Dragons used to roam in St Leonard’s Forest, or so the local legend goes. Today it’s only runners, and me amongst them, burning with limbs afire in the 25th running of the Horsham 10 km.
We’re on my regular lunchtime route, or at least the tricky part of it, where the Lower Cretaceous clays of the lush Arun Valley rise eastwards towards the sandstone plateau of the forest.
We gather on Horsham Rugby Club’s playing fields in bright spring sunshine, and when the siren goes we head off dutifully around the touchline of the first team pitch.
“All this area was once under the sea, you know” — old famous greeting, familiar to any geologist.
Dawn on the levels. Running across a grey, cool morning, stepping slow behind the heels of winter. And today, for once, that quote is really true.
A plan formed deep in the forests of night. To run from Rye to meet the sea.
I trot out from the hotel and head up the cobbled street. Beside the half-timbered merchants’ houses on Church Square, past The Flushing Inn and the old sweet shop, through Landgate’s arch and down to The Strand.
And that’s where the uncertainty begins. A channel lies in front of me, and the flat far horizon ahead. But which way should I run? Does the river flow east or west to the coast?
The snow was half a metre thick in Guildford when I returned from Spain last week.
That’s the most snow we’ve had in England for twenty years or more, and easily the thickest fall I can remember anywhere outside the Alps.
“Upon the whole it was an excellent journey & very thoroughly enjoyed by me; the weather was delightful the greatest part of the day… to my capacity it was perfection. I never saw the country from the Hogsback so advantageously.”
So wrote Jane Austen of her trip along the Hog’s Back, in 1813. But today is a different kind of day. The view from the top shows nothing but fog. A December morning, chill, damp and misty. That’s how we live.
And yet, I can’t complain. An hour ago, I was still tucked up and fast asleep in bed. Thirty minutes of muesli, tea and fast driving delivered me to the start in Artington. Five minutes to jog to the start, another five minutes to score a race number, and I almost arrived too early for my geological odyssey. But not quite.
Time at the start line is always good. A few minutes to share notes on the course, and establish credentials.
A woman next to me is wearing London Marathon leggings from 2006. I ran it that year, too. Her son is a huge rower from Belfast. He’ll struggle on the hill, as will I.
And yes, the Hogs Back Race — it’s all about the hill.
O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing
Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley — 1819
A new season in a new town. Autumn has come and gone here in Horsham, scattering her falling leaves behind new footsteps across the park.
September laid a blank canvas all around this pretty Sussex town, and running set me free to paint. It’s invigorating, exciting and refreshing to explore anew.
Horsham is over a thousand years old. Standing calm beside the River Arun, amid green fields atop the Wealden Clay, historically this town gave birth to bricks, and beer and Catherine Howard.
Two centuries ago, Percy Bysshe Shelley set forth upon his life from here — a journey cut short before his 30th birthday in a shipwreck off the Italian coast. One of the great lyric poets and an unconventional and uncompromising radical, Shelley was expelled from Oxford for his atheist and anti-monarchist views.
The second anniversary of this site passed midway through a busy August. An office move and a new computer have diverted me since, but the milestone seems worth marking all the same.
There hasn’t been much time to write. This isn’t a site for daily updates – the past twelve months at Roads of Stone have seen just 28 posts.
Still, that adds up to around 20,000 words, squeezed into odd moments here and there, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve been busy.
Those words have extended to travel writing on Kenya (seven posts), Scotland, Texas, Bermuda and France.
Conversations have extended to cover geology, music, golf, UK and US politics, the history of horseracing and Shakespearean theatre, petroleum economics, global warming, the urban development of London and French cooking.
Posted in 2008, Africa, France, geology, global warming, history, London, politics, Scotland, Surrey and Sussex, travel