Sunday 28 January 2018

Clare Castle parkrun

The historic market town of Clare sits on the north bank of the River Stour, in Suffolk, and was recorded in the Domesday Book as Clara. It lays claim to being the smallest town in Suffolk, but it feels more like a large village, in fact it was awarded 'Suffolk Village of the Year 2010'.

After the Norman Conquest of England (1066), William the Conqueror declared his loyal supporter 'Richard Fitz Gilbert' a baron. Richard was given 176 Lordships including Tonbridge, Kent and Clare, Suffolk. The Baronage gave him the right to build castles on his land, and he did this at both Tonbridge and Clare. After making Clare Castle his Caput Baroniae (which in Latin means 'head of the barony'), his barony became the Honour of Clare and he became known as Richard de Clare.


Through the years, cloth making had been an important and prosperous trade in Clare. Flowing water was crucial to the trade and the river provided it by the bucket load. A mill stream called New Cut was established to feed a a mill which belonged to Clare Priory (founded in 1249), but many weavers' houses had cellars through which culverts led.

Clare Castle was a motte and bailey design with two baileys instead of the more common one. It prospered for many years until the 16th century when it began to fall into disrepair, and with Suffolk being short of suitable building stone, the castle was stripped for building materials.

start / early part of lap

In the mid-1860s the Great Eastern Railway came to Clare and the castle grounds were chosen as the ideal spot for the station. Sadly the construction of the station destroyed what was left of the inner bailey. The railway was closed in 1967 as part of the Beeching cuts, and in 1972 the site was opened as a country park. For more information on Clare Station and to see loads of great historic photos have a look at the Disused Stations website.

Today the country park covers 36 acres, consisting of woodland, grassland, and two large ponds. The remains of the Clare Castle are classified as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and the Victorian railway buildings became Grade II Listed in 2013. The station building now houses a cafe called 'Platform 1' and there is also a playground for the kiddiewinks. On 30 September 2017 the country park became home to Clare Castle parkrun.

the first loop

I drove to this venue on a cold, but beautiful January morning in 2018. Streaks of yellow, gold and red filled the sky until finally the sun rose as an blinding ball of orange fire. When I arrived in Clare, I turned onto Malting Lane and this leads directly into the Clare Castle Country Park car park where it costs £1 to park for up to an hour or £2 covers the whole day.

If you've read the text above you will know that Clare Train station has been closed since 1967, so travel by train is not an option here. The official course page confirms that there are no public transport options at all. I didn't spot any bicycle racks, but I've read elsewhere that there are some located at the cafe. Toilets are located adjacent to the playground.

next to the river / new cut

The meeting point for the parkrun is just inside the park, next to the cafe. The first-timer and the full run briefings are held here and at 9am the run director sends the gathered crowd off on their 5km canter around the park. The course consists of three clockwise laps on a mixture of surfaces which are mostly firm underfoot. During winter you may find some sections are a little on the muddy side.

As for shoe choice, I went for my light trail shoes and these were spot-on for the conditions, but during the summer this course would be fine with regular road shoes. With the exception of some very minor bumps, the course is flat.

out-and-back along the former railway line

So, the participants head off from the start line next to the open grass area of the inner bailey outside the cafe and head north along the old station approach road 'Station Road'. Within seconds they pass the moat and the exact spot an early 15th century gold cross known as the Clare Reliquary was found during the construction of the train station. There is apparently a cavity behind the cross which is said to have held wooden fragments of the cross upon which Christ was crucified. It is now part of the Royal Collection Trust and resides in the British Museum.

Following the arrows, cones and instructions from the brilliant marshals, they work their way around the outer bailey and the northern section of the park, which after passing the playground enters the wooded area. This loops round and crosses where the train line would have once been. The narrow path continues and eventually runners find themselves alongside the River Stour. Well, it is the river, but not how nature intended - this section is the aforementioned mill stream 'New Cut'. The natural course of the river runs further to the south.

heading back into the inner bailey

After passing the car park and crossing the same bridge that trains would have used, the course features an out-and-back section along the former train line. It's now called Ashen Road Walk and you if you glance over you can see a small graveyard and part of the Priory building. A turnaround point and marshal are found at the far end, and once back over the bridge, the course skirts the edge of the car park before finally returning to the inner bailey.

Glancing up and over to the left, you may spot the de Clare family emblem flag (gold background with three red chevrons) flying from the top of the remains of the castle - if you ever visit Tonbridge parkrun, you'll see the same flag flying above Tonbridge Castle, which is where me and my wife were married.

heading off on laps 2 and 3 / the finish area

After three laps, the participants head past the cafe and into the finish funnel. Finish tokens are handed out and then scanned just beyond the finish line. When everyone has safely returned and the signage cleared away, everyone heads into Platform 1 cafe for some post-run chit-chat and refreshments.

I took part in event 17, the results were processed and uploaded by the time I had arrived home. I enjoyed my run here, and it's quite a quick course. All you've got to keep in mind is that filtering through can be a bit tricky on the narrow sections and the 180 turn will naturally break your stride for a second or two. A massive thanks, as always, goes to the team of volunteers who made it all happen.

post run scanning etc...

I recorded the course data using my Garmin and I uploaded it to Strava. I also created a course fly-by by using the Relive app on my phone - you can view them using the links below.

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