Saturday 16 September 2017

Westmill parkrun

In Hertfordshire you will find the town of Ware, which is said to be one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in the whole of Europe. It has a population of around 19,000 people and lies on the banks of the River Lea. The river has historically always been key to the town's prosperity and it was used to transport the town's largest export, beer to London.

westmill farm

To the north-west of the town centre is Westmill Farm. From what I can see, the farm covers an area of about 110 acres and is used for much more than just farming. There is a restaurant and function rooms which are used for weddings, a contemporary arts centre, model car track and shop, a children's indoor soft play centre and a camping and caravan site. But that's not all...

There is an outdoor activities centre, EDGE Outdoor Activities, which includes high ropes, axe/knife throwing, archery, quad biking, zip line, climbing wall, water sports, laser clay, nine hole golf course, footgolf and mountain boarding. There's also zorbing at the zorb strike centre and the bi-annual 'Carnage' 5k and 10k mud runs.

briefings etc...

We drove over to the venue in September 2017 to take part in the farm's latest addition - the free, 5k event - Westmill parkrun. When entering the venue there's a sequence of tracks to drive down in order to reach the EDGE outdoor activity centre car park - it's best to refer to the Westmill parkrun course page for the exact route to take. The centrepiece to the landscape here are the three lakes and the view across the them is stunning.

Back to the subject of travel, the venue is not easily reachable by public transport. There is a train station in Ware, however it's about 3.5km away and part of the route along the main road has no footpath. The same problem exists if taking the bus, so travelling by car seems to be the best option.

around the course (early part of the lap)

If you did happen to cycle, you'd be looking at securing your bike to a wooden post somewhere around the car park (I don't remember seeing any bike racks).

Once parked in the free car park there are toilet facilities in a wooden hut adjacent to the archery and knife throwing areas. The participants and volunteers all meet up next to the car park. During my visit there was a first-timers briefing and this was followed by a short walk back along the gravelly track that we had just driven along to reach the car park to reach the start.

around the course (view before the steep downhill / reaching the lakes)

With everyone assembled on the start line, the full briefing took place and with that done we were sent on our way around the farm. The course is just under two, undulating, anti-clockwise laps. Underfoot is mostly grass or dirt tracks, but has the occasional section across gravelly or tarmac paths. For shoe choice, I'd have to go with trail shoes every time - even in the summer.

For the record, I never would have found my way around the course without the arrows and directions from marshals. I'll do my best to give a little description. The start is on the gravelly road but soon after the start, the course leaves the road and heads gently uphill along the side of the golf course. There's a chicane at the top where the runners pass across to the other side of the road.

around the course (still around the lakes)

Running on quite smooth grass along the footgolf course, the route passes the Three Lakes Restaurant then fiddles through some trees and the runners pass through the zorb strike centre car park. The course then heads gently downhill along an alleyway of trees before passing through a gate into an open field.

The view across the countryside is fantastic here and the runners soon negotiate a steep downhill with a 90 degree right-hand-turn at the end - the extra grip given by trail shoes really comes in handy here, but be careful at the bottom!

almost at the end of the lap

Now at the lowest part of the course, it remains flat for a while as the runners run adjacent to the three lakes. Their exact history is a little hard to find, but from what I gather it seems that they were previously quarries that were subsequently left to form lakes. They are now known as the Rib Valley Fishing Lakes. There were a few anglers around but none on the parkrun route itself.

As the route passes the last of the lakes, the elevation starts to rise again and this takes the runners past the finish funnel before passing through the EDGE car park and adjacent to the road on another grass path before linking up with the loop again. At the end of the second lap, it's a simple case of heading straight into the finish funnel, collecting a position token and having it scanned.

end of lap

After the run, the options for tea/coffee breakfast are to pop into the cafe adjacent to the car park - however they only serve light refreshments, so if you are after something more substantial you can head to the Three Lakes Restaurant where they have a few more options. We had already made plans to head to Hackney Downs to visit the monthly vegan market for lunch, so we hit the road without sampling the on-site refreshment options.

I recorded my run using my Garmin and you can view the course data on Strava, here: Westmill parkrun GPS data. For the record, the official course map is not currently exactly the same as the route that was used when I visited. I also used the Relive app to create a fly-by of the course and you can view that here: Westmill parkrun course fly-by.

finish (note the finish area in the distance)

The results for event 9 were processed and I received my result later that morning. Seventy-one participants took part in the event, which is about the current average for this venue. So, it's a fab course with great views and enough undulations to make it tough enough for a good hard effort run - it won't be a personal best, but it will be enjoyable. Plus, in the winter the course is going to get pretty muddy so it'll be a great place to come to play in the mud!

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