Saturday, 16 April 2016

Lullingstone parkrun

Lullingstone is a village in Kent which is thought to have been occupied since the Iron Age. There is evidence of two farmsteads dating back to 20AD and 65AD with the name 'Lulling's Tun' (Lulling's Farm) which is how it is still pronounced and the origin of its name present-day name.

welcome

In 1939 a Roman Villa was discovered; this is thought to have been built in 100AD and contains some of the finest excavated remains of a Roman villa in Britain. During World War Two Lullingstone was the location for one of the country's decoy airfield sites, known as a Q-Site. I hear there are some bomb craters along the course, but I didn't manage to spot them.

around the visitor centre

Probably the most famous landmark in the village, Lullingstone Castle features a Gatehouse and a Manor House dating back to 1497. It is home to the Hart Dyke family who are descendants of King Edward III of England. Henry VIII was a frequent visitor to the manor house. The castle was once home to the Lullingstone Silk Farm which produced the silk used in Queen Elizabeth II's coronation gown and wedding dress. The estate grounds were once a medieval deer park and covered a much larger area than they do today, but in 1937 the majority of the grounds were sold off. That land now forms Lullingstone Country Park.

first-timer briefing

The country park covers 460 acres within the North Downs Area of Natural Beauty and is internationally important for its collection of ancient trees some of which are over 500 years old. However, it's not all woodland; the park also features a golf course and large areas of meadowland which are home to orchids, wildflowers and butterflies. The River Darent flows along the eastern border of the park and feeds into the ponds and lake. Here you may spot Kingfisher, Herons, Dragonflies and even the odd grass snake.

a couple of spots near the beginning of the run

All of the above leads me to the whole point of this post, which is of course Lullingstone parkrun. This venue joined the parkrun family on 11 April 2015 and usually attracts around 30-40 runners each week. Since that first event it has been my 'NENYD' (Nearest Event Not Yet Done) and you may wonder why I haven't visited an event which is only 7 miles from home until now. The answer is that I had been saving it for a very special occasion.

gabe's hill

So on 16 April 2016 I headed over to the 54th Lullingstone parkrun on a drizzly morning to take part in my 100th different parkrun event. I had always planned to cycle to this venue, but as the weather was not great I reluctantly decided to use the car. Upon arrival I parked in the official visitor centre car park and paid the £2.50 parking charge. Had I used my bike I would have been able to secure it to the bike racks in the car park. There is also a small, children's playground next to the car park.

almost at the top of the hill, looking back towards kat's kissing gate

It's also worth noting that Lullingstone is quite close to Brands Hatch racing circuit and if they have an event taking place it can lead to extra traffic on the surrounding roads. They have a race calendar, which I checked beforehand, and it just so happened that the British GT and F3 Championships were taking place when I visited. Fortunately there were no traffic issues when I visited.

in the woods

Anyone travelling to the venue by national rail train will need to head for Eynsford Station and travel the rest of the way on foot. The surrounding area is fairly undulating so be prepared for an uphill walk along the main road. Once at the venue, there is a visitor centre which opens at 9am - the really good news is that there is a special arrangement in place which means the toilets are open from 8am. An interesting fact is that the toilets feature the some of the smallest sinks I have ever seen. After the run, the visitor centre is where everyone heads for refreshments.

heading back down

The run itself takes place over two laps which are almost entirely within the country park and is of the off-road nature featuring a mixture of grass, dirt paths and woodland paths. Some parts of the route feature a slight camber. With all that in mind, trail shoes are the sensible choice of footwear. I had a bit of an issue with my proper trail shoes a week earlier at Bevendean Down parkrun (which has a very similar hill profile to this venue) where they caused some bleeding on my heel, so I wore my light trail shoes instead. They got me around but full trail would have been better. It's not the ideal course for buggy running, but if you are determined you will get around.

revitt's bend

During the run briefing, the run director Jason called me to stand at the front and congratulated me on my achievement of running my 100th different parkrun event. After returning to the pack, there was a quick 3,2,1 and then we were off. The lap starts off with a fairly tough, winding, uphill first kilometre which takes in 'Gabe's Hill' and eventually leads to Beechen Wood where if you take a glance to your left there are stunning views across back towards the start area and beyond.

the end of ankle breakers alley

Once inside the wood, the runners continue to climb and the paths are a little muddier and bumpier. After passing 'Nessi's Nook' the unrelenting uphill gives way and as the runners exit the woods via 'Kat's Kissing Gate' they are rewarded with the most amazing views across the golf course and down across the valley as they fly downhill back in the other direction along 'Gabe's Hill'.

finish

The next section is an out and back where at the end the runners do a u-turn at 'Revitt's Bend' and may just catch a glimpse of the stunning red-bricked gatehouse to Lullingstone Castle. Incidentally the end of this section is run on land that belongs to the Hart Dyke family, but they have kindly granted permission for the parkrun to use it. The runners then pass back through 'Ankle Breakers Alley' and around an outcrop of trees to begin the second lap. At the end of lap 2, the runners follow the start tail back to what is now the finish. Most of this last sections is also part of the Darent Valley 10k course which I ran in 2014, 2015 and again the day after visiting Lullingstone parkrun in 2016.

looking down towards the visitor centre from the finish line

With my barcode and finish token scanned, I headed back out onto the course to find one of the first runners I met when I moved to Dartford - Ian Pullen [he also has a blog]. He was tail running so once I had found him, I had the pleasure of chatting to him as I took advantage of enjoying the lap at a much more relaxing pace. With antics of Stoke Gifford Parish Council being all over the news this week, it gave us a nice opportunity to discuss the whole Little Stoke parkrun situation.

me and ian

As always I recorded my run on Strava, so if you'd like to check the hill profile etc you can find my GPS data here. Once all of the day's 43 runners were safely back home and the kit packed away the event team headed down to the visitor centre and I spent some time in the cafe talking to event director Giles Wolfe where I found out all about how Lullingstone parkrun came about and heard about how supportive the staff at the visitor centre have been towards the parkrun. All great things to hear.

screenshot from the parkrun.com most events table [100 events]

So in summary this is a lovely venue with a tough course, but the hard work you put in to climb the hill is certainly worth it when you take in the stunning views from the top. With this being a fairly small event you can really feel how close-knit the community is here. I was made to feel so welcome and I'm very grateful to everyone for that. I'm already making plans to come back, probably in the summer and I'll definitely cycle over next time.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...