After last week’s exertions, I always knew this weekend was going to be tough. Entering a race calling itself ‘The Hurt’, up and down the hills of the Hurtwood, by Peaslake in Surrey, speaks for itself. In the circumstances, I was happy enough to drag myself around the woodland trails at a speed of barely over 5mph (or perhaps that should say 8kph since it was a 24k race). I was surprised to find, when I looked at the results, that a third of the field took even longer than I did. And yes, those hills did hurt – a lot.
On the Sunday I was booked in for the Kent Long Distance Walkers Association’s Andredsweald Circuit, a 26-mile slide across the Wealden clay. It took my tired legs less than two miles to go hopelessly astray in the woods near Forest Row. It was one of those situations in which the route description still makes sense if you go the wrong way. ‘Bear right at grassy triangle,’ said the directions, ‘to join more major footpath (230 degrees).’ I did: it was the wrong triangle and the wrong footpath but on the same bearing.
The directions said the tree line was visible 70 yards to the left. It was. They said to ‘keep ahead on main footpath, rising inexorably’. Up I went. They said to ignore footpath sign pointing ‘neither one way nor t’other’. There was such a sign and I ignored it. I continued uphill as the route description directed and I came across a junction (‘arrow on tree ahead’ – there was one) where I went left as instructed.
I was supposed to come to a lane and then a road at this point. I went a long way up a track that I convinced myself was the lane but there was no mistaking the absence of a road. And because I thought I’d gone the right way I didn’t go back nearly far enough to retrace my steps to where I’d actually gone astray. It must have taken me half an hour to finally get back on track; once you lose your bearings in woods it’s very hard to identify a clear landmark to show you where you are.
I had to get back to London by 6pm that evening, and since I didn’t want to be chasing the clock for the rest of this storm-swept Sunday, I took this as an excuse to drop down to the 20-mile route. That gave me time to rest and enjoy and some of the LDWA’s always-ample snacks and always-amiable company at the checkpoints. And it saved my legs a little for my stage of the Real Relay from Waltham Cross to Hertford on Tuesday.