A couple of weeks ago saw me taking on my first challenge of 2017- the 32 mile Wilmot Wander. Run by the Chaddesden Scout Group, the walk starts from Chaddesden in Derby and takes in a circuit around the city.

They have this slightly odd system where walkers and runners are sent off in batches every two minutes, and as my start time was earlier than Sue and Elaine, my walking companions‘, I hovered outside in the dark trying to keep my balance on the icy pavement.

Reunited, we set off through Chaddesden Park- one drawback of not having a mass start is that there was nobody in front to follow. We had some rather poorly printed maps and a route description that was sparse at best so had to ask a local lady for directions on leaving the park.

It was frosty but sunny and we enjoyed the most amazing sunrise-lovely for atmospheric photos as we passed through Locko Park but lethal on the roads.

Lovely sunrise

We reached the checkpoint at Stanley and stocked up on biscuits before continuing through woods towards the A6. Unfortunately it was very tough going due to the sheer amount of mud! At one point we were passed by a very disgruntled runner stating that the route description was poor, conditions were horrendous, we were all churning up the countryside and gave a dire prediction that ‘someone was going to get seriously hurt’… I did question his motives for doing the event!

Yes- this was the path!!

After lots of deliberation and little detours we found the checkpoint at Duffield, but it was shortly after leaving here that we went wrong… we were supposed to ascend Bunkers Hill and drop down into Quarndon but we never did find Bunkers Hill! We managed to find our way back onto the route in Quarndon, but unfortunately went wrong again shortly afterwards… I must admit I felt responsible for this as I wrongly persuaded the others that we needed to go through the farmyard when we should have passed in front of it as Sue suggested… it was the lady with the damned stroller that fooled me into thinking that the path continued after the farm house.

Locko Park

It did… but then petered out and we ended up to-ing and fro-ing and crossing the same ploughed field three times before eventually tracing our steps and finding the right path (the one suggested by Sue, of course…)

Spring at Quarndon that was apparently visited by Daniel Defoe

All of this had cost us dearly in time, and to make matters worse it started to rain…

As we crossed muddy field after muddy field, with regular pauses to study route descriptions and maps and scratch heads, we realised that making the 6pm cut-off time at the Swarkestone checkpoint was becoming increasingly unlikely. In fact, the race organiser rang Sue as we had gone off the radar and they were obviously concerned that we might have been swallowed up by a particularly muddy swamp.

Elaine made the sensible decision to stop at the next checkpoint as she has the Marathon des Sables in April and didn’t want to risk injury. Sue and I bravely (or stupidly) agreed to carry on and left the checkpoint at a run- which we didn’t keep up for long thanks to more hills, mud and dodgy route finding.

Locko Park

I managed to fall backwards into the mud in my brand new waterproof and as the rain started to hammer down in earnest we decided we weren’t having fun anymore. I knew from walking with Helen a few weeks ago that the canal section leading to Swarkestone would be particularly horrendous so we made the decision to call it a day at the next checkpoint- but first we had to find it, which proved difficult in the gathering darkness.

Realising we had come out onto the road into the wrong place again I was incapable of rational thought and remember thinking ‘I have nothing to suggest!’ Luckily Sue had thought to print out a larger scale map (she is the most resourceful walker I know- she carries an amazing array of equipment dangling from her vest pack- if you need anything from painkillers to spare laces and plastic boot covers, Sue has got it- I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her pull out a thing for getting stones out of a horse’s hoof) so we set off down the road to see the headlights of a parked car in front of us.

Almeshouses at Morley

I mentioned to Sue that it would be great if it was the checkpoint staff meeting us- and it was! We were put into the back of a Landrover with plastic bags placed over our feet and driven in style to race HQ. Sue declared her rather fetching black bin liner to be rather warm and snug, and decided that they were going to form part of her extensive kit from now on in case of future event retirements… we immediately dubbed them the ‘bag of shame!’.

We were reunited with Elaine and gratefully downed hot drinks, taking the opportunity to warm our hands. I had parked at the back of the Scout Hut and was warned that several cars had been bogged down by the mud when trying to leave but thankfully managed not to get stuck. However I have washed my brand new waterproof and my pack three times now and I can still see the mud!

Wilmot Wander- 1, Steph nil… I sense a rematch!

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