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 event which is open to all abilities including those who wish to walk - 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 have visited the venue four times, but my first visit was on 12 August 2017 with my friend Richey to take part in event number 5. The park has a free-of-charge car park which can easily accommodate around 50-or-so cars. Cyclists can use 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 parkrun 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. For choice of shoe, given the nature of the course I would go with trail shoes at all times (which I have done on all four of my visits). However, if visiting when the ground is dry, road shoes would do the job.

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. During my first visit, 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 participants 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 parkrunners up a short, sharp slope and around to the western side of the playground (and as of 2024, the BMX track) 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. The section in the woods is really enjoyable, but is over quite quickly and the course emerges back into the western part of the recreation ground. After progressing 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 participants 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 parkrunners 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 parkrunners 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. As of 2024, the attendance figures seem to hover around the 70 mark, with just the occasional week where they pass the 100 mark. 

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. The course as of 2024 is ever-so-slightly different as the course now has to go around the edge of the new BMX track, but it is a very minor change. If you would like to see the subtle difference, here is a link to my May 2024 GPS data on Strava and its accompanying Relive video on YouTube.


Overall, once you have been around the course it all makes sense and not as complicated as it might appear upon first glance. The combination of longish grass, the undulations and the cambered pathways made it feel harder than it looks on paper. Any, it is a lovely little venue to visit. We've always been made to feel very welcome, so a big thank you goes to the wonderful team of volunteers.

Course data:

Related blog posts:

London Borough of Bromley parkrun write-ups:

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