Review by Nik Bathe 03/04/2017
Drive to event: ~2hrs – A30 to Exeter then down the A376 and through to Budleigh Salterton.
Accommodation: To avoid having to leave home at 5.30am on the morning of the event, we stayed in Exmouth, an 11 minute drive to the start at Budleigh Salterton, the night before in a small, family run hotel, very close to the sea front. We needed to check out at 7am the next morning, before breakfast service, so they very kindly made us packed lunches instead and even found us a mini fridge to keep them in overnight.
Event pre-race: Organisation of the event was good. It’s a Long Distance Walkers’ Association (LDWA) Challenge walk event so staffed entirely by lovely volunteers. Entry in advance was a bargainous £7 for LDWA members and £8 for non-members and this included cake and savoury snacks at each of the three check points, tea and coffee pre- and post-event and at the middle check point and a pasty and more cake at the finish. The event was full at 200 places so no entries on the day this year and there were two distance options – 18 miles and 26 miles, which we walked.
The route description (it’s self-guided, but there were sections with arrows) and a GPX file of the route are posted on the event page of the LDWA website a couple of weeks before the event. Registration was quick – park up at the village hall in Budleigh Salterton, pay your money if, like us, you couldn’t pay in advance as you don’t have a cheque book, tie on your check point card safely on to your rucksack and grab a cuppa before the start.
Loos: the hall had beautifully refurbished and sparkly loos with almost no queuing.
The main event: We slipped outside the hall just before the 8am start time to hear the final three words of the event director’s briefing and then we were off. The weather was more cloudy than sunny and a little chilly but perfect for walking and running. The huge April showers of the previous day had disappeared overnight.
We passed the 26.8 (by my Strava) reasonably hilly miles admiring variously the views, the random dogs, the slippery, slidey mud and the beautiful weather as the clouds dispersed and it turned into a stunning spring day. There were some fantastic examples of vintage knapsacks and rucksacks that have probably seen more miles than I’ve had hot dinners.
Just after Check Point 1 (fabulous flapjack) I was earwigging on the conversation of the two women behind me and pricked up my ears when I heard the words “Bird” and “rowing” in the same sentence and realised that we had the Lesser Seen Bird Watts in common. So we introduced ourselves to Helen and Jess who are on the same Uni course as Bird (small world!) and walked the rest of the route with them. They are walking the 100k Jurassic Challenge in May so I passed on some of my top long distance walking tips to them (my favourite: you can mend a pinhole leak in your drinking water bladder using a Compeed!) and the random chat helped pass the time.
Checkpoint 2 (amazing lunch spread and tea/coffee) in Woodbury Village Hall was amusing in that to keep the hall as clean as possible, they asked us to use shoe covers over our boots – a striking look, gained only by getting your hands very muddy.
Checkpoint 3 (coke, cake and fab savouries) came at the end of the very long and flat Exe Estuary trail – a long bike/walking path of tarmac and boardwalk – seemingly never ending and tough on tired feet. I made the schoolgirl error of asking Colin to hold my bit of cake whilst I faffed about with my rucksack. Bye bye cake. Then came a trudge through Exmouth and out into the countryside again where we found the best bit of mud ever. We had to limbo under a bit of waist height muddy string, which pretty much got caught on everyone’s rucksacks as they attempted it, then wade across about three metres of ankle height thick mud soup then limbo under another waist height muddy string. There we met a poor woman who’d fallen over in the mud and was covered, but at least, as she said, it had taken her mind off her dodgy knee.
The last few miles were on the hilly coast path and around the edge of Devon Cliffs – a veritable town of static caravans, with a live and in use (on a Sunday!) MOD firing range on the cliff next to the beach. We puffed up and down the ripples of the coast path and I was wishing at that point I’d worn shorts. We dropped down off the coast path into Budleigh Salterton where we suddenly found ourselves within a hundred metres of the hall and finish. There were about twenty five pairs of muddy walking boots abandoned by the door so we removed our own ones, took a finish line photo and claimed our finish certificates with a time of about 8 hours 20 mins.
Event post-race: We collected our pasties, had a couple of cups of tea, some more cake and a Nice Sit Down. I passed on one of my flapjack recipes to someone who’d sampled some at the finish (the event director had asked if anyone could provide cake for the event and I don’t need to be asked twice to bake!). And then I levered Colin out of his chair so he could hobble to the car and snooze in the passenger seat as I drove home. He was definitely more creaky than me, we think because he’s always running and doesn’t do much long distance walking.
Summary: A really lovely, well organised, multi-terrain self-navigated event, suitable for walkers and runners. Great catering at the start/finish and checkpoints and a reasonable number of public loos on the way round. Really friendly helpers and participants.
Would we do it again: Most definitely yes! Colin would prefer to run it, claiming he’d found walking it harder than running The Grizzly. I’d wear my lovely new gaiters next time.