Monday, 14 August 2017

Hoblingwell parkrun

In the London Borough of Bromley you will find an area called St. Paul's Cray just to the north of Orpington. It takes it's name from the 11th century church St. Paulinus Cray which is dedicated to an early Christian missionary, Paulinus. The Cray part comes from the river which flows along the eastern border of the village and lends its name to at least three other places, collectively known as 'The Crays' along its banks in the Cray Valley.

On the western side of St. Paul's Cray you will find a wooded area which contains a holy, or perhaps sacred or healing spring, more commonly referred to as a well. Legend has it that this well was home to some kind of elemental creature, perhaps a sprite, an elf or a goblin. In Old English, a creature of this kind was known as a 'hob', so the well became 'Hob's Well' or 'The Hobling Well' and over the years this has evolved into Hoblingwell.


Hoblingwell Woods still exist but smaller in size than in earlier times. Sometime after 1949 the eastern half was landscaped into an open grassed area and is now called Hoblingwell Woods Recreation Ground. It is marked with rugby and football pitches and also features a playground and a multi-use court. In the centre of the recreation ground is the Orpington Rugby Football Club clubhouse and car park.

In August 2009 a proposal was put forward to use the recreation ground as a temporary landfill site, but due to the local resident's objections this was rejected. It did however lead to the creation of the Friends of Hoblingwell - the group's main aims are to help combat the anti-social behaviour that is prevalent in the area and to bring the community back into the park and woods through various community events.

football / rugby fields (running photo: pinoy runner uk)

On 15 July 2017 Hoblingwell Recreation Ground became home to Hoblingwell parkrun which is a free, weekly, 5km running/walking event - perfect for bringing the community together for a spot of exercise every Saturday morning. The name has of course gone down well in the running community, where the irony of the 'hobling' part has not been missed.

I visited the venue on 12 August 2017 with my friend Richey to take part in event number 5. Upon arrival at the venue I parked in the free, on-site car park. If I had cycled I could have chained my bike to one of the small bicycle racks which are dotted around the edge of the car park. If travelling by train the closest station is St. Mary Cray which is just over a kilometre south of the venue. There are toilets located in the aforementioned rugby clubhouse.

rugby field / western section (running photo: pinoy runner uk)

Moving onto the run itself, it's a two-lapper but has an extra few bits on either side of the laps, which may seem a little convoluted at first glance, to help make up the full 5k distance. Underfoot the course is mostly grass but also features a small amount of tarmac and a short dirt trail path. The profile of the course is generally flat-ish but there are some gentle undulations thrown in. If the grass is dry then road shoes are fine here, however I have a suspicion that trail shoes could come in handy during the winter or if the grass is wet/slippery.

The start/finish area is located on the grass next to the car park and once the first-timer and main briefings have taken place the participants are sent on their way. The first section takes place over 1.5 anti-clockwise laps of the football field at the southern tip of the park. I was worried about getting this part wrong so was very pleased when I found myself running alongside Ralph, the event director, who was very encouraging throughout the run - thank you, Ralph.

inside the wooded area

The grass here was long and holding onto a lot of water and it didn't take long for my shoes to become soaked through (and I forgot to bring a change of socks). Just as the course reaches the first kilometre, the runners peel off and join the tarmac path which runs alongside the rugby pitches which are at a slightly lower elevation than the rest of the run.

Transferring back onto grass [link: video of this point by Pinoy Runner UK from the event I visited] the course soon reaches the beginning of the main 1 mile (1.6k) clockwise loop which is run twice. This firstly takes the runners up a short, sharp slope and around to the western side of the playground and clubhouse which is slightly wilder in appearance with long grasses and wildflowers. Following the flags, stanchions and cones along the grass, the course runs along the edge of Leesons Way until reaching the entrance to the woods.

back on the rugby pitches

Turning into the woods underfoot changes to tarmac for about 100 metres and a right-hand-turn takes the runners onto a gently meandering dirt trail path for another 200 metres. Sadly the section in the woods is over quite quickly and the runners emerge back into the western part of the recreation ground. After running along a cambered section along the northern border, the route drops back down to the rugby pitches where the course continues all the way to the north east corner of the park.

A brief section on the pavement adjacent to the park takes the runners southwards before turning back onto the grass and along the strip of grass between the rugby pitches. At the far end the 1 mile loop is complete. A second, identical loop is then run and when the runners return to this point they turn to the left and retrace their steps back towards the start/finish area - back along the tarmac path and then all the way back around the football pitch loop, but in the opposite direction.

more rugby fields

Once over the finish line, the runners take a finishing token and have it scanned along with their personal barcode. When everyone has finished, the participants and volunteers move over to the rugby clubhouse for some post-run refreshments and chat. When I visited, the results were processed and online shortly after the run. For the record there were 66 participants at event 5.

I recorded the GPS data using my Garmin and you can view the course in further detail on my Strava account, here - Hoblingwell parkrun #5. I have also used the Relive app to create a video of the course and you can watch that on YouTube, here - Relive: Hoblingwell parkrun. Overall, once you have run the course it all makes sense and not as complicated as it might appear upon first glance. The combination of longish grass and the undulations made it feel harder than it looks on paper.

Finally, a big thanks goes out to the wonderful team of volunteers.


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