The famous Black Death Run is scheduled to take place on 11th May 2014. This is the sixth running of this event although it started in 2006; technical reasons caused it to be cancelled in 2008/2009. It takes place in the picturesque location of Combe Sydenham Country Park in the village of Monksilver on the edge of Exmoor with its 15th century manor house: the village was also mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086. The race has become notorious for its tortuous course and hilly terrain. It has been described as the toughest 10 mile run in the U.K. One competitor left a comment on the run’s website saying, “The hardest run I have ever done and I have done the Snowdonia Marathon twice”.
The race was previously located at Great Wood in the Quantock Hills but difficulties with the requirements for conservation necessitated a move to a more convenient location. Combe Sydenham Country Park was scouted out and proved to be an ideal location for such a tough race. The discovery of an abandoned hamlet named Goodley in the middle of the park which had been decimated by the plague in 1358 suggested a title for the race. The Black Death, as the plague was known, was apparently brought to Combe Sydenham by a sailor returning from a sea voyage to one of the nearby ports and bringing with him the terrible pestilence which resulted in the death of all the residents. Traces of the abandoned houses can still be seen in the middle of the country park.
Combe Sydenham, a 15th century manor house, a Tudor E-plan design built in 1580 for Sir George Sydenham and is a Grade I listed building. In 1585, Francis Drake married Elizabeth Sydenham, the only child of Sir George Sydenham, who was the High Sheriff of Somerset. Reminders of Sir Francis Drake’s marriage to Sir George’s daughter are kept here. The house is set in a 500 acres estate which includes a Deer Park and a variety of walks.
The estate is now owned by the Theed family who are associated with the run and the owner’s, Mr W Theed; son has taken part in a few of the races.
This year’s event promises to be a challenging one as logging operations in the park have caused parts of the route to be heavily rutted and cut up making the run difficult for the runners to achieve any sort of personal best. If the weather is inclement it will add to the difficulty of the terrain as the earth becomes very muddy and extremely slippy. The organisers will keep their fingers crossed for a nice sunny day.
Links – www.theblackdeathrun.com