The way to Widgery Cross.

After running two successful half marathons this year I decided to push my mileage further and register for a full marathon. Back in June, while I was still in England, I signed up for the Medoc Trail Marathon (Oct 16th 2010), and the very next day I enthusiastically headed out for a long run.

Kay’s super duper marathon training plan.

Day 1.

1) Choose a particularly hilly and grueling route.
2) Go out and run 26 miles.

Well, not quite, but almost. My nice little afternoon workout was certainly unintentionally heading directly that way, until I came face to face with a large lorry and a big coach being simultaneously overtaken on the A386 and I had to dive onto the grassy nettle strewn verge as quick as a jackrabbit. There was no room left for me at the side of the road. Somehow the lunge must have aggravated something in my hip and when I tried to restart my run it seized up. I could only limp onwards in pain before reluctantly calling my mum and dad and requesting a rescue mission. I did make it into Mary Tavy and had a very respectable and enjoyable seventeen mile adventure regardless.

A packet arrived for me at Ashridge a few days ago. Nestled inside was my new Nathan hydration race vest. I’ve been loving running with my handheld bottles but I’d decided to take the plunge and try a different method of carrying water that should enable me to run further afield and remain hydrated.

I set out on my run with the intention of climbing a volcano, visiting the 13th century church perched on its windy peak and then continuing onwards to pay pilgrimage to a granite cross atop an even more blustery tor before returning home. I realised I was going to be hitting around mile 13 by the time I got to my turn around point and I suppose I could have just turned around earlier but I was dead set on reaching my moorland destination and doggedly continued. There was no rush and I was enjoying being out in the countryside and getting to see such familiar home landscape from another perspective.

First up was a quick run North to Brentor. I set off from Ashridge and must have cut quite a sight as I trotted down into Tavistock town centre and winded my way through shoppers crowding the bustling stannary town even on a Thursday morning. It always makes me happy to see so many people out and about in the pretty little town as US towns seem fairly dead in comparison, lacking both foot traffic and a central spread of walkable shops.

Anyway, Brentor:

A well know Dartmoor landmark that can even be seen from Plymouth Sound, Brentor is famous for its little 13th century granite chapel that is perched atop the summit of an extinct volcano. There are several myths and legends regarding how it got to be built in that bleak location but the general story goes that a rich merchant was out at sea in a terrific storm off the Devon coast. Fearing for his life he prayed his hardest and vowed to God that if he were to be saved he would build a church for all to see on the highest point he could spot if he set foot on land again. God came to his rescue, the storm abated, and the wealthy man stayed true to his word and built the chapel high up on Brentor.

Other tellings add the Devil to the story and claim that the Devil tried to hinder the building of the little church and every night he would dismantle any progress, tossing all the stone and supplies down to the bottom of the tor for the workmen to find the next morning. This continued until the merchant prayed to St Michael requesting the patron saint and archangel’s help. When night next fell Satan returned to cause havoc but his playdate was halted when he found St Michael waiting to vanquish him. St Michael threw a mighty boulder at the evil one and sent him packing. The merchant was then able to finish building his church and in gratitude he dedicated it to St Michael.

After a long climb out of Tavistock I was so excited to get to the top of Brentor that I cut up and onto the moors from the road a little early. I ended up ducking through a fence, ploughing my way through a farmer’s field or two, clambering up some steep granite outcrops and following my nose to pick out a way to get up to the summit. If I’d held my horses a little longer I could have taken a more gentle path to the top of the tor. There is a car park at the base and of course the hardy church congregration has to get up there somehow! The path would still have been steep but it’s at least well marked and easy, still what’s the fun in that?

Next landmark up was Lydford:


The plaque reads “Llydanforde. Site of Danish Saxon conflict. 997 AD”

Supposedly six miles out of Tavistock, it took me a good ten to run there. Lydford is a little village that used to be a very important town, back in the days of Ethelred the Unready and Edward the Confessor. Now it’s very sleepy and is mainly renowned for a beautiful gorge, and what is left of Lydford Castle. Of course I had to stop and take moment to reacquaint myself with the ruins. Although it’s called a castle the building was built around 1195 and used as a medieval prison.

I was a very, very good girl and on my best behaviour as I ran on through Lydford, across the A386 and ducked behind the pub to get to the bridlepath which leads to open moorland, and up to Widgery Cross. I was hitting eleven miles and with Widgery Cross just in view on the horizon I still had a way to go.

Widgery Cross is noteworthy in that it is the only granite cross on Dartmoor that isn’t hewn from a single hunk of granite. It was erected, by a Mr William Widgery, in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. It proudly stands atop Brat Tor at an altitude of 452 metres and if I thought that the breeze at Brentor Church was blustery, it was howling gales at Widgery Cross. As I climbed up to the cross the sky got greyer and greyer until it started to drizzle icy rain. I snapped a quick photo or two for evidence, unearthed a letterbox and hastily retreated back down the tor lest the mist descend further and I lose my bearings. Red flags were flying at Willsworthy so there was to be no gallivanting or short cutting back towards Tavy across the moors for fear of becoming Army target practice.

I thrashed through some bracken to get back down to the valley, picking up tufts of plant between my toes as I went. A welcome stream, the river Lyd, burbled merrily at the bottom and I took a moment to sink my feet into the cool refreshing waters. Looking up I could see a plaque set into a granite rockface to commemorate a young local man who died as a soldier in WWI.

Back at the A386 I had intended to run back the way I came but had a last minute change of plans. I opted to just head on down the tarmac for a straighter, and hopefully quicker, shot back into Tavy via Mary Tavy. Though, I would still be looking at roughly another thirteen miles or so before I got home. I was pretty confident though and feeling strong.

Sadly it was only a couple of miles after making this decision that my run was brought to a close. I was running along at the side of the road and looking forward to soon passing the familiar sight of Wheal Betsy on the left when I had my unfortunate close encounter with oncoming traffic. Determined to make it to my next landmark I continued on until I reached Wheal Betsy and as I ventured off down to the last standing engine house on Dartmoor for another tourist moment I decided to reach for the phone and call a halt to my expedition. I felt like I could’ve gone on, but didn’t want to be stupid and push it.

I learnt something new here too. I thought Wheal Betsy was a tin mine, but it was opened around 1740 and over the years mined lead, copper, arsenic and silver.

With Dad heading to his car and on his way up the A386 I cautiously started running on down the hill to meet him. As I ran my hip seemed to work loose and running got easier again. I made it to Mary Tavy before I spotted my parents’ little blue car heading towards me. My Garmin registered 17 miles as I climbed into the vehicle. My longest run to date. I was disappointed that I didn’t make it back to Tavistock under my own steam, but had a brilliant time regardless.

A friend has also signed up to run the Medoc Trail Marathon. I’m out to beat him. I’m thinking with marathon training like this, how can I fail?! 😀

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