Leg 4 of the SWCP Adventure ended up being done slightly differently than previous legs. Being a route that is familiar, we decided to mix it up a bit and took the opportunity to make this one a night run. With it being December this meant that we would be setting off just as it was starting to get dark and running into the evening! Leaving Ferry Bridge at 4.15pm the sun was just dropping over Chesil Beach and the light faded through the 1st 5km or so. This stretch up the Fleet is a very familiar section and made navigation through the initial darkness nice and straight forward.
Darkness was really setting in by 10km and we were nearing the end of familiar territory and venturing onto paths we hadn’t run before. Being relatively inexperienced night runners this threw up its own set of challenges! In all honesty, I was assuming that it would be a fairly straight forward trail for the whole 20 mile stretch but this turned out to be wrong! A route that would be easily negotiable by day, all of a sudden gets a whole lot harder when crossing a simple field becomes a monumental challenge! When the trail underfoot gave way to more open spaces, not having the visibility to see more 10 feet ahead, resulted in losing our sense of direction and we were unsure just which way we were heading! We did a pretty good job of spotting signs ahead and following the marked trail, although for the 1st time on this adventure our friend Google Maps had to come out and assist in checking we were on course.
Towards Abbotsbury end of the Fleet, the path heads inland to bypass a wildlife conservation area. This took us through a couple of fields and in the darkness up ahead we spotted multiple sets of eyes glinting in our head torch light. A simple heard of cows settling down for the night in the middle of our path all of a sudden looked like a herd of angry bulls! An attempt at “mooing” good evening to them may have been misinterpreted and as they started to stand up we made a quick exit. Only 2 minutes later in a more wooded section, a group of pheasants decided to take flight through the trees causing both of us to jump and our heart rates rocketed! Not sure either of us would be too comfortable out here alone at night!
Abbotsbury just never seemed to get any closer. Each time we reached a SWCP marker (normally a welcome sight) we were still 3 miles away! As we finally reached the Swannery (longest 3 miles ever) we headed back towards the coast. Chesil Beach appeared to our left and with the sea only metres beyond that, navigation from this point was relatively straight forward. Keep the sea on the left and keep moving forwards until we reach West Bay. As it got later and fatigue started to kick in the dark certainly made things look a bit different. At one point there was a close call when a cows feeding trough looked suspiciously like a stile nearly resulting in some very soggy shoes and even a moment when some boulders looked like sleeping sheep!
One thing we had really underestimated was this stretch across Chesil Beach itself. The pebbles being the size of gravel and with the rain starting to fall, what was initially quite funny became more and more energy sapping! Km after Km of pebbles making every muscle in the legs work like they weren’t used to. Small stretches of grass gave us a glimmer of hope that we would soon be running again, unfortunately this was shattered as the pebbles came back after what felt like only 5 steps of relief and acceleration. The miles to Hive beach were an even longer drag than the infinite 3 miles to Abbotsbury. The slower sections that we weren’t able to run were testing our patience and the goal of making West Bay in time for fish and chips was slipping away. Swapping pebbles for hills, we eventually had our feet on solid ground again and all that remained was a simple matter of climbing up and over the cliffs between beaches as we rolled towards the end.
Head torches starting to fade, we knew the lights of West Bay were getting closer. A strange dog leg section meant a diversion from the lights to cross a river near Freshwater but we were only a couple of miles from the end. Slow on both the ups and the downs to ensure we finished the run in one piece and we finally descended down the cliff edge into West Bay, cold to the point that speech was slurred and we had both lost the use of our hands. We were tired but satisfied that it had been one hell of a leg, highlighting our inexperience of running in the dark and putting a completely different perspective on a route that we thought would be almost “easy”. Definitely a cool experience and a section that had it all from wind and rain to wildlife, pebbles and some spectacular holes in the wall to climb through!
Run 4 Stats – 20 miles (76.5 out of 630) – 4h34 moving time (17h48 total) – 5h03 total time (20h28 total) –
1318ft of elevation (10.088 out of 114,931)
4 Clif Bars – a few Clif Bloks – no tea, coffee or cake on course but finished with a massive slice of birthday Carrot Cake!!