FKT - Valeways Millennium Heritage Trail
Updated: Jan 14, 2022
As with most people taking on FKTs, new or different challenges in 2020, it all came down to cancelled races, pent up energy and being at a loss at what to do with all the months of training with no proper races. As my races were getting cancelled, I had planned on a Paddy Buckley or a South Wales Travers. However, as Summer turned to Autumn the Covid pandemic took an upward trajectory and my home county went into Lockdown effectively banning me from travelling further north than the M4. Alas, I needed to find a challenge closer to home so decided on the Valeways Millennium Heritage Trail, a 100km walking route taking in 6000 years of history around the Vale of Glamorgan.
The original plan was a 0700 start however after some las minute faffing in the house, a later than intended breakfast and a lift to the start from my support crew (Mother) I finally made it to the start, a footpath sign on a small lane next to the open air St Fagans National Museum of History. At 0711 I touched the footpath sign and was off into the crisp morning darkness down muddy paths towards the open fields on the outskirts of Cardiff fields. Less than 800m in I can across my first obstacle, a giant tree had fallen blocking the main footpath which resulted in a slight detour onto a secondary path through a small woodblock back and back onto the main path and site of Battle of St Fagans in 1648. From here it was onto and through Peterston Super Ely, passed the Sportsmans Rest pub that would be the finish line several hours later. Feeling strong, I probably pushed too hard towards my first planned checkpoint meeting my support crew at St Nicholas to find out was several minutes up on where I had planned to be.
After quickly changing my water bottle and food before continuing onto the second of my ten planned sections, I carried on South towards Barry, passing Tinkinswood (a 6,000 year old burial chamber) through fields of sheep and to my surprise some alpacas who I had not previously seen when recceing the route. Before reaching Barry, my pace was forced to a walk for the first time due to overly inquisitive cattle along the route. As the route follows mainly paths along agricultural areas fields of livestock are dotted along the route, and the cattle being overly interested in runners. Having navigated my way safely around the cattle it was into Barry, the industrial heart of the Vale of Glamorgan and a stark contrast to the route so far, navigating my way around busy streets rather than empty fields. Running down passed the remains of Barry Castle and through Romily Park to my second support point, still several minutes up on where I anticipated my fastest pace would have me. It was a few miles before Barry that I started feel nauseous struggling with food and liquids.
A few bites of a banana and peanut butter sandwich and a cup of Coca-Cola and I was off towards the Knapp around the old Lido just in time to witness a flock of around 100 geese come into land before passing the remains of Roman buildings and up onto the first of three sections along the Welsh Coastal Path. Following the Coast Path through Porthkerry and along disused quarries the trail then snakes North through the town Rhoose and around eerily quiet Cardiff Airport. This section was a strange mix of faster tarmac footpaths and country roads and energy sapping clay type muddy fields that had caused mud hold in the tread of my trainers with each step making them feel like blocks of concrete. Luckily from my recces I knew the location on a stream where I could clean my trainers before the small incline into my thirds planned support point in Penmark.
From the small village of Penmark it was straight into another cow crowded field and a forced walk stalking the outer hedges before crossing the rolling farmland into Llancarfan with the blue plaque home of Iolo Morgannwg the 18th Centaury founder of the Gorsedd of the Bards. It was running through Llancarfan that I started to feel the effects of not really being able to stomach food and liquids, so the village run Pub the Fox and Hounds would have to wait for another day. Crossing Llanbydderi Moor and the short climb into Ffleminston felt a lot more taxing than it should and the fast downhill road section didn’t feel much better, but I did enjoy seeing 2 peacocks in Fishweir. From Fishweir I took solace in the fact I knew that the next scheduled support point was only around 1km away in St Mary Church.
Except, it wasn’t… Poor planning or decision making on my part meant I had hadn’t realised that the church that I had told my support team to wait at was not wholly visible from the trail, as a result I carried on straight through the village onto a section that I had rather enjoyed during the recces I had done, oblivious to the fact that my support team was waiting for me. After about another kilometre of running I realised my mistake and managed to make a phone call to move the support team (one for the benefits of recceing and local knowledge). The rest of this section should have been quick and very runnable however the lack of decent nourishment was starting to take its toll as did another big field full of cows. The decent into Llanblethian is normally quick and fun through fields and over styles, but I felt every step of the 2.5km as my running form and energy levels started to drop.
Leaving the hastily established support point it was up another short sharp hill towards the remains of St Quentins Castle which overlooks both the village of Llanblethian and town of Cowbridge. The trail then snaked back around the village before opening into more farmland laced with sheep and cattle. This section felt particularly draining with more energy sapping mud across vast open fields, at least the local farmers had cut down the fields of corn which made navigation easier and movement somewhat faster than 2 weeks prior. What kept me going on this section was the fact the next support point in Boverton marked the halfway point on the trail and shortly after I’d be once again running along the Costal path with faster tracks. However, before just before entering the village of Llanmaes outside Boverton the route goes straight though what appears to be a small stream that was shin deep at times. This was a welcome change as the cool water felt refreshing as the temperature had started to rise, the water washed the mud out of the tread in the trainers and the mind had to wake up to avoid slipping on rocks. Trainers cleaned I squelched my way through Llanmaes and into Boverton.
Still not fully able to stomach food or liquid other than cola, I spent a few more minutes here than at previous support points before crossing the road towards the remains of Boverton Castle. Meandering in the shade alongside a river into the town of Llantwit Major and passed its Church was slow going until it kicked out onto Cwm Col-huw and back onto the Coastal Path which sent me passed St Donat’s Castle, the picturesque Nash Point Light house as well as World War 2 gun emplacements. The coastal path is a popular walking area, and that day was no exception, as I almost ended up passing as many people in this short section as I had all day.
Leaving the sixth support point at Cwm Nash, I followed the trail back inland towards Broughton walking along fields I should have been running the lack of sustenance still taking its toll I effectively dragged myself for a kilometre along a road before heading back towards the coast one last time. Telling myself that I could run most of the path down to and along the coast and not lose too much more time. As with the previous section this leg felt as if it was dragging far more than it should have and struggled to push myself on gradual inclines that I know I should be running. However, I knew psychologically finishing this section would be a big boost as there would be less than a third of the trail left.
Leaving the support point in St Brides Major feeling a little more refreshed having washed my face with cold water, I continued through the village and onto more country trails still struggling to find my running rhythm. This section of the trail had paths that seemed a lot less trodden with more nettles and thorny bushes to battle against as well as vast cattle filed fields at Lampha and Pentre Meyrick, which again had to be slowly navigated. Knowing for some time that I was going to have to finish in the darkness I resided myself to just enjoying the rest of journey.
Penllyn was the location on my penultimate checkpoint, some more cola and half a cereal bar I made my way slowly up a small tarmac section before dropping down along Vistla Farm to an enjoyable 2km section in open country before rising through a small forest and more open fields and yet more overly inquisitive cows. The last part of the penultimate section was fast with real paths and tracks crossing over the M4 into Llanhary and then back over the M4 down into Pontyclun. knowing I still had some sunlight left decided to try and make the most of it and push hard as my energy levels naturally started to rise as I knew was nearing the end.
Having arrived at the last support point moments before the support team did, it was time for a quick change, out of my damp tshirt and put on a high viz jacket and head torch good to go. Leaving Pontyclun knowing the I could be finished in less than an hour and could possible still finish in under 13 hours, I ran hard along permissive paths through woodland until I reached Keepers Farm Lodge with yet more excitable cows. This time they were intrigued by my head torched, I slowed to a walk and felt like the pied piper as they followed me along the field until I disappeared into another wood block and long The Vale Hotel Golf Course. The next few km was more rolling fields until I dropped down onto Pendoylan Moors and along the meandering River Ely. Stopping upon entering every new field to ensure I didn’t startle any more livestock, I was still able to make good time in the dark finally popping out of the Moors and onto the main road through Peterston Super Ely and final few hundred meters towards my finish point, the Sportsman's Rest.
Finishing as many routes seem to do by touching a wall of the pub in a time of 12:57:55 setting a course record or Fastest Known Time.
I was fortunate enough to have a support team along the way who met me at pre-arranged points every 6-7 miles to resupply my water and food.
Key kits and bits
Trainers: Scott Stupertrac Ultra RC
Watch: Coros Apex
Pack: Inov8 Race Ultra Pro 2 in 1 Running vest (vest only)
T-shirt: Inov8 Base Elite
Shorts: Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts 5"
Cap: Compressport Trucker Cap
Nutrition (carried by me)
SIS - Beta Fuel
SIS - Electrolyte tablets
Salt Stick Fastchew