Sherwood Forest: Nottingham – the legendary stomping-ground of Robin Hood and the setting for my latest (unofficial) ultramarathon.
So how did this all come about?
Bloody Covid-19 again, that’s how!
Back in July, I made contact with Ronnie Staton at Hobo Pace UK who organises events in and around the Nottinghamshire region. I was interested in a volunteering role and their next scheduled event was the Robin Hood 100 in September – a 100 mile ultramarathon in and around Clumber Park and Sherwood Forest. Excited at the prospect of helping out at such an epic event, I immediately offered my services and was assigned the role of Time-Keeper for the Saturday daytime post.
In the build up to the event, Ronnie had sent me detailed instructions for the role and everything was sorted in terms of prep and logistics. I was aware that Ruth had been suffering from a cold in the week prior to the event but as it coincided with the kids returning to school, I wasn’t too concerned. As it turned out, her cold got progressively worse during the week which eventually turned into a chest infection – and subsequent cough – which being an NHS nurse forced her to take a Covid test. This meant we had to self-isolate over the weekend until she got the results back. I had no choice but to phone Ronnie the day before the event and apologise. Ronnie was both sympathetic and understanding and although we both agreed it was the right thing to do, a piece of me still felt like I’d let him down.
4 days later the results came back negative – thankfully.
Which leads me on to the ‘Robin Hood ultra’. I’d been searching through some of Ronnie’s other races in the calendar to offer my services as a volunteer – I felt I at least owed him that! The Dukeries 30/40 mile events were scheduled for May 2021 which I plan to volunteer. Looking at the route profile, it consisted of mainly forest trails and footpaths through undiscovered sandstone villages and passed the ‘Major Oak’ in Sherwood Forest. I was intrigued. I instantly uploaded the route GPX from the website and managed to persuade the usual ‘merry men’ to join me on a recce and another adventure…
Joined by the regulars; Colin and Nick – and Kerry, her first time running this distance, we made our way to Walesby Sports and Social Club for the start of the run.
Leaving the car park, we made our way up a country lane before turning off onto a hard packed track towards the River Maun – and our first obstacle. The river had broken it’s banks and approximately 50 metres of trail was completely flooded. With no obvious diversion, we waded through the green algae, shin deep in some places until we reached the safety – and relatively dry tracks of a local farm. Two miles in and our footwear was already saturated – a great start to the morning – but fun nevertheless!
Once out of the fields, we crossed the A614 and followed some hard packed tracks towards Sherwood Forest. Maintaining a steady pace, the conversation was flowing as we made our way though forestry tracks lit up by it’s autumnal colours.
By Mile 10 we’d reached the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. Thought to be between 800 – 1000 years old, legend has it that the ancient oak not only provided Robin Hood with shelter, it was also the place where he and his merry men slept. Weighing in at an estimated 23 tonnes, with a girth of 10 metres and spread of 28 metres, it is thought to be the biggest oak tree in Britain.
The next 6 miles were again on hard packed, well maintained trails as they meandered there way through Sherwood Forest. Running under the canopy of the pine forest with areas of birch, oak, sweet chestnut and beech, the views and colours were mesmerising and a constant reminder of why I find trail running so tranquil and peaceful when you’re out on the trails.
Leaving Sherwood Forest, we made our way along more hard packed trails towards the village of Norton. It was here that Nick had to stop and address some issues with hot spots developing on his feet. We’d all made the conscious decision to wear trail shoes – in my case, aggressive Mudclaws – given the time of year and recent, wet conditions. However, with hindsight, hybrids or cushioned road shoes would have been more suitable for the terrain as the majority of trails were hard packed, well maintained paths. The conditions underfoot were causing us a few issues whereas a little more cushioning would have been welcome.
By Mile 23 we’d reached Creswell Crags – an enclosed limestone gorge on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Popular with tourists, we made our way alongside the caves for a couple of miles before entering yet more woodland towards Clumber Park National Trust. It was here that the heavens opened! We’d been fairly lucky with the weather throughout the morning but the forecasts had warned of showers from mid afternoon – and for once, the forecasts were right! For the next 5 miles we made our way through forestry trails as the rain lashed down, splashing in puddles and generally just embracing the conditions. I find that accepting the conditions rather than fighting them is the best practice when you’re out in the elements all day/night – there’s no point in letting things get to you which are out of your control. Hood up, head down and just keep plodding forward…
I’d arranged to meet Ruth and the boys at Mile 28 in Clumber Park National Trust. Ruth had organised to meet her parents for a socially distanced picnic whilst also serving as an aid station so we could replenish supplies. I’d ran out of fluids on the Coventry Way at mile 25 a few weeks back so having access to supplies at mile 28 would be a real lift.
As it happens, we were in a middle of a monsoon by the time we met Ruth and the boys so they’d already packed up, said goodbye to her parents and were waiting for us before heading home. We grabbed some much needed refreshments from the boot of the car, topped up our water bottles and bid them farewell. (I sent them off in the direction of Creswell Crags where they had an awesome time at the caves and museum apparently, dodging the rain – win/win)
Upon leaving Ruth and the boys, we made our way out of Clumber Park via Lime Tree Avenue – all 2 miles of it – the longest of its kind in Europe with over 1,296 lime trees, planted in 1840 lining the road. It was pretty spectacular – if a bit of a long slog on tired legs!
By Mile 30 we’d reached a milestone for Kerry who had surpassed her longest run to date. In all honesty, it looked like she could have gone on for another 30 miles….
At mile 32 we were making our way across a field when Nick pulled up with a knee injury. I think he’d felt it earlier on in the run but it had been getting progressively worse throughout the day. Despite Kerry giving him a knee support, he was still struggling to put any weight through it so we decided not to risk it and walk the remaining 7 miles. I think Nick felt bad but it really wasn’t an issue – it wasn’t a race, it was a day out on the tails with friends and the last thing any of us want if for someone to make an injury worse for the sake of it!
At mile 33 we came to a junction which we’d crossed at mile 3. Rather than follow the original route for another 7 miles, we decided to retrace our steps and cut the route short. It was still raining heavily and we were all feeling the cold more now the pace had slowed. This also meant that we had to go through the flooded section again…it’s funny how calf-deep-algae water lifts the spirits!
Finally back at the car, we’d covered 37.2 miles in just over 8 hours moving time.
Another awesome day on the trails.
Kudos to Kerry for completing her longest run to date – hopefully she’ll join us on another adventure soon. And kudos to Nick for limping home depite a dodgy knee – hopefully he makes a speedy recovery! And kudos for Colin – for just being Colin!
I had a great day.