The races over the weekend of the 9th & 10th March were held with permission of the Crown Estate in Swinley Forest, near Bagshot. We raced this course just before the European Championships last year but didn’t get time to blog about them, so thought I would take the opportunity now. The parking at the venue is just off the side road into the forest in a hard packed clearing and both the start and finish chutes are just off this area. We arrived in the dark after having an awful journey with a caravan tyre blow out and huge delays on the M4 but setting up was easy and we’d soon forgotten about the problems we’d encountered – there’s something very soothing about being camped up in a forest!
The weather had been dry for a while until a few days before the races and so I wasn’t quite expecting the course to be as muddy and challenging as it turned out to be. The start of the course was down a straight, hard packed track which only slightly curved around through the trees but then you carried straight on, off the track through the first really deep muddy, rutted section, followed by a sharp left hand turn onto a wide sandy track. The track got progressively muddier and I had to get off and jog next to the bike near the top of a small uphill before a sharp right hand turn into some single track through the trees.
The single track section was also fairly muddy and had lots of tree stumps and roots to negotiate, there were a few near misses in this section and I believe one canicrosser fell after sliding on one of the wet tree roots. When we completed this course in September it was much drier and quicker to ride. I really noticed the difference in the going and in spite of some changes to the course to avoid the worst of it, the rutted ground and sections filled with mud and water were testing.
After the single track section, a right turn down hill, then another sharp left took you on a little detour through some more tracks, before turning right again twice to join back up with the old course. The tracks in this part of the forest were grassy, undulating and brought you around onto the hard packed trails again. This time the ruts were very deep and at one point there was even water flowing across the track in one of the ditches that seem to have appeared since September. We had been warned in the race briefing to avoid the centre of the track at this point and the right hand side provided a shallow option, easier on the bikes wheels and runners feet!
The final dog leg (!) brought you into the finish chute which although slightly uphill was welcome relief in terms of ground as it was rut, water and mud free. We completed the races on both days, managing not to fall off and Judo and I even claiming a 3rd place for our efforts, so I was very pleased. I think the Buttersteep races, although relatively flat with few hills, were still quite tricky, both for bikejorers and canicrossers, as the conditions made the course tough and a good test of knowing when to take it easy so as not to lose valuable time falling over!