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Tales from a run: noontide wakes anew on the Oundle loop

23 May 2022

Two trail running firsts on yesterday’s 13 mile run loop from Oundle, Northamptonshire, via Lyveden New Bield : first tick bite, and first mid-run historical re-enactment.

Re-enactors re-enacting

Lyveden New Bield is a classic piece of English history: beautiful, rebellious, and completely bonkers. It’s owned by the National Trust but a public footpath goes all the way around the grounds and it’s one of my favourites. A 4.5 mile out and back from Wadenhoe is particularly lovely, if you’re in the area.

Lyveden on a cloudy day

Yesterday I crested the hill by the unfinished New Bield to the sound of musket fire and drums. Lord John Robartes Regiment were parading through the daisies in the distance, bringing history to life in this mysterious place where it always feels close at hand. Visitors in modern dress looked unfinished too, wearing basic trousers and t-shirts, taking photos on their phones. I started to run back down the hill and passed a woman in full skirt and bonnet, who turned her head slowly to look at me, like someone sprung to life from a painting by de Hooch.

It was 11am, warm and sunny, when I started running. Usually I’ve been back from my run for two hours at that point, and am thinking about lunch. But a late night trying to help my daughter sleep with a blocked nose (apparently I will never understand how bad she felt) made for a late start.

Going out in the midday sun blunts my enjoyment of running. It flattens the colours and the landscape, bringing it all into focus at once. It’s too sharp, too harsh. The reflections from the river were glaring rather than sparkling as I stood on the bank to catch my breath. There were hardly any people around, but when I startled a pheasant, a hare, or a muntjac as I ran, I didn’t get the usual feelings of awe and gratitude. I was just sticky and covered in bugs. Sparrowhawks and kites circled overhead, and I felt like their prey.

My 13 mile loop ran from Oundle wharf. Across the water meadows by the River Nene to Cotterstock, I ticked off a quick road section then up onto the trail past Shorts Wood and Glapthorn Cow Pasture. A hard track section weaved through Lower Benefield (sprinting through a field of startled cows), and back onto the fields to Lyveden. Then a new path for me, what looked from the map like a straight path between fields and woods to Oundle, cutting through the golf course at the end for an added frisson of ball-to-the-head danger.

This route is exposed to the sun, running mostly through open fields, but two wooded sections – Banhaw Wood and Bearshank Wood – did deliver tiny echoes of my usual early morning running magic. Bearshank Wood was new to me. Where could that name come from? The trail ran through the centre of the wood, along a grassy path lined with bugle. It was just the kind of path I usually love, but so overgrown that I started worrying about ticks.

Bearshank Wood

I was wearing short shorts, and had bare legs and arms. After Bearshank Wood, the path was almost invisible, heading straight through a field of oil seed rape which was head high, with overhanging plants I’d need to bushwhack through. I did, because there wasn’t an alternative. I was hot, more than half-way home, and didn’t have much water left. I needed to take the fastest route back to the car. On the next (similarly overgrown) oil seed rape field, I literally chased a deer along the path. Then the trail skirted fields for at least a mile, and I could either run through the knee high crop on loose soil, or through thigh high grass…

When I got to the car I checked for ticks. Nothing, phew. But when I got into the shower, there one was, attached to my chest (sorry!) and feeding away. I prised it off with tweezers and spent the next 8 hours obsessively checking for more. Not all ticks carry diseases, so hopefully I’ll be fine, but here’s some advice if you want to prevent ticks, or have been bitten.

One of many cross-field paths

Most of this route is running heaven at any time of year, but in future I will avoid the path from Lyveden to Oundle until crops have been harvested, and remember how much I prefer to run in the early mornings when “the fields look rough with hoary dew“.

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