used to be a running blog?
3 Except Stevenage. I still had my shoes.
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