Saturday 21 December 2013

Wimpole Estate parkrun

With the forecast for heavy rain and wind I could easily have played it safe and visited a flat, tarmac course fairly close to home. However, I felt in need of something a little more challenging, so I came up with the idea of driving up to Cambridgeshire to see what Wimpole Estate parkrun had to offer.

arrival selfie

With a 66.3 mile journey ahead of me, I decided to leave home before 7am (and accidentally filled up the car with the really expensive petrol). I nipped across the Dartford crossing and headed around the M25 until reaching the M11, where I turned off and headed in the direction of Cambridge. I turned off of the M11 at junction 12 and headed a short way A603 until I found the turn off for Wimpole Estate.

wimpole hall

The centrepiece of the estate is Wimpole Hall, which is the largest country house in Cambridgeshire and dates back to 1640. The grounds cover a whopping 3,000 acres and are owned by the National Trust. There is a formal grand avenue which stretches out for two-and-half-miles from the south face of the house. The rest of the grounds contain a grade 1 listed park, farmland, formal gardens and a chain of lakes. Other features are a church, a folly (built to resemble a gothic tower), a farm, a stable block, two restaurants, a cafe, and a shop.

run briefing

Car parking is available onsite and costs £2 (of free if you are a member of the National Trust). Driving really is the only way to get here for many as it is right in the middle of the countryside. The closest train station I can see on the map looks to be at Shepreth, but it looks like a bit of a trek to me - maybe not so bad if you're looking to incorporate the parkrun into a longer run or if you bring your bike and cycle the rest of the way. Anyone arriving on a bicycle can use one of the bike racks in the main car park. The runners and volunteers meet just next to the stable block, which also houses the toilets, and is right next to the car park.

the path that the first kilometre is run on (runners run towards the camera btw)

The parkrun starts in front of Wimpole Hall and is run over one single lap of the grounds. Although the start is on a tarmac path, the majority of the run takes place on grass and is very much a cross country style run. When it rains it gets pretty muddy, so the advice is to wear trail shoes and that's exactly what I did. An important point to note is that as the run is on 'historically and ecologically sensitive' parkland, running spikes must not be used - please respect this as not doing so could jeapordise the future of the event - and you do not want to risk losing this one because it is a cracker!

first grass/mud section (with the incline in the background)

The first kilometre goes along the tarmac path that runs past the front of the Hall and continues to the west. You will encounter a couple of cattle grids along this path and marshals will have the adjacent gates open on each occasion to allow you to pass safely. At the end of this road, the course turns right onto the grass (or mud as it was on the day I visited). Shortly after the turn there is an out-and-back section which takes you along the line of a fence until you reach a gate which allows you to pass through to the next field.

the out-and-back (run out on the right path and back along the left path)

Once the out and back has been completed, you have to tackle the incline. I think I can even get away with calling this a hill! The steepest part isn't very long, but in total you'll climb about 30 vertical metres over a 300-400 metre stretch. You'll pass the 2 kilometre mark just before the top of the hill, but you'll probably be too focused on getting to the top to care about checking your time here.

part way up the incline looking back along the path

At the top you have a great view to the right and you are soon on your way back down the other side of the hill. Almost the whole of the next kilometre is spent running through an avenue of trees which takes you along a long gentle downhill stretch which at one point has ridges that are like waves to run over - such fun! At the bottom, you reach a lake - this is the three kilometre point, so if you're running for time you can take a glance at your watch to see how things are going. If you glance across the lake you can see the folly which I mentioned earlier.

the folly (right at the back), highland cows, bridge with step, and the slippery mud

The next 500 metres are pancake flat and will see you running adjacent to the lakes and then turning right to head in the general direction of the Hall (and finish). There are a few more twists and turns and gentle ups and downs to come, plus you'll probably encounter some of the animals - The Highland Cows were out in one field that I ran through. After this there is a bridge to cross - it was slippery and muddy on both sides and you have to step up onto it and down off of it as you pass.

just some sheep

The next field had a herd of sheep wandering across the course at the 4km marker and I only wish they had been there when I returned afterwards to take some photos. You soon reach the boundary of the house and its formal gardens and you can see the flowers and some greenhouses if you look closely. You continue running along the west side of the Hall (this part seems to hold the most water - my feet got wet here) and then rejoin the main path and run back towards to start. When reaching the start point, you are directed onto the grass for the final sprint (if you have any energy left, I didn't). 139 runners ran at the event I attended. I almost forgot to mention the head wind. It seemed to be present at all times apart from the long downhill section - there were times were it was so strong that I was barely moving forward!

lots of encouragement at the last corner

Note: If you use an app on your mobile phone to track your run, you may find it has trouble uploading the file after the run as the venue is in the middle of the countryside and does not boast very good mobile coverage. It took about twenty minutes for my phone to find enough signal to upload the data.

the finish

Post run, the barcode scannerers were back at the main meeting point near the stable block. Once scanned you have a choice of going straight home or joining the team for a post-run drink in the cafe. I headed straight back onto the course to take some photos and by the time I returned everyone had finished and all the kit had been packed away. I toyed with the idea of going to the cafe but I had just been caught in a downpour whilst taking photos and really wanted to get back on the road home.

the 'sorry about the mud' sign made me smile

It's a very nice place to come for a run on a Saturday morning and even in the miserable conditions it still managed to look wonderful. Sadly I arrived a few weeks too late to see the autumnal colours, which must have been awesome - still I am glad that I got up early and made the effort to visit. It was fab.

Update: Please note there may have been some course alterations since my visit. There is also a completely different winter course, so bear those points in mind if visiting.

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