The route is marked and named on OS maps, and we'd seen occasional marker signs previously. There is a guidebook, which was published in 1996 and so no longer 100% accurate! I bought it anyway, and will attempt to highlight any differences as I write things up - but mostly it seems to be things like styles having been replaced with kissing gates.
The route officially starts either at Cheltenham Racecourse or Pittville Pump Rooms, depending what you read, and is about 25 miles/40km. I mapped it out on OS maps without the pump rooms detour and that says 38km.
Our first leg took us from Golden valley to the Racecourse (guidebook sections J and K - between 13 and 1 on my OS route), starting from a bus stop on the B4063, next to what used to be the Pheasant Inn. This is currently a private residence, but it's also been a Thai restaurant relatively recently. The Stagecoach 94 bus goes past very frequently, so it's easy to get to from Cheltenham or Gloucester.
Waymarked signpost. A bit of a rarity!
The path heads north through fields and past a slightly smelly sewage treatment plant near Fiddler's green. It was here that we spotted the first burnt out car of the day, which is not what any of us were expecting to find in the middle of a field.
What I was expecting to see was more footpath/marker signs! Good thing we had maps and GPS because it was really not obvious where to go.
At one point our path abruptly vanished into a large and deep wet hole - complete with orange safety barrier but no suggestion of a detour. We carefully picked our way around it, and continued along the very boggy path. I should have taken a photo as then I'd be able to tell you exactly where it is, but was a bit preoccupied with a) not falling in and b) not letting the dogs fall in.
We popped out on the A4019 at Uckington, and walked along the pavement for a bit until we turned into more fields just opposite the fire station. Busy main roads always tend to be the low point on walks like this, but thankfully it was only for a few hundred metres.
St Mary Magdelene churchyard in Elmstone Hardwicke provided a good spot for a drink and snack stop - and a chance for Jon and Jon to empty water out of their boots. I decided I'd just suffer damp feet rather than having to put wet shoes and socks back on - especially as my Keen Terradora boots are very definitely falling apart where the toe area flexes Waterproof fabric is no use if there are holes in it!
I ran this race last year, when it was called the Skechers trail run. New sponsor this year, so new name - Salming trail run. The course had changed slightly, bringing it to 10.5k (with 2 and 4 lap options added if you wanted to run a half/full marathon). There was also a 5k option, and before the main race started, a 1km kids route.
The weather was warm and dry and sunny! Last year I ran the (downhill) first 3km a bit too quickly, and this year I intentionally did the same as I knew the hill in the second half would slow my pace.
I was running with my soft bottle so didn't stop at the first water station. Grabbed a cup of what I thought was just water at the second, and it turned out to be something vaguely lemon flavoured. An unpleasant surprise. Yuck. Good thing I still had a bit left in my bottle to wash it down with...
After about 7km my right achilles/calf decided to start being a bit niggly, so I slowed my pace. My time for 10k turned out about a minute slower than last year, which is a bit annoying but I'm not unhappy about it!
What is disappointing is the lack of photos of me. Especially as the photographer took half a dozen or so of the lady who crossed the line just ahead of me..... Maybe I looked particularly sweaty and awful or something
Anyway, once again I had an ice cream afterwards. Does that make it a tradition? Let's see what happens in 2019!
We started from the car park at Saltergate, a short drive from the campsite. Here there are some information boards which I didn't bother to read - but did take a photo just in case I wanted to later. Besides, Jenni had come armed with fun facts about the area, and I didn't want any spoilers.
Heading north along a path just next to the main road, we soon learnt our first fact of the day - how the "Hole" was (and wasn't!) formed. It may be some sort of geological settling due to underground water erosion, or it might be an angry giant chucking mud around. Take your pick. Either way, it's an impressively large dent in the landscape.
that path is steeper than it looks!
Other fun facts included things about burning the heather (which we saw lots of evidence of), and grouse - including a very accurate impression of their call.
Our otherwise circular route included an out-and-back detour to Skelton Tower, an old hunting lodge/folly. I'd done a bit of googling before hand and for some reason was expecting this to be at the top of a hill - but actually we had to drop down to reach it. That said, it does tower above the steam railway line, where everyone took the same photo.
As we walked back from the tower another group was heading there to watch the steam train go by. So we missed out on an even more cliché photo opp, but never mind. I tried to take a few more detailed shots of the tower itself, though I didn't quite manage anything too artistic.
We stopped at the Horseshoe Inn in Levisham for lunch - and I'm quite pleased I was too lazy to pack my own lunch as their chips were absolutely delicious.
On our way back we passed what at first seemed to just be an abandoned old farmhouse. As we got closer, we noticed that the boarded up windows and doors had holes in them for birds and bats, as it's now a bit of a wildlife sanctuary. Excellent use of a building that would otherwise just continue to decay.