The Greensand Ridge Relays
By John Kirwan
One of the great, local races, the GSR relays have been supported by LFR runners for many years. It’s always a great day out and usually very hot, the 34 trail miles are divided into 6 legs or can be run as a solo!
Background of the GSRR
The GSRR are run by the South Midlands Orienteering Club (SMOC) and the route runs from Tiddenfoot Water Park to the village of Northill, about 6 miles from Bedford. SMOC was founded in 1986 and has over 100 members living mostly in the Milton Keynes, Bedford, Northampton and Luton areas. The race is usually run on the last weekend in June, ensuring many a hot day for the challengers in the past.
The relays were first run in 1987 and the original route was the reverse of today. The route was changed in 1999, to finish at the Crown Inn, in Northill, always a good idea to finish at a pub if possible. The route follows the way marked Greensand Ridge walk with a couple of diversions to facilitate the race.
The format is a handicap relay race, with runners competing against a handicap time for each leg based on age and sex. An example being Leg 4, which starts at Millbrook proving ground and finishes on Deadman’s Hill, on the A6, a distance of 5.7 miles.
Male 21 is allowed 43 mins --- Female 45 is allowed 56 Mins ---- Male 50 is allowed 51 mins.
Teams compete for 5 trophies
The Greensand shield: First team across the line
The Muntjack: The fastest team
The Backpacker (Dragon): The fastest all ladies team
The Flyers trophy: The fastest mixed team (3M + 3L)
The solo runners started in 2008 and were the product of the rise in popularity in ultra-running across the country. The organisers now insist that any solo runners are supported by a club with relay entrants after a number of solo runners arrived at the finish and wanted to know where the transport was to get back to LB!
LFR has never picked up a trophy in the team event but won the first 2 Solo races with Chris Taylor and Steve Harrison running for us. Our ladies have also excelled with a shared ladies' fastest Solo in 2011, won by Verity Allsop and Karrie Archer. 2022 was a great year for LFR at the event, with Mathew Ma picking up the solo win and Dougie Dudley coming in 3rd place, fantastic running guys.
The route is mostly well defined trails with some short sections on roads. It is undulating but there are no really steep climbs and it is all runnable. Strava shows it at just under 1800 feet of ascent over the 34 miles.
A full description and map of the legs can be found on the SMOC website here:
There is no substitute though for getting out and recceing the legs, the signage has improved a lot since I first started running the GSR but it’s best to learn the section you are running, either by leaving a car at either end or doing an out and back run. A lady from one club ( not LFR) got lost in Rushmere one year and her team mates had to abandon the event to try and find her. One of my LFR team mates got badly lost on Leg 4 one year, he ran the same leg the next year, did not recce it ‘as I know where I went wrong’ and promptly got lost again...
Brief summary of the legs
Leg 1 – LB to Stockgrove: Starts inside the fence at Tiddenfoot Waterside Park and follows the canal to just past the Globe. Cutting across the often damp fields to Firs path, into the wood and out at the bottom of Plantation road. Crossing into Rushmere and following the park run route in reverse to eventually finish at the unofficial car park on Great Brickhill Road. Length 5.5 miles.
Leg 2 – Stockgrove to Woburn: The shortest leg, goes through the woods, across fields before a tricky crossing of the A5, care needed here. Crosses another 2 fields before heading through woodland trails into Woburn. Coming out near the new speed camera before cutting across another field to enter the wood behind the fire station. The changeover point is in front of the fire station. Length 3.9 miles.
Leg 3 – Woburn to Millbrook: The longest leg and a mile longer than the original route thanks to a diversion when the M1 was being widened. Heads into the Deer park and past the Abbey on what seems to be a never ending uphill stretch. Through the lovely little village of Eversholt before heading on trails towards the M1, a fairly sharp climb up ‘Sandy hill’ before passing the ruins of a very old church and entering Ridgmont. Crossing the M1 and A507, the leg finishes with a lovely downhill run through woods close to Millbrook Proving Ground and golf course. Length 9.1 miles.
Leg 4 – Millbrook to Deadman’s Hill: My favourite leg, reasonable length and some of the best views. Going through Millbrook village, crossing into Ampthill Park over a hidden railway line, past the ruins of Houghton House, a reservoir and into Maulden village. Then taking trails through Maulden wood to leave the GSR to head for a layby on the A6, the only place cars can safely park. Length 5.7 miles.
Leg 5 – Deadman’s Hill to Haynes: Along the A6 to head across fields to Clophill, from here, skirting Chicksands woods before eventually arriving at Deadman’s Cross on the A600 at Haynes. Length 5.5 miles.
Leg 6 – Haynes to Northill: The final leg! The route passes through several woods and a number of fields before arriving in Northill village. The finish line is at the Greensand Ridge pole on the RHS of the road as you approach the ‘T’ junction by Northill church. Length 4.7 miles.
Total just over 34 miles plus any unintentional bonus miles!
So lastly but most importantly, who runs the GSRR? The event usually sells out and preference is given each year to previous entrants. Local running clubs make up the majority of entries with multiple teams from LFR, LBAC, Dunstable, Tring and Ampthill. The trophies for fastest teams are usually contested by LBAC and AFF. There are serious runners going for times but many of the teams will be there for a fun filled, social day out on the trails. It’s a chance to try and beat your handicap time if you want or just enjoy a chance to run on new trails.
One tradition that must be mentioned is the choosing of weird and wacky names for the teams. One of my favourites was an LBAC ladies team, called ‘The Devil wears Strava’…
So if you like the idea of the GSRR, please enter for one of the teams, it will be a fabulous experience and one that you will talk over for years to come.