Trails of the lockdown(s)

One good thing to come from the first lockdown was the extra time to train, and with the directive to stay local and only drive if absolutely necessary, it was important to try to keep motivation and moral high. Sometimes doing the same routes day-after-day can have the opposite effect.

Previously, most of our weekends consisted of waking up early, packing our kit and driving to the hills, normally the Peak District, or heading over to Delamere or Frodsham to the Sandstone trail. Not currently an option, I decided to put faith in my local area to provide the excitement of discovery that all trail runners crave. Below are some of the highlights, in total I found 10+ completely new routes that’ll keep us (me) entertained for years to come. Lacing up my trainers one morning without a time schedule (thank you furlough) I decided to see where the wind would take me.

Route 1: Modestly named Nathans Dome.

The first of a long list of discoveries was only a mile from my front door! Running along a well-used route next to the Manchester Ship canal, I spotted a path to the left and chose to ‘just see’ what was beyond the closed gate. There was just enough space at the side to squeeze through, which led me up a small hill where I was met with a vast expanse of sand dunes, yes you read that correctly, sand dunes in Warrington, and a thin barely visible trail to follow (surely it was a footpath). Following the new line, I carried on through some woodland, passing a pond filled with reeds and other vegetation and around the back of a factory. This route surely yielded some great surprises. The next turn showed another clearing but this time with JCBs and other heavy machinery, maybe it wasn’t a permissive footpath after all. Expecting to be discovered and removed from what I now thought was private land and a huge building site – made my exploration even more exciting!

Alone on the trails

Carrying on, I followed the same path along the banks of the River Mersey and headed back through more woodland, closer to the excavation works. Trying to avoid being rumbled, I darted across the clearing and back into the woods. Another mile or so on I popped out on the other side of the dunes, back down onto the previously mentioned well used route and headed the mile home, keen to tell Libbi of my mid-morning adventure.

NB – Often taking Libbi on my discovered routes on the following days, I’ve decided to rate her reaction below. Libbi’s enthusiasm for Nathans Dome – 3/10 ☹

Into the woods

Route 2: Transport Trail Half Marathon.

The second route that deserves a lockdown mention has to be the Transport Trail Half Marathon. I’m fortunate to live in an area close to many off road tracks, trails, canals and ways. The TTHM encompasses all of them. Unaware of its existence, the official race took place on the 15th March 2020 – just before lockdown (now known as the first lockdown) – it also coincidentally passes right by my front window, so I had the pleasure of seeing runners pass by every few seconds proudly sporting their race numbers. The usual tinge of event jealousy rears its ugly head. Why are they having all the fun and I’m not! The runners, around 7/8 miles in at that point were probably sharing the same thoughts but in reverse, as I was peering out of the window in my dressing gown with morning coffee in hand. Grass is always greener and all that!

Although not actually a route discovered by yours truly, I did spend at least a couple of minutes stalking people on Strava to obtain the course map and resolved to complete it at my earliest convenience. Deciding today was the day – I’m not sure what day, time or even month it was at that point – as I still had infinite furlough time and not wanting to push my luck while Libbi was still chained to the laptop, I laced up again and sloped out quietly to explore the route. Taking me across the bridge on Knutsford road towards Latchford I follow the trail next to the Ship Canal, down to Woolston eyes and across the River Mersey turning west, before heading back towards Victoria Park along relatively easy track which eventually loops onto the Trans Pennine Trail, passing close to Stockton Heath Village and Walton Locks. You leave the TPT at Lower Walton and onto a short road section, heading towards Warrington Sports Club (start of the official race). You quickly pass by and head over a hump bridge across the canal, through a farmyard that feels like you are trespassing and onto the canal path, often slippery and muddy but today it was firm and dry which made for good running! About 3-4 miles later after taking in some excellent views across beautiful countryside you take a left and back onto the Trans Pennine Trail. A mile run in to my house but about halfway for the official route. Excited to tell Libbi of another adventure.

NB – Took Libbi along the route the very next day. Libbi’s enthusiasm for TTHM – 8/10 😊

The Running Nomads

Route 3: Delamere Way +

It’s taken me so long to finish this blog post that lockdown ended, I went back to work, we all ate out to help out and crammed into every pub and restaurant possible. Realised that that might not be a good idea, we suffered fears for tiers and the tougher restrictions came again in November. With 99.9% of races cancelled and the dark nights coming in, it can be hard to keep the miles up and the importance of finding new routes is heightened. While the Trans Pennine Trail, The Sandstone and the Gritstone take a lot of our attention, I came upon a little known route (maybe just to me) called The Delamere Way. I can’t believe I didn’t know of it earlier as it starts across from a local pub – The London Bridge. Researching the route the night before, I was excited to get some decent off road miles under my belt and to break new ground. Leaving Libbi chained to her desk once again, I set off around 8am with a full pack and ran along the roads to the start. I quickly saw the yellow signage with which I’d follow all morning. Through a farmyard, coincidentally the same yard as the TPT half, however, the opposite way.

Onto the golf course

Following the right of way across Walton Golf Course, through the lots of mud and boggy ground towards the reservoir, where the ground was wetter still! Heading through some woodland, the route was already putting a smile on my face 😊. As woodland lead to open farmland, toward the small hamlet of Hatton I made my first minor navigational error. I missed a small turning on my left and started heading down the road straight ahead. Luckily for me, it felt wrong so I quickly checked the route, realised my error and I headed back up the hill. Why when you go wrong is it always up hill on the way back? Crossing a bridge over the M56 it always fascinates me how many cars go flying past in such a short space of time and I find myself wondering about the lives that the drivers are living, and the destinations they are heading to. After a moment of reflection, I cross over a stile head down some tiny steps and drop into a field.

Trail running at its best

Heading through the farm and onto the next field it becomes what’s known as a proper trail and I was quickly calf deep in cow muck. Smile becoming ever broader, the sun was shining, the temperature cool and now muddy up to my thighs, what could be better! It was at this point I made my second error. Searching for a way out of the field took me skirting around half of the fence line until I finally found the elusive stile. Across a final field passing a fish pond and onto a single-track road. No clue as to where I am, but confident that I’m still finding the little yellow markers. After bravely negotiating two fields of inquisitive cows and more trials, I crossed over the River Weaver at Dutton Locks. Outstanding views all around it’s well worth checking out for a nice stroll. However, on this occasion I had serious business to attend to so I forged ahead!

Thankfully it was the downhill option

As you may have guessed, the Delamere Way eventually enters Delamere Forest, which I’ve been to many times for various races, runs, walks and even channelled my inner Tarzan in the trees at Go Ape! This route enters the forest in a completely different location to what I’m used to but quickly heads onto more familiar track. It was boggier than normal and the mudline on my leg was getting higher still. Leaving the forest, the route now took me towards Manley and would eventually finish in Frodsham – which, as many of you know is the start/finish of the Sandstone trail – the Delamere way ran parallel to the Sandstone for the next few miles offering a fresh perspective of a familiar location. More fields and road crossings later, I was above Frodsham for the first time and was greeted with the exceptional views across the Mersey Estuary and could admire the wind turbines slowly rotating. Heading down through small passages and ancient steps, I suddenly popped out onto the high street. At this point you always experience what a lot of road runners will miss out on. It’s a huge sense of displacement, I’ve spent 2-3 hours of glorious solitude, running across fields and trails, getting chased by cows, getting lost, being covered in mud and generally feeling like I’m about 10 years old and then bam, you’re in a town, with normal people, normal clean, people, who stare at you and your mud and your backpack, and rightly so. Best thing to do is to flash the biggest smile, give them all a wave a trot off down the road to the finish line, err I mean end of the route.

Start of the Sandstone Trail in Frodsham

The Delamere Way completed, I treat myself to a chocolate bar, a sip of water and a selfie at the finish. Now the small matter of getting home. Realising the daylight would be quickly leaving I decided to take the shortest route back – which was still 10 miles away, quite a lot of road and a slog of a hill, but it still didn’t dampen my spirits. Deciding to head onto the canal path at Preston Brook I was treated to an excellent view of the setting sun and loved every minute of the journey home, albeit, far less adventurous and on increasingly tired legs. I was back at my front door around 6 hours and 35 miles later with a big grin and smelling of cow s**t, what a blissful day!

Sunsetting over the Bridgewater canal

NB – Took Libbi along the start of the route shortly after. It was very wet, very muddy and I’ve not be allowed to choose since ☹

Libbi’s enthusiasm to complete the rest of the route……..

Happy runners

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