Sunday, 19 November 2017

Luton Wardown parkrun

Luton is a town in the ceremonial county of Bedfordshire with a population of around 216,000 people. Believed to have been founded by the Anglo-Saxons during the 6th century, over the years it has been recorded as Lointone and Lintone, before moving on to be called Leueton until finally settling with its current name.

For many years the town was famous for hat making, and it has also been home to the Vauxhall Motors car company since 1905. In the centre of town you'll find the University of Bedfordshire campus, and to the east is Luton International Airport. Just to the north of the town centre is 'the jewel in the crown' of Luton's seven district parks - Wardown Park.

wardown park

The land that now forms the park was formerly part of the grounds of a country residence called Bramington Shott. The estate changed hands a few times before the current house was built (1877) and around 1893, the estate was renamed Wardown. When the house and 11 acres of grounds went up for sale in 1903, it did not sell.

However, in 1904, Luton Council purchased the estate and after some extensive landscaping it opened to the public as Wardown Park. The house suffered from a period of neglect followed by short term use as a military convalescent hospital and council offices / tea room. However in 1931 it finally became home to Luton's first museum, which exists to this day.

luton wardown parkrun

On 18 April 2015, the park became home to Luton Wardown parkrun. The free, 5km event takes place on Saturday mornings at 9am. I visited the venue on 18 November 2017 and took part in event 134 which attracted a total of 371 participants which was the event's second ever highest attendance to date. The current average attendance would be somewhere around the 300 mark.

I travelled by car and parked in the modest-sized, free, car park adjacent to the house via the entrance on New Bedford Road [A6]. There is a second onsite car park which is accessed via Old Bedford Road. Luton has a mainline train station which is in the centre of town - it's not in the immediate vicinity of the park, but should be easily run/walkable from the station.

wardown park

For those who cycle, I spotted some cycle racks adjacent to Wardown House. Toilet facilities are available for use in the adjacent Luton Town and Indians Cricket Club, but please note that the groundsman does not open this facility until 8.30am. I'm told there are some additional toilets in the park, but I didn't check them out.

So.. Once in the park, you'll need to head towards the centre/southern area of the park to find the meeting area and start point. It is right outside the old boathouse, but a more distinctive feature to head for is the pedestrian suspension bridge which spans the park's main feature - the lake. The lake was formed by widening the River Lea which runs through the park.

the grassy section

The run briefings take place outside the boathouse and the participants are then ushered a bit further south to the start point which is on the western side of the lake. The parkrun itself takes place over three-and-a-bit laps of the park.

The course is largely flat but the northern end of the course does have a bit of an incline to negotiate. Underfoot is mostly tarmac but there is a short stretch on grass that is encountered 4 times (the grass section is also part of the incline and is run 4 times due to it being part of the 'and-a-bit' part of the course).

around the house

The start line is on a spur which joins the main loop upon reaching the suspension bridge after about 150 metres. The main loop is run in a clockwise direction and heads along the edge of the lake before heading onto the grassy section which goes up towards the house.

There's a loop through the ornamental gardens which leads participants to Pete's corner - I had a chat to Pete after the run and he had just celebrated reaching his 100 volunteer milestone.

pete's corner / daisy chain wall

Another of the park's features can be seen once past Pete's corner - this is the Daisy Chain Wall. It is thought to have been constructed in around 1905 and takes its name from the distinctive decorative brick pattern that runs the length of the wall.

From here the course simply follows the paths through the eastern side of the park until crossing the lake via the bridge at the southern tip of the course (not the suspension bridge).

back along the lake / water fountain

Back on the western side of the lake, the participants head past the refurbished Edwardian drinking fountain and follow the paths until passing behind the boathouse and then reaching the start of the loop next to the suspension bridge. This loop is followed three full times. After three times, the 'and-a-bit' is then run which features a final push up the grass incline and the finish line is found just next to the house.

With barcodes scanned, it is then time to head into the cricket club for some refreshments. Of course, if you have just set a new personal best you can have a good old ring on the PB Bell, which is great fun and you'll probably get a cheer and round of applause from the rest of the gathered crowd of finishers and volunteers.

end of lap / finish / pb bell

As always, I recorded the run using my GPS watch and you can see the course in more detail by having a look at my data on Strava or by watching the course flyby video that I created with the relive app on my phone. The full results were processed and published shortly afterwards.

Note: the paths aren't terribly wide and laps 2 and 3 do feature quite a bit of congestion and lapping - however I found everyone to be very considerate in using the available space sensibly. Anyway, I really enjoyed my visit to Luton Wardown parkrun, so a big thanks to everyone involved in putting on the event for having me.


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