Saturday, 13 January 2018

Houghton Hall parkrun

The town of Houghton Regis, in the ceremonial county of Bedfordshire, has a population of around 17,000 people. The town has a long history and was recorded in the Domesday book as Houstone. For many years the town was a royal manor and the royal suffix 'Regis' became part of the town's name.

In the post-war years, the town was chosen as one suitable for the 'London Overspill' project (essentially the creation of New Towns and new housing estates in existing towns outside of London in order to relocate large numbers of people). The town is contiguous with Dunstable and Luton.

houghton regis

Between the years 1654-1700, a large country house, Houghton Hall, was built and this sat within its magnificent grounds. The southern portion of the grounds have now been developed into housing and industrial units. The house, while still standing, is now used as offices. The remaining land has not been developed and this survives as Houghton Hall Park.

The park covers an area of 17 hectares and is a mix of open grassland, outcrops of trees and sections of woodland. A new visitor centre has been built and opened in October 2017 - this contains a cafe and toilets as well as bookable spaces for the local community to use. The park is popular with dog walkers and from what I could see, they don't seem to be very good at picking up their dog's waste - the grass areas in particular were strewn with the stuff.

houghton hall park

The reason I had visited was, of course, to take part in Houghton Hall parkrun. The event had it's inaugural running on 23 December 2017 and was an instant hit with attendance figures hovering at just under 200 even after just five events. The event had been due to start a week earlier on 16 December 2017 but icy conditions lead to the planned-inaugural being cancelled.

I drove to Houghton Regis and parked in the onsite car park just off Park Road North. The car park has a three hour parking limit, but is free-of-charge for all users of the park. By the time 9am came around it was bursting at the seams with cars - some were squeezed in non-spaces, so if driving, arrive early or just use a town centre car park and jog/walk the rest of the way.

the cycle network path / chicane

Houghton Regis, Dunstable and Luton have a pretty good cycling network so makes cycling a viable option for many. There are cycle racks just next to the visitor centre. As for public transport, the nearest train stations look to be Leagrave, which is a suburb of Luton a few miles away. There are some buses which stop in Houghton Regis, and the details are covered on the event's official course page.

The course here takes place over two-and-a-half laps, mostly around the perimeter of the park. It's a flat course and underfoot you will mostly find man-made hard surfaces. Some sections go through the woods, but even here the surface underfoot is solid.

woodland walk

At time of writing (Jan 2018) the course page says that the course takes place on grass and trail (the only grass is about 10 metres at the very end) - this lead to me wearing my trail shoes, but road shoes would've been the better option.

The lap of the park itself is pretty decent. The paths tend to have a meandery feel about them and the views across the former Houghton Hall Estate are pleasant. The sections through the wooden area are twisty and lots of fun.

houghton hall park

There is a section on the west side of the park where the run leaves the park and joins the main National Cycle Network - route 6 (watch out for cyclists). The points where you exit and re-enter the park have those anti-cyclist chicane thingys in place, so you may have to slow down briefly and mind you don't bash yourself on them.

With the two-and-a-half laps complete, the finish funnel is found on the grass by the side of the path - it is not in the same spot as indicated on the official course page (as of Jan 2018), but you can see it if you check my GPS file of the route. Please note, the start point on the day I ran seems to have been in a different position to what is shown on the course page, and to what had been used during some previous events.

the last section / visitor centre

Barcode scanning takes place at the finish line and the volunteers and participants have their post-event social gathering in the cafe in the visitor centre. The results for event 5 were processed and available to view online by the time I arrived back home. I had recorded the run using my Garmin and you can see my GPS data on Strava. You can also view my Relive course fly-by on YouTube, here: Houghton Hall parkrun Relive Course Fly-by. The volunteers had been fab, so big thanks to them all.

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