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]

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 of the pneumatic tyre industry).

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

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.

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

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 Canons Park parkrun had its inaugural event and in doing so brought the weekly, free, 5km run to the area. We travelled to the park by tube and alighted, as you'd expect, at Canons Park tube station which is on the Jubilee line.

the spinney [photos: 7t]

Alternatively the 79. 186 and 340 busses all stop fairly close by. If we had driven to the park we could have parked on a side road near the park which mostly allow free, on-road parking on Saturdays - however some of the streets have meters in operation. There is also a car park (£2) next to the tube station.

We arrived nice and early and bumped into the event director before heading over to the meeting point which is just outside the small brick building the 'Bothy' near the north-west corner of the park. This building houses the one and only toilet in the park and the 'Good Friends Cafe' which is really a tea/coffee hut (ie there is no seating or indoor space to use). Just before 9am the run briefing takes place at this point and the runners are then lead a few metres onto the grass to the start line.

end of lap [photos: 7t]

The course itself is made up of three anti-clockwise laps of the park plus a short start/finish tail. Underfoot is split between tarmac paths, a gravelly path through The Spinney and a little bit of grass. Road shoes should be fine for this course all year round and buggy runners will be fine here. It is worth noting that the paths are not terribly wide so filtering through can be tricky at certain points around the course.

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. Runners continue to follow the path as it meanders until they reach the southern end of the park adjacent to Whitchurch Lane.

finish [photos: 7t / official photographer]

Here another left hand turn leads the runners 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). This part of the course features a long, very gradual incline until the runners reach the end of the wooded section and turn left to cut through the trees onto a short section of grass.

This leads the runners back onto the tarmac path which follows the wall of the George V Memorial Garden. At the end of this path, the runners turn left to start their next lap. Once all three laps have been completed, they turn right and head back onto the grass and into the finish funnel. Barcode scanning took place over near the Bothy, 87 people participated when I visited and the results were online about an hour later. I recorded my run and the GPS course data can be found on Strava, here: Strava Canons Park parkrun #3

post run [photos: 7t / dani]

At time of writing, the post-run social takes 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. Anyway, it looks like the event has got off to a great start and will go from strength to strength over the next few months. For me, the day 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).

It was also good to see a fair number of locals taking part who were run-walking or walking. In fact 10% of the field finished in over 50 minutes (I don't think I've ever seen that hugh a percentage). 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.

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