Saturday, 5 July 2014

Northala Fields parkrun

The earliest mention I can find of the name ‘Northala’ is from the Domesday book of 1086 when Northolt Manor was recorded as Northala. The site of the manor lies just to the north of the reasonably new Northolt and Greenford country park - Northala Fields makes up a small section of this park and lends its name to Northala Fields parkrun, which I visited in July 2014 for event number 3.

welcome to northolt and greenford countryside park

The country park is situated on the ground that was previously known as the Royal Borough of Kensington Playing Fields, and consists of 10 artificial ponds laid out in a geometric pattern - some are for fishing, one for boating, and some more for wildlife, children’s playgrounds, playing fields, wildflower meadows, marshland, a cafe, and the four striking mounds that line the border between the park and the A40 Western Avenue. The mounds and other ornamental parts of the park are considered to be the largest example of ‘land art’ in Europe and has won numerous design awards.

the view across northala fields from the highest mound

The park cost £5.5 million to construct and opened to the public in 2008. It was created at absolutely no cost to the taxpayer by using a unique method of funding. Cleverly, the funds and the material required to construct the four mounds were raised by allowing 1.5 million cubic metres of rubble from the demolition of the old Wembley Stadium to be deposited here. Using this method of disposing of the waste materials saved 160,000 lorry journeys of up to 200 miles to outlying tips. The mounds also provide a sound barrier from the constant rumble of traffic from the A40.

runners mingling pre-run

There are two free car parks onsite; the smaller of the two is just off of the A40 (you have to take a very strange route to reach the car park, especially if approaching from central London) and the second, larger, car park is just off Kensington Road. There are a couple of bicycle racks located near the cafe. Northolt is the closest tube station and is around a 800 metre walk to the park. If using national rail, the closest station looks like Greenford, but it is further away - an option would be to transfer to the tube at Greenford and alight at the aforementioned Northolt tube station, which is much closer.

getting into position at the start line

Once in the park, the area outside the San Remo cafe is the point where the runners and volunteers congregate pre-run. The toilets are located in the rear of this building (which is the part that faces the meeting area). From here you can admire the four mounds and take a moment to consider the sporting history that lies within them. After the pre run briefing, the runners move over to the start area. The course is flat with a few tiny changes in elevation and takes place on a combination of different hard surfaces, meaning road shoes are the way to go. There were no buggy runners when I ran here, but if there had been, they would have found the course most suitable.

a section in medlar fields

The run starts at 9am and the runners head off along a smooth tarmac path with the mounds on their left hand side. Upon reaching the last mound, a very friendly marshal directs the runners onto an uneven, stony path that takes runners on an anti-clockwise loop of the mounds (as I reached the road side I really noticed just how much of the A40 traffic noise they block out). Continuing along the path until it reaches tarmac again, the runners now head off deeper into the country park.

the gravelly path in rectory park

They pass the cafe and the ponds as they head ever-so-slightly downhill and then proceed along the fairly wide, tree-lined, tarmac path that runs in a straight line through the park. Further on, the path bends right and then left and the runners leave the Northala Fields and enter Medlar Fields. This section feels more like a traditional park, but it is over before you know it, and shortly after, the runners pass through some hedges and pop out in Rectory Park.

heading back towards the mounds

Rectory park is largely playing fields, but does have a few other facilities such as a skate park and playground. The runners continue their anti-clockwise route around the edge of this park. Much of the way the surface underfoot is a gravelly substance. This gravelly surface is interrupted when runners reach the very far end of the course, leave the park, and run along the roadside pavement for 600 metres. Back in the park, they continue the loop of Rectory Park.

on the other side of the mounds

Once the loop is complete, they head back through Medlar Fields and retrace their footsteps back along the wide, straight, tree-lined tarmac path, which towards the end is now ever-so-slightly uphill. Once they pass the ponds, they continue to run another loop around the mounds, but this time in a clockwise direction. The finish line, along with the very encouraging marshals, are right outside the cafe. Personal barcode and finishing token scanning takes place immediately adjacent to the finish line.

they think it's all over - it is now

After the run, there is the opportunity to take on the four peaks challenge. This involves running across all four mounds, summiting each one in turn (the third and largest mound has a spiral footpath all the way to the top - From here you can see the arch of the new Wembley Stadium, which I thought was quite befitting. I really wanted to give the challenge a go, but I decided that I couldn't take the risk of hurting my legs (especially my right calf, which groaned at me after the recent NDR30 race) 24 hours before the Bewl 15 mile race.

northala fields

It's another nice venue for a parkrun, and this is a super fast course. The encouragement from the marshals was brilliant and very well received, and everything seemed to go seamlessly.

Please note: The course has changed since my visit. It now does not go around the mounds and it features two laps around Rectory Park instead of just one.
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