One of the UK's rarest breeding birds, the stone-curlew, is nesting on Salisbury Plain, a fact that caused the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to change the route for its annual fundraiser, the Sarsen Trail and Neolithic Marathon, which was held on Sunday 3 May.
As an organisation for nature conservation, the Trust was delighted to hear about the birds and alter the route a couple of miles southwards to ensure the nesting site wasn’t disturbed by the 2,000 walkers and runners that thundered over the Plain, says event organiser Kirsten Kerr-Bonner.
“All the money we raise at the event is ploughed back into our work for the environment, so the fact that these rare birds are nesting on the Plain, which is being actively managed for wildlife, proves that conservation works,” she says. “It’s great that so many people take part and enjoy the countryside while raising money to keep it beautiful and populated with wildlife.”
The sponsored walk is the Trust’s biggest fundraising event, now in its 21st year, and the route stretches between the two World Heritage Sites of Avebury and Stonehenge.
For the first time cyclists were able to take part in the final 15 miles. “We had about 50 and they were really psyched up by it and want to do it longer, faster and bumpier next year,” says Kirsten.
A cave couple, five cavaliers and Batman and Robin were among those who turned out on a day of crisp breezes and tumbling clouds, but stayed dry.
The cavaliers, Henry Bailey from Marlborough, Ian Marks of Thatcham, Gemma Alford of Newbury, Alex Davies from Marlborough and Ed Plank, also from Marlborough, are all ex-St John’s Secondary School (Marlborough) pupils and choose to meet up on the trail each year to keep friendships warm and were doing the full 26 mile walk. “It’s a good challenge and great atmosphere in beautiful scenery,” said Alex before they all charged off down waving plastic swords and singing the Star Wars theme song.
Caveman Karl Bradford from Marlborough and cavewoman Amelia Hutchinson from Great Bedwyn, came down from London to do the full walk. “I was set 30 challenges by friends for my 30th birthday, and this has got to be one of the nicest,” said Karl.
The route, particularly the first half, offers wonderful views of hills covered in a patchwork of new greens and the yellow oil-seed rape. Clumps of red campion and cow parsley lace the edges of the tracks.
And the walk is full of the sounds of wildlife – skylark song in particular. “You can hear the wildlife, even if you can’t always see it,” said Mark Lewis from Worton, who was walking with his 14 year old daughter Rhiannon.
The event could not have happened without the efforts of 90 volunteers who helped in putting out signs, registering entrants, road marshalling, manning water stations, car parking and handing out medals. The Devizes Army Traiing Corp turn up every year and do a brilliant job managing car parking at Redhorn Hill, says Kirsten.
Volunteer Alison Tolfree was at her post at 7am to see participants safely across the A4. “Everybody coming through seemed to be so cheerful and happy that I would like to do the walk myself next year,” she said.
The Neolithic Marathon follows the same route as the Trail. A Half Marathon, from Charlton Clumps to Stonehenge, is also available for those who wish to run a shorter distance. The nearly 600 full and half Marathon runners this year came from as far afield as South Africa, the US and Germany.
This was the third year the event was open to Cani-Cross runners (canine cross-country), in conjunction with Cani-X UK – an organisation that encourages owners to take their dogs out for a run on a lead or harness rather than a walk. More than 100 dogs and their owners took part.
Mr C James from Hungerford, who is the father of last year’s winner and a previous entrant himself, this year donated a Neolithic Marathon Winners Cup. His son, Mr A James, won the full marathon both this year and last.
Photos, from top:
Cave couple Karl Bradford from Marlborough and Amelia Hutchinson from Great Bedwyn start the walk in Avebury.
First runners make it to Cannings Cross checkpoint. 122 – C James – Hungerford – winner of the Marathon (Full marathon.
Five musketeers – Henry Bailey from Marlborough, Ian Marks of Thatcham, Gemma Alford of Newbury, Alex Davies from Marlborough and Ed Plank, also from Marlborough.
Batman and Robin race to protect Wiltshire’ wildlife. 139 – K Warner – Addlestone, Surrey (Full marathon), 135 – M Warner – Addlestone, Surrey (Full marathon), 831 – S C Oliver – Woolacombe, Devon (Full marathon), 260 – J Simpson – Thatcham, Berks (Full marathon)