Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 24 November 2013

24th November: Hawley

I had to work early on Saturday morning so took the opportunity to stop on the way home and go for a jaunt around where I first started XC running seeing as it lay between the work location and home. The inspiration for this had started from a discussion on Strava amongst people looking for different local routes, preferably with a bit of hill to them and my mind had been drawn back to Hawley Woods where on a personal level running cross country began for me.

It all started one afternoon in 1995 on a weekend in the summer after my first year at uni, when I had an urge just to get out and run - so I did just that, and could not believe how hard it felt and how rewarding afterwards when I had been running for over an hour for the first time in my life.

Growing up on the edge of Hawley Woods living first on the south and then the north sides, I spent a large chunk of my childhood playing in there, building camps, finding and collecting spent ordnance… Oh yes, its an army training area for Gibraltar Barracks where they send the new recruits to the Royal Engineers! As a result I know my way around these woods like the back of my hand and have watched it change over the years. Originally part of the south end of the woods served as a base for the Canadian Army during WWII and what was the parade ground was used for army HGV driver training long after their barracks had been demolished… The UK HQ of Sun Microsystems is now on this site!

I have not run on this particular figure of 8 route of 2 laps taking in the main part of the woods since 1998! so I was looking forward to revisiting it, although I had decided to incorporate towards the end of my run a bit more hill-work into it by revisiting a chunk of the route I had run on the XT Duathlon when I raced there a couple of years ago.

Parking by the Memorial Hall and a quick change out of my work clothes into my running gear, I set-out into the cold autumn morning air armed with my camera and faithfully retraced my steps from years ago.

Up on to the airfield.
The first point of note on this route is the old airfield in the middle of the woods. This is a large cleared plateau with a single take-off and landing strip that dates back to WWII and its use as a dispersal site for the nearby airfield at Blackbushe, as well as a take-off and landing point for the Special Operations Executive doing covert drops into occupied Europe. During the summer you get all the adders coming onto the tarmac deck to bask in the heat, and with it being an active MoD property you sometimes get the odd surprise when you arrive up the hill and round the corner… Such like one time I came face to face with a flight of Lynx helicopters armed with TOW missiles ready to fly-off to Salisbury Plain for an attack in a large military exercise as they were using the strip as a forward operating base! A few times over the years Harriers had been known to have landed and taken off from there to practice on a 'rough' landing strip and I've watched a Chinook touch down and disgorge its payload of troops before flying off… Today all there was were a couple of mini-buses for the Air Cadets who must have been camping out doing some field craft!

Looking in to the trees.
Descending from the plateau I joined the road around the lake and 'Hawley Hard' where I learned to sail on Bosun's as a teenager, looping round the back of the lake bordering the Pinewood Park estate where I lived for the first 8 years of my life, before climbing the long hill that nearly takes me all the way back to the van.

First glimpse of the lake.
Bemused onlookers.
Looking back across at the Hard.
As I rejoined the track near where my run started, rather than climb back on to the airfield, I took a left and the path that runs around the base of the hill as I start the second of the two laps.

A splash of green amongst the browns, golds, oranges and yellows.
The woods still seemed to be as popular as ever with dog-walkers; lots of energetic springers, collies and the likes galavanting through the undergrowth having a whale of a time, probably chasing the squirrels of which I spotted a good dozen!

Circling the lake in the opposite direction as I arrived at Hawley Hard I took a diversion left from the road on to the XT trail I ran and headed over the sandy tracks up in to the woods again to pay a visit to the old railway bridge.

The railway bridge.
Across the top of the bridge.
Looking down at the trail leading to the bridge.
As far as I'm aware, this bridge never had a proper railway servicing it, merely constructed with a small amount of track along the bridge and underneath it to simulate a railway bridge for practice in attack and defence of such structures. When I was a lad there were still things like disused bogies and railway gear lurking around in the undergrowth.

Where to next?
There was an orienteering mark on a tree next to the parapet, and with spotting some more further along around the airfield I suspect those cadets whose van's I passed earlier were embarking on an orienteering exercise.

Running along the track that ran across the top of the bridge I returned to the airfield before detouring round to the bottom of the hill to jog up the fiendish hill. Once I was on a morning run when I looked like this:

only wearing running gear, and approaching the hill I saw for the second time on the run a bunch of new recruits out on one of their first PT runs with their instructors yelling at them to pick-up the pace and keep running in orderly lines of 2 equally spaced apart. The recruit's faces were nearly as red as the shirts they were wearing; collectively puffing and wheezing as they attempted to get up the hill as I easily caught and jogged past them. Seeing this their PTI's were less than impressed with their charges, one of them yelling at them about how useless they were as I had just run past them with ease having been running for longer and I looked like a 'fucking girl'!

Another time around on part of the hill and it was back across the airfield and to the car-park concluding my trip down memory lane… I'm pretty sure I'll be returning, only next time running across the heathland to the north as well to increase the mileage.

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