The Belvoir ChallengeOnce a year the peaceful Leicestershire village of Harby, set amongst the rolling countryside of the Vale of Belvoir, is disrupted by hundreds of runners and walkers thronging to take part in the annual Belvoir Challenge. First ran in 1990 this is a 26 mile challenge walk that has grown in popularity year on year- so much so that the event usually fills up weeks in advance.

The Belvoir (pronounced ‘Beaver’) Challenge is organized to raise funds for the village primary school by the ‘Friends of Harby School‘. A shorter route option of 15 miles was added some years ago and has now proved to be even more popular than the marathon option I had decided to tackle today. The school children themselves love to get involved, and can be seen helping to man the checkpoints, clear up the hall or even completing the shorter route alongside their parents.

Now, given the fact that this event takes place towards the end of February after the worst of the winter weather and takes in rather a lot of clay soil, it is best known for being extremely muddy… for mud aficionados, a whole variety of mud can be experienced, from the glutinous kind that sucks in your running shoes and won’t let go, to the heavy kind that builds up around your feet with each step and leaves you feeling as though you are walking with diver’s boots on.

The route itself changes each year- there are no route descriptions, it is marked out with signs and ribbons of red and white tape tied to trees and fences. You are allowed a ten hour time limit to complete the event.

After registering and waiting in the longest ever toilet queue for the row of plastic portaloos, I dashed up the road to the school where the race starts, squeezed myself into the middle of a horde of people dressed in full running gear or donning rucksacks, gaiters and walking boots (and, somewhat bizarrely, both) then suddenly we were off and marching down the road to the strains of The Proclaimers ‘I would walk 500 miles’ (I hoped that this was a slight exaggeration of the day’s challenges) and heading towards our first muddy track of the day. Both routes followed each other for the first five miles and so all I could see at this stage were the bodies of runners in various stages of fitness jostling past.

We set off...

We set off…

The route usually passes through a variety of delightful villages with stone cottages of various hues of cream and white, huddling in valleys of brown and green patchwork fields. The villages have names which seem to fit their character nicely; Croxton Kerrial, Waltham on the Wolds and Goadby Marwood, to name just a few I trudged through today. The Vale of Belvoir has a little bit of everything… hills, steep climbs, muddy tracks and woods so it’s a bit like experiencing most of what the English countryside has to offer in just one day.

There are checkpoints roughly every five miles along the route, offering hot and cold drinks and tables piled with as many different kinds of home made cake you could imagine… I think it’s one of the few events where it’s actually possible to put on weight!

This year the halfway checkpoint was in the village hall at Croxton Kerrial. The route organizers decided to have us approach the village by way of a track, filled with the kind of really deep ruts that are only achieved by repeated use from local motorcycle riders, completely filled with either water or the most slippery mud I have ever had the misfortune to encounter.

Muddy, rutted track

Muddy, rutted track

The second half of the route became increasingly muddier; steel cold sky reflected in the pools of water across my path, the landscape turning from green to brown and white as it started to snow in little icy flurries.

After the 18 mile checkpoint at Woolsthorpe I thought I may be hallucinating when I spotted a plate of crackers and stilton on the table, but no- it wasn’t a mirage and so I had a most civilized break before marching off uphill towards the striking cream and orange profile of Belvoir Castle standing sentinel over the wooded landscape.

After reaching the tiny village of Stathern, by way of a long muddy track through woodland offering tantalising glimpses through darkening trees of hazy villages beyond a steep drop to my right, I thought I was almost home and dry, but there was one more sting in the tail yet… my heart dropped into my muddy running shoes as I spotted a piece of red and white tape tied to a footpath sign jauntily waving in the breeze, and realised that a deep brown ankle deep pool of glutinous, wet mud separated me and the finish at Harby…

There was no way around it so I just had to suck it up and get on with it- I waded through, muttering through clenched teeth ‘you cruel b*stards!!’

The sting in the tail!

The sting in the tail!

It was a relief to hobble into the village hall and sink down into a chair with a coffee and a bowl of soup followed by home made bread and butter pudding. Volunteers were packing away as I stood up to leave, and one lady begged me to take some sandwiches from a huge tub which had been left over. Frankly they were past their best and the edges resembled court jesters’ shoes, but I dutifully took one to help her out. ‘Have more’ she beseeched, ‘go on- take some home with you!’

My efforts earned me a certificate, which was illustrated by a countryside scene painted by one of the schoolchildren. As an innovative and charming twist, they had created pictures with natural colourings and twigs used as brushes and pens that they had collected from the actual route. As I shuffled out into the icy cold darkness on legs that had lost the ability for forward movement, I felt a real glow of achievement, which lasted until it was time to clean my shoes.

I try to do this event every year and would highly recommend it; you can download an entry form from their website. Registration usually opens from December the year before, though places are limited and are generally filled by the middle of January.

Kick off is generally at a sociable 9am, but it’s a good idea to get there early as parking can be limited- as soon as you enter the village from any direction you should spot the tabard wearing marshals who will direct you to a spot.

Registration is at the Village Hall, just down the road from the school, and can get quite manic. Once you register you receive a plastic tag with your race number on and a black and white map of the route. It is a good idea to carry maps to supplement this- Ordnance Survey maps covering the route are;
1:50000 Landranger – 129 and 130,1:25000 Explorer – 246, 247 and 260 and 1:25000 Pathfinder – SK62/72, 63/73, 82/92 and 83/93

If you are a slower walker who is likely to finish in the dark a head torch would be useful.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tagged with:

Filed under: Challenge Events

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!