Sunday 23 October 2016

Canons Park parkrun

In the 13th century a vast estate occupied the land which is now the affluent residential London suburb of Canons Park. Its name came from the canons (or monks) of the Augustinian priory that occupied the site at the time. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the estate was sold into private hands.

A modest country house, 'Cannons', was built. When the estate was acquired by James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, in 1713 the house was enlarged, the formal gardens created, the grounds landscaped and impressive water features added. The 1st Duke was a patron of the arts and from 1717-1718 George Frideric Handel was the house composer and wrote some if his famous pieces of work here.

canons park [photos: 7t] 2016

The house and grounds at this stage were so beautiful that large crowds of visitors flocked on a daily basis to gaze upon their magnificence (apparently a one-way system had to be put in place to manage the crowds). However, the family's finances were in trouble due the South Sea Bubble, a financial crash in 1720. The 1st Duke passed away in 1744 and the estate passed to his son Henry, 2nd Duke of Chandos. There was very little in the way of liquid assets in his inheritance and in 1747 he held a 12-day demolition sale where the contents and the very structure of the house were sold leaving a ruin.

The next owner of the estate, William Hallett built the current house in around 1760 on the foundations of 'Cannons' and changed the name to the current spelling (just one 'n') 'Canons House'. Over the years, the estate changed hands a number of times during which time 'The Temple' folly was constructed - it once had a glass palm house on the south front but now just the stone folly remains. There was also a period where the estate was under the ownership of William Harvey du Cros (who, along with John Boyd Dunlop, founded the pneumatic tyre industry).

meeting point [photos: 7t] 2024

The gardens were redesigned and over time the estate began to be subdivided and sold off for residential developments. The house and the formal gardens eventually became part of the North London Collegiate School complex which remains to this day. Also, some of the original garden features still exist in and around the adjacent side streets such as the 'Seven Acre Lake' plus the Pond and 300 year old trees which line Canons Drive.

Around eighteen hectares (44 acres) of the original estate were purchased by the local council as demand for recreational facilities grew and 'Canons Park' opened. In the 1930s, the council laid out the George V Memorial Garden within the walls of the original houses' kitchen garden - it is said that Queen Mary (wife of George V) visited the gardens but they were closed, so she departed. The memorial garden is an immaculate, serene space and well worth a visit.

pre-parkrun and start [photos: 7t / dani / official photographer] 2016

The modern day park features a combination of various outcrops of trees and open grass areas and if you look closely, signs of the past like the tree-lined Whitchurch Avenue which ran from the house down to the church. There is also a fair-sized children's playground, tea/coffee hut, and a woodland walk through an area called The Spinney which linked the house to St. Lawrence Church, this was originally a medieval church, but the main body of the original building was rebuilt by the 1st Duke, but its original 13th century tower was retained.

So after that rather long introduction, we should really move on to the point of this blog. On 8 October 2016 the park became home to its very own free, weekly, timed 5 kilometre event called Canons Park parkrun, which is open to all abilities including those who wish to walk. We first visited the venue to take part in event number 3. We travelled to the venue by tube and alighted, unsurprisingly, at Canons Park tube station which is on the Jubilee line. There are no mainline stations within a reasonable walking distance of the park, however the 186 bus which stops outside the park, runs direct from Harrow and Wealdstone train station to the west or from Mill Hill train station to the east. The 79 and 340 buses both also stop outside the park.

the first part of the lap [photos: 7t] 2016

In January 2024 we drove to the venue for our second visit and parked on a side road to the west of the park. The streets here have yellow lines, with the parking restrictions only applying between 2pm and 3pm Monday to Friday. There's an entrance to the park at the north end of Howberry Road and there is an alleyway which passes over the train line and leads directly into the park further to the south. To the east of the park, Canons Drive has some free on-street parking bays. There are also some on-street parking bays on Donnefield Avenue that allow paid-for parking. This road is also the location of the Canons Park tube station car park, but again a fee applies.

The meeting point is in the central northern area of the park, right in front of the cream-coloured folly called 'the Temple'. The front of the folly is slightly covered and provides a nice spot to store jumpers and jackets during the event. Adjacent to this is a small brick building called the 'Bothy'. This building houses the one and only toilet in the park, but please note that the official course page advises that it is not always open (it was not open when we visited in 2024 and a sign on the door said that it is not currently open on weekends). Should a guaranteed toilet be required, there is a 24 hour McDonalds just to the north of the park, in Stanmore which should do the job. If travelling by tube, the TFL website advises that Canons Park station has toilet facilities, so to be on the safe side, use those before leaving the station. There are some bicycle racks next to the outdoor gym which is adjacent to the Bothy and the Temple.

Just before 9am the first timers' and main briefings take place at the Temple and the participants are then led a few metres onto the path near the Bothy to the start line. The start in 2016 was on grass, but on tarmac when we revisited in 2024.

the spinney [photos: 7t] 2016

The course itself is made up of three anti-clockwise laps of the park plus two separate short start/finish tails. The surface underfoot is a split between tarmac paths, a gravelly path through The Spinney and a little bit of grass. Road shoes should generally be fine for this course all year round, however I put on my trail shoes when we visited in 2024 as the park was extremely wet following a continued period of persistent rain. Those wishing to participate with a buggy will be fine here, as will wheelchair users providing the gravel and grass does not present a problem.

It is worth noting that the paths are not terribly wide so filtering through can be tricky at certain points around the course. The rule at this venue is to keep to the left and let others overtake on the right. Marshals can be found at a few key points around the park, plus there is also signage where necessary.

The parkrun starts at 9am and the lap follows the tarmac path running south past the basketball court, the climbing boulder and the playground and then turns left just before the Donnefield Road entrance. Participants then follow the meandering path, which then straightens until reaching the southern end of the park adjacent to Whitchurch Lane.

end of lap [photos: 7t] 2016

Here another left hand turn takes the parkrunners onto the gravelly path which weaves it's way past the church and through the wooded area called 'The Spinney' where evidence of a Roman tile kiln has been discovered. Just after entering this section, watch out for the low hanging branch, especially if you're tall. It was marked with a hi-vis vest when I visited and described as being an extra marshal (I love these quirky extras that some venues have). I hear that there is a lovely display of bluebells here in the spring. This part of the course features a long, very gentle incline until the path reaches the end of the wooded section and turns left to cut through the trees onto a short section of grass (our 2024 visit had a slight diversion at this point to avoid some very slippery mud on the corner).

This feeds the participants back onto the tarmac path which follows the wall of the George V Memorial Garden. At the end of this path, the parkrunners turn left to start their next lap. Once all three laps have been completed, they turn right and head towards and into the finish funnel. Barcode scanning takes place immediately after the finish line.

finish [photos: 7t / official photographer] 2016

On our first visit in 2016, 87 people participated. The results were online about an hour later. I recorded the route with my Garmin and the GPS course data can be found on Strava, here: Strava Canons Park parkrun #3. The Relive course fly-by video, made from that data, can be found on YouTube. Our second visit in January 2024 was at event number 314 where there were 141 participants. I should also note that the start and finish points were in ever-so-slightly different places to where they were in 2016, but the rest of the course was identical (diversion aside). The GPS data and Relive video from our 2024 visit can also be viewed online.

The post-parkrun social would usually take place at the Good Friends Cafe, but with no seating or indoor areas this is probably going to be less popular on the wet and cold days (note: the cafe is closed at present (Jan 2024), but there are plans for it to re-open in the spring of 2024). As of our January 2024 visit, a table with hot drinks was set up at the Temple. Should you require something more substantial, there is a cafe and a bakery within the parade of shops next to Canons Park tube station.

post parkrun [photos: 7t / dani] 2016

For me, event 3 turned out to be quite sociable as I bumped into quite a few familiar faces during the course of the morning. It was also my first face-to-face encounter with the elusive parkrun 500 club shirt (only 6 in existence at time of writing (October 2016)). It was also good to see a fair number of locals taking part who were run-walking or walking. In fact at our first visit here, 10% of the field finished in over 50 minutes. It shows that after only three weeks this event is already seen as inclusive to all abilities, which really is a great position to be in. No doubt this is down to plenty of hard work by parkrun and the local event team. To add a quick update, as of 2024, there are still a fairly decent number of walkers taking part in the event, which is a really great thing to see.

This parkrun has a great community and we chatted to quite a few of the locals, who made us feel like we were part of the family. A huge thanks goes to all the people at Canons Park parkrun, especially the incredible team of volunteers who put the event on.

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