Sunday, 19 July 2015

Raphael parkrun

In the London Borough of Havering, just outside Romford town centre lies an affluent area called Gidea Park. It consists largely of houses and cottages built to showcase town planning in the style of a 'garden suburb'. Six of these houses are now grade 2 listed.

The area was formerly part of the Gidea Hall Estate of which the original 'Gidea Hall' dates back to 1250. It was improved several times over the next few centuries before falling into disrepair and finally demolished in 1720 when a new three-storey mansion was built on the site.

the main gates - ready for a spot of buggy running [photo:7t]

In 1897, the Gidea Hall Estate was purchased by Herbert Raphael who subsequently gave over 20 acres, including a lake, for use as a public park. A further 15 acres of land and an area of water named 'Spoon Pond' were purchased by the council and in 1904 Raphael Park opened to the public.

Herbert Raphael went on to develop the rest of the estate into the aforementioned Gidea Park (aka Romford Garden Suburb). The new Gidea Hall stood until 1930 when it too was demolished.

marshals and runners starting to gather at the bandstand [photo:7t]

Raphael Park [pronounced: rayfel] forms part of a 'green lung' which connects Romford in the south to Havering Atte Bower further north and consists of two distinct sections. The southern area is the more formal of the two and contains a lake known as 'Black's Canal'.

The northern section is more sports focused and is mostly comprised of a large, open, grassy plateau which is used for sports pitches, tennis courts and a playground. On 2 May 2015, Raphael Park became home to Raphael parkrun.

me, lime and lime-o-saurus selfie [photo:7t]

For any visitors travelling to the park by car, there is the option of parking on one of the adjacent side roads (we parked on Parkway) or in the Lodge Farm Park car park which is free on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays (at other times it is 20p for up to three hours - if that's not a bargain then I don't know what is!).

Anybody travelling by bicycle could secure their stead to one of the bike racks dotted around the park, but it's much easier to simply lock it to the railings within the bandstand which is located in the southern section of the park and is also used as the run HQ.

checking out the start area [photo:7t]

There are two sets of toilets in the park; unfortunately the ones that are close to run HQ are not open before the run and the second set, which are open before the run, are located right at the far end of the course. Plan accordingly!

When you enter the park, you'll more than likely pass through one of the grade 2 listed gates. We headed over to the run HQ and received a very warm welcome. The run briefing takes place at the bandstand and the runners are then lead over to the start and sent off on their 5 kilometre run.

raphael park [photo:7t]

With the exception of the finish, the entire course is made of smooth tarmac which makes this venue a very good choice for a spot of buggy running - which is exactly what me and my daughter Matilda did when we visited. Also we were not alone - there were three buggy runners out on the course in total. The course is almost entirely flat so should be good for anyone looking to put in a good effort.

The run starts off by heading south towards the southern tip of the park which is ever-so-gently downhill and ends with a sharp-ish right hand turn (where we collected hi-fives from the marshal on each occasion) onto the path adjacent to Black's Canal (the lake). The lake was created in the late 1700's by damming and redirecting a tributary stream.

Black's Canal (lake) [photo:7t]

The path runs directly along the bank of the pond so it makes sense to stay sensible on this stretch, especially on the first lap when it is congested. Matilda was very excited when she saw a rainbow in the water fountain as we passed by.

This path leads the runners past the bandstand where there is good support from the finish funnel crew as they await the finishers. It then heads along the northern end of Black's Canal where a right turn at the end sees the runners negotiating a short, sharp incline which weaves around until emerging in the northern half of the park.

black's canal [photo:7t]

With the large open playing fields to their left, the runners stick to the tarmac path until they reach the tennis courts. At this point a marshal (or arrow. or both) will be visible to direct the runners to the left.

At the far end of the tennis courts is an adjoining playground which must be circumnavigated before heading back along the opposite side of the courts.

the former spoon pond (now tennis courts and playground) [photo:7t]
Runners may notice that the tennis courts and playground are lower level than the paths - the reason for this is that they have been constructed within the area that was formerly 'Spoon Pond'. After the run check your GPS readings on a map and you'll see exactly how it got its name (or just have a look at mine - here).

The runners now head back towards the southern half of the park and once there they head on a slight incline which leads back around to the start area. With the first lap complete, it is now a case of simply following the same route on the second lap.

the playground - runners circumnavigate this twice during the run [photo:7t]

The third, and final, lap is somewhat shorter than the first two and very simply just cuts out the northern section of the park. At the top of the short, sharp incline the runners just turn right and head back along the final part of the original lap. 

The big difference along here is that on the third lap, the runners now peel off to the right and run a little loop that leads onto a finish stretch and ultimately into the finish funnel.

to finish! [photo:7t]

Barcode scanning takes place up in the bandstand and as far as the runner goes that's pretty much it.

There is of course the option of heading into the post-run social which takes place in Raphael's - it's more of a restaurant than a cafe and is very nice inside - they also give a 10% post-run discount upon presentation of a parkrun barcode. The results [event 12] were also processed here.

finish [photo:7t]

After spending some time in the cafe/restaurant chatting to some of the core team, we said our goodbyes and wandered around the park, which is lovely. In the end we ended up in the playground and were still there well into the afternoon. We left the park with great memories of our visit and would not hesitate in going back in the future.


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