Digested read: our Smiletastic challenge for February was to do a run incorporating all the letters of the alphabet. We dragonflies did this, in Attercliffe, which revealed hidden delights and adventures as we explored hitherto unknown (to me) hinterlands of north-east Sheffield. It was an adventure, I followed up at the rear. No change there then.
Did you read that amazing story in the news the other week? What do you mean ‘which one?’ is it not immediately apparent? Sigh. Keep up. The one about the woman who could become disoriented within her own house. It would seem both to be familiar, but unfamiliar, her world would spontaneously rotate and become unrecognisable, unmappable, as her internal ‘map’ flipped, due to some previously unrecognised neurological brain malfunction. This would mean that quite literally, she is/was unable to navigate her way even around her own house. To get to her front door, or bedroom or wherever she was heading, she’d need to breathe deeply, think hard and look for clues. Lost, completely, inexplicably lost, despite being within range of familiar things. The woman who is permanently lost. Sounds terrifying, and, to be truthful, slightly implausible. By which I mean obviously it used to sound implausible, but that was before today. Today I got completely lost on the streets of Sheffield, to the point it felt like I’d been forcibly abducted, which in a way I suppose I had been.
Today, took me on a magical mystery tour of the delights of Attercliffe. I was but a proverbial stone’s throw from familiar territory, and yet I had absolutely no idea where I was for most of the duration of the run. In a twist on the original theme, I also had no idea what I was doing, as I scampered around desperately trying to keep up with my Dragonfly Smiletastic trail blazers like a dachshund trying to keep up with a pack of greyhounds. Not pretty to be fair. I tried, but I’m never going to manifest the athletic elegance and vigour or my Smiley counterparts. Maybe I should start running only in the dark for a bit, until morale picks up. Most definitely I should stick to running on my own.
Hang on, you don’t know what I’m on about? Well, for those of you who have no idea what I’m on about, I have no idea how it is that mysteriously you have somehow missed out on all the Smiletastic shenanigans (what stone have you been hiding under) of late. But, since you are not in the know, Smiletastic is basically a motivational challenge to help runners to keep up their running targets throughout the winter months. More specifically, to help runners who are members of the friendly and inclusive women’s only running club in Sheffield we know and love as Smiley Paces. There are various individual challenges, but the important thing about today is that it was a team challenge. There’s one of these each month. There are four teams all together, bees, ladybirds, grasshoppers and lastly and most important, MY team, which is dragonflies. The challenge for this month was:
So hard to do basically. Fortunately, we’d had a Smiletastic Dragonflies alphabet run planning meeting, at which my main contribution was to turn up and nod earnestly, and defer to people who seemed to have a plan. Now, as the logical extension of that contributory negligence in having shown up and shown interest in the collective endeavour, we had to run the darned thing. Good oh. The stipulation was to run an alphabet in Sheffield. However, to nab every letter of the alphabet, we were always going to end up in Attercliffe at some point, as along with its many other attractions, Attercliffe is the only area of Sheffield blessed with a street name beginning with Z. To the glory of Zion we come.
Attercliffe gets a bit of a bad press locally to be fair. It offers up faded industrial glory, and it doesn’t bode well that Wikipedia pronounces its attractions as basically the fact that it is located on the supertram route and used to have a lovely cinema. Which is a bit like saying to someone they almost won the lottery, if they’d just had one more number, unfortunately, on this occasion they’ll be going home empty-handed. Cold comfort indeed…
Attercliffe is also closely associated with a the Channel 4 TV show A very British Brothel which featured the daily life of business at the City Sauna, on Attercliffe Road. It was quite a gentle documentary to be fair, more cosy than sleazy according to The Guardian so it must be true, but still not exactly the image the Sheffield Tourist Board would be keen to feature on the front of their ‘Welcome to Sheffield‘ webguide.
So, upshot was, Sunday dawned, and once I’d had my marshalling fix in the white out that was Graves Junior parkrun I made my way over to Attercliffe for our Dragonfly rendezvous. I’d got so cold in the snow at Graves, I wasn’t brimming over with enthusiasm for a 7 mile run, it was freeeeeeeeeeeeezing.
Fortuitously though, the sun came out. I found somewhere to park, and we rendezvoused at Accelerate on Attercliffe Road, which is handily very near Zion street so pretty much bagging the A-Z in record time!
Just to add an element of mystery to proceedings, I opted to park round the corner and lurk in my car out of the cold rather than stand shivering outside Accelerate. Well, I had a lot to mull over. Which coat, should I wear my woolly hat? What about dragonfly wings – fashion triumph or fashion tragedy? I was relieved to see others arrive and park up too. Soon we were a fair old gang of dragonflies, I don’t know what the collective noun is for dragonflies. A brilliance of dragonflies maybe – google says it’s a cluster of dragonflies, but I thought it was warts that came in clusters, and so I’m sticking with Brilliance. It might not be strictly accurate, but sometimes we have to rewrite our own narratives to improve our lives do we not. Be the change you want to make in the world, that sort of thing. Mostly it’s pretentious nonsense of course, but I find I need to cling to what fragile hope I can in times of adversity. This seems to be one such time.
Anyways, after a bit, more of us appeared, and we did a bit of smiley greeting of one another, which involves collective faffing about what to where, who was supposed to be coming, whether or not we were all here, to fancy dress or not to fancy dress, that sort of thing. There was some experimentation with new ways to wear a smiley buff, not sure that went all that well, but you have to try these things don’t you, before you can make an informed choice.
Then there was some excited posing for photos by the Zion Lane sign, just because we could. Also, some concerned chit-chat about where our actual run leader was, she in possession of map and instructions, and later on we’d discover a tick list of required roads as well. Turns out, she was only waiting outside Accelerate in accordance with the rendezvous instructions! honestly, and there were all the rest of us running amok in the presence of Zion. What larks eh, what larks.
Couple of things you need to know about our posing by signs strategy. We spent ages trying to perfect the group selfie, and then just when we thought we’d absolutely nailed it, another dragonfly arrived, a bit belatedly and we had to do it all over again. There was also more faffing what with pinning on wings etc. It’s quite complex socially and logistically, this alphabet team run endeavour. Really, it is.
At this point in running proceedings we were all in the same place at the same time and quite motivated to do such group shots. It would be fair to say our enthusiasm and ability to convene together at the same place at the same time depleted over the course of the next couple of hours. Oh dear. Still, bright and brilliant beginnings. Also, good to see actual dragonflies are quite good at posing together too. In the photos alongside one another above a bit, they are the one’s on the, erm, let’s see, erm leeeeeeeeft, maybe? You choose.
Some opted to rock the nymph look, with the added bonus of mortifying their offspring later when they find out they went out in public sporting their buffs in this fashion. I did wear my hat.
So, once convened, and once me and one other had donned our dragonfly wings, what the hell, off we went…. not very far at all, as it seemed that the next couple of street signs came thick and fast, and we were still only metres from where we started. Also, still up for group shots at this juncture. Yes, this much fun!
and this proximity from where we started:
off we shot and then another sign, good oh…..
From hereonin, honestly it was a bit of a blur. Our super-organised leader had all the necessary paperwork and strategy, and shot off at a fair old lick whilst the rest of us trailed in her wake. Some of us did more trailing than others. I had no chance of keeping up, so it was all a bit surreal.
The route was quite remarkable. As we were dipping in and out of fairly seemingly random side streets to nab various letters, we went down roads I’d never normally venture down Taking in the delights of Attercliffe’s industrial past and present. Joking apart, there is some absolutely stunning architecture in the area, but sadly it’s just been allowed to die away into dereliction. Some of the building were only built about 100 years ago, and yet in that short time have been abandoned to rot all boarded up and abandoned. It’s really sad, the area is crying out for regeneration. We must have looked pretty incongruous, running through with some gesture to fancy dress and periodically stopping to excitedly photograph street signs for no obvious reason to any passers-by. In truth, there weren’t all that many passers by, Attercliffe is pretty deserted on a Sunday lunchtime it would seem.
Early adventures included the sighting of alien dragonfly egg on the pavements of Attercliffe. This possibly would have been worth an extra Smiletastic point, but we forgot to claim for it. I’m not quite sure what it would have hatched into, as we didn’t wait around for long enough to find out, but once again google has delivered one option. I’m quite glad we weren’t there to witness it. Maybe an escapee from the Attercliffe exotics shop. Who knows? Exotic shops have more than one meaning in Attercliffe, but then again, I’m sure City Sauna caters for all sorts of niche preferences, this specimen could therefore have originated from either. Sleep well people, sleep well…
In other news, our ophiophobic smiley colleague managed to cross by on the other side of the road to the snake shop, whilst we supportively took photos of her being brave. One for all, and all for one, and no photo opportunity too small to bank for future reference.
Despite my scurrying along at the rear, I was very proud to espy this sign on a bus-stop which I still maintain could have spared us all a great deal of running around, but the others were too far ahead to hear my cries at this point.
We ran on.
There was childish giggling:
An attempt to nab an X (there are no road signs beginning with X within the boundaries of Sheffield postcodes apparently)
Attercliffe slowly revealed its many mysteries as we pounded its damp pavements on our mission.
There were some navigational adjustments to be made, it’s quite complicated doing a run with such obsessive focus on street names
We tried to stop and photograph signs, but then we did a lot of running backwards and forwards to make sure we could truly claim to have run down each alphabet road, not just run past a street sign. We also decided many of our shots just weren’t active enough, so we had to try again with actual running poses. It’s harder than you might think documenting things for posterity.
Exploring is fun. We took a minor detour to take in a bit of spontaneous track work, partly to honour Smiley Elder, it being her birthday and all, and partly because we fancied our chances in a one hundred metre dragonfly dash. We did, until we collectively decided it was too slippery to do much more than pretend to run, though one of our number did manage a complete spirit to the finish in fine form and fettle. Bravo!
Then, as there had admittedly been quite a lot of faffing, the pace picked up again, I just breathlessly followed on as best I could, whilst the lead runners performed the necessary navigational tasks, list ticking and photographic record keeping all in the time it took for me to get them back within hailing distance. I didn’t feel I contributed much apart from ballast, but then ballast has a role to play, ships might sink without it. I’m not quite sure how far that analogy extends to running contexts, but I’m prepared to let that go. I tried to keep them at least in sight, for the most part…
There was a brief moment of hope for me, when we found one of those ofo bikes, which pleasingly , was in my livery colours. Unfortunately, I don’t have a smart phone, so was unable to unlock it, but good posing opportunity. Likewise, found a gym that looked like just the job if only it wasn’t such a long way from where I live. Syd sure has been working his biceps and not taking steroids at all. Impressive!
Scampering on… We went through soulless industrial estates, under old Victorian bridges, past sadly derelict once magnificent public buildings, and on through modern housing estates, where cooking smells rose out of kitchens, and we must have looked exceedingly out-of-place.
We occasionally gathered up, mostly when our leader got lost, and did some more random posing. Jubilee road almost completely defeated us, and we did a lot of toing and froing before a local resident pointed us in the right direction. She was very helpful and friendly and didn’t even appear to register how incongruous we must have looked let alone enquire what we were up to. It felt a friendly place.
There were some opportunities for not very imaginative practical jokes. Like when my fellow winged dragonfly lost her pink wings and another runner appropriated them. You wouldn’t believe how long it took for her to realise this had happened. I think we may have been somewhat oxygen deprived at this point, as we found it disproportionately entertaining. You had to be there. Still, bodes well for post the apocalypse, if ever we have to make our own entertainment with limited materials and opportunities on which to draw.
Even though Attercliffe most definitely has its industrial heritage at its core, there were some welcome green spaces. Including one where there wasn’t so much a trail of breadcrumb, as a road of white sliced bread. I couldn’t help wondering if another Smiletastic team was even now on operations in the vicinity, and this was some ploy to help their less well sighted running buddies navigate their way home. Lord knows I was completely lost. I clung on for grim death at the back, if my companions disappeared out of sight completely I’d never have found my way home again. Whilst Attercliffe was a great deal nicer than I’d imagined, I wouldn’t really want to end my days there running round the streets in ever decreasing circles, with my dragonfly wings becoming ever more battered and torn as hours became days and days became weeks and so on until I shrivelled away to join the skeletal frames lining the canal which we came upon later.
HOnestly, it was all a bit of a blur. What I do know, is that we successfully got all our alphabet, minus the ‘impossible’ x, within about 6 miles, but then we had a canal detour to bagsy our x. This was a separate mission impossible, except it turned out it both was and wasn’t. Wasn’t, because we did it, and was, because although we did it, there was no actual road sign, so massive anti-climax. Oops. It did involve dipping down onto the canal path, and running a straight mile to the city centre, emerging at Victoria Quays – another run route I’ve never done, but keep meaning too. Before we did that, just a few more amazing buildings to appreciate, it would be so great to see these brought back to their former glory..
The canal detour – once we’d once again resisted the temptation to catch a tram, and got directions from a local to actually get down by it, was quite impressive. For them as can run fast, this is a fast bit. I can’t, and was also thwarted by my choice of shoes. I was wearing road shoes, but this was pretty muddy and slippery, trail shoes would have been much better. oh well, next time eh?
I’m always a bit dubious about tow paths. I like the idea of running near water, but I’m not so keen on the being trapped on a narrow path aspect of it. Also, as one of my fellow runners was keen to remind us, it’s always runners who find dead bodies on tow paths. That’s not strictly true of course, it can happen to dog walkers too. A friend of mine was walking her dog along a canal path in Leamington many years ago and she found a body. The worst of it was, this was pre mobile phone days and she had to stop someone to borrow a phone to call for help, the first person didn’t want to get involved and just left her. Eventually she did get a phone, but was left alone next to a face downward floating corpse until the police arrived. Then, to add insult to injury, they wouldn’t allow her to walk back the way she came because it was a possible crime scene, she had to walk an extra five miles to get home. Not a good outcome, and maybe this has contributed to my aversion to ‘lovely’ canal walks even if only in my subconscious. To be fair, the dead person had had a worse outcome, though for the record, there was no foul play detected.
We didn’t find any actual corpses, but we did find some that had apparently been boiled down to the bare bones and then displayed. It was quite an impressive show with loving attention to detail. I wouldn’t mind ending up here. Then again, hiding in plain sight, it’s the classic ruse isn’t it, to get away with murder. Obvious place to conceal a body if you think about it. I suggest you just don’t. I do like a good pun too ‘Musn Grumble’ hilarious, see what they’ve done there!
Then on again down the tow path
and more delights revealed themselves. Soppy valentine moments aren’t for me, but a group smiley hug, that’s nice! Mind you, if hugs aren’t your thing, check out this handy video on how to take appropriate evasive action in a variety of hug ambush situations. You’re welcome.
and then there was the white horse, and the red dragon, see what we did there, we were ON FIRE(ish)!
and there were pretty flowers – well one anyway also a dead rat, probably rather more than one of those, but only one that was especially noticeable:
And then, almost suddenly we were at Victoria Quays where a barge proclaiming itself ‘the kids’ inheritance’ welcomed us on to the cobbles. These weren’t all that welcome for sore feet. At least one of our number was suffering the after effects of a 17 mile fell run the day before, and cobbles today weren’t helping.
So the climax of our run was to get onto eXchange street. See what we’ve done there. Unfortunately, despite adding a mile to our run, there wasn’t a single helpful road sign to proclaim our success, making it somewhat anticlimactic. Though we were able to find a handy X scrawled across a board somewhere and a potential ‘valentine themed observation’ in keeping with the individual challenges for February so beloved of Smiley Elder who has many great qualities, but lacks a certain cynicism with regard to romantic love which is a bit of an oversight in my view.
And that was it. Run concluded, just as the sky was getting dark and it was getting cold again. We dispersed. Just time to play chicken at one of the railings on the canalside,
and then we were back in Attercliffe before we knew it!
Magical mystery tour all done and dusted. If you are interested in our route, and it isn’t one I’d be able to replicate, here is the strava map for your edification and merriment:
Check out the inadvertent dinky heart in the bottom left hand corner.
So to conclude, this is our alphabet gallery of gloriousness, all nabbed in S9 (pretty much)
One future challenge might be to do an ultra and see if they can all be done in alphabetical order. That would be a might challenge for someone else though, not for me. This wasn’t a favourite run by any means, though I did like seeing parts of the city I’ve never espied before, it was just hard being reminded constantly of my running ineptitude as faster runners sprinted ahead. On the other hand, at least I didn’t entirely miss out, and I have a new appreciation of Attercliffe. The redevelopment that is already underway is impressive, maybe it will yet be a new sporting centre as it aspires to be …
It is home to one of the highest concentrations of sporting facilities in the UK with the Olympic Legacy Park, incorporating iceSheffield and the English Institute of Sport – Sheffield, located in the area
according to wikipedia, which, as we have already established, means it must be so.
So that’s good.
Easy as ABC.. Now we know.
So who’s up for the ultra alphabetical order alphabet run? Answers on a postcard please. Bet it’s been done somewhere.