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Thu 19th Sep 2019
© Antony McCallum
Cliveden Cross Country: Garmin Route of the Month
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Friday 7th November 2008

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To this point, our Garmin Route of the Month feature has focussed primarily upon the cycle sections of various triathlon and duathlon events. Now that we are (almost), in the multisport off-season, we thought we would change tack this month and focus on a pure running event. And nothing quite spells winter running in the UK like a good cross country event - and this really is a good one!

The Cliveden Cross Country is hosted by Burnham Joggers ( on the Sunday between Christmas Day and New Year, and this year falls on Monday 29th December 2009. Take note though - there are no entries on the day, and the race is always over-subscribed, typically full by mid-November.

Cliveden HouseCliveden is part of The National Trust, and is located in Taplow, Maidenhead, Berkshire and easily accessible from the M40 (junction 4) or M4 (junction 7). Central to the magnificent grounds which overlook the River Thames is Cliveden House, infamously associated with the 'Profumo Affair'.

This Italianate mansion, built in 1851 by architect Charles Barry, is now leased as an exclusive private hotel (, and is set in 376 acres of formal gardens and parkland, and the stunning house forms the backdrop to the start of the race.

The Garmin trace below is from the 2007 event, run by Tri247's Editor, John Levison. Typically there will be minor changes year-on-year, depending upon works being undertaken within the grounds and the state of the various parks and tracks used, though you can be certain that the signature element of the event - the 172 steps of Yew Tree Walk (which you run / suffer twice!) - will remain. In fact, you'll probably be so shattered from running you won't notice most of the sights, so we've captured them for you here. We recorded the distance as 10.6km in 2007, and that's fairly typical for the event.

Cliveden Cross Country 2007 Garmin Connect

Mike wins in 2006Falling between Christmas and New Year, there is always a relaxed and fun atmosphere to the event. It's also a popular event with triathletes in the region, with the likes of Berkshire, Eton, Hillingdon, Farnham and Thames Valley Triathletes typically well represented within the 500 starters. One triathlete who has done more than simply run Cliveden is twice winner (2005 and 2006), Mike Trees. A former professional duathlete and triathlete, Mike is perhaps best known now as the man behind the 2XU, Ceepo and Newton Running brands in the UK through his Triathlon Consultants distribution company.

We spoke to Mike about his thoughts on the event; "It's a great event, unfortunately family commitments mean I won't be able to make it this year." Any tips for the rest of us? "Don't go off too fast at the start, as it's flat/downhill initially, and you've got the steps to come later. The steps are very awkward - try and relax, take short strides and ease off about 5% of your effort from the flat. It may seem slow, but it will help prevent the build up of lactic acid which is a real killer, and you'll more than make up for it on the rest of the course. Try and go for some lightweight, studded (not spikes, they are banned) off-road specific shoes with a waffle or similar style sole."

Start is at the gates of Cliveden House, and you head down the driveway...
Clivden House backdrop Start - main driveway

The start of the race is on firm, pan flat driveway directly in front of the house. After about 150 metres you bear right past the 'Fountain of Love' which sits at the end of the drive. The road then narrows and you are directed left on to a pathway through and past the Water Gardens. Takes care here, as there are usually a few bollards which can cause problems. Don't be surprised or concerned to slow a little here due to congestion - remember Mike's tip that the start of the race is very fast - almost all of the first 2km is downhill, falling around 200 feet as you descend to the Thames-side path.

Past the Fountain of Love
Fountain of Love Path narrows

Of course, you may be thinking at this point that it's a really easy race. And, so far, it is... After 2km you descend sharply, and turn right onto the path that runs by the Thames. Concentrate, as it's bound to be slippery and muddy. Listen to the marshals who will highlight any obstacles. Of course, what goes down must go up, and pretty soon you will get your first glimpse of Yew Tree Walk.

Sharp slippy descent Turn right onto path by Thames
Approaching Yew Tree - you still can't see it! First glimpse of steps...

Yew Tree Walk - sounds so quaint and innocent doesn't it? Well, you'll soon find out that it is 172 steps of torture! Whoever designed the steps didn't like runners. Unless you are very strong, taking them one pace at a time is going to leave you bathing in a lactic acid lake, so probably best to take shorter strides and take two paces per step, at least for part of the climb. You'll also be delighted to note that some wag has been out and chalked the number left to go on the risers every few steps...

Yew Tree Walk: view from the bottom up and top down!
If you look left just after the final step you will see the Octaganal Temple (Chapel)
Even when you've passed the steps, it's not flat yet...
Yew Tree Steps - 172 of them Looking back down: see the Thames in the background, you ran from there!
Look left at the top of the steps No steps but still uphill...

If you look up to your right after the final step, (you are more likely to be staring at the floor in oxygen debt...), you can see the magnificent sight of Cliveden House. A final, still uphill, section will take you around the House, and back to the start for the end of one lap. However, don't think you are halfway at this point, "the second lap is actually longer than the first, and actually has a tougher hill in it than the first" says Mike Trees. He is right too, the first lap is typically just over 4km, but the second is over 6km...

Thames to your leftLap two starts in exactly the same way as lap one already described above, but the course then heads further to the south on the Estate before descending again to the Thames-side path. Look left and see the lovely surroundings. Footing here should be quite firm, and by this point you'll have forgotten about the steps. Then, at about 8km into the race you take a sharp right and head up. More steps, but this time while in aggregate not as long, the steps are less uniform and the hill far steeper. In fact, in all the times I've done this event, it's always been the toughest part of the course. "Don't be embarrassed to use your hands on your knees and walk here - I won the event twice, and walked here both times!" said Mike.

This section always feels like a kick-in-the-teeth. They take you up a really tough climb from the river ... so that half a kilometre later they can send you back down again, ready to finish you off with another ascent of Yew Tree Walk! Once you hit the bottom step for the final time you have just under 1km to go, and it's almost all uphill. The finish line is located around 100 metres down the main drive in front of Cliveden House.

The Orangery - coffee and cakes!One of the great things about the race is The Orangery Café, which also doubles as somewhere to store your baggage pre-race. Plenty of quality cakes and post-race coffee available, I'll certainly be there. Apex Sports ( of Farnham Common will be on hand for pre- and post-event shopping, and you can usually find a bargain or two available.

This really is a challenging, but fun event and it's fantastically well organised. It's a real honour to run in such an environment and is highly recommended.

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