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South West Outdoor Festival 2016

PUBLISHED: 12:03 19 September 2016 | UPDATED: 12:25 19 September 2016

Visitors on the rocks at Highveer Point, between Heddon Valley and Woody Bay, North Devon.

Visitors on the rocks at Highveer Point, between Heddon Valley and Woody Bay, North Devon.

©National Trust Images/John Millar

Su Carroll talks about what is up and coming this month

The National Trust is celebrating the glorious Devon landscape by staging its first South West Outdoor Festival with a trio of running challenges in North Devon’s beautiful Heddon Valley and a weekend of chilled activities for all the family, many of them free. At the heart of the weekend are three running events on the Saturday morning: the popular 10km challenge, a half-marathon and, the blue riband event, a full off-road marathon.

“The long course follows a rollercoaster cross-country and cliff-hugging route, wending its way to Woody Bay, Lynton and wonderful Watersmeet before looping though the Valley of the Rocks and tracing the coast back to Heddon, where it heads out towards the Hangman Hills for a last hurrah,” says chief trail architect and race director Ceri Rees from specialist event company Wild Running.

Highlights along the way include views out across the Bristol Channel towards Wales and Lundy Island, but it’s not just the vistas that are breath-taking. “It is, without doubt, one of the most scenic and toughest coast-and-country trail-running marathons in Britain,” says Ceri.

“The marathon involves more than 6,000ft of elevation gain. The marathon and the half-marathon share the same initial path, and are classic mixed-terrain routes, incorporating tight and twisty single track, rural footpaths, some tarmac and several river-hugging trails through the valleys.

“The 10k is a totally different beast. This fast and fun route follows a sensational circuit out towards Woody Bay and back, offering stunning views along the coast path and then serving up a long, exciting descent to the finish, with ample exciting chances to overtake.

“And if you want to experience a section of the long marathon route without taking on the whole thing, you can enter as a three-person team, with each member racing a section. But the most important thing is that all the routes are designed to maximise runners’ enjoyment of the North Devon coast and countryside, while forcing them to earn their evening drink!”

The festival is not all about physical challenges and high-adrenaline pursuits. There will be plenty of opportunity to pause, absorb the sensational surroundings, and smell (and, under the instruction of foraging experts, even taste) the local flora. Working with partners Cotswold Outdoor, Panasonic and Exmoor National Park, the National Trust and local outdoor experts and enthusiasts are offering a multitude of free activities. You can join an National Park ranger and take a journey through space and time in the great outdoor kaleidoscope above Exmoor by stargazing in Europe’s first international dark sky reserve or take part in one of their legendary Big Adventure experiences during the weekend, with free activities including guided food foraging walks and campfire cooking sessions.

The National Trust is celebrating the landscape with its first ever Outdoor Festival in Devon PICTURE: NTPLThe National Trust is celebrating the landscape with its first ever Outdoor Festival in Devon PICTURE: NTPL

The highly knowledgeable rangers will be leading small groups on guided walks around the Heddon Valley and down to the seashore, talking about the local wildlife (including otters, deer, birds of prey and marine life) and explaining the amazing geological and human history of the area, which once featured a Roman signal fort.Or you can just chill out in a dedicated reading zone, where you can browse books about the outdoors, meet some of the authors, purchase signed copies and generally take a breather from all the activity taking place around the festival site. Jen and Simon Benson, authors of the popular book Wild Running, will talk about the year they have just spent travelling with their two children and sleeping in a tent.

Other speakers include marine biologist and TV presenter Monty Halls, adventurist and former GB rower Anna McNuff, international off-piste athlete Tobias Mews, slow adventurer Jasper Winn and round-the-world cyclist/ocean rower/Everest climber James Ketchell, author of the newly released book The Ultimate Triathlon.

There are several workshops on offer, including camp cooking where you can learn how to build a blaze, bake bread and rustle up an incredible range of tasty recipes on an open fire or wild foraging which will help you discover how to live off the land, safely sampling everything from berries and wild mushrooms to roasted stinging nettles. Perhaps you fancy learning some traditional skills like dry stone walling.

Two partners of the South West Outdoor Festival will have high profile presences at the event. Panasonic are hosting a Photography Roadshow at Heddon Valley with pro photographers, field experts and brand ambassadors sharing their knowledge and tips on how to capture those perfect outdoor moments in still and video format. And Cotswold Outdoor share four decades of experience with a comprehensive Knowledge Centre right in the heart of the basecamp.

This will involve a foot clinic (where you can get advice on walking boots and running shoes), a backpack clinic (how to choose and pack properly), a bike clinic (maintenance and basic repairs pre and post ride) stove-top cooking displays (compare the performance of different camping stoves) and tactile technical fabric demonstrations (cutting through the jargon to explain what fancy fabrics actually do).

The South West Outdoor Festival is 23-25 September at Heddon Valley in North Devon. For tickets and further details visit nationaltrust.org.uk/swof

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