Category Archives: Spain

214. Three years of Roads of Stone

past and present high street rye east sussex england by roadsofstoneThings have been slow around here, for a little while now, and in more ways than one.

I’ve had less time for running, and less still for writing. I’ve been unfit, distracted and slow.

And yet — there’s been real progress, too, hidden not far beneath the surface.

Our 95,000 visitors this year may have found only 22 new posts to read, but it’s been a momentous year of change, both in London and abroad.

the old mill horsham sussex england by acirfa virtual tourist comThe great crash formed the backdrop to the year, but it was in America that destiny was decided.

A changing political landscape marked the 2008 US election and the new opportunities that brings, for America and the whole world beyond.
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203. Dream beneath a desert sky – Pechina Canyon, Almería, Spain

desert-palms-sierra-de-alhamilla-above-pechina-almeria-spain-by-roadsofstoneLos Baños de Sierra Alhamilla stands grey and forlorn beneath palm trees in a February mizzle. It’s Hotel California, on a rainier day.

There’s a faded, nonchalant elegance here in this mountain spa. On the main street, a goofily smiling old bloke sits outside the baths, trousers rolled up and feet dangling in the hot stream. We smile and wave, because frankly, we’re more mad than him.

canyon-run-sierra-de-alhamilla-almeria-spain-by-roadsofstoneThe unforgiving Andalucían desert stretches far and wide below us. Scattered plantations, yucca, palm trees. Grey gravel, scrub and miles and miles of waste, magnificent in their desolation. Far in the distance beneath low-hanging cloud lies the city of Almería and the steely Mediterranean Sea beyond.
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201. To hold the hand of Spain – Almería Half Marathon 2009

tarde tormenta cabo de gata lluvia almeria spain trebola flickrA cool, soft and forgiving kind of Spanish rain is falling.

I drift down the hill, easing into my pace and gently exploring that warm sense of anticipation which the early miles of a race can sometimes bring. There’s elation beneath my feet today. It’s hard to explain, but it fills the morning all the same.

This is the longest race I’ve run for two years, and my preparation has been meticulously disorganised. Steady, shortish lunchtime runs through Horsham. A nine miler every fortnight throughout the autumn. A 10km in November. Eight miles of the hilly Hogs Back Road Race in December. A two hour outing across the sunny Surrey Hills just two weeks ago.

My journey to the start line didn’t bode too well. A far too lazy start yesterday morning, followed inevitably by a wheezing mile-long dash hauling a heavy holdall at full pelt across the park at 5am to catch my airport train.

night-of-love-on-the-promenade-almeria-spain-by-roadsofstoneA long walk into Almería last night to buy the running socks I’d so rashly left at home.

At one time, I’d surely have worried about all those things. But today it doesn’t matter. I’m here to run, but it’s not about the running.

I’ve come to hold the hand of Spain.
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153. The green monster – Ditchling Beacon and the London to Brighton bike ride

UPDATE February 2012
For a Ditchling Beacon map and gradient information, please see here:
223. Cycling on Surrey and Sussex hills – from White Down to Ditchling Beacon;

And for return routes back to Guildford, see here:
245. London to Brighton, and back;

* * * * *

ditchling-beacon-the-green-monster-2007.jpgSummer. Early afternoon. A soft and unassuming heat haze rising from the lush green meadows of Sussex.

And rising too, slowly but relentlessly behind this pretty village, lies the reason that we’re here.

The most famous climb in all of southern England.

The mean city streets of London seem such a long time ago. The start in Clapham lies almost fifty miles behind us, and barely a handful more remain ahead. The countryside is peaceful. Very peaceful.

The chatter and banter of those early miles has faded now. With a myriad and more of cyclists on the road, along the classic route to Brighton – you can hear them, all the way.

london-to-brighton-bike-2007-spirit-of-the-peloton.jpgNot just the whirr of spokes, the squeal of frantic brakes, or the grinding, mashing sound of crunching gears. There’s a richer, more lyrical sound to listen to, louder and more urgent still than the rhythm of the riders’ breathing.

Much more than that. Because I’ll swear that on these Sussex roads you can hear the spirit of the peloton. Continue reading

46. On the front line – Crawley’s echoes of Madrid

The London bombers of 21st July 2004 were convicted today, including Omar Khyam and Jawad Akbar, from Crawley.

(This article was first published here on 01st April 2004; see also the 7/7 attacks on London and further writing under Iraq).

Every week, since December, I’ve run this route. And all those months, I’ve run past that house, safely unaware that someone inside was planning to kill me.


It’s just seven miles, but in many ways it’s a microcosm of England. Starting alongside factories, warehouses and office blocks, across the main road by the new shopping park, and through the bleak housing estates. Continue reading

137. Otro día más sin verte: a return to Spain

2007_01_almeria-011.jpgIs it possible to fall in love with a whole country, with her people and landscapes and lifestyle, and to do that again every single time you visit?

Yes, it is. Si.

I know that an account of a mere running race can’t possibly begin to explain it. Or even pictures of a city, her mountains, a desert and sky.

But that’s what I’m going to try to do. And I know it’ll take me a while.

So for now, until I’m complete, here it all is, in music. Hasta que puedo volver.

Play: Otro día más sin verte — Jon Secada

Related articles:
90. Iberian chains – Tierras del Cid, Spain
91. Madrid me mata
78. Spanish stroll: Almería Half Marathon
129. Tenerife – 1: the light at the end of the world
136. En directo – Medio Maratón de Almería 2007