JOHN JEFKINS reports on the 10th staging of one of the country’s toughest trail marathons, and how a famed route from East Croydon down to the Sussex coast has just taken a different direction
The Vanguard Way is a popular 66-mile trail from East Croydon Station via Lloyd Park, Littleheath and Selsdon Woods to Chelsham, Oxted, Edenbridge and the Ashdown Forest to the South Downs and on to Seaford, with coastline views of the Seven Sisters cliffs. It is one of the finest long-distance trails in southern England – a rural walking route all the way from south London to the English Channel.
The North Downs section includes the Vanguard Way’s highest points and steepest hills, with great views. It’s also the route of one of the country’s toughest marathon runs, the Vanguard Way Marathon, which this year took place last Sunday.
The runners set off from Lloyd Park and head to a point near Limpsfield, before they turn round and head back. There were 150 runners taking part this year, though half of them ran the easier, less hilly half-marathon, to Chelsham and back. The rest ran down and up four extra climbs of Nore Hill and the scarp face of the North Downs.
For walkers those hills offer great views. For runners attracted from all over Europe to this “challenge event”, they were a huge effort on a hot day.
This was the 10th year of the Vanguard Way Marathon and some runners took the opportunity to rest for a moment on the bench donated by the Marathon and the Vanguards Rambling Club at the top of Woldingham’s Nore Hill.
Race organiser Gaz Davies is particularly grateful for the help of farmers and residents along the route – for example in positioning water stations at hill summits as well as the many volunteers that helped keep runners safe.
The exhausted runners, after they arrived back at Lloyd Park, were presented with their medals. The winner was Ally Watson, from Serpentine Running Club (which the editor of this website helped to establish 40 years ago) in 3hr 26min 53sec.
Dulwich Runners’ Marta Miaskiewicz won the women’s race in 4:22:46, not too far ahead of a trio of Striders of Croydon in second, third and fourth places – Kara Boaks, Charlotte Nusca and Rachel Lindley.
The finishers continued to stream across the line for nearly four hours after the leader (to save you the bother of buying a copy of Athletics Weekly, which isn’t even weekly these days, Croydon Harrier Matt Shires won the half-marathon, by 17 minutes, while Sarah Boyd was first woman over the 13.1 miles).
But of course, anyone is free to walk any part, or all, of this trail at their own pace and in their own time. There’s a free app to view its route, with detailed descriptions of the route for hikers, and also to report issues and help support it – using vanguardway.org.uk.
The Vanguard Way was so named by a group of young ramblers who in 1965 ended up in the guard’s van of a crowded train on the way home from an excursion. For more than 40 years, since its launch in 1981, the trail was curated informally by the club. Though still very keen to see the trail continue and prosper, the original Vanguards are all now of pensionable age, and they felt the time was right to start the process of handing over the reins to younger people.
On May 28 this year, in the hallowed surroundings of St Matthew’s Church in Croydon, the Vanguard Way Association was formally inaugurated to take over its management.
It was unanimously agreed to establish the VWA and a committee has been set up, with the trail’s existing honorary route manager, Colin Saunders, as its chair. The meeting was preceded by a walk around attractive countryside south of Croydon, including part of the Vanguard Way and a lunch stop at Coombe Wood Café.
The opportunity was also taken at the meeting to launch the Vanguard Way Photoguide, a free app developed by John Jefkins, now the Association’s vice chair and publicity co-ordinator. With this on their smartphones, walkers can follow the trail with photos, on which a yellow arrow points the next step, together with relevant extracts from the official route description and items of interest to look out for.
To download the app, just go to Google Play Store or Apple App Store and search for “Vanguard Way Photoguide” (the icon shows “VGW” inside a yellow arrow).
Membership of the association is open to anyone who wishes to support the trail, for £7 per year. The committee has plans for improved signage, replace stiles with gates, provide more benches and clear obstructive vegetation.
A priority is to update the trail’s website vanguardway.org.uk.
A team of volunteer rangers is being set up, a newsletter will keep members informed of developments, and it’s hoped that there will be opportunities for members to meet socially on walks.
For further information, email email@example.com.
- Click here to follow Ken Towl’s hike the length of the Vanguard Way, from Croydon to the south coast
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