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Ice cream, Arthur Daley, Michael Portillo and a long pier – the Chalkwell Beach parkrun

PUBLISHED: 11:25 10 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:25 10 March 2020

Runners and walkers congregate at the start-line for the second Chalkwell Beach parkrun, at Westcliff-on-Sea. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Runners and walkers congregate at the start-line for the second Chalkwell Beach parkrun, at Westcliff-on-Sea. Picture: CARL MARSTON

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Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. This week he heads to Chalkwell Beach parkrun at Westclif-on-Sea

A good sign: Chalkwell Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONA good sign: Chalkwell Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The parkrun bandwagon shows no signs of slowing down.

On the contrary, it appears to be gathering speed, if anything.

The last couple of weeks have been a case in point, with a record number of inaugural parkruns, worldwide, taking advantage of a rarity - a Saturday, February 29 - to be born. The figure was 17, with five of these in the UK.

That eclipsed the previous highest of 14 inaugural parkruns, held on April 28, 2018.

A colourful scene as runners near the finish of the Chalkwell Beach parkrun, along the promenade. Picture: CARL MARSTONA colourful scene as runners near the finish of the Chalkwell Beach parkrun, along the promenade. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Last Saturday morning, another four parkruns were established in the UK, boosting the grand total to 714 (a figure that is rising virtually every week).

I mention this because I visited one of these newbies, of the last fortnight, last Saturday morning when heading down to the north bank of the Thames Estuary, to take part in the second Chalkwell Beach parkrun in Westcliff-on-Sea, on the edge of Southend.

It's a stunner - a breeze beside the sea, a flat and uncomplicated out-and-back 5K on the promenade, to the world-famous Southend Pier, and back again.

After the inaugural event of seven days previously, when 259 runners and walkers toed the line by the seawall, next to a grassy section at the bottom of Chalkwell Avenue, just off Chalkwell Esplanade, I was one of 363 (an early attendance record) who headed off in an easterly direction on a bright last Saturday morning.

Runners approach the finish to last Saturday's Chalkwell Beach parkrun, along the promenade. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners approach the finish to last Saturday's Chalkwell Beach parkrun, along the promenade. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The pier, near the turnaround point, is always in sight, which I found quite comforting. No chance of getting lost, no mud to squelch through, no steep gradients to overcome, no sharp downhills to tighten the hamstrings, no football pitches to circumnavigate, no woodland trails to negotiate, no red cones to heed to, no arrows to follow, and no bogs, swamps, ditches or streams to wade through.

It made a pleasant change.

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Runners in full flow at the second staging of the Chalkwell Beach parkrun, at Westfliff-on-Sea. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners in full flow at the second staging of the Chalkwell Beach parkrun, at Westfliff-on-Sea. Picture: CARL MARSTON

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Not that I don't like mud, or hills, or the rain, it's just that once in a while it's a relief just to run on a firm, flat surface, with the sea to your right (and then to your left on the way back) and without a care in the world.

En route, you pass the Rossi Ice Cream Parlour, at No. 14 Western Esplanade.

I mention this, because I happened to be watching one of Michael Portillo's 'Great British Railway Journeys' programmes the other week - in between gruelling training schedules, obviously - when he was at Westcliff-on-Sea visiting this very establishment.

Onwards, past Thames Estuary Yacht Club, and then a casino, you reach the 180 degree turn just before you get to Southend Pier, close to the Cliff Lift.

Southend Pier, of course, is another familiar landmark with television viewers, not least the cafe at the end of the pier where Jamie Oliver and his mate Jimmy Doherty have hosted their 'Jamie & Jimmy's Friday Night Feast' (the cafe has not been a working cafe since the last big fire on the Pier in 2005, and is now just an occasional 'film set' for the series).

Furthermore, sometimes in need of some 1980s throwback TV, I have rolled back the years to watch the odd episode of 'Minder' recently which, in later series, has likeable but rather dodgy importer-exporter Arthur Daley embarking on the long walk along the pier with his nephew/minder, Ray, during the end credits.

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Fortunately, the parkrun course does not take in Southend Pier, which is probably just as well because, at 1.34 miles (2.16K), it is the world's longest pleasure pier.

Over the years, it seems to have had more fires than I've run parkruns (well, not quite), since the first wooden structure was opened in 1830, jutting out 600 feet into the Thames Estuary. It was extended and later replaced by an Iron pier in 1889, helping to bring in the holidaymakers by boat - the pier solved the problem of mudflats at low tide preventing boats from stopping at Southend.

Back on the prom, it's a simple task of covering the 2.5K back to the start-finish area of the parkrun where, true to form, I was overtaken by a speeding buggy.

With the addition of Chalkwell Beach, and nearby Wickford Memorial, which also had its inaugural event a fortnight ago, there are now 23 Essex parkruns, and that's not counting the eight in Greater London that used to be in the historic county of Essex.

Chalkwell Beach is well worth a visit - I can vouch for that - as of course are all the Essex events.

Back on the new parkrun theme, of the 17 events established on April 29, five were in the UK, six in the Netherlands and one each in Australia and Japan.

But it's difficult to beat Chalkwell Beach - time for an ice cream, and an episode of 'Minder.'

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