After watching this video:
I’d had Woolacombe Dunes parkrun added to my parkrun Bucket List ever since.
So on Friday 24th January we drove to North Devon to run Woolacombe Dunes the next day. We found the parkrun really easily. Using the directions from their website we got parked up between the start line and the post parkrun cafe called “The Porthole”. It’s pretty obvious where you’re meant to gather as they had the sign displayed. There was also a course map.
I had a look at the course map but to be honest it just terrified me with words like “steep hill” and “Dune of Doom” I soon got chatting to one of their volunteers who was telling me about the course and how busy it got (Not very). When I told him how busy our local parkrun had been on New Years Day he couldn’t believe it. He told me runners tend to take 5-8 minutes longer than they usually do when attempting this course.
As we were waiting there were three ladies stood chatting together all with a dog each. One of the dogs took a pee against one of the ladies legs. She was absolutely livid but none of them saw the dog do it so all denied it. I’d seen the dog but thought “ignorance is bliss” on this occasion! She was fuming though!
After listening to the new runners briefing we were soon on our way. It started out lovely. We were on the gravelly path you can see behind me on the above picture. You start on a slight downhill before taking a right on to a slightly steeper downhill path that starts off as gravel and ends as soft loose sand.
We then ran along an undulating path about halfway between the path we had started on which was now above us, and the beach which was still a steep ascent downwards. This path was all loose sand and it was really difficult to run on. As we were saying how tricky it was a man and his two children were right behind us. He asked where we usually run and when I said “On a promenade” he answered “Oh you’ll not find one of those here!”
We carried on the undulating path that then started to head downhill, and then started to head downhill very sharply. There was a long very steep downhill section that I tried to walk but actually because it was so steep my legs were going faster and faster! As we got to the bottom on to the beach I said to the marshal there “Do people actually run down that bit?” to which she answered “Oh that’s nothing, it gets a lot worse” Great motivational speech!
We then ran for about a mile or maybe just under along the beach. The tide, thankfully, was out so we weren’t wading. The sand was at least semi hard and compacted so was easier to run on. As we were running I commented to my husband about how fishy smelling it was. Then we noticed a huge fish on the beach all caught up in a thick roped fisherman’s net. When I say huge I mean probably a metre at least. A dog came running up to it and was having a good sniff despite it’s owners trying to call it back. I called to them that he’d found a fish and they asked “Is he trying to eat it?” But actually he just looked a bit bemused by it! They ran over to try and retrieve him as we headed on.
That’s when we arrived at the “Dune of Doom” or the “Travelator” as they also call it. It was a very steep up hill section filled with loose sand. As I tried to climb it, every step I took up slipped halfway back down. It was an absolute killer section of the course. My thighs and lungs were burning by the time I got to the top and I actually had to stop just to try and catch my breath. The views were beautiful though but we were actually only halfway back up towards where we had started. As we ran along more undulating paths that were loose sand you could see the start point if you craned your neck as it was still so high.
We then climbed another hill and the marshal at the top said “Nearly there now, just the worst hill to go” Seriously! Their marshals need to work on their motivational phrases! We were going so slow by this point, although I was still running, that I got overtaken by two people walking!! I cursed them so bad in my head! They were way ahead of me in no time and then we began the final climb, it started off a shallow climb and grew steeper and steeper. As I got about halfway I gave up running and just walked as I was spent by this point. The top of the climb was, no word of a lie, practically vertical! The marshal at the top congratulated me when I got to the top but then said “Just the last 400 metres to go, uphill, but it’s not as steep as this bit” I ran as much as I could and walked a little up that last section and, honestly, never have I been so glad to see the finish line of a parkrun! My thighs and calves were screaming! They’re used to the flat South Coast and clearly didn’t like the hilly North Devon coastline.
I was still pretty pleased with my finish position as it was low compared to where I usually finish. I finished in 48:59 in position 75!
Afterwards I snapped this picture but it doesn’t do justice to the steep uphill climbs we did, it just doesn’t look as steep.
We walked down to the café and at first thought it was just a takeaway as we couldn’t see any seats but on closer inspection realised all the seating was upstairs in the roof space. It was a small, compact café but did really tasty food. We shared a brie, cranberry and pumpkin seed sandwich which was amazing. I also had a brownie which was incredibly gooey and my husband had a ginger and treacle tart that came with a nice dollop of clotted cream! They were heavenly.
When seated upstairs there’s a porthole window to look out of with lovely views. The logo is painted on their wall.
Afterwards we headed back to our hotel to shower and then spent a lovely afternoon in Woolacombe and Ilfracombe having a wander round.
Would you give the UK’s toughest parkrun a try?
Do you enjoy hilly parkruns?