Hash 558 – Royal Oak @ Wootton Rivers

Date Hare Scribe
3 Feb 2019 Maurice Keith

Winter Morning by Ogden Nash

“Winter is the king of showmen
Turning tree stumps into snow men
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over lakes
Smooth and clean and frosty white
The world looks good enough to bite
That’s the season to be young
Catching snowflakes on your tongue
Snow is snowy when it’s snowing
I’m sorry it’s slushy when it’s going.”

I was quite certain that there would be no hash this Sunday. Heavy snow since Friday, and sub-zero temperatures. I had received a number of emails from regular Hashers declaring their intention to stay home.

I had arranged with Maurice that he would phone me at around 8am on Sunday morning to give me the signal to call the whole thing off. I was surprised therefore when, at 0810, he sounded really upbeat.

“Hi Keith!”
“Hi Maurice”
“It’s really brilliant! It’s a beautiful day, the views are fantastic!”
“Can we go ahead?”
“Well the main roads are clear all the way, just the last 2 miles are on minor roads but these have been gritted and … well yes!”

So that was it. We were on. I let everyone know and gathered myself in time to leave early, just after 10am.

The main roads were clear, though the side roads not, and deep layers of snow covered everything – there having been no thaw. Not surprising, as my car thermometer told me it was -6 degrees. Jeremy told us it was -9 degrees as he left Ramsbury that morning and Maurice proved it had been even colder for him and Rocky.

On the Chiseldon – Marlborough Road I passed a mangled car, covered in POLICE tape, lying on its side in a field. I slowed down for a few seconds.

After Marlborough I turned right onto the minor road signed for Wootton Rivers, and wound down towards the village on the gritted road.

It was quiet in the village. Nobody about. No sign of Maurice. I took a few photos and waited. David, Viv and John arrived, and then Des, his car still drenched in snow. Looks like Chiseldon had it really rough.

John, Viv and David were all dressed for walking, so I expressed my disdain. Des though, was kitted out to run, so that made just the two of us, as even Jeremy opted to walk.

David displayed a distinct lack of confidence in the Hare by bringing his own Ordnance Survey map, and Viv quipped this was just being sensible after the recent experience of Maurice’s trails.

We stood waiting in the bright sunshine until he arrived, literally steaming, just after 11am. He had been working hard, you could tell.

The briefing went on a bit. This was because he told us he had used different colours of blue, red and yellow pigment, as well as flour. But then he said he’d abandoned using the colours as it was “a disaster” and had reverted to just the flour. It was hard to understand how laying a trail on snow with just flour could be less of a disaster than using colour. He told us he had instead made ‘double dots’ by pressing the base of his bottle deep into the snow to create circular depressions – we all began to appreciate David’s foresight in bringing a map at this point.

We were told that the long was “5 and a quarter miles”.

We set off at 11.10, and headed towards the open fields. Very soon, it was clear this was to be an exceptional hash, whether walked or run. The snow fields glistened as though covered with millions of tiny diamonds. It was hard work moving through pristine snow that often came up to the knees. The sun shone in a brilliant blue winter sky, and Des and I soon moved ahead of the rest. Jeremy kept with us for the first mile or so, in his Wellington boots. It was a generally uphill direction, which, with the deep snow, was wearying. But also made you glad to be alive and able to appreciate it.

We struggled at times to see the signs, and regretted not having a photo of Maurice’s sole so we could be sure we were following the correct footprints. We did later meet him en route and took a photo.

Maurice had also used sticks to form arrows, and even a banana skin for another, but for all that, we only made one wrong move that added half a mile to our journey.

The top of Martinsell Hill, the second highest of Wiltshire’s prehistoric camps or hillforts, gave extensive views over the frozen Wiltshire landscape, and made all the effort worth it. The photos will attest. Then it was downhill, at speed in deep snow, where skis would have made more sense than running shoes. I will be honest in admitting that the last 1.5 miles were a struggle, due to weariness and muscle strain, but I would not have missed this hash for anything. It was brilliant.

Des and I kept together and finally returned into the village at 13.20. Over two hours! Various devices put the distance at well over 6 miles. The last two hundred yards were on a lane that sloped downhill into the village, covered in sheet black ice as it was in shade. It was the only point where I felt vulnerable to slipping over.

There was no sign of Viv, John, David or Jeremy as we got to the pub. I thought they must have already gone home, but no. They were walking the long – so no one did the short. A further 40 minutes and they were back, just before 2pm. Unfortunately, John slipped on the aforementioned black ice a hundred yards from the pub. A subsequent 6 hours in A&E revealed 2 broken bones for which he was awarded a cast on his left arm. We all wish him a speedy recovery.

We sat with beer and chips and congratulated ourselves for a fantastic trail.

I thanked Maurice for this superb hash, clearly laid by the most appropriately qualified hasher given his Arctic Marathon exploits last year. It was a close call whether the hash should have gone ahead but, hopefully even John will think it the right decision.

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