A sunny Friday afternoon. And instead of gearing up for my usual evening of pizza and wine in front of the telly, I found myself driving through pretty country lanes and villages, heading to a weekend of trail running with Well Trodden Path. With me was Anna, who’d travelled down from London for the holiday. I was only slightly intimidated when she told me she’d just returned from a 6 day running course in the Tatra mountains of Eastern Europe, training twice a day.
Although Well Trodden Path have been doing guided running and well being holidays in Dorset for a little while, this was the first time I’d worked with them to add a bit of Chi into the mix.
As we drove, the lanes got narrower, and narrower, eventually morphing into single tracks with grass growing down the centre. This really was Deepest Darkest Dorset.
At last, we reached our destination: North Eggardon Carthouse, ex smuggler’s hideout, now converted into a beautiful eco farmhouse, nestling in the lee of an Iron Age hill fort in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in West Dorset.
When we arrived, Matt and Kate from Well Trodden Path, our hosts for the next few days, were already busy in the big kitchen/dining room/lounge, which serves as the heart of the Carthouse, cooking up the first of many delicious veggie meals.
Soon we were joined by Sasha and Andy, who’d driven up from Bournemouth, and Richard, who had done the same journey by bike. Not an easy cycling route, taking in some of the steep ascents and descents we’d be running over the weekend.
And Karen was the last to arrive, surviving catastrophic sat nav and mobile phone failure, and somehow managing to find the right route.
There’s something about the atmosphere of the Carthouse, coupled with Matt and Kate’s relaxed manner, that puts you immediately at your ease. Sitting in the garden in glorious sunshine, drinking tea and looking out over stunning views of the Dorset Downs, all the stresses of the working week, traffic, and broken sat navs seemed a long way away.
Soon it was time to tuck into dinner: two different curries, rice and home made naan breads. A definite step up from my usual supermarket pizza.
After dinner, just to banish any last remaining tensions from the week, mindfulness teacher Camille took us through a wonderfully relaxing yoga stretching and mindfulness meditation session. There’s nothing like trying to do Child’s Pose while digesting a veggie curry to break down barriers and help a group bond 🙂
Next morning, after breakfast, I kicked off with an intro to Chi Running. After everyone had learned to align and relax their posture, been introduced to their dantiens, and discovered how to use their hot air balloons to lift them tall and pull them forward, we were ready to hit the trails.
Matt suggested that we walk to the top of the hill fort before doing some dynamic stretches and heading out on our run. Sounded like a nice, gentle warm up. Until we started walking. They make the hills big in West Dorset. REALLY big. We were plenty warmed up by the time we’d climbed to the top but the view was well worth it – spectacular!
We all headed out together on a 6 mile run along quiet country lanes and trails that took in the local village of Powerstock. The flat bits were few and far between, and for those of us not so used to hill running, it was going to take a bit of getting used to.
As a mixed group, with different levels of experience of trail running, we naturally split into three groups, with Matt and Anna taking a longer 10 mile route, and myself and Kate taking Sasha, Andy, Karen and Richard over different run and run-walk options on the 6 mile route, so that everyone could move at their own pace and at a level that suited them.
Eventually, we all arrived back at the Carthouse, Matt and Anna being the last group to return after stopping to take loads of photos.
Time for a lunch of frittata and salad, followed by a delicious selection of brownies, flapjacks and chocolate energy balls. Then an afternoon chilling in yet more sunshine. How did we get so lucky with the weather?
When everyone had relaxed and recovered from the morning’s run, Matt took us through a pilates session in the garden – a chance to find our core muscles and attempt to stretch out those tight hamstrings.
We finished the day with pearl barley risotto and homemade pesto and houmous, a gentle walk and a chance to watch the sun go down.
Sunday morning and time for a Chi Running hills masterclass. I wasn’t entirely sure people were taking things seriously when they started doing jazz hands while running laterally up the steep hills. Good thing we’d have plenty of hills to practice on during our morning trail run 🙂
This time we split into two groups, with Matt leading Anna and Richard on a 10 – 12 miler, and Kate and myself taking Sasha, Andy and Karen on a 5 – 6 mile easier route.
I say ‘easier’ but it didn’t take long before we were hitting the so-not-flat again, and we got to try out the full range of Chi hill techniques, from gradual uphills to steep downhills and everything in between. The verdict? Not completely effortless, but definitely less work with Chi 🙂
The route was stunning, taking us across meadows, along gorgeous valleys packed with bluebells, and through beautiful woodlands. And every time we made it to the top of a hill, we were rewarded with more glorious views.
The trail led us through more than a few fields of grazing cows. Now, those who’ve followed my blog for a while will know that I find creatures of the bovine persuasion more than a bit scary, and some of these beasts were just a little too interested in us for my liking.
Kate’s advice for dealing with cows? Grab a big stick to make yourself look bigger and shout loudly. I really couldn’t see how that was going to work – surely cows weren’t stupid enough to be fooled by a stick?
We got the chance to try it out for real, crossing a field of excitable young heifers. Sticks grabbed – check. Sticks waved – check. And away ran the cows. Like magic! Not sure I’ve completely got over my cow-phobia but at least I’ve now got a secret weapon…
By the time we made it back to the Carthouse, we were more than ready for lunch – a choice of two home cooked soups and bread – followed by some serious chill time.
As evening drew closer, Anna had to leave and we started to get that sense of a holiday ending. Still time for one more fabulous meal from Kate and Matt – pie with wonderfully spiced braised cabbage – washed down with plenty of red wine. Hard to believe we would be going back to the ‘Real World’ the next day.
I left on Monday morning feeling inspired to make more time to explore the trails. And to get a bit more adventurous with my cooking. I can’t wait to try out some of those fabulous veggie recipes, now that Well Trodden Path are posting them on their Facebook page.
I’d like to finish with a massive thank you to Matt and Kate. The care they put into making sure everyone enjoyed the weekend was so impressive. From providing vegan, gluten free and dairy free food choices to offering a choice of trail options so we could all run comfortably to our level.
And big thanks as well to Anna, Sasha, Andy, Richard and Karen for being great company and making it such a perfect weekend 🙂