After the high of finishing the Southampton Half Marathon a couple of weeks ago, I’ve found it really hard to motivate myself to get running again.
I’ve also struggled physically – my legs were shot after a couple of miles when I dragged myself onto the streets last weekend, and my thighs seem to be constantly burning when I tackle the hills on my bike on the way to work.
Despite doing a mid-length walk with Tiff and Tilly on Saturday, I was still determined to get a good run in on Sunday. As I was making a flying visit back to Dorset to see friends and family so Tiff could study all day in peace, I decided to run along the North Dorset Trailway near Blandford Forum.
The trail follows the route of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, which ran from Bath to Bournemouth and closed in the 60s. Until recently, only very small sections of the trailway were publicly accessible, but you can now walk, run, cycle or ride a horse all the way from Sturminster Newton to Spetisbury, south of Blandford. There’s also a small section of trail in Stalbridge, with plans afoot to join this with the path at Stur Newton.
It’s about an hour’s drive to where I planned to join the trail at Durweston on the A357. The weather looked fine so I chucked on my complementary Southampton Half-Marathon t-shirt and shorts and jumped in the car. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated as I crossed the border into Dorset, with the tops of the hills in the distance towards the coast shrouded in drizzly clouds.
The drizzle was still falling when I left the car in a lay-by to run the half a mile or so from the main road to pick up the trail. It was pretty warm though, so I wasn’t really ruing my choice of clothing. I made a wrong turn straight away, ending up at the gates of a sub-station down a dead-end country track.
Eventually, I found my way through an overgrown horse field and onto the track I was meant to go down first. I then passed a converted mill, crossed the River Stour and ducked under one of the farm bridges under the old railway embankment into the village of Stourpaine.
To take you north, this part of the route follows the local roads, snaking past the church and various cottages laced with drooping Wisteria before picking up the old railway track bed on the far side of the village.
I then crossed the Stour again on a new bridge built on the foundations of an old viaduct and encountered my first hill – the trail isn’t as flat as you’d imagine for an old railway as some of the cuttings and bridges have been filled in, so you have to run up (or down) the road level to cross the roads that the railway passed under or over.
After passing a large family on a variety of bicycles and scooters, I soon reached the edge of Shillingstone and continued until I reached the old train station where I’d decided I’d turn back. Here, volunteers have restored the station buildings, opened a small cafe and shop and recently laid some track. So there were a few people milling about in the wet, the drizzle having returned.
The whole route was about 6.5 miles – a definite improvement on last weekend’s effort. I found that the surface was ideal for running on, despite being a mix of hard stones and a thin layer of soil depending on which stretch of the trail I was on.
I passed through Shillingstone again in the car as I continued my journey to my parent’s house. Cake from the station cafe was tempting me to visit make a slight detour, but I resisted. This time at least.
Info: The North Dorset Trailway is in several sections from Stalbridge down to Spetisbury. The best places to access it are Sturminster Newton, Shillingstone and Blandford Forum.