On Saturday 7th May, on a lovely sunny morning, I stood by the Village Cross in Henley-in-Arden, alongside my training partner, Steve. At 10:00am on the dot we were off, up the High Street, into Station Road and soon off the road and onto the trails. I was bowling along quite happily, ticking off the landmarks – Henley Golf Club, past a pond, through a nature reserve, past the Chapel of St. Mary and into the village of Ullenhall. Soon enough we were crossing the A4189 and passing through Cadborough Farm. I was slightly nervous about this section as on some of my recce runs there had been cattle in the fields that paid me more attention than I was comfortable with! Luckily, though, no cattle this time (despite big signs saying ‘beware of the bull’) – just some really pesky gate chains to deal with! As the path turned to the left there were some amazing long-distance views over the countryside to the south-west. The first 4 miles were completed!
The next section took us through Morton Fisheries and across some fields of meadow pasture. There were some cattle in one of these fields, but luckily minding their own business in a far corner! Some of the fields were quite hard going underfoot, where they’d been churned up by hooves and now dried into ankle-turning lumps and bumps! Soon enough we came to a track which we followed through the grounds of Studley Castle Hotel, passing people enjoying their morning coffee on the terrace! A green track took us down to St. Mary’s Church and cemetery, before emerging onto the fields alongside the picturesque River Arrow at around 7 miles. The next mile generally followed the meandering river, through Spernall, past a small derelict church and crossing the river to run through part of the recently planted Heart of England Forest. We eventually emerged onto the road near the entrance to Coughton Court National Trust property at 9 miles. On one of my recce walks we’d watched the Red Arrows give a display here, but unfortunately there was no such excitement today! A short road section took us back across the River Arrow, by a ford which is always popular with children and dogs, and onto a stony track. This is the first major hill of the route, and it seemed a relentless slog up Windmill Hill, before emerging onto Spernal Lane!
The next section took us along a ridge with views down over Alcester, over an abandoned railway bridge and past a trig point at 66m. From here we dropped down to the road, which we followed through Alcester town centre, past St. Nicholas Church and across a small park to the old Stratford Road. It was here that I said goodbye to Steve. It had been great to have his company for the first half, but now I was going it alone for the second half! I exchanged my empty drink bottles for full ones and continued on my way. Crossing the confluence of the rivers Arrow and Alne, I glanced down to see a heron standing in the water, looking out for fish no doubt! From Oversley Green the road steadily rose uphill, and became a track / path over the A46 and continuing uphill along the side of Oversley Wood. At the top of the wood I took the route option for good ground conditions, as described in the official Arden Way Guide booklet, which followed the edge of the wood before dropping down along a track to Valley Farm on the edge of the village of Exhall. By now I was about 15/16 miles and over two hours into the run and it was starting to feel quite hot (the temperature got up to about 20 degrees C) which, coupled with the hills was beginning to take its toll. I ran along the opposite side of Oversley Wood, under the A46 underpass, and off across the fields again.
Going through the villages of Upton and Haselor the path then involved another steep climb through a field to the church of St. Mary and All Saints. But at least there were some good views over the River Alne valley to my left! After going through the village of Walcote there was another uphill section before I skirted the edge of Withycombe Wood, where the bluebells were in full bloom and looking lovely. The next village was Aston Cantlow, which I arrived at through yet another churchyard – St. John the Baptist. From Aston Cantlow the route crossed back over the River Alne, followed by a long gradual uphill through arable farmland to reach the lane at Glebe Farm. After passing the Dan Skelton Racing stables I found myself running though a field of buttercups where the racehorses were grazing. Luckily they only paid me the slightest attention, as I didn’t fancy my chances trying to outrun a racehorse! I was finding it pretty hard going by now, but kept pushing on as best as I could, through some fields of pasture with lovely wildflowers, a steep downhill through some woodland, followed immediately by a steep uphill through a paddock and onto the lane.
I knew now that I was only about 3 miles from home, but those last few miles are some of the hardest on the route! A long uphill pull through Bannam’s Wood reduced me to a walk, but I took the opportunity to take some fuel on board and admire the bluebells. Once at the top of the hill I managed to pick up my pace and started to feel quite good again. I was running at a pretty decent pace, but the number of stiles I had to drag my weary legs up and over really slowed me down, and made me quite frustrated! I think there were about 11 stiles in those last 3 miles, plus a few gates too! Finally I was running past the allotments, up and down the steps of the footbridge to cross the railway line at Henley station, and the last little bit through the houses and onto High Street. I finished back at the village cross, exactly 4 hours, 28 minutes and 47 seconds after I’d started.
I really enjoyed the run; it was fabulous to run through some of Warwickshire’s most picturesque and scenic countryside, with lovely blue skies on a sunny spring day. A big thanks to Steve for his company on the first half, and to my coach, Les, for constantly popping up around the route to take photos, give me drinks and generally make sure I was OK. Looking forward to doing it all again sometime.