Tomorrow will be the fifth Saturday in a row without a Parkrun, thanks to the quarantine and lockdown rules in place. It’s entirely appropriate to not be having events at which hundreds of people gather in close proximity to sweat and breathe all over each other, but it doesn’t mean I’m not missing my Saturday morning runs, especially the opportunity to go visit new places and run around them. So, I decided to write about all the different Parkrun events I’ve been to, perhaps to give others some inspiration for places to visit when we all start up again.
If I wanted to, I could do a ranking of them, but I don’t think that would be fair to anybody. All the Parkruns I’ve done have only happened because a group of volunteers have chosen to put on a regular event in their local community and all have been well-organised with friendly and enthusiastic volunteers. Yes, some of the courses might have better scenery around them than others, or they might have a course I prefer, but to rank them based on that seems rude to the volunteers for it’s not really something they have any control over. So, I’m listing them in the order I did them.
Unsurprisingly, my first Parkrun was the one that happens in the park at the end of my street. (More surprising is that I ever did one at all, which you can read all about by clicking here) I’ve run here over eighty times, and even done five different courses (the original route, the original route in reverse, the “new” route, the backup “orange” route and this year’s new flooded path-avoidance routes).
The course: A lapped course, all on pavement, but each lap is different and regular attenders will happily argue about what each lap consists of (if you’re visiting, make sure you’re there for the new runners briefing). A varied course that’s slightly hilly for the first lap around the Castle, then out and back along the river before coming back for two more loops up the hill and around the Castle. Great scenery and only a couple of pinch points make it an enjoyable run when it’s on the main course, but I really don’t enjoy the alternate route that’s used when there’s an event in the lower park. The squeeze along the path by the wall, with runners on different laps trying to get through and make it to the gates, can feel cramped and disorienting.
I can’t really judge this objectively, because for over a year this was Parkrun to me, and it’s more than just a run to me, it’s a place I get to see a lot of friends on Saturday mornings. That said, it’s pretty easily accessible (tips: if you drive here, park at Leisure World, it’s walkable from either station, and if you’re on a bus, getting off at North Station Road and walking along the river can be quicker than going through town), it’s popular but not overwhelmingly busy (usually 3–400 people), has a course that’s challenging but not ridiculously hard, and is in a great location — you get to run round a castle three times! — so ticks a lot of the “what makes a good Parkrun” boxes.
Redditch is where I grew up, and when I first looked to see where the local Parkrun was, I assumed it would be at Morton Stanley Park as that had been the big local park when I grew up. Luckily, the local organisers found a better location at Arrow Valley park. I’ve run this four times, including once in reverse (which I understand they do once a month)
The course: Two anti-clockwise laps of Arrow Valley lake, with an additional start/finish section. Mostly flat, with one incline that’s not too long or steep (for me, it’s very odd that the Parkruns in Colchester have a lot more hills than in Redditch as most of the times I lived in the latter it was on a hill). Half of it is right next to the lake, the rest a little bit away, but still through nice parkland. Mostly on pavement, but some of the start/finish section is on grass and can get a bit muddy in bad weather.
I’ve never been that lucky with weather around here, but it’s still a nice run even when it’s a bit grey and damp. Like Colchester, it’s busy but not overwhelmingly so, and it’s easily accessible. The course is quite easy and it’s very nice to run alongside the lake, and probably even nicer if you can get there on a day when the sun comes out.
My first seafront Parkrun, which I did on a week there was no Colchester one and decided to start checking out some of the other local runs.
The course: An out and back route. Starts at the bandstand and does a little loop around the small park there before dropping down an access road onto the seafront. You then follow the seafront path as far as it goes, do a little dogleg loop at the end, and then come all the way back, retracing the same route (including going up the slope you ran down at the start) before ending up back at the bandstand.
I’ve only done this one once, but keep intending to go back as it was one of my favourite seafront runs (and it’s pretty close!) A nice run when the weather’s good and gets a good turnout but isn’t too busy. Almost completely flat and was the first Parkrun I broke the 35-minute barrier at, so has good memories for me. One curious bit about this run (and also Felixstowe) is that the ferry to the Hoek van Holland leaves at 9am on Saturdays, which means you can see it making its way through the estuary and out to sea as you run, especially on the way back.
After a week in the Lakes, it made perfect sense to go and do a Parkrun on the Saturday before the drive home, didn’t it?
The course: When I did it, it was an out-and-back route along the old railway path, starting from the old railway station at the back of the leisure centre. It was a very simple route being almost all uphill on the way out, all downhill on the way back (except for a short stretch over a wooden boardwalk) with the turnaround point being the one where you literally couldn’t run any further as the path was closed for a collapsed bridge at that point. A steady incline, rather than sharp hills, and some really nice views of the river and surrounding mountains make it a really nice run…except they’ve now had to move it. For good reason, though, as repairs are taking place to the bridges that were destroyed or damaged by flooding and when it returns there are plans for permanent marking of the Parkrun course plus a 10K route as well. Until then, the Keswick Parkrun is laps of Fitz Park in the town, but that is a nice park in a nice town.
It turns out that when you’ve been walking up and down mountains all week, your legs aren’t that happy about having a run and so my time at Keswick is one of my slowest. I had worried about the long slope when I decided to do it, but it wasn’t too much a problem — the total elevation of the course is relatively high, but it doesn’t feel like much spread out over 2.5km. This was, however, the run where I got overtaken by an elderly gentleman on the return section as we both shuffled downhill, which I didn’t think much of until I saw the results page afterwards and saw his age group was 90–94, which could be demoralising, but also gives me hope that I might still be running Parkruns when I get to his age.
Hopefully the path will open up again soon, not just for the Parkrun, but because the walk along there and back is a good one and worth checking out if you’re in the area.
Back to the seaside, and while I was in Brighton for Lib Dem conference I decided to skip the Saturday morning session on the conference floor for a nice run instead.
The course: Two laps of the promenade next to Hove Lawns, the ends are marked by cones and marshals, rather than any natural features or landmarks. There’s not really much to say about it other than that, it’s a very simple route.
It’s an interesting one, this. A completely flat course, and one where I got my fastest ever Parkrun time, but I found it a bit bland. It’s very popular (and obviously gets a lot of tourists) but in the end you’re just running a couple of laps on concrete, and it’s not the most interesting part of Brighton seafront to be doing it on. It was nice to do as I was there, but would have felt a bit dull if I’d made a trip just for that, I think.
For the months after I did Hove, my main running focus was on marathon training (did I mention I ran the London Marathon lastyear…?) so when I ran on Saturdays, I was generally doing Colchester Castle Parkrun as part of longer runs and not thinking much of doing others. However, when a new Parkrun opened very close to me (there’s only about a mile or so between the start at Highwoods and the start at Castle Park) I had to try it.
The course: A single lap around the country park, starting by the Chanterelle car park, and run on a miz of trails, paths, and grass. It starts by dropping down a path to a little valley and along there for a little while before turning left and up a grass slope, then into an undulating route on paths and trails through the woods, before turning round and heading back, dropping back down into the valley section for a long downhill section. Sounds great, until you realise you’re at a low level and the finish is up near the start. Yes, that means you’ve got to get yourself over the long grass slope of Triple H (Highwoods Heartbreak Hill) and then drop down and up again before the end. This is definitely not a flat course.
There’s also a winter route that does a lot of the same route, just not in the same order, and replaces Triple H with a run back up to the start point. It’s still just as hilly, not quite as muddy, especially in avoiding the quagmire that the section from the bottom of Triple H to the end of the course had become around New Year.
I’ve done Highwoods a good few times now, and it’s a tough but enjoyable run. It’s like Castle Park in that it’s close and I get to see a lot of my friends there, but a very different kind of running which I suspect I need to do a few more times to get the hang of and work out how to pace myself around properly. If you’re visiting it, make sure to use the Tesco car park, not the one at Chanterelle (it’s small, and Parkrunners can easily overwhelm the regular users of the park if they do) and remember that on both routes there are always more hills to come right up until you cross the finish line.
This was the start of my long run of Parkrun tourism last summer. Having done the Marathon and not needing to focus on training, and with Colchester Parkrun being either on the alternate route or cancelled for events in the park, I decided it was time to go and visit a few others locally while the weather was good, starting with the other Parkrun in Colchester Borough.
The course: Three laps and a start-finish section on grass and trails through the woods at Cudmore Grove country park. It looks quite confusing on the map, but is pretty easy to work out while you’re there and running it as the marshals and signage are good. Start on the grass, then through some trees, before you come out and run along the waterfront for a little before going back into another clump of trees and then circling around to complete a slightly boomerang-shaped lap. Repeat two more times then head for the finish. Some slight changes to the route happen because of winter mud, but nothing too severe.
Another really nice coastal run, with the trees and grassy sections making it feel very different from other seafront ones. Not usually very busy, but has some great views out over the sea and again for me it’s somewhere I can see friends and people I know. Because it’s short laps and narrow at points, there will be points when you get lapped quite closely by faster runners, but there aren’t so many that it’s a big problem. The rest of Mersea Island is well worth a visit, or if it’s a nice day then lazing around at Cudmore Grove can be fun too.
One of the good things about living in North Essex is being so close to the sea, which means having a lot of seafront Parkruns easily accessible. Having already done Harwich, it was time to tackle Tendring’s other Parkrun.
The course: Three laps on the seafront pavement, but making use of both the upper and lower promenade. And if you noticed the words upper and lower there, you might have realised the other thing that makes this different for a seafront Parkrun — it has hills. It starts on the upper promenade, right down at the far end. The lap starts with a short downhill section, then does a u-turn onto the lower promenade and you head towards the pier past beach huts and cafes. Just before the pier, you head up a narrow (and somewhat steep) path to the upper prom, then turn around at the top of that and descend slowly back to the start. Repeat that twice more and then there’s a final stretch on the grass to take you to the finish line.
It’s a nice run, and lapping around the two parts of the promenade mean you get an interesting range of scenery around you as you’re running, including a decent amount of spectators cheering you on. The only downside for me is that slope, which is a killer and had me cursing all the way up it on all three laps, especially when being lapped on it. A great run for a sunny day, though, and easy to get to and find.
There were events on in both parts of Castle Park, so no Colchester Parkrun that week, which led to a whole group of us from Running Colchester deciding to visit Maldon, and I’m glad we did.
The course: Two laps, mostly on pavement, with a couple of extras to bring it up to distance. The run starts in the prom ampitheatre by the little lake and does one lap of that before heading out on the main lap. This takes you out through some of Promenade Park, then on a stretch on a trail through some trees before getting back to the main promenade where you head out to the statue of Brythnoth before turning back for a section along the promenade back to the lake to complete the lap. After the second lap, you do a dog-leg turn to the upper path and then a short run to the finish.
Although I said I wasn’t go to rank them, Maldon is one of my favourites amongst the Parkruns I’ve done and one I was happy to go back and do again. The setting of it is fantastic, running alongside the estuary with it’s wildlife and boats, the town looming over it, and the run itself circling round an ampitheatre that makes you feel very much the star of the show. More than that, there are a whole bunch of seaside cafes and booths around there, where you can get a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich within minutes of finishing your run (other drinks and food are available). The only drawback is that you might have to persuade the gulls to leave you alone as you’re eating.
Another Lake District holiday, and this time we were staying in Braithwaite, which made Whinlatter the local Parkrun. So, off into the woods on a Saturday morning it was, fully aware of its reputation as one of the country’s toughest Parkruns. Getting there, we found lots of runners milling around the visitor centre, most of them having travelled from a distance away to get there.
The course: A route through the forest, on decent tracks, with one loop section at the end where the path’s narrower and more slippy (especially after bad weather, and it’s the Lakes, so expect some mud). To lull you into a false sense of security, it starts with a downhill section, but after that you’re about to discover what “hilly run” really means as it heads back up through the trees. The loop has a downhill stretch, but you’ll already have worked out that means an uphill section following it to get you back. There is a downhill stretch to the end, and plentiful permanent markers and marshals throughout the course to make sure you don’t get lost.
After a week of walking up and down a bunch of hills, what could be better than running up some more? A lot of things, it turns out. One of my slowest ever Parkrun times here, with my tiredness mixing with the toughest course I’ve ever run. That said, it’s a great Parkrun, the forest is a wonderful place to run through, and you’re rewarded with some great views out towards Skiddaw and Keswick as you head up. Going slow means you get the chance to notice them, and not just the run. One tip I would give, especially in the summer: take some form of bug repellent. I didn’t, and I was scratching itchy bite marks for the next week or so. There’s a decent cafe on site in the visitor centre, and if you need some motivation for a quick time, the fastest you finish, the shorter the queue is in there.
Back down in East Anglia, and time for another seafront Parkrun. This one’s only a couple of miles from the Harwich one, but the long Stour estuary means that the trip between isn’t as quick (unless you have a convenient boat handy).
The course: A single lap on the seafront, starting just south of the pier. You begin heading south and away from the pier, turn around near the end of the promenade and then run most of the length of it before turning round again and running the final stretch to the end. Except for a little bump around the pier, it’s completely flat and all on solid pavement, with a little bit of sand occasionally blowing across.
After the hills of Whinlatter (and the Nayland 10K the week after) the flatness of Felixstowe was a relief. Like its almost-neighbour in Harwich, there’s enough seafront path to fit in a full 5K without having to do laps, so you get to see a lot of Felixstowe as you go — and the same ferry heading for the Hook of Holland you see from Harwich. Friendly and enjoyable, though like any coastal run make sure you check the weather forecast before you head out! There’s a good, but generally busy, breakfast cafe on the pier (and several others around the seafront).
Off west for this one, which is Braintree’s Parkrun, but takes its name from the country park its situated in. Touch the bird!
The course: Two laps on multiple different terrains, including a few metres on sand as you cross a play area. A little twisty in places, but well-signed and marshalled so you shouldn’t get lost. The second lap is slightly different from the first — the first passes around the back of a small hill with a bird statue on top, the second goes up and over it with a sign near the top imploring you to touch the bird (and you will). Apart from that it’s pretty flat, but the hill can be a bit of a shock to the system.
Managed to get lost on the way here (if you pay slightly more attention to the map than me or actually use your GPS, this will not be a problem, it’s not hard to find) so only made it just a couple of minutes before the start. One warning: there are only a couple of toilets open before 9am, and there will be a queue for them. This is quite a popular run, bringing in people from Braintree and around, but the course is spacious enough so you don’t feel cramped.
Back in the Midlands for a weekend, but wanting to keep up the tourist streak and go somewhere new, I headed down to Evesham. If you’re visiting here, note that you do have to drive through most of the town and down a back lane to the river to get to the start.
The course: Two flat riverside laps on a mix of grass and path, and I’m told they reverse the direction of the run regularly. In both directions you start with a section on the grass before joining the main path heading towards the town where you go under a couple of bridges before turning around and heading back, finishing the lap with another stretch on grass before repeating the same lap. Easy to follow the path, but there’s a couple of narrow points over bridges where runners can be going in both directions.
I live in the driest part of the country, so I often forget that Parkruns elsewhere are more likely to be rained upon than ones around here. This was a case in point, with the time before the start seeing most runners huddling under the trees, and then pushing round as fast as they could before the rain got worse (which it definitely did on the way back from there). Didn’t affect the course too much, though, which was damp but solid underfoot and still very scenic along the river. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Midlands.
Something about travelling on the A120 and places with Great in their name gets me very lost. Got completely confused going through Dunmow looking for the right place, until I stopped to look at the map and discovered I was travelling south and not north. With that little problem sorted, I soon found the run in a nice park on the edge of the village.
The course: Two laps, mostly on grass but with a short stretch on a tarmac path. The first lap includes a loop of a field which you skip the second time around, but if you’re slow like me watch out for faster runners coming back over the narrow bridge when you reach it. Well-signposted and marshalled so you should be able to find your way around easily enough but watch out for uneven ground at a few points.
Ever had the nightmare of getting lost at a Parkrun? Well, that almost happened to me here. There’s a but where you enter a wooded section next to the point where runners are exiting it which feels simple enough except I then exited it at a completely different point which left me utterly bewildered for a few moments, until I carried on following the signs which then took me back into the wooded bit after a loop of a field and back out at the entrance I’d originally seen. Apart from that, this was a great summer run through grass and trees, and Great Dunmow’s a lovely little village with a great sandwich shop for getting food after the run is over.
This is regularly the busiest Parkrun in Essex and one of the top ten in the country — the day I was there had over 700 runners and that was about average. It is the only one in Chelmsford itself and right in the centre, so you can either drive there and park in the city centre, or take a short walk from the train station and join the crowds heading for the start.
The course: An out-and-back mostly flat route that takes you through a number of linked parks. It starts with a loop on the grass before taking a path out under the railway viaduct and main road before a hammerhead loop takes you over some grassy sections before following the same path back to the start and looping on a path around the field you started on before crossing the finish line. As ever, it looks a bit complex on the map, but the marshals keep you on course.
The busiest Parkrun I’ve been at, it can feel a bit overwhelming and cramped at the start, but the field gets strung out quite quickly and the running’s quite comfortable along the path, with one just one narrow bridge as a bit of a pinch point for the fastest and slowest runners. Does take a while to get through the finish and pick up your token — there’s a long double funnel after the line — but it’s a nice run and the long route means you get a bunch of different scenery rather than loops of the same paths.
South Woodham Ferrers
A town in it’s own right, this is the other Parkrun in the Chelmsford council area, and is very different from its larger neighbour. It’s much quieter and takes you along the River Crouch and the marshlands around it with no main roads or railway mainlines in sight. One tip — don’t leave your cash in the car, as there’s the Phoebe’s Pantry van on site right there when you finish the run.
The course: An out-and-back run that mixes a riverside path, farm tracks and paths through the Marsh Farm country park (though there are some changes between summer and winter, so listen out at the pre-race briefing). Slightly uneven and up and down including a pretty steep ascent to the riverside path before the final straight but no really challenging hills.
This was a really nice for a hot summer Saturday morning. The riverside location helped keep it relatively cool, and the scenery is fantastic to run along, including getting to see the sun burning off some of the early morning haze before the start. It is a bit of a walk from the Marsh Farm adventure park to the start, so give yourself a few minutes to get there and make sure you look out for the signs that take you there. Nice to hang around after and enjoy watching the river too.
A few miles up the river from South Woodham Ferrers, but now we’re back into Maldon district, which must have one of the best population-to-Parkrun ratios in the country. It does even better for quality as like Maldon, this is a really nice run along the waterside.
The course: Two laps, on a mix of grass and pavement. A grassy stretch at the start leads you up a little zig zag slope to the riverside path, which you then follow all the way around past the houseboats and the marina before heading onto a grassy stretch that inclines up through a wooded section before looping back to eventually rejoin the riverside path for a while, before taking a turn and dropping back down past a play area to the start. Repeat and then finish.
I have a simple challenge to myself on two-lap Parkruns: don’t get lapped. So, anyone seeing me at the end of the first lap here would have noticed me getting very fast as I became conscious of the lead runner coming up behind me and crossing the finish line just as I went past it to start my second lap. Anyway, this is another lovely run by the river and it’s really nice to be running past the houseboats and the marina early in the morning. Definitely worth the journey to get there.
Another year, another Lib Dem conference, and another chance to do a bit of long-distance tourism. Unlike Brighton, though, this one wasn’t by the seaside, instead taking place in a park in Boscombe, quite a bit away from the centre of Bournemouth itself.
The course: My first Parkrun to happen near a Premier League football ground, the briefings all happen at the athletic track just south of the stadium, so there’s the opportunity to warm up on a proper track if you want. The course is one and a half laps of a field, followed by two larger laps that take you around the park on a mix of grass and pavement and through a few undulations before you reach the end. As ever with uneven laps, it’s a bit hard to piece together from the course map, but makes sense from the briefing and with the marshals pointing out the right way to go.
I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed that they hadn’t found a way to organise a Parkrun along the seafront under the cliffs as that would be a nice dramatic backdrop to a run, and seaside runs are always nice. As it is, Bournemouth is a nice run around a park with some great facilities (a cafe, changing rooms and showers are things many Parkruns would kill for) and the football stadium is something else to cross off the list of things I’ve run past.
Deciding it was time to cross a few of the Suffolk Parkruns off my list because they were now closer than the Essex ones I hadn’t yet done, I headed up to near Sudbury on a grey morning.
The course: A couple of laps around the playing fields behind the school, mostly on grass but with one small paved section. The start and finish are in different locations, and while the route’s not easy to work out from the map, it’s all pretty logical when you’re running it and the marshals are guiding you around. Grass does mean muddy sections, especially on the link path between the two fields.
When I was at school, running laps of the school playing fields in the damp was the sort of PE lesson I dreaded, and now I’m doing that sort of thing by choice. A nice friendly event, and great facilities at the nearby leisure centre for after the run.
Further out into the wilds of Suffolk, Clare is probably one of the smallest villages to host a Parkrun, but it has a great location for it. This was also my twentieth different Parkrun location, which means I’m now an official Parkrun tourist with my own cow cowl.
The course: Three laps of Clare Castle Country Park, across a number of surfaces, and plenty of muddy stretches after rain. Well laid out and marshalled, so no worries about getting lost, and you get to see a lot of different scenery, including going past the castle three times, which sits on a hill overlooking the park.
This is a really nice setting for a run, even if the one section of it started muddy and had become a bit of a quagmire by the third time we were going out and back along it. You go from running by the castle to running on a nice path through trees, to following a river (and occasionally avoiding a swan that’s decided to occupy the path) and then back round it all again. There’s a great cafe on site, and either before or after your run, you should take the opportunity to walk up to the remains of the castle and take in the views from the top of the hill, it’s only a few minutes walk.
This one’s just a quick jaunt up the A12, and then a almost as long journey through the outskirts of Ipswich trying to get to the park itself. And the Ipswich Parkrun I did may not be the same Ipswich parkrun you’ve done, or will do…
The course: This is where it gets tricky. Like many other events, Ipswich Parkrun has a winter route to avoid impassable mud. Unlike most others, their winter course is in an entirely different park. So, I did the route in Christchurch Park in the town centre, not the regular one in Chantry Park. The Christchurch route is two laps of the park, starting with an uphill from by the lake, then across and down through the twisty arboretum. The first lap takes you by one side of the lake, the second the other as you head towards the finish line.
This was quite a tough run — hills aren’t fun at the best of times, and especially not right from the start — but a good one and Christchurch Park is a very nice space with lots to see around you, but plenty of space to run without feeling cramped in by everyone else there. Be warned that there’s a bit of an uphill walk to find an open set of toilets before the race, but you’re right in the hear of the town if you’re looking for somewhere to go for breakfast after the run. I’ll try to go back there at some point to do it in Chantry Park, just to compare the two.
This was the first Parkrun where I saw the effects of Coronavirus, with the run director informing us that “high five corner” was suspended for that week for health reasons. Kesgrave’s just to the east of Ipswich, so was pretty easy to get to, and was my “nearest event not done yet” (what Parkrun tourists referr to as their NENDY).
The course: Two laps of a football pitch, then a long out and back along grass that brings you back to and then past the football pitch for a short route through the woods before coming out to finish back on the main field. Pretty fast and flat — I did my best time for over a year here.
A run that turned out to be a lot more fun than I thought it would be from the description. It’s a really nice course, and the grassy sections were even so I wasn’t worried about tripping or slipping, while the woods at the end are an interesting change from the rest. Bit of a queue for the toilets at the start, but not too busy and they have drinks and snacks available at the end in exchange for donations, so all very welcoming and friendly.
And there we are. There was one more Parkrun for me after that, at Colchester Castle, but attendance was already down as people began to quarantine even before they were officially cancelled. When things start up again, I’m sure i’ll be back out to boost my visitor numbers, but first on the list will be going back to Castle Park and Highwoods to see everyone again and to discover just how lucky we are to be able to have these opportunities to run, now they’ve been taken away from us for a while.
Until then, running will remain a solo thing, practised with the appropriate amount of physical distancing and in the sort of places that are now eerily quiet and away from people. For the next few weeks or months, you’ll find me doing car park runs, rather than Parkruns…