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If you go down to the woods today ..... you can do a parkrun

PUBLISHED: 09:55 13 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:55 13 November 2019

The home of Banstead Woods parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The home of Banstead Woods parkrun. 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 Banstead Woods and compiles a top five woodland-based parkruns

Runners prepare for the start of the 651st Banstead Woods parkrun, in Surrey. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners prepare for the start of the 651st Banstead Woods parkrun, in Surrey. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Banstead Woods, in Surrey, on the border with Greater London, was not quite on my route from Bury St Edmunds to Worthing, but it didn't require much of a detour.

Heading for Woodside Road, the home of Worthing FC, for another soggy afternoon of football reporting, I opted to leave home early and make a slight detour along the A23 to Banstead Woods, to get my first taste of the Banstead Woods parkrun, the third oldest parkrun in the world.

First held on June 16, 2007, following in the wake of the Bushy and Wimbledon Common parkruns, you wouldn't guess that Banstead Woods had such a distinguished past.

Runners approach the finsh to the Banstead Woods parkrun last Saturday morning. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners approach the finsh to the Banstead Woods parkrun last Saturday morning. Picture: CARL MARSTON

- Top seven list of 'L' parkruns, with an 'L' wish-list

It remains relatively low-key, even after the last 12 years, which is part of its charm - numbers usually hover around the 200-mark.

Just as charming are the woods themselves, and the presence of Narnia here, there and everywhere.

Dogs as well as their owners relish the two-lap woodland course at the Banstead Woods parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONDogs as well as their owners relish the two-lap woodland course at the Banstead Woods parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Cue for my top five woodland-based parkruns.

1 Banstead Woods (Surrey)

As always, I arrived a week too late for a mini-milestone. The 650th Banstead Woods parkrun took place seven days before my arrival.

The distinctive wooden wardrobe on the Narnia Trail, in Banstead Woods, next to the finsh of the parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe distinctive wooden wardrobe on the Narnia Trail, in Banstead Woods, next to the finsh of the parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Some woodland parkruns are relatively flat, if uneven, but that's unlikely to be the case in the area of the North Downs.

Actually, the two-lap parkrun course was not as challenging as I expected, despite all the mud and a few puddles. There is just one stiff incline, which you encounter just once at the start of lap two (OK, so it isn't quite two full laps).

I struggled around, nursing a sore hip, one out of a field of 188.

Reason: Narnia Trail. There's a wooden wardrobe near the finish funnel, complete with hanging coats, while figures of 'Aslan the Lion,' and 'Lucy Pevensey by the lamppost,' are situated nearby. parkrun and C.S. Lewis in one morning, a heady mixture.

Runners and walkers assemble before the start of the Brandon Country Park parkrun, back in the summer of 2017. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners and walkers assemble before the start of the Brandon Country Park parkrun, back in the summer of 2017. Picture: CARL MARSTON

2 Brandon Country Park (Suffolk)

Flatter and drier than Banstead Woods, and with an impressive Gothic Mausoleum en route, plus a lake, Brandon Country Park is well worth a visit, even though you won't find a wardrobe carved out of deadwood.

I first visited back in the early summer of 2017, and was so enraptured that I returned a couple of times over the next couple of months (it's also only a 15-mile drive for me, which helps).

The sign warning runners of a steep descent ahead, through the trees during the Rushmere parkrun. Picture: RUSHMERE PARKRUN FACEBOOK PAGEThe sign warning runners of a steep descent ahead, through the trees during the Rushmere parkrun. Picture: RUSHMERE PARKRUN FACEBOOK PAGE

I know the forest quite well, having taken part in countless cross country races over past decades, and also a half-marathon, which amounted to a figure-of-eight course along woodland trails.

You may also want to watch:

- Top seven list of 'H' parkruns, with an 'H' wish-list

Action from the Hockley Woods parkrun, in South-East Essex. Picture: HOCKLEY WOODS PARKRUN FACEBOOK PAGEAction from the Hockley Woods parkrun, in South-East Essex. Picture: HOCKLEY WOODS PARKRUN FACEBOOK PAGE

Scots Pine, Larch, Yews, and a Redwood Trail. There's something for everyone.

Brandon Country Park was also the setting for my first 'defeat,' at the hands of a dog.

There have been many more canines to finish ahead of me in parkruns, up and down the country, in the intervening years.

The field assembles before the start of the weekly Linford Wood parkrun, in Milton Keynes.The field assembles before the start of the weekly Linford Wood parkrun, in Milton Keynes.

Reason: my second-ever parkrun visited

3 Rushmere (Bedfordshire)

The official route description describes this parkrun, close to Leighton Buzzard, as a 'beautiful two-lap course.'

I can't argue with that.

Staged in Rushmere Country Park, I found it very tough, for some reason. Perhaps it was my lack of fitness? More likely, the incredibly steep descent, down to a wooden bridge, followed by the inevitable ascent, were to blame.

No matter, it gets my vote, especially with an Oak Wood Scuplture Trail on site, and the 'Tree Tops Cafe' to boot.

Reason: the 'steep descent' signpost.

4 Hockley Woods (Essex)

Oak, sweet chestnut, birch, hornbeam, beech …. this is the perfect place to tick off your trees, in a corner of south-east Essex.

The parkrun, another two-lapper, is undulating and certainly not easy, but a great challenge.

You go through Hawkwell Wood, Beeches Wood, Great Bull Wood … while the delightfully named Winks Wood and Parson's Snipe are nearby.

Reason: the sort of place where 'you can't see the wood for the trees,' especially when its foggy.

5 Linford Wood (Buckinghamshire)

When I initially read the route preamble - 'a windy, single lap clockwise course' - I assumed that I would be buffeted by a stiff breeze, in this part of Milton Keynes, but instead it was referring to 'windy' as in 'curvy.'

And it was 'windy,' through Linford Wood, with a wobbly path as a finale.

Reason: a little gem among the roundabouts of Milton Kenyes

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