[This article was first published on bridportlife.co.uk]
A spoof blue plaque has gone up in a West Dorset telephone box to commemorate one athlete’s most uncomfortable night on the 625-mile Monarch’s Way.
It runs from Worcester via Bristol and Yeovil to Shoreham-by-Sea, with an important Dorset loop taking in Bridport and Broadwindsor.
Ultra runner Lee-Stuart Evans is the first person since the future king to traverse the route in one go, recording the fastest known time, completing the route in 16 days, 11 hours and 48 minutes. His route took him further than 625 miles, which, once confirmed, would put the Monarch’s Way ahead of the South West Coastal Path to become England’s longest trail.
When the future king undertook his incredible journey, he spent a sleepless night in an inn at Broadwindsor, with hostile troops billeted below and a camp follower giving birth downstairs.
Evans spent a cold night in the village phone box when he mapped the route, based on the definitive books by Trevor Antill. He recorded the fastest known time, completing the route in 16 days, 11 hours and 48 minutes.
He says in his blog: “In just over 16 days I had averaged around 40 miles per day, only two to three hours sleep per day, carrying all the gear I needed on the way, and endured torrential rain, floods of up to 4ft in the Midlands, an armed police intervention, sleeping in a telephone box and a narrowly avoided pub fight in Hampshire.
“It was the greatest adventure I’ve ever undertaken.”
Recalling his epic trail, he said: “Between Charmouth and Bridport the Monarch’s Way joins up with the South West Coastal Path. This particular day I took on over 450ft of ascent and driving rain with a runner called Lorna (who had done the South Downs Way 50 days before).
“The path takes in Golden Cap which is the highest point in the South West and despite the conditions my pace was better than my pace on the Monarch’s Way which goes some way to showing how tough the trails in Dorset can be cross country. I’m sure the views from here are spectacular…but I saw very little from the foggy windy summits of each cliff face.
“By now I had tried a variety of sleeping places, from church entrances and graveyards, a disabled toilet, under trees, bus shelters and a shed near a school.
“By far the worst was the evening at Broadwindsor when I got stuck in poor visibility on Pilsdon Hill at night and got saturated in torrential rain. By the time I got to Broadwindsor there were no dry options other than the telephone box in the middle of the village.
“It was dry but afforded no real chance to sleep properly until I gave up caring and poked my feet and legs out through the door in the rain.”
After Broadwindsor, he arrived, cold and wet and very tired, at Winyards Gap to find the local Monarch’s Way warden waiting for him with hot soup and tea and ready to march him 12 miles to Yeovil where he could dry out properly in a Wetherspoons by laying all his gear out on radiators.
He said: “I would probably say arriving in Winyards Gap wearing everything I had and still being cold and soaked was my absolute low point of the whole trail.
But once free of the Dorset loop he says he knew the fastest known time was in the bag.
“As I walked through Brighton looking at the homeless people sleeping rough I had a new found respect and sorrow for their plight. I understood more than ever what it takes to keep clean and look half decent when you are homeless. I suspect the next time I do any fundraising in the future it will be for the homeless as a result of this.”
The fastest known time trek raised £2,500 towards the trail itself and improve the route and signage so that others can enjoy it more.
Said Evans: “We increased awareness of this trail in the media and, most importantly of all, we created the first definitive electronic GPS route that’s is easily downloadable on any device so that anyone can now follow this route with an electronic device without the need for the guidebook and signs on the ground.”
You can donate to the upkeep of The Monarch’s Way by following this link – https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/monarchs
To find out more about Lee-Stuart Evans’s epic adventure, visit: http://airlandandsea.blogspot.com/2018/07/monarchs-way-dorset-weekend-greatest.html