Running Through History

Today’s run was an out and back along the Roman Road from Wandlebury. There is quite a lot of history on display in a small area. The Roman Road itself is known as Worsted Street now. Well, to be fair it’s not widely known as Worsted Street. There are suggestions that the name is something to do with the wool trade which in turn suggests that the name is medieval but nobody really knows. The Friends of Fleam Dyke and the Roman Road website also suggests that if could be called Wolves Street. That’s cool; wolves ranging out between Abington and Linton.

Wherever possible, I like to run along the surface of the road and not in the ditch.

Diagram courtesy of The Friends of Fleam Dyke and the Roman Road

The surface is visible for a long stretch north from Worsted lodge and it’s still very well drained. Even on horribly wet days, there is little mud on the surface along that stretch and it’s easy to run or walk along there. South and east of the A11, the surface is less visible and you’re running along the ditch. In past, more violent times that ditch could have had bodies in it. I always feel queasy when I think about that.

Wandlebury Country Park contains a ring ditch. It’s about 900m in circumference and pleasantly up-and-down as you run round it. I don’t feel as odd running through that, which is strange. It’s an Iron Age thing and frankly, I think it’s full of of faeries when it’s not full of sweaty runners.

A good place for 900m reps.

Okay, maybe not faeries, or even fairies, but it’s certainly a fantastic place for runners. I am very aware of how long this feature has been in the landscape, of the thousands of people who have seen it, crossed it, been through it. The same is true for all sorts of places. Imagine the millions who have passed through Kings Cross Station, for example. As fond of Kings Cross as I am, I don’t find it very special. Wandlebury, the Roman Road, Fleam Dyke and Mutlow Hill are different. I don’t know why. They just are. Sometimes, you just have to accept that.

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On Mutlow Hill

I’ve done a couple of really long training runs this month, both of them on Fleam Dyke and the Roman Road. I love being out on these old, old routes. Fleam Dyke is a Saxon construction which runs for four or five miles south east from just outside Fulbourn. It’s more or less parallel to the Roman Road to the south and you run along the top of it. There are fewer people on it than on the Roman Road. I didn’t see another soul the first time I ran there at the beginning of the month and yesterday I saw less than half a dozen people in two hours, all of them round Mutlow Hill.

The Roman Road is a thing of beauty. It’s my absolute favourite place to run. You pick it up just south east of Cambridge where it runs parallel to the modern road towards Linton. It runs almost all the way to Haverhill. There is a circular route which was established by the Friends of the Roman Road and Fleam Dyke which joins the two together. I use the Icknield Way or Harcamlow Way which runs through Balsham to get from one to the other.

Well, I try to anyway. I get lost whenever I leave the straight lines of the Dyke or the Roman Road. I know that where I need to be is somewhere “over there” but then the path I’m on goes all wiggly on me. I’m going to have to start carrying a compass and map with me. I check the route I want on a map before I set out but it never quite matches the terrain or I forget a turning or something. Anyway.

I’ve now done two runs over 20 miles along these routes and I’m smitten. The Roman Road is wide and relatively firm underfoot for most of its length. Fleam Dyke is narrow. You’re running along the top of the dyke and there are places where tree roots are a definite trip hazard for tired legs. There are steps up and down breaches in the dyke. I think it’s what experienced trail racers would call a “technical run.” It’s also breathtakingly beautiful in places.

Yesterday, I stopped for my final gel and a drink on Mutlow Hill. If the archaeologists are right, then people have been stopping here for 4,000 years. It’s a Bronze Age barrow and was an Anglo-Saxon meeting place. It’s one of the most beautiful places around here. I had one of those “who the fuck do I think I am” moments standing by a tree at the top of the hill. I thought that while it was very beautiful, the greenery was a bit sparse and yellow in the heat. The chalky, disturbed soil must be quite poor up there. I had completely forgotten that just because there was a path and a handful of people around, that even although people had been managing this landscape for four millennia, it was still a wild place. What reminded me was the sight of a couple of butterflies intent on a spot of lepidopterile rumpy-pumpy. It was windy up there and they were blown past me quite quickly but they still gave me pause: who am I to criticise the butterflies’ love pad?

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