The Three Shires replaces Kipling Kaper and offers an improved route via Gun Hill, The Roaches, Gradbach, Three Shires Head, Wildboarclough and Danebridge. It has plenty of ups and downs to keep boredom out of the legs. Organised by Staffordshire Long Distance Walkers Association, it starts from The Swythamley and Heaton Centre just a few miles away from the old KK start at Meerbrook Village Hall. It offers four distances of 20, 22, 27 or 29 miles. The 2-mile difference results from an optional loop up Shutlingsloe and the 7-mile difference results from an optional loop to Pot Lords. Both loops are based at Wildboarclough Village Hall, where a sit-down meal of warm melted-cheese oatcakes and other savoury snacks, cakes, biscuits, tea and coffee is on offer.
I enjoyed a jog round with Dave and ‘Charlie’ on a warming and increasingly sunny spring day with daffodils blooming everywhere, even on top of The Roaches. Charlie wasn’t the only dog there either. There was a good canine turnout, this being a dog-friendly event. We set off on the 9am runners’ start to do the 20 together, but as we neared the 11 mile point at Wildboarclough I was hankering after the 2-mile additional challenge, so Dave and I went our separate ways, he to the food and I to the summit of Shutlingsloe. (I was secretly hoping to catch up with him again in the final 7 miles but I wasn’t going to kill myself doing it. After all, this was supposed to be a recovery weekend before next weekend’s important race.)
By the time I arrived for my scoff, Dave and Charlie had already left, as expected. I sat down for my oatcake. A moment of pure bliss ensued as that northern savoury delicacy slipped down. Then I was off for a mostly lonely final 7 miles to the finish, save for the odd walker I overtook along the way. The relaxing, peaceful, low-key, no-pressure nature of the day, in warm sunshine with beautiful views, was a delight. The last time I enjoyed anything like this without the pressure to race was the social walk I did on 4th December 2010. Since then every weekend bar one in January and one in February has been a race weekend. The relaxation did me a power of good. An average heart rate down at 146bpm instead of the usual 160 – 170 provides good evidence of the ‘relaxation’.
I walk-jogged back to the Village Hall in an ‘easy’ 5:06 (that’s 13:55 minute miling for any racing statisticians out there). I never did catch Dave, who had arrived a few minutes before I did. We were then wowed and wooed by more food of such variety, quality, healthiness and taste that I stared open-mouthed, then I babbled incoherent gratitudes to our willing servants, then I exposed my pixels with unashamed abandon to capture the evidence for posterity. I was teasing myself before finally sampling the delights of the bean salad, salad with rice, salad with couscous, salad with pasta, salad with apple, tomato and basil salad, potato salad, carved ham (real, not plastic), tuna, olive selection, grated cheese, quiches, pork pie, bread and butter, …. There were also biscuits, and for dessert a large selection of fruit pies with custard or cream. All of that was washed down by tea or coffee. As we gorged, the first two 29-mile runners arrived to dampen our gourmet dining experience with their sweaty presence. Most impressive time though.
I helped out at this event’s precursor (Kipling Kaper) last year while injured. I recalled the catering production line that set in motion as soon as the runners had left. There has been no letup for The Three Shires. This has to be one of the best LDWA events of the year. It deserves to reach its capacity of 160. Many thanks once again to Julie Brownhill & helpers and Staffs LDWA for another brilliant day, and thanks to Dave for your company and conversation.
I took pictures, though none from Shutlingsloe because I had slipped into race mode for that loop.