A sunny April morning, and the view across the River Avon from the cantilever bridge is fresh with scents of spring.
The Greenway lies cool and long before me — a mile of empty old railway track to bring me back to town. Except — it isn’t empty.
Far ahead, where only a dog walker, another runner or a mountain bike should be, I could swear I saw a train. And yet, this railway line closed 33 years ago.
I keep running, and disbelieving, but finally it’s true.
Up ahead, there’s a new piece of shiny track, carrying two old railway carriages where no carriages have stood for three decades or more.
A piece of railway history — a museum display, surely? But there’s something more afoot.
Inside the second carriage I see tables, and spoons and old-fashioned sugar pots. There are ramps leading up inside. And on the doorstep, there’s a youngish bloke standing, watching, and smiling broadly.
I take my courage in both hands, and walk up to introduce myself. It’s good to see interest in this railway line, I offer. Let’s hope it opens up again, some day.
And that’s how I hear the story. This is no museum at all — these carriages are home to a cycle hire business and a brand new cafe, housed inside.
I can remember now, hiring bikes one time from an old railway carriage in Brockenhurst — the perfect place to start a cycle exploration of the New Forest.
Here — beside The Greenway — with its views across the Racecourse, the floodplain and towards the Cotswold Hills beyond, yet just a mile from Stratford-upon-Avon — this is the ideal starting point for any cyclist keen to discover Shakespeare Country.
What a fitting reflection of this site, combining practicality with a nod to history and just the smidgeon of some hope that the line might one day yet reopen.
Vic shares that view, and it’s no small undertaking that he’s taken on.
Finding two railway carriages to buy, and hiring a pair of 70-tonne trucks to haul them here — you can’t exactly tow them behind a Mini down the motorway.
Laying hardcore for the lorries. Buying rails and sleepers and ballast to build a stretch of railway track where the carriages can stand.
That takes planning, and organisation, and money.
We talk about the future. Vic tells me that today will be busy, with a meeting at the racecourse. I venture that next Sunday afternoon will be busy too, since the Shakespeare Marathon will be running down The Greenway.
And once I raise that subject, Vic stops talking about his business. He wants to talk about the running.
Vic ran in London last year, and the year before as well. Each time he ran in Stratford one week later (and if one marathon is hard, then back-to-back is murder — and I know because I tried it once). Yet Vic’s disappointed as the 2009 races fall on the same day.
I almost say that with a 9.30am start in London, a 1pm gun here, and a hundred miles of fast driving between, it might just still work … but finally I keep stumm. As a Stratford man, that’s his race, and nothing should come before it.
Vic’s aiming to beat his 3:01 PB, to earn him an automatic qualification for London next year. But actually, he says, I’m training for a big triathlon in July. And for the triathlon I’m doing, a marathon is only training.
It’s then I realise — that’s no triathlon — that’s an Iron Man.
The morning is lazing into a perfect warm and sunny Sunday. A pair of runners appears along The Greenway. They pause, and wave, and Vic waves back.
Not too far today, he calls. Just eight miles. Or maybe ten.
More marathoners, training for next week, with legs as fresh and fit as they’ll ever be. And I can remember exactly that feeling.
Another group appears. Another smile from Vic. The same advice. The trainer, passing out good advice from on board the train.
And with that, I know it’s time to go. If I stay here, I’ll be searching out a place for Stratford next week, even with no training. Because once run, the marathon can call you back at the unlikeliest moments.
I turn off the river bank and run home through town today. Beside Holy Trinity Church, and the Black Swan — the pub you might know as the famous Dirty Duck.
Past the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, taking shape at last out of its rebuilding. Across the Bancroft Gardens, still desolate after their recent savage remodelling.
As I cross the Avon for the final time, I reflect that Stratford looks different today, and yet it’s still the town I know and love so well. I didn’t expect to find a train astride The Greenway — but I’m very glad I did.
The world we think we know looks just a little different each time we set out running.
And even in historic Stratford-upon-Avon, history can turn up on unexpected tracks.
23. The uncertain glory of an April day: Shakespeare Marathon 2003
149. In at the deep end – Stratford 220 Sprint Triathlon
3. Running in Shakespeare Country
35. Stratford saplings and The Seeds of Doom
198. This bank and shoal of time – beside the river in Stratford-upon-Avon
177. From white box to empty shell – rebuilding the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Thanks for the great article, and glad you like the carriages. Next time you’re around call in — it would be great to see you again.
Happy Running !
Many thanks, Vic, and wishing you and your new project well.
Hot tea and breakfast are certainly on the agenda next time I’m back in town and hacking back along The Greenway from my morning run. So maybe put the kettle on already, just in case…
Best of luck with your Iron Man training, and do let us know how you get on in the race. What’s your target time for each stage?
Pity you missed out on the Shakespeare Marathon this year, although for the folks in Stratford and London it was a bit too sunny by lunchtime. The carriages are a great place to watch runners passing by!
Who knows about times for the IM. I hope to beat my previous of 11″22′. Suffering with a cold this week which has knocked the training! Keep running!
Thanks, Vic. I see that the Shakespeare Marathon 2009 was won in 2:39, with the first female coming in at 3:03 — very respectable times for an undulating course.
The race started at 1pm when I ran it in 2003 (see my post number 23) — and on a warm day that wasn’t ideal. It’s great that the organisers have moved the start forward to 9.30am, and added chip timing as well.
I’m sure it was more than warm enough for a few runners and spectators to enjoy a drink at the carriages on their way through, and I’m glad you had a good day watching them run past.
865 runners completed the full course this year, with 1820 finishing the Half Marathon — even though the race was run on the same day as London. The event continues to grow and is now one of the UK’s premier marathons.
11:22 is a wonderful time for the Iron Man. Wishing you the best of luck with your training. I’ve been running shorter distances recently — including a delightful 10 km race in Horsham yesterday (of which, more shortly… ). Many thanks again.
Hope you are well and keeping running.
Just a quick message to let you know that I managed to complete the Frankfurt IM and am still alive (just). The heat was blistering but the event was spectacular (anyone stupid enough to go long should try this one).
I managed to finish in 10’30 which I am over the moon with as I never imagined I could beat 11hrs.
Next time you are passing the Greenway, dont forget to stop by!
Congratulations, Vic — 10:30 is a fabulous time, and evidence of all the hard work you’ve put in.
I’m still running, whilst travelling more and writing less just recently. Plenty of inspiration for this site — now I just need time to put it down.
Well done again, and looking forward to hearing more about your IM Germany exploits when I’m next in Stratford-upon-Avon.
And in the meantime, I hope the business is going well.