Sunday 31 July 2016

Gadebridge parkrun

Gadebridge is a district of Hemel Hempstead which was developed from land that once formed part of the grounds of Gadebridge House. This house was built in the early 1800s for Sir Astley Paston Cooper, a surgeon, and after being passed through the family for a few generations eventually became the Gadebridge Park School.

The school remained in the house before being forced to move by the Commission for New Towns in 1963. The house was demolished and the new building on the land was initially used by Kodak as a marketing education centre. That building was demolished in 1995 and the land is now used for housing.

gadebridge park [photos: 7t]

The New Town of Hemel Hempstead is home to Gadebridge Park, which at 32 hectares is the largest park in town. The park is made up of two main areas which are separated by Leighton Buzzard Road; the two sides are linked by a short tunnel that runs underneath the aforementioned road.

In 1963 a Roman Villa was uncovered in the north-west corner of the park. I would have liked to have had a look but from what I have read, the remains have been re-interred so I didn't wander over to that particular corner of the park.

pre-run [photos: 7t]

Instead I focussed my attention on the central parts of the park which is where Gadebridge parkrun takes place. The event had its inaugural run on 2 May 2015 and averages around 100 runners per week (97.1 at time of writing).

I drove to Gadebridge from Dartford via the M25/M1 route which took me through the centre of Hemel Hempstead and around the Magic Roundabout (6 mini-roundabouts placed around one large central roundabout and officially called the Plough Roundabout), which I had heard of but never actually experienced before. The funniest thing was that my phone's sat-nav app lost the plot and got stuck in an eternal loop of 'exit the roundabout / at the roundabout / exit the roundabout....' without actually telling me where to go!

the opening section [photos: 7t]

There is a large, free of charge, car park in the park which can be accessed at the junction of Leighton Buzzard Road and Gadebridge Lane. This is only a few minutes walk from the start-finish area which you'll find towards the south-east corner of the park.

For visitors arriving by train, the nearest station is Hemel Hempstead and this is approx 2.5km away from the park - I'd walk/jog the rest of the way, but it looks like there are bus services that would help with the connecting journey if required. I didn't spot any cycle racks in the park (there are some on the adjacent High Street), but there are various fences and railings that will serve as a anchor for securing one.

bridge and tunnel [photos: 7t]

A few metres from the start-finish area is a toilet block - the official Gadebridge parkrun page mentions these but also says that they cannot guarantee they will be open pre-run. Fortunately they were open when I visited. With all that done, it was time for the briefing and then onto the start of the run.

Firstly it's worth noting that the start and finish points on the official course map are not in the correct places. The run starts and finishes in the same place and not at different places as shown on the map. Please see my GPS data on Strava for those spots and the rest of the course data.

west side 1 [photos: 7t]

The course is made up of two anti-clockwise laps with a short tail which links the loop to the start finish area. Underfoot is a combination of 1.6km tarmac paths and 3.4km on grass. When it's bone dry your standard road shoes will get you around, but during the wetter months you'll be looking at trail shoes. In fact the western half of the park is used for cross-country races and we all know what a mud bath they can be!

This is not the place to go if you are looking for a fast, flat course. I'd describe the profile as being undulating (some people might even go as far as saying hilly). To give you a quick overview of the course. After the start straight, the lap involves a three-quarter lap of a grass field in the eastern half of the park.

west side 2 [photos: 7t]

The route transfers to tarmac and crosses the River Gade and then goes through the underpass (where lanes of cones separate the runners from other park users) and into the western half. In the western half of the park it's just a straightforward anti-clockwise loop starting with an elevation rise of approximately 27 metres to reach the highest point of the course.

Underfoot the grass is a little longer here so it feels a little slower underfoot and there are small outcrops of trees scattered all around. All the hard work now pays off as the course reaches its southernmost tip and the long downhill with a great view across the Gade Valley towards St Mary's Church whose 200 feet high spire, topped by a gilded weather vane, dominates the skyline.

back on the east side [photos: 7t]

The route then works its way along parallel to Leighton Buzzard Road until it reaches the underpass which the runners head back through. Back in the eastern half the runners head back across the River Gade and straight along the tarmac path where a left hand turn marks the start of the second lap. At the end of the second lap the runners turn right and head towards the finish.

Barcode scanning took place right next to the finish funnel and my results text message arrived less than an hour later. 108 runners took part on the day I visited [event 66 results] including the local MP who I had a quick chat with during my cool-down.

end [photos: 7t]

For anyone planning to stay in the park for a while longer, there is a walled garden, the SANDS (Stillbirth And Neonatal Death Society) 'Forget me Not' memorial garden for babies, a children's playground and a skate park. For a small fee there are also crazy golf, giant chess/draughts board, petanque (boules), and croquet facilities.

Post-run the parkrun team move onto 'Elbows Off The Table' for a coffee and chat. Sadly this was another one of those days where I had to get back on the road home so didn't have time to join them. I left with great memories of my run here, and headed back in the direction of the Magic Roundabout where the sat-nav went into meltdown again!

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