Route: Amberley to Queen Elizabeth Country Park, 26.62 miles
With the first marathon under our belts plus a good amount of refuelling and sleep, we were very much looking forward to the ‘undulations’ and sweeping views of this route. We had had a welcoming introduction to the South Downs through a very informative and positive meeting with Jonathan Dean, the education representative for the South Downs National Park, at Devil’s Dyke pub the day before. With good coffee, beautiful views (despite the rain!) and a friendly atmosphere, the pub is a lovely place to meet, which no doubt encouraged our fruitful discussions. The South Downs National Park already has strong links with the local education community and is very active in promoting this beautiful region to the public and schools. They have a wide range of ongoing projects that look not only into the science of the region but also history, culture and geography. Their website, https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/, is definitely worth checking out for ideas to add an extra focus to any visit you make to the South Downs. Quoting Jonathan, the aim of the National Parks Authority is to motivate and inspire people so “Just get out there, enjoy it and see what you can find!”
I should also mention that Jonathan warned us about the amount of climbing we would be doing during our South Downs marathon, something close to 1000m!! And he wasn’t wrong! With all the mountain routes located up north, it is so easy to underestimate how ‘up and downy’ these southern National Parks are. Our muscles and joints were definitely registering every geographical contour that we crossed yesterday.
The first challenge of our second marathon was to find the start. A hidden carpark, tucked away up a track off the B2139 to the east of Amberley. Aiming for another 9am start we had made good progress up to the start of this turn off. We then had to bide our time so as not to run down a family of pheasants doing a credible impression of mini velociraptors as they ran haphazardly along the gravel. The idea of just ducking into the hedgerow or even flying out of danger eluding them for a good 700m!
Despite the efforts of our feathered friends, the usual faff time and our sore muscles, we succeeded on starting on time. Our focus of the day was to collect two types of scientific data. The first being meteorological data of temperature and relative humidity, hoping to show the inverse relationship of these two variables over the undulations of the South Downs Way. For comparison we are also planning on collecting similar data in other National Parks, with notably different terrain and environment. To do this we simply strapped a HOBO to the back of Claire’s pack as shown in the picture below. This is a small device, kindly loaned to us by the National Environmental Research Council (NERC), that measured the information continuously as we ran. All very low maintenance and easy to use… Perfect!
The second set of scientific data was to measure how your shadow length and angle changes throughout the day; a very easy and fun activity that anyone can carry out. All you need is a measuring tape, watch, compass, some level ground, a dedicated shadow maker (me) and a dedicated measurer (Claire)… All very straight forward, right? Most certainly, if you have consistent sunshine! We were lucky on that front for our first couple of readings, however, that all changed by 11am as the clouds from the west moved in. After that it was very much a case of running with compass and measuring tape in hand, ready to stop as soon as the sun appeared. Since the presence of uninterrupted sunshine was so fleeting by late morning, when it did appear, we took to our roles immediately. This involved me standing stock still, upright and pointing north, whilst Claire practically threw herself at my feet to attach the tape measure to my shoe. She then extended it out to measure my shadow, much to the amusement and bemusement of anyone passing by.
“Isn’t it wide enough?” asked one gentlemen, quite close to the start of our journey.
“Well, it’s decreasing nicely, as expected.” I replied, thinking that he was totally up to speed with what we were doing.
The confused look on his face made me wonder whether or not we were talking about the same thing.
“You are measuring the width of the track, aren’t you?”
Nope, we were definitely not on the same page then! Thankfully, he looked a little less confused when we explained what we were doing though I’m sure he still found it all quite comical. Ah well!
Thankfully, we did manage to get enough data for our shadow investigation before the weather closed in around 12pm. The forecast had predicted increasing clouds and eventual rain from 3pm onwards so it was lucky that we at least had the weather window in the morning to collect information.
The South Downs is an absolute mecca for mountain bikers, walkers and horse riders alike. We even passed a fisherman or two. It was fantastic to see so many people out enjoying the area. Every person that we met gave a smile and a friendly hello, which really made our day. Although we love our running, there was a small part of us that wished we were also on mountain bikes. The South Downs Way looks to be a beautiful route for biking; the chalk providing a smooth, fast surface to fly over, with the water channels and chunks of flint providing enough technical challenges to keep it interesting. Geologically, the South Downs is an interesting mix of chalk and flint forced above the green sandstone and clay of the Weald Basin during the Alpine Orogeny; the same mountain formation that created the European Alps. The presence of flint in the area was important during Neolithic times as its hardness was very useful as tools or weapons. In fact it rates as an impressive 7 on the Mohs hardness scale, not too far of the value of 10 for a diamond, one of the hardest materials known to man.
There is significant evidence of early settlement around the South Downs, including the Graffham Archaeological site that we passed by on our run. The National Park Education Team has recently introduced a few projects, which provide opportunities to learn more about both the hidden archaeology and the geology of the region. Again, check out their website for more information.
All in all a truly enjoyable run, finished off nicely with a much needed coffee and cake at the restaurant in Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Big thanks to Claire’s parents for providing much needed water stops as well as a shuttle service back to our start point. Also thank you to a lovely family who kindly took our photograph at the top of Beacon Hill, despite the inclement weather starting to close in. Though I will add that their comment that it’s “all downhill from here” was not exactly correct! Like I said earlier, never underestimate those hills!!