Having run at Sherwood Pines on several occasions, both on my own and in events, I was interested to see that it had been chosen as the location for one of the Forestry Commission’s first waymarked ‘Wild Run’ routes. Needing an escape from post-referendum fever, I decided to go and try it out. Here are my thoughts…
The first signs of the route, literally, were visible from the car park; they gave a brief overview of the route and an estimated time to run it. I’m not sure how useful a predicted time was, as people’s running speeds vary so greatly; the ‘approximately 5K’ information was more useful to me. I guess in these days of health and safety legislation it is required, but it was odd to be starting a trail run with a sign showing details of the nearest hospital; perhaps the route was going to be tougher than I thought, or the Gruffalos in the woods more vicious!
A couple of hundred metres past the initial signs brought me to the actual start of the route, the broad path heading off invitingly into the forest. Flatand relatively smooth, it was a pretty easy start – both pretty and easy!
As the route headed into the forest, it became apparent that it was very well signed, with small white and red arrows mounted on posts. There was a good balance between signing the way at path junctions, but not littering the wayside with too many. Finding my way was straightforward, although there were places where I hesitated for a moment. Following my instincts and having the confidence to keep going for a while until I saw another sign did help though! My fear of getting lost in the forest (and it does worry me!) was negated somewhat by the fact that the family cycle trail, which I know pretty well, was never far away, sometimes just a few feet through the trees.
After the initial flatter, wider trail, the route headed into more varied terrain. Although I would describe it as undulating and not hilly, there was certainly plenty of interest from an up-and-down point of view. Longer, shallower drags were interspersed with flatter bits and what I’ll call ‘bumps’; little ridges to scale and ditches to jump, all those bits of trail that scream ‘play!’ Underfoot, the route was ever-changing too, with dry stony tracks, grass, woodchips and bare earth keeping my interest. For a mid-summer’s day, although some sections were quite dry underfoot, many were not; there were soft bits and muddy bits and boggy bits too, and I suspect that in winter ‘Wild Mudfest’ might become a more appropriate name than ‘Wild Run’.
Towards the end of the route, it merges with the family cycle trail for a couple of hundred metres again before the ‘finish’ sign is in sight.
Overall, this ‘Wild Run’ concept is a great idea; this is a beautiful route and one that I can’t wait to get my cross-country shoes muddy on in the winter. I want to play! I hope it will encourage those who are relatively new to trail running to have a go on a safe, way-marked route, without being too far from civilisation. Likewise, I think it offers great scope for more experienced off-road runners to hone their skills whilst having a lot of fun too. Although it has always been possible to run on the cycle routes at Sherwood Pines, many are narrow enough that at busy times it can feel unsafe; those mountain bikers can be quick! A run-only route (although I did see some tyre marks and horseshoe prints on it in places) is a great step forward.
This route is not perfect, though, my main concern being related to its proximity to the family cycle trail. At the start and end, and for a section in the middle, the two routes share the same path, and in numerous places the ‘Wild Run’ crosses the cycle path. On a quiet morning, that did not present much of a problem, but on a busy summer weekend, when families are out on the trail, I would certainly want my wits about me, that’s for sure.
My only other concern is that this will be the only ‘Wild’ route marked out at Sherwood Pines! Given the size of the forest, and the reach of the cycling trails, I would hope that the Forestry Commission might have some longer routes up their sleeves; perhaps a 10K to start with? With off-road running on the up, I’m certain it would be well-used. Let’s wait and see…