I start the route in a free car park off the road near the Gunwald Lake side of Nene Park. The Milton Ferry Bridge leads me across the river towards Ferry Meadows; the regular stomping grounds for runners, walkers, and plenty of dogs to boot. The bridge is handsome; a Grade II listed structure made from local limestone. The river is placid, brown-green and still as a puddle. It is surprisingly busy for a Thursday morning, or perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. During the first lockdown I noticed more runners and walkers out and about than I ever had before, and although this second lockdown is in the middle of some far less idyllic weather, the same seems to be the case. Silver linings, I suppose.
I go over the bridge and immediately realise this isn’t actually the way I want to go. I need to keep the river on my left, but by crossing I’ve put it on my right. I’m not even a minute into the run. Anyway, I decide to hold fast for a moment if only because I really hate turning back on myself. The trail I have planned out is about 8ish miles, but a little more wouldn’t hurt, so I go until I find a way to loop back on myself without turning heel. Loop complete, I recross the Ferry Bridge and find the gate which I was supposed to go through initially.
It is immediately slow going. The path is far less populated than the routes on the other side of the river, and I can hardly blame anyone for avoiding this more “scenic” way. I’m slipping, I’m sliding, I’m feeling the mud claw at my trainers as if there are some grasping beasts below wanting to pull them down into the depths for some eternal slumber. It’s this way for a mile or so, until I hit the Nene Railway and I get some hard ground beneath my feet. If it was remarkably busy at the car park, it’s remarkably quiet here. I don’t see why, you can get to this path by far less messy means than I have and it is perfectly peaceful. The autumn orange leaves create an arched alley to move beneath.
The concrete path leads me, eventually, off-road once more as I wind along the public footpaths towards Water Newton. There isn’t much to say about Water Newton, but it is a pretty little parish, and if you’re after a fact I can tell you that in 1975 a sizable horde of Roman silver was discovered during ploughing (thanks Wikipedia!). It is all runnable, and I trot along amiably without my shoes being threatened off my feet by suction-cup mud. I find myself by the water once more and sort-of-nearly can’t work out which way I’m supposed to go as there are, blissfully, lots of different paths to take. I find my way along the river, past lone fishermen propped up beneath umbrellas and inside pop up tents, probably not catching a whole lot, if I was to guess, but finding some peace regardless.
The centre-piece of this run is the aforementioned Water Newton: the beautiful houses, the church, the lock, the ducks, (I see no evidence of Roman silver) but soon after passing the village I find what, incidentally, becomes the most memorable part of my personal journey. Past the lock I pass through a set of gates and see that it is quite considerably waterlogged in the field through which I have to pass. We’re talking shin height water. I stop running. Pause my watch. Put my hands on my hips. I could turn around. The field cuts across to where I started along the water – with the fishermen – so the only part of the run I miss by heading back on myself is this waterlogged field.
But I do hate turning back on myself.
What is that?
I run through the field and soak myself. My shoes squelch the remaining 4 miles, but I don’t regret my decision. The route follows the river most of the way back, and although one field does feature some hefty heifers they stay well away, their bellies planted resolutely to the grass. I am mostly alone here. There is one more fisherman, leaned back in his camping chair, hands cradling the back of his head. As I catch the gloopy, narrow single track which leads me back towards the railway crossing, I feel like I would like to run here forever. The sun is beginning to break through the clouds. Kayakers pass by on the river. I cross the railway track and find myself on that hateful mud path again and, 10 miles in, my love for the run disappears as quickly as it appeared and I’m ready to get back to the car. The mud was almost funny at the start of the run but my legs are feeling the weight of the miles and the terrain and I can hardly keep my balance.
By the time I’m sat on the boot of my car, peeling my trainers and socks off my feet, I’m filthy enough to warrant some stray looks from passer-bys. They smile, although I’m quite certain they’re not jealous. On a dry summer day the route would be bliss, but what are we supposed to do? Wait until the summer to start running trails again?
I don’t think so. I think I’ll be back here before the warm weather is.