Day 11. Wallingford to Kingsclere
Monday morning involved packing up from Oxford and driving to Wallingford. After a breakfast of hot-cross buns, bananas and porridge washed down with mugs of tea & honey we were ready to go. A good breakfast proved to be vital since the day ahead was to involve navigating flooded lanes, farm tracks and a couple of treacherous country lanes.
Wallingford is a very picturesque riverside village and I had hoped to pick up the Thames River Path starting just outside it’s walls. But it soon became apparent that the water levels were too high. Sand bags lined alleyways and ducks were paddling in the streets. Instead I crossed the river and picked up a road running south, which eventually took me back towards the Thames, and the two villages of Goring and Streatley that sit on opposite sides of the fast flowing river. After a quick pit-stop I rendezvoused with Mum and the support car next to the bridge over the Thames, and marvelled at ‘The Boathouse Dental Surgery’ that was literally ten feet away from the river! Next door was a building with a blue plaque in honour of engineer and boat builder Samuel E. Saunders, who would have been alive during the time that the Mana was built and the 1914 expedition.
The next section of the morning was towards the village of Buckleberry, where I had arranged to meet Mum & the support car. It was raining by now, and the morning was mentally tough without all the fellow runners of the previous few days. I was following farm lanes and just kept trying to think about all the people who had done other long distance runs – Zoe Romano, Rosie Swale-Pope, Mark Allinson (aka @rungeordierun), Dave Knowles, Richard Whitehead, Hairy McNair who ran from Lands End to John O’Groats – and reminded myself that these things are possible. One step at a time. And then, right on cue, a sight appeared to completely distract me and lighten the mood just when I needed it most- a ‘field’ of pigs having a great time wallowing in thick mud! Never under estimate the power of animals – especially those on a farm.
Reaching the outskirts of Buckleberry I met the support car only to find that flooding had cut off the road into the village. With two streams running around the village normal access is across a ford but the water was too high for the car to safely drive through. A friendly local lady even showed us the level of the stream by wading through in her wellies, the water coming nearly to the top of her boots! At this point I jumped in the car because we really wanted to visit a special local sight in the village but I didn’t need the extra miles that the diversion was going to take. An alternative route required a ten mile roundtrip to reach the village centre. The spot we had been hoping to visit was the ‘Fly Window’ of Buckleberry church. We found the church, which was open and strolled through it’s Norman-era arch doorway into its quiet, dark interior to look for the window, situated in a small side vestibule. And there, quite plainly trapped in a stained glass window was a small black fly! Or was it… Further research has revealed that the fly had simply been painted onto the glass, and the window dates back to the 17th century!
Leaving Buckleberry the high hedges and winding country roads made visibility a challenge and I was constantly switching back and forth between facing, or not facing the oncoming traffic. Thanks to the high-vis jacket and flashing arm lights I’d been wearing, and defensive running tactics (staying super alert and stepping off the road when needed) I felt fairly comfortable trotting along but there were a couple of hairy moments! Before long I met up with the car again so we could make a short side trip to the village of Cold Ash. My Great Grandmother had lived for many years outside Newbury, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Mark’s in Cold Ash. Mum and I found the church and walked around the tall red brick structure to the churchyard, where we found Alice Vernon Joyce’s gravestone overlooking wooded Berkshire Hills. It was a beautiful spot and remarkably Mum and I realised we were visiting on the anniversary of her death, Feb 24.
The last few miles in to Kingsclere were during rush hour and it was again a task of really concentrating on the road and my surroundings when really all I wanted to do was put my head down and focus on moving forward. But I made it and ran into Kingsclere just as the light was starting to fade. I’d clocked roughly 23-24 miles and was glad to jump in the car just as the heavens really opened.
As Mum and I drove to our Travelodge in the downpour, we discussed the day whilst I gulped down chocolate recovery shake and ate a sandwich. When we arrived at our room for the night the routine of yoga (legs-up-the-wall), foam rolling and a cold bath began, all before we settled down to making food using only hot water! It might not sound ideal after a day of running around the countryside but it actually works! We threw together couscous & baked beans, a green salad, bagels and humus, which was followed by mint hot chocolate and yogurt for dessert. We laid out all the damp clothes around the room to dry off over night and then I wrote a few notes in my diary but promptly fell fast asleep! It had been a long day – and there were still two more to go.
Tomorrow: Kingsclere to Winchester.