Danson Park is located in-between Welling and Bexleyheath and is in the London borough of Bexley, South East London. This is the home of Bexley parkrun although many locals just refer to it as Danson. The 78 hectare park was designed and laid out between 1761 and 1763. As of September 2022 I have visited this venue three times and this blog has been updated to reflect the latest information as of that last visit.
Danson House is a Georgian mansion which stands at the highest and most central point in the park. It was constructed c.1766. Throughout the 20th century the house was largely uninhabited and fell into a dangerous state of disrepair. It was acquired by English Heritage in 1995 and painstakingly restored over the next 10 years. In 2005 it was reopened by HM Queen Elizabeth II. A visitor book was made especially for the event and she was the first person to sign it.
|danson park / bexley parkrun
The mansion overlooks the 7.8 hectare Lake, which covers 10% of the total area of the park. Apart from being extremely picturesque, it is also used by the Danson Park Watersports Centre for their activities and is home to various water based birds including geese and swans.
Around the park you will also find features including tennis courts, a couple of bowls greens, a trim trail, a bog garden nature reserve, various formal gardens, a few cafes and restaurants, and a really good playground. It hosts the Danson Festival every summer which consists of a funfair, various arts and crafts stalls, and musical performances by local artists and is usually headlined by an x-factor-type pop star. It also hosts a large fireworks display in November.
|briefings / looking across the water at the mansion
The car park and bicycle racks are located at the top of the park, quite close to Danson House. However, most cycling parkrunners would probably want to secure them a bit closer to the parkrun start/finish - I spotted a fence close by so I imagine that would do the job.
Parking is £3 at weekends and on bank holidays from April until September/October but free at all other times. As of our most recent visit in September 2022, payment was made to a car park attendant stationed on the internal road leading up to the car park (I believe I saw her holding a portable card reader for payment). We arrived at just after 8am and the attendant was not yet on duty, so it appears that if you arrive early enough you may be able to enter the car park without having to pay the fee. Alternatively there are side roads nearby that are free of restrictions.
For those travelling by public transport, there are buses (the 96, 89, 422, B1 or 132) that stop close the park. If you're using a mainline train, you'll be heading for either Welling or Bexleyheath stations - Neither is that close to the park so leave plenty of walking/jogging/waiting for a bus time.
The parkrun start/finish area is directly opposite Danson House, but on the southern side of the lake. So if you have parked in the car park make sure you leave time to walk down the slope and around to the other side of the lake. If you need to visit the toilets beforehand, there are two toilet blocks in the park - some at the entrance to the playground not far from the main car park (you have to go through the small gate as if you were entering the playground - these should be open from 8.30am. There are also some adjacent to Danson House. They are clearly marked on the park maps which you'll find dotted around the park.
It is a two lap course with a couple of fairly gentle inclines and is run in an anti-clockwise direction. It is mostly on tarmac paths, but there are sections on a woodland path, gravel and grass. In the winter, trail shoes would be a good choice as there are places that get muddy. You will also find the course is marked with permanent course markers on the paths (but please note that when the leaves fall in the autumn or if it snows, you may not be able to see them).
|the first half of the lap
Thinking back to my first visit here in 2013. Just before the start of the run, the event director, Mel, spotted that I wasn't a regular and came over to say hello which was incredibly kind of him. I got to know Mel a little during the years that followed as he regularly visited my home venue of Dartford and then set up Lesnes Abbey Woods junior parkrun. Sadly he passed away a few years later. He was such a well known and respected man and I know he is very much missed by many other parkrunners who were fortunate enough to meet or know him.
The parkrun meeting point, start and finish are adjacent to the lake, and once the briefings have taken place the participants head east with the lake on their left. Upon reaching the end of the lake, the course takes the natural path around the eastern border of the lake. This path crosses the entry road for vehicles entering the watersports centre, so stay aware here. The course then rises slightly as runners progress along this path, it's pretty gentle and doesn't last too long. At the end of this path there is another left-hand turn into the tree-lined 'Diana Avenue' which leads towards the house. It then offers up a quick left-right which leads onto the path that runs right past the front of Danson House.
|woo hoo hill
At this point, participants have a lovely view back across the lake. While glancing back down towards the lake it's worth noting the magnificent 200 year old Oak Tree which stands alone in the middle of the grass between the house and lake - It is the Bexley Charter Oak and is this very tree that features on the borough's coat of arms. The fence and logs have been placed around the tree to protect its delicate root structure.
From here the path drops ever-so-slightly downhill, until reaching a private access road. Here there's a marshal and a right turn right to run on the gravel path up the steeper of the two inclines, this hill has been affectionately named 'Woo Hoo Hill' and you may even be lucky enough to get a 'woo hoo' from the marshal at the corner. There's a slightly narrow point as the course passes around a wooden gate just before reaching the top.
|bexley charter oak / woodland section
There is a double left hand turn at the top. Firstly turning onto the cycle lane and past the 'no entry' gate and then left through the second gap in the wooden fence (there was a marshal and another permanent parkrun arrow to show which one) which takes you into the woodland section. This entire section features a gentle downhill. Please note that towards the bottom there are a couple of steps to negotiate.
Once at the bottom, participants bare slightly left and travel diagonally across the grass aiming for a point between the tree and a bin known as Joe's Corner. Here the course rejoins the tarmac path and it is a case of simply following the path and passing through the gate until reaching the start/finish area. Lap two is identical with the finish funnel just off the main path as you return to the start/finish area.
|joe's corner and onto the finish
It's another great venue for parkrun and I really enjoyed the course. The only downside for me was the large number of dogs I encountered around the course. Some people are not bothered by them but I feel very uncomfortable running near them, and even more so when they are unleashed (which they all were). I can confirm that in 2022 the park was still very popular with dog walkers. Buggy runners would generally be ok here but I would make a special point to watch out for the steps during the downhill section in the woods.
Once through the finish line there is a line of volunteers scanning barcodes and once that is done the post-parkrun activities can begin. If you are looking for refreshments, there are, I believe, four options within the park. There is a kiosk at the boathouse and this is the main spot for parkrunners and volunteers. There is also another kiosk up at the playground which sells hot drinks, sweets and not much else. Then there are the nicer options - Fleur de The which is located in Danson House or there's a pub called Danson Stables which is located within the Grade II Listed 18th century stable block.
|danson house, the stables and the visitor book
I recorded the course with my Garmin and uploaded the file to Strava, where you can view the GPS data in greater detail. I also uploaded that GPS data to the Relive app which created a fly-by video and this can be viewed on my YouTube channel. It's such a brilliant event. The team noticed that we weren't regulars and just like Mel had done nine years earlier, they welcomed us and made us feel very much at home, it's very warming to see that the ethos that he brought to the event is still going strong.
Our most-recent visit (September 2022) was mostly dictated by the death of Queen Elizabeth II just two days earlier and we wanted to go somewhere that had a link to her. So after we'd spent some time in the playground with the kids we had a wander around the Old English Garden before popping into the mansion where the staff were kind enough to let me look at some of their beautiful rooms. I was also fortunate enough to see Queen Elizabeth II's signature in the visitor book, which of course made the morning especially poignant.