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Into the Valley of Horehound!

Welcome to today's miscellany of trivia thinly justified as the Arundel Triathlon blog!

Let's start with the name "Arundel", which is derived from the Old English name Harhunedell, which I gather means "valley of horehound".

That is perhaps not altogether helpful if, like me, you don't know what a 'horehound' might be. Presumably not a lady of negotiable virtue's labradoodle, but what?

Those more horticulturally inclined (by which I don't mean to reference Dorothy Parker's quip, "You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think"), will now be thinking, "Aha, Marrubium vulgare, of course!", which again might not be the most enlightening of statements.

But fear not: I shall faithfully tell you all that Wikipedia tells me:

Marrubium vulgare (white horehound or common horehound) is a flowering plant in the mint family (Lamiaceae), native to Europe, northern Africa, and southwestern and central Asia. It is also widely naturalized in many places, including most of North and South America.

It is a grey-leaved herbaceous perennial plant, and grows to 25–45 centimetres (10–18 in) tall. The leaves are 2–5 cm (0.8–2.0 in) long with a densely crinkled surface, and are covered in downy hairs. The flowers are white, borne in clusters on the upper part of the main stem.

The Oxford English Dictionary derives the word from two Old English forms: "hoar" ("white," "light-colored," as in "hoarfrost") and "hune" a word of unknown origin designating a class of herbs or plants. The second element was altered by folk etymology.

Ah, good old folk etymology. And it doesn't stop there:

Folk etymology [...] connects [Arundel] with the Old French word arondelle "swallow", a diminutive form of arunde or aronde, and swallows appear on the town's arms.

I fear there's a tasteless joke about horehounds and swallows in there somewhere, but you'll be pleased to hear I shall take it no further.

Anyway: as with Angmering last week, the start is going to be early (although triathlons generally start at an ungodly hour even without the excuse of global pandemic), so as before, we're going down the day before and staying overnight.

That means we will get a chance to visit the castle grounds (the castle itself not yet being open) and check out the run route that we didn't have time for on our previous recce, and generally make a bit of a weekend of it.

Not such a quirky place, this, but we've rented a very nice little one-bed apartment for the night. There's a nearby Premier Inn which we would probably have booked if they were operating, and this is twice the price, but it turns out to be absolutely worth it. It's so new that when I tried to find it on Google Street View, it was still a building site, but fear not, it's all finished now.

Convenient for the station, certainly!

And you can see the castle from the window. We're maybe five minute's cycle ride from the Arundel Lido where the event is centred, and Lauren, the owner, has kindly agreed to let us have a late checkout, so we can have a shower and get changed after the event, so definitely a bit of a find, this place.

In fact, thinking about it, we weren't much closer to the start of the Leeds Castle Triathlon when we stayed in the grounds of the castle itself!

Total plug: if you want somewhere to stay round these parts.

But onwards...

The very castle!

Now, look at that tree in front. It's quite unusual, in that it's got flowers (which look quite like foxgloves) but no leaves. Being, as you will have gathered, more cultural than horty, we observe with interest but don't think any further about it at the time.

Then a few days later, what happens but Matthew Bennet posts on Facebook: "Who's heard of a foxglove tree, Paulownia tomentosa? ..." with pictures and, well, blow me down, that's what it is! It's from China originally, and supposedly not common here!

The gardens are full of wooden structures built to look like stone: it's very clever.

Amanda and I are pretty sure we both visited as children for school or family trips or something, but even if we remembered it would have been nothing like now.

We saw the other side of this from the street outside last week, but had no idea what it was.

After this, we drive along the route for the run, but there's really nowhere to stop and take pictures as the road is narrow at the best of times, and much of it is single track. To be honest, it's nothing particularly different to any other rural setting, so you're not missing much.

It's quite clear, though, that it will be much more practical to take my bike than the car when the road is going to have lots of runners on it.

So back to our apartment for dinner and an early night...

And here we are, bright and early. The forecast isn't great, but for now it's just a bit dull. There are supposed to be rules about face coverings and social distancing, but they're a bit impractical under the circumstances, so people more or less make it up as they go along.

Again, the "no spectators" rule seems not to be too rigidly enforced. I'm not the only non-participant around, but there aren't that many of us, so I think as long as we don't get in the way nobody minds.

It's getting a bit drizzly as Amanda queues up to start her swim. Despite the inclement conditions, there's plenty of good-natured banter in the line and everyone seems in excellent spirits. This event format would never have had a mass start anyway, so although it's a bit more spaced out and slower, it's probably not as different from a normal year as the straight running races have been.

Ok, Arundel Tri, we're off!

Ant of SSP is halfway down the pool taking pictures, but while I've seen him, he probably hasn't seen me and it's a bit far to chat in any case.

That haze is partly steam rising off the heated pool, but it's mostly cold rain falling down from the clouds. It's got a lot heavier in just the last few minutes.

Ok, on my bike now, to get ahead of Amanda on her bike.

She hits the roundabout just outside town, which has a lot less traffic on it now than when we tested the route in the middle of the day last week!

I say to people sometimes that when Amanda is running, I can beat her on my bike, but when she's on her bike, I need a fast car!

Good job I've got one, then. But it's a minute up the road to the apartment, then another minute or two securing the bike, and it's lucky for me that the first part of the ride is up a very long hill or even then I might not have caught her before getting to the top.

It's also fortunate that there's essentially no traffic on a decently wide road, so I've got plenty of space to overtake riders safely, which I'm doing at... err... a perfectly legal speed, yes, absolutely, no question of it!

There are very few places it's safe to stop on this road, and this is both the most practical and the most interesting.

Across the road is Duchess Lodge, Grade II listed, and Historic England tell us it was, "Designed by J A Hansom in 1878 in Tudor Gothic style." That's pretty late for the Gothic Revival, which was coming to an end in the 1870s.

It also has a bus stop, which features on Google Maps rather more prominently than the lodge does. I'm not sure if this is the downmarket version of the aristocrats who would allow a railway to cross their land only if they were given their own station.

But finding a bus early on Sunday morning in rural England? I tell you mate, you'll have better luck looking for lions in the woods!

That was the A284. This is the A29. Much easier to find places to stop, but much harder to find interesting ones. But look, sunshine!

The sun is nice from the right angle, but heading into it, visibility is poor because of glare from all the water and spray. And the sky ahead doesn't look encouraging, does it?

Further down the road, there's a ginormous puddle stretching almost all the way across the carriageway. I take a wide line in the car and still throw up an absolutely enormous wave. I'm glad there are no riders there at the time! Later Amanda will tell me that she had to go straight through it because of traffic, but I don't know if it would have made her that much wetter than all the rain already had.

The rest of the loop and the second lap don't have anything special to note, so we'll skip ahead to the end of the ride...

So I'm back in my fast car, driving fast, although not quite as fast as before as the roads are no longer so empty, but even so, I still don't get back to the edge-of-town roundabout on my bike before her. She's only fractionally ahead of me there, but by the time she's a couple of hundred yards down the road and about to turn in to the Lido, she's left me standing and I only just have time for a quick picture in which she's barely visible.

But now I have the advantage again. Heh heh heh...

As you come out of town on this road, you pass dozens of motorhomes and campervans parked at the side. It seems a lot of triathletes take their sport very seriously and don't want to have to take a chance on finding suitably nearby accommodation, especially when you need secure storage for an expensive bike. [That's another reason why we like Premier Inn: they're happy to let you take your bike into your room.] It'll obviously be cheaper too, on a per-night basis, but you can rent an awful lot of rooms for the cost of a good motorhome, so I'm not sure if it makes purely economic sense in isolation.

Of course, maybe some of them are doing what we did for the Marathon du Médoc in 2015: hiring a motorhome for a holiday that just happens to include stopping off at a race on the way.

Anyway, this attractive stone bridge crosses over what we initially thought was a tributary of the Arun, but in fact turns out to be a spur off it that fills a nearby lake.

The weather's getting bad again.

The route has a short jog up the hill and back down again here, and in better weather I'm sure that the views from the top would be superb. As it is, I think a sweeping vista of the hillside is the best picture I'm going to get.

Tipping down now, but she's smiling because: a) she sees her true love; and b) she can finally feel her feet again.

And shortly after this it'll get even worse: an absolute monsoon (though without the accompanying tropical heat). This is by far the worst we've had all day, but at least it's not till nearly the end. We have to feel sorry for the people who are only just starting out on their run, of which there are still quite a few.

Made it back in one piece!

From here, Ant's dulcet tones waft gently on the zephyr-like breeze. What was it the Beach Boys sang? "I hear the sound of her gentle voice on the wind that lifts her perfume through the air"...


Ah, some things never change. Amanda at least is wise to this and doesn't get shouted at.

[NB: The original version I wrote contained an adjective that Ant informs me he wouldn't say out loud even if it probably did reflect what he was actually thinking! Oh, and he says that as I've linked to everyone else, what about SSP? To be honest, if you're reading this you probably don't need to be told, but here: As regular readers will know, I can sometimes be less than complimentary about some event photographers, but I think SSP are the best in the business. And no, I'm not getting commission! Ok, end of digression, back to the plot.]

The race blurb talked about their "legendary" T-shirts. Err, what makes them legendary? I'm sorry to say they seem pretty ordinary to us.

The Legend of the T-Shirt

"Come on!", said Tristram, "nobody believes in 'T-Shirts', they're just a legend!"

His grandmother shook her head. "Perhaps you young people don't. That's because you've never seen one. But I have... Oh yes, I have, and it's a sight I never expect to see again."

Should I write the rest of this story?

This, I guess, is the end of our triathlon story, but as we had something of a prologue, let's have a bit of an epilogue too.

It's the closest Sunday to Amanda's birthday, and as Winkworth Arboretum is not far off our way home, we've arranged to meet Amanda's mother and sister there.

Have we got bluebells? Lordy! Have we got bluebells!

You may recall that Angmering last week was a bit lacking in the bluebell department, but Winkworth is positively dripping with them.

Still not great weather, so the birthday picnic is a bit unfestive. By the time we would be having cake, it's tipping down again, so we'll just take it with us for later.

Still a long way to go before we're out of the woods pandemically speaking, but three events now, and plenty more on the calendar. Next up is the Woodland Woggle (which as I write this was last weekend) and the WSR Unicorn frolic (which is this coming weekend). Will I manage the WW blog before the end of the week?! Ooh, exciting stuff!

I will leave you with another random thought.

Today, Dominic Cummings has been ending every utterance with "Ceterum autem censeo Hancocinem esse delendam". Or at least he would if he had Boris Johnson's turn of Latin phrase. (Although, that's possibly more Enoch Powell. I'm not sure Boris actually understands his little Latin epigrams, just vaguely remembers the right kind of place to throw them into a conversation.)

But if I'm being honest, of course, I did get just the teeniest bit of help from Google to refresh my memory of Cato's exact words.

Is Google becoming a substitute for true knowledge? Possibly, but then literacy itself was once decried for just that reason. Who, after all, would ever bother learning the art of remembering things when they could just write them down!

It is the one constant of human existence: things were better in the olden days. How odd then, that for at least a short moment in time, it's actually true...

But soon, I trust, it won't be!

Love to all,


PS: Another thing we discovered in Arundel was Digby, makers of English sparkling wine (we can't use the C-word, remember). Ok, it's no cheaper than Champagne, but it's very nice and well worth it.

So here's a shout out to Callum, a nice young lad I had a good chat with on both our visits, who said he offered Amanda his best wishes but the start was a bit early for him to be there supporting her.

You and me both!

All I can say is try not to get a girlfriend/boyfriend/whatever who's into this running and triathloning malarkey! By god it's a slippery slope!

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