Avon Valley Path Run – 12 June 2011
Whittle gives us the perfect excuse to discover a new route.
A few months back WACer Debbie Whittle set herself
the target of raising £3,000 for the Jigsaw Appeal, based at Bournemouth
Hospital. The Jigsaw Appeal itself is looking to raise a mighty £1.5
million to build a brand new women’s health cancer unit. The present
unit is struggling to cope with the 17,000 women a year who currently
use it. More details of the charity can be found at
One of Debbie’s fund-raising strategies was to stage
a sponsored walk along the Avon Valley path, from Moyles Court, near
Ringwood to Salisbury cathedral. That’s a distance of 23 miles. Apart
from Debbie taking aerobics and pilates classes she also takes a group
for nordic walking. It all started to fit in place … like a jigsaw
Ten years or so back I discovered the delights of the
Stour Valley Way as a training route and have run along it many times
since – it is my favourite local run. Well, the Stour and the Avon
rivers meet at Christchurch harbour. Debbie’s walk gave me the perfect
excuse to discover the Avon Valley route.
I am due to run the North Devon Marathon at the end
of June and also saw it as a chance for this to be my last long run.
It’s perhaps a little further than you would normally run two weeks
before a marathon, but it’s off-road so doesn’t punish the legs so
severely as tarmac, and if I started at Ibsley that would bring the
mileage down to just 20 miles, and following the course of river it was
sure to be nice and flat, wasn’t it!
Debbie had been out over previous weekends to recce
the route – all done in glorious weather. The route is signposted (after
a fashion!), but if she was going to lead a group of walkers she wanted
to be confident about where she was heading. I wanted to run it, so was
looking for an accomplice – at least there would be two of us getting
lost (much nicer). I found the perfect running partner in Annie Dougall.
Annie and I had finished within minutes of each other at the North Devon
Marathon in 2010. The fact that the day before our Avon Valley trek
Annie would be running two legs in the South Downs Relay Marathon didn’t
seem to bother her!
Remember that talk of glorious weather during
Debbie’s recces – well she had used up the full quota of sunshine
allotted to the project. The rain proved to be near relentless all day,
with a bitterly cold wind. Looking on the bright side though, at least
it was a tailwind!
Debbie and a group of around 20 set off for the 23
mile walk from Moyles Court at 8.15am. Annie and I got to Ibsley at
around 9.30am. We spent a couple of minutes just sat in the car in the
Old Beams car park, just staring out the car windows questioning our
sanity. It didn’t look too welcoming outside! There was nothing for it,
there was no prospect of an improvement in conditions, we were just
going to have to get on with it. Both Annie and I would be wearing
Camelbaks and were self-sufficient, but we knew that there was a back-up
vehicle, a minibus driven by Derek, should we need any extra support.
Getting out of the car I knew that whatever we wore
was going to get soaked, so it was best to keep clothing to a minimum. I
hate running in ‘waterproof’ jackets, they don’t really work and tend to
make you sweat. It was so grim outside that I decided to wear mine, I
soon got fed up with it and after a mile and a half, it had been folded
up and shoved in my backpack.
Our journey from the Old Beams took us about 100
metres along the main road, before turning left over a river bridge and
then following the ‘Avon Valley’ signs. I didn’t have the 25,000 scale
OS maps for the northern section of the route, so opted to take no map
at all, except for some sketches and accompanying notes for walking in
the southbound direction found on the internet. These notes proved to be
as useful as a chocolate teapot!
Within the first mile or so we had run through
low-lying fields of longish grass, our feet were already soaking. It
became clear very early on that the signposting of the route left a lot
to be desired. Having been directed into what looked like someone’s back
garden, we were relieved to see a stile and directional arrow. We headed
across the fields between Turmer and Harbridge when we came to a minor
road, the arrow pointed to the right, taking us towards Harbridge. We
arrived at a T-junction, there was not a Avon Valley sign anywhere to be
seen. We followed a road signposted ‘Cranborne’ that seemed to be
heading in the right direction. After a mile or so we saw a footpath
fingerpost and it had the Avon Valley emblem on it. Whether we had
approached this path from the right direction who can say. It didn’t
matter, as we were now back on track.
The next part of the path stayed pretty close to the
river and we had followed this part of the route without too much
difficulty. As we approached the southern end of Fordingbridge we came
across what looked like the hen party from hell. A group of 20 walkers
looking very bedraggled some of whom were sporting pink cowboy hats
protected by plastic bags.
We stopped for a chat and a hug with Debbie, before
Annie and I pushed on and left the walkers to it. Derek, with the
minibus, was going to be parked up at Burgate school, immediately north
of Fordingbridge. As promised the bus was there, we stopped for five
minutes. Both Annie and I had a dry set of kit (all wrapped up in
polythene bags) in our Camelbaks, we left these on the bus. The plan was
that Derek would meet us in Salisbury and then we could change when it
was all over.
Having been on the west side of the river so far, we
now crossed the A338 to the east. Across the fields the route was
straightforward enough, we then arrived at Folds Farm. There was a clear
divergence of routes here, but no sign of any markings for the path. We
asked a man who was in his garden, ‘Which way for the Avon Valley path?’
– he claimed not to know. We wasted about five minutes before we found a
sign, which pointed vaguely to the left-hand fork.
Up we went, this was Castle Hill, when we got to the
top there was a fantastic viewpoint looking down onto the river just
south of Breamore. Our view was obscured by rain and mist, but this is
somewhere I will definitely return to on a sunny day. Since our last
inconclusive sighting of an Avon Valley Path sign back at the farm we
had gone for more than a mile, so a laminated paper Avon Valley sign was
greeted with some relief. It pointed down a road and into the village of
In Woodgreen village, the trail went cold. However,
we asked a local woman and she redirected us back up the hill we had
just come down, ho-hum! We headed out of Woodgreen towards Hale and then
up Moot Hill, before dropping into Downton – we had covered around half
Debbie had warned me that the route was very poorly
marked in Downton. She told us that when we got to the High Street we
had to turn left and then pick up the path alongside the river. What we
didn’t know was that there are two river bridges in Downton. We found a
path alongside the river at the first bridge and headed off along this
until it stopped at a weir. It was at this point that we found out how
useless those notes from the internet were, as they seemed to imply that
we were to leave Downton on the east bank of the river, not so! We
clocked up almost two miles around Downton before we found the path we
were looking for!
Getting lost seriously does your crust in. It was at
about this time that Annie and I started to get all whimsical about
steaming mugs of coffee and sticky cakes. We promised ourselves that
doing the coffee thing was going to be No. 1 priority once we got to
We were back on track, still contending with a
never-ending series of gates and stiles, plus woolly waymarkings. We
headed north towards Charlton-All-Saints and Matrimony Farm before
re-crossing the A338 one more time. We had about five or six miles to go
and the ground got heavier. We were heading up hill again!
I kept thinking, Salisbury cathedral is pretty big,
why can’t I see the spire yet? I started to recognize some of the
footpaths from doing the Salisbury 54321 runs. We passed Dogdean Farm
and headed downhill alongside a hedge. On the top of the next ridge I
recognized the houses on the Blandford-Salisbury road. We had to head
back up hill again across two fields of heavy ground before we got to
the road. Annie, somehow, still seemed to be bouncing along like a
spring lamb, I was running about twenty yards behind doing my best to
We emerged onto the Blandford Road and this left us
with probably little more than a mile to cover to get to the cathedral.
The plan was to meet Derek and the bus in Harnham Road but we carried on
straight to Starbucks and got there at about 1.45. How pleased would the
staff there be to see two people, soaked to the skin having traversed 22
miles (according to Annie’s GPS) of cross-country footpaths. One of the
guys who worked there took a shine to Annie and in no time we were each
supplied with towels and sat down with the largest coffees we could get
and the sweetest cakes amidst ever-increasing pools of water.
After a while, we phoned Derek in the bus and he came
and collected us. The group of walkers were approaching Matrimony Farm
and would be crossing the A338 soon, the bus headed off to meet them.
Annie and I changed into dry kit, I couldn’t believe how heavy a wet
t-shirt and a pair of shorts could get.
The lay-by which we parked in had a mobile canteen.
About five minutes before the walkers arrived the guy running it had
decided that enough was enough and he started to shut up shop. Derek got
out of the bus and persuaded the man with the hot teas to stay open for
just a little longer.
Debbie and the walkers turned up looking completely
soaked. They had around another two hours walking left to do, eventually
reaching Salisbury at around 5pm.
Derek took us back to Ibsley before driving back to
Salisbury to collect all the walkers.
I know it sounds a bit crazy but with the conditions
being so horrendous, it added to the occasion and sense of achievement.
I wasn’t sorry to get back into the Berlingo and get a good fug going on
the journey home though.
I’m definitely doing this trip again, next time I am
going to do it in sunshine with a couple of Ordnance Survey Outdoor
Leisure maps in my backpack.
All in all a great day out, well done to Debbie for
setting the thing up. I can’t tell you how grateful I was to have Annie
out there sharing the experience, it would have just been horrible to
have tackled those conditions alone – when there are two of you out
there you can laugh into the face of the elements!