Lesley Pymm reports: I was interested in running this event because the route goes through the two tunnels in Bath. These have recently been opened up by Sustrans as a cycle path. There was a variety of events going on. There were two 1/2s – a flat one and a hilly one. Having been in touch with the organisers, I decided that the hilly one was better for me as I don’t run that far on tarmac – which would have been the case with the flat 1/2. There were also two 10ks, a flat one and a hilly one, a 5k and some very short children’s races.
The run started in Brickfields Park on the outskirts of Bath. There were not many of us doing the Hilly Half and we were off first as others were still arriving for their events. We ran out of the park and were very soon on the old railway line which had been resurfaced and is slightly uphill. It is what used to be the Somerset and Dorset Railway. After approx 1 mile we came to the Devonshire Tunnel, which is about 408 meters long. It was well lit and easy running. Soon after this tunnel comes the longer Combe Down Tunnel. This is just over 1 mile long and again is well lit. It did seem very cool in the tunnels. There were a number of cyclists using the path and so I was getting used to hearing them coming up behind me. I started to become aware of another noise and was not sure what it was. I then realised that it was music. Going towards the centre of the tunnel the music became louder and was quite sureal. Moving towards the end of the tunnel it became fainter again until it was again silent (apart from the sound of other users).
I emerged from the tunnel on Tucking Mill viaduct. This turned out to be where the people doing the flat half turned back (they went up to this point, back to the start and then did it all over again – I had certainly made the right decision on this one), soon afterwards I turned off the line of the old railway and went onto a very short section of road. I then looped around and under the viaduct and onto the line of the Somerset Coal Canal. This operated from 1805-1898 and moved coal from the North Somerset coalfields onto the Kennet and Avon Canal; eventually the railway put the canal out of business.
There was lots of evidence of both the railway and canal heritage. There was Milford Aquaduct and the impressive viaduct of the Camerton and Limpley Stoke Railway. This was lovely running through meadows and I eventually came out onto a road that I crossed and then started on the hilly loop. The hill ahead was the start of what had been a flight of 21 locks rthrough Engine Wood; this raised the narrowboats up and over the hill to Combe Hay. I climbed up the hill to South Stoke and was rewarded by lovely views. There was good running along the ridge on the top and then a downhill section that took me back into Combe Hay village.
I nearly missed a turn here. It was well signed, but someone had parked a transit van in front of the sign. I just caught sight of it as I ran past and was able to get over the stile and turned off to run downhill through fantastic woodland. There was wild garlic everywhere and the other flowers were absolutley beautiful. I then had to go through a culvert which went under what had been the railway. This was very dark and very uneven underfoot. I had to walk it and had my hand on the roof of the tunnel for safety. Once out the other side it was again glorious running through woodland.
I eventually got back onto the road and then was directed under a viaduct and into the bed of the old canal (now totally dry) before starting to retrace my steps back to Brickfields. As I ran along the tarmac section, I could see runners turning ahead of me and realised that these were runners doing the flat half. I had been very isolated on the run and it was good to have other runners around. I started to overtake some of them, which was re-assuring as I had done the harder run.
As I got into the tunnels again I seemed to get into the ‘zone’. Some of you may be used to getting into the zone, I’m not! I think it may have been a combination of the subdued lighting and the classical music, but I really started to flow. It was brilliant! The race finished in the park and I was chatting to some of the other runners. Some of those who did the flat 1/2 had found it a bit much going through the tunnels four times and looked envious when I told them about the beautiful woodland I had run through!
It was well organised and interesting – but I don’t know if I want to do it again. It is part of a series over four Sundays during the summer. There is an interlocking series of medals for those doing three events – I just opted for the one-off medal. I was pleased to have done it for novelty value though!