Sunday, 6 November 2011

Running in the wild

On Saturday I ran up the Edgware Rd for 8kms and then back again. For those with a basic grasp of London, running 8km out from zone 3 pretty soon delivers you into No Man's Land: an area of 24hour Asdas, Matalans and Mecca Bingos repeating every 2 km so that you lose track of where you are. You run into ringroads and overpasses and the space beneath them where rose sellers dwell. I'm not painting a pretty picture am I? So I was most struck with the plan of taking a train out of London and running in the countryside. I got some expert help on places to start, routes to take and then used MapMyRun to find my exact trail. The night before was some googling of epic proportions.

On Sunday I was delighted to make my way to Cricklewood Station, having learned that this station of no real geographical significance, is very close to me, and is an express to the Home County of Hertfordshire. I detrained (as they say now a days) at the quaint village of Radlett, a place where everyone drives a 4x4 and has a Very Big House. I suspect that Madonna owns a house like this for the days when she needs to be close to Luton airport; it is that kind of place.

I scurried up a road with some confidence, as the street sign matched my Google map and trotted off, jaw hanging open at some of the epic and beautiful houses, coupled with epic and beautiful gardens. The locals must be awful nice, as they were very patient with me pointing a camera down their

hedges and taking pics of horse manure, despite the massive potential for running me down in their 4x4s and them not feeling a thing.
My route map quickly ended with marked roads and disappeared into "green space" which I mistook for a field I needed because it was very well signposted. I had a little run in this field, but didn't know where it went (there are never clearly signposted exits in fields), so I ran out again and found someone posh to ask who confirmed I was running in the wrong direction. I then found a tiny waymarker (the little signs that English ramblers use to both navigate the countryside and test their eye sight) which split immediately into two paths. By this stage I was letting my Australian accent out in full force so I didn't feel half as stupid to be told by a Rambler With Dog that the paths reunited 25m later.

RWD and I came across each other again when I failed to spot what to do after a stile (I was in a field with horses). He explained that I should follow the river, dog leg after the smug oak, do something else at Park St and for god's sake carry an Ordanance Survey Map.

I immediately forgot nearly everything he told me, ran into a field, ploughed some furrows, got lost and ran back. I decided that RWD must have gone ahead by now and perhaps I could follow him. But he was nowhere to be seen. I repeated the field ploughing and emerged into another field. Jumped a stile. Ended up in a field. Between these fields are signs saying "this is really ever so posh Equestrian School's private training field and so you should not be there, commoner". This made me anxious to understand if I was in the right fields. I decided to keep to anything mucky and to let the Aussie accent talk me out of anything.

It really was a lovely run, or more like, a series of intervals. I kept stopping to test out the new camera - there were blackberries, rosehips, sloe berries and all those little English things that are still so exciting to me! There were little streams and stinging nettles and not a single poisonous snake or spider to worry about. And I never felt like someone was going to murder me (that's a Hackney reference yeah).

I really didn't know where I was going a lot of the time but I had such fun it didn't matter. I squelched in mud, fell over, stared at piles of animal poo. The only incident I had was when I ran into some cows. Not literally. I came over a stile, ran into someone's field, ploughed a furrow and there were The Cows. And I was wearing red. And some of them had horns. I don't like cows. Not because I think they're malicious like in a Far Side cartoon but because they are really big. In the same way a hippo doesn't want to squash you but you're in their way. So I spent a lot of time in that field with the cows, edging nervously around the edge of the field, with a keen eye and whispered mantra on what to do if one caramel fudge coloured beastie made a move for me. In fact Caramel Cow had such a glare about her, that she actually stared me out of the field, walking backwards and I went the other way around the field which was actually through a quagmire. But not to be mistaken for Sinking Mud, for I came across that too on my adventure. And a Smug Oak...

The run took me through Park Street, which misleadingly is not a street, but a village or town and is a bit chavvy if you ask me. But if you live there and read this, you didn't ask me, so please just ignore this statement. I ended up in St Albans, which I have learned has two train stations, a lot of people who have lunch on the weekend and no greasy spoon cafe (or at least not one that wasn't boarded up to turn into a brasserie).

As well as being thoroughly amusing, the run was great for my feet, ankles and knees, giving them some different terrain to get a grip on. I honestly think if I ran over those fields every run I'd be a way better runner than a canal runner. But I'd had to have words with the cows first...

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