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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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