Saturday 28 September 2013

Great Lines parkrun

The Great Lines Heritage Park is a recent development and unites Fort Amherst and the Chatham Lines with the Field of Fire in a single park boundary. It covers 70 hectares and the Chatham Lines part refers to the escarpment ridge between Chatham and Gillingham, which in the past had lent itself very well to defending the historic dockyard in Chatham.

The main feature of the park is the Chatham Naval Memorial, which features an obelisk and is in honour of the 18,613 Royal Navy sailors that were killed during the first and second world wars but have no grave. If you venture over towards the west of the park you'll soon find Fort Amherst, which is Britain's oldest Napoleonic fortress. All around the local area you'll see very strong links to the armed forces.

Back in the 1980's, a huge 38 hectare section of the area was under threat from Government plans to sell it for housing development, but local residents fought back and won their case in Parliament. I've also read on the internet that some local residents are not happy with the way the area has been developed, which has apparently resulted in the removal of much of the native flora that supported wildlife in order to create the trimmed open grass spaces.

Although I briefly toyed with the idea of cycling (it is do-able from Dartford), in the end I managed to persuade the ladies to join me so we drove. Car parking is fine on Marlborough Road but is capped at two hours. Other side streets are residents only parking, so if Marlborough Road is full you'll have to use one of the pay-and-display car parks in Medway Park or Gillingham town centre. 

I didn't spot any cycle racks in the park, so had I cycled I would have secured my bike to either a tree around the start area or used one of the cycle racks over at Medway Park Sports Centre, which is just across the road from the park and also houses the closest toilets and changing area - they are open before the run starts and are clearly marked as available for public use.

The start/finish area of Great Lines parkrun is at the north-east corner of the park and if you've parked at the north end of Marlborough Road you'll be right next to it. The start itself is slightly unusual in that you start running in the opposite direction to what feels like the natural way to go. However the course has been well though out and it all works perfectly!

As I ran at the inaugural event, we had a special treat in the form of the mayoress, who started the run for us. Unfortunately the klaxon she had been given didn't work properly and just let out a rather feeble 'pfffff' sound much to the amusement of the assembled crowd of volunteers and one hundred and forty four runners. Themselves a mixture of parkrun tourists (puts hand up) and locals having their first taste of this new thing called parkrun.

As for the course, you start by running away from the main part of the park on the path before heading onto the grass to complete a lap of the football pitches. The grass is a little uneven in places and on the far side there is a short sharp berm to run up and then back down (it is also possible to stick to the flat ground).

Once you have completed the lap of the football pitches you'll be directed to turn right back onto the path (made from granite resin according to the official course page) where you'll head in a dead straight line through the centre of the park. Here you'll have the neatly trimmed grass on either side of the path and you'll notice that there is a gradual incline that seems to come and go. Looking straight ahead and might think you are going to run off of the edge of the world! 

However before you get that far the course turns right and the surface underfoot changes to a looser gravel. You'll also notice that you've left the trimmed grass behind and you are now flanked by long grasses and wild flowers.

The thing you cannot miss is the huge memorial that you are running towards - It really is an impressive feature. The path continues as you work your way around the memorial. There are a couple of sharp left hand corners at this end of the course. The first one is downhill (this is as you truly do reach the end of the world) and still on gravel - you'll need to slow right down otherwise you risk ending up loosing your footing.

The memorial towers over you as you make your way towards the next tight corner which is still on gravel but this time is uphill - it's not as tricky as the first but worth taking care as you turn. From this end of the course you have a panoramic view over Chatham and from this point you can just see a slither of the River Medway.

Continue uphill before turning right and re-joining the main central path, the Field of Fire is now on your right - this area would have provided no cover for any enemies wishing to attack the dockyard. After a few hundred metres, the trimmed grass returns and you encounter two-way parkrun traffic - just stick to the right hand side and everything will work out fine.

From here you have a nice long straight, which is slightly down hill back towards the start/finish. It's a two lap course so you have to do the circuit a second time before unleashing your sprint finish - to go early and use gravity to assist or hold back until the very end is the dilemma many runners will face! For the record I went early.

A few other bits - Buggy runners will be fine here, just take care on the tight downhill gravely corner. At the entrance to the park there is a sign that says that dogs must be kept on a lead. I saw quite a few dog walkers respecting this, but there were also others that were not.

Yet again parkrun tourism leads me to a place that I might never have visited, and during my brief time researching the venue I have learned things that I would never have known. 

Apart from great lines, this venue has a great monument, great views, and a great core team lead by event director Tony. Even at the inaugural event I could sense that it won't take too long to build a great community of (park)runners and volunteers.

Related Links:
Great Lines parkrun (freedom run) video

Great Lines parkrun Relive Course Video

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