Saturday, 19 November 2016

Homewood parkrun (Homewood Park)

Please note: Homewood parkrun is no longer based at Homewood Park - The venue has changed to Ottershaw Memorial Fields which is about 1 mile away from Homewood Park. An new blog covering the new venue will follow in due course.

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Just over a mile to the south west of Chertsey town centre, you will find the stunning, grade II* listed, Palladian style building that is Botleys Mansion. It was built in the 1760s on an elevated site where it is thought a 14th century manor house once stood. The architect, Kenton Couse, was also responsible for the remodelling of 10 Downing Street between 1776 and 1775.

homewood park

The estate was known as Botleys Park and its ownership passed through many hands over the years. By the 1930s, the mansion and grounds had been sold to either London or Surrey County Council (conflicting info exists) and become a central part of the 'The Botleys Park Colony for Mental Defectives', which covered 334 acres (135 hectares) and eventually became known as the Botleys Park Hospital.

The mansion is now owned by a company called Bijou and is used primarily as a venue for weddings. Most of the original grounds have been consumed by the adjacent St. Peter's Hospital and some office blocks. The remaining parkland now covers just 23 hectares and is a public space managed by Runnymede Borough Council called Homewood Park, which is where Homewood parkrun takes place.

run briefing / start

I wasn't feeling particularly touristy on the day I visited, but I dragged myself out of bed and soon found myself 'Homewood bound'. I visited the venue on a frosty November morning to take part in event number 6. I parked the car in the car park just off of Stonehill Road where parking is free for up to 3 hours, but you must obtain and display a ticket from the machine to cover your time there (just press the green button and it will dispense a ticket).

If you were to look on the Homewood parkrun webpage, you would see that the recommended car park is the St Peter's Hospital Woodland Car Park, which costs 80p per hour. However, I would imagine that the majority of people will use the closer, free option above. There seemed to be plenty of space to accommodate the day's 98 runners plus volunteers and still leave space for other park users.

first section of lap

The closest train station is Chertsey, which is right in the middle of the town centre (as mentioned above, just over a mile away from the park). I didn't spot any cycle racks in the park, but there are a few places where a bicycle could be secured.

Toilet facilities are available just next to the Stonehill Car Park, which is also right next to the parkrun meeting area. It's worth noting that the local council's webpage states that the toilets are open from April to September, however the parkrun event team hold the keys so they should be open for parkrunners all year round.

far end of the course

The grounds here are gently undulating and very scenic. They consist of areas of open, roughly mown grassland, a few small wooded patches and the odd outcrop of trees. The mansion stands proud at the highest point of the park and is an impressive sight from any angle. As I waited for the run briefing there was a friendly chatter in the air which made the event feel much more established than I would have expected for such a young event.

The run itself takes place over three, gently undulating, clockwise laps of the park (in fact, it's almost an out-and-back course). Underfoot you'll find a combination of stony, slightly gravelly paths, tarmac and grass. I imagine the preferred footwear will vary throughout the year as conditions change. I opted for my light trail shoes and these worked out just fine as there were only a few small patches of mud, but during the summer, I suspect road shoes will be the better option.

the way back

As for a little description of the lap, here goes - the runners start on a gravelly, bridle path and follow this as it weaves around and changes elevation on its way towards the far end of the park. I'll make a special note of a short, sharp incline early on which leads into a sheltered, wooden section (lots of leaves underfoot in autumn).

The path continues to weave along the northern border of the park until reaching the eastern tip where there is a small footbridge to cross which is followed by a very tight right-hand turn. The runners now run along a stretch of pavement which follows Hillswood Drive for around 200m. Another sharp right hand turn over a second footbridge returns the runners to the main body of the park.

the final section of the lap

The path here is gravelly to start with and it leads the runners through another small, twisty wooded section and underfoot changes to a narrow, heavily cambered tarmac path which leads back towards the start line and past the meeting point (expect lots of cheers here - thanks marshals!). A u-turn around a large tree followed by another short wooded section completes the lap.

At the end of the third lap, the runners continue past the u-turn point and head onto the grass where they have the opportunity to use up the last of their energy before entering the finish funnel, collecting a finish token and taking a well-earned breather. You can see my full GPS course data here: Strava - Homewood parkrun.

the finish

During my visit, barcode scanning took place in between the finish and the meeting area where I gave the scanner a choice of my UK wristband or my brand new Polish wristband to scan. After a few tries at scanning the deteriorating barcode on my UK band, the barcode scannerer promptly moved onto the Polish one which scanned straight away. Info on barcode options can be found here.

As it was cold and I didn't want to stand still for too long, I headed off around the park for a cool down and to take some photos, where I bumped into fellow parkrunner, twitterer and core team member Stephanie the Magpie, who, according to The parkrun Show, is not actually a real magpie (if this makes no sense, just go and listen to the entire back-catalogue of The parkrun Show). Also interesting was the cryptic teaser that I might want to revisit this venue again in early 2017...

... Update: A few weeks later an official announcement was published which solved the mystery and as of January 2017, Homewood parkrun will be based at a new venue. Please see the official Homewood parkrun news page for more information. I will of course visit the new venue, Ottershaw Memorial Fields, and write a new blog post (I'll add the link here once I have visited).

post-run

I was asked if I would like to join the team for some post-run refreshments at The Old School Cafe, but sadly, I had to decline as I was due back over in Dartford before midday. Now 'Homeward Bound' I reflected on a very pleasant morning at this fab new Surrey parkrun venue, which also marked the occasion of me re-completing the set of parkruns in Surrey. A huge thanks, as always, goes to the team of volunteers who made it all possible.


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