When we moved to Wiltshire, I got super excited about the running there – specifically the trails. We don’t have a trail system such as you find in the US – an established trail network, well sign-posted, generally decently surfaced. Instead we have hundreds of years of people walking around this wet cold island, establishing ‘footpaths’ that have often been used for centuries. These footpaths are often encased in law, protecting them as ‘Rights of Way’ for everyone to use, even though sometimes they pass through peoples’ land or even gardens. So our trail ‘network’ is bigger and broader than what I found in California…but in nowhere near as good condition.
I was pretty dismayed when I started running trails here. A ‘trail’ is often an arrowed direction across a field, knee-deep in grass or ankle-deep in mud dependent on the recent weather. The surfaces are generally rutted and bumpy, treacherous to the ankle. In woodland, such as my nearby West Woods, trails do branch off the main service roads but there is no sign-posting and it’s very easy to get lost. And as winter set in and the trails turned to endless swathes of shoe-sucking mud, I kind of gave up on running on the trails and stuck to the roads.
Until very recently. The weather is finally shifting. Winter is doing its best to stay in control – every day of sunshine is matched by one of grey skies and drizzle – but winter is losing the battle. The skies are increasingly blue, the sun is starting to peek out from the cloud and it’s starting to look really beautiful here. This has been the longest winter of my life…but it’s over and the trails have called me back.
My first run on trails was a quick scamper round the West Woods. Usually I don’t run there alone but somehow there I was, sticking to the service roads, but feeling surprisingly confident and comfortable. And the trails were dry, people! DRY!
So I went back with my lovely running buddy Nicola and there was the faintest haze of bluebells.
Then I went back alone and the bluebells had kicked in! They looked amazing and incredibly, the muddy trails had dried out. I found myself running a very short trail loop by myself and feeling awesome.
Which brings me to Tuesday. I headed out for some very VERY easy miles to shake the stiffness out of my legs after Sunday’s half-marathon. The sun was out, the sky was blue and the fields were full of baby lambs and rabbits scampering away from me.
I’d recently downloaded the excellent Outdoors GPS app so I put it to the test and set off up a footpath that I’d seen from the road but never explored before. I got lost surprisingly quickly but was able to find my way thanks to the app. I ran across fields and emerged high up a hill, looking down the valley by the West Woods. I’d run that road several times before but I’d ever seen it from that angle and it was lovely.
But best of all, the footpath took me through more woodland. Field paths turned into delicious single-track trails that wound their way through the loveliest woods where the bluebells were abundant. It was honestly like running through a fairytale, it was so beautiful. I was practically dancing with joy – except that I’d twisted my ankle a few miles before so needed to be careful. I descended one final trail down the Wansdyke, an ancient defensive ditch, that was chock-a-block with bluebells and emerged out onto the familiar lane at the bottom before jogging home.
This has been a long winter. Everyone has struggled with its length, its greyness and its misery and I found it pretty hard after seven years of Californian sunshine. But this week, as the leaves shone green, the blossom sparkled white, the fields glistened gold and the bluebells gleamed purple, it was totally worth it.
Trails, I’m back in love with you!