Sunday 21 January 2018

Wycombe Rye parkrun

The town of High Wycombe sits next to the River Wye in Buckinghamshire. At first glance it may appear that the town was named after the river, however records show that the river itself was not named until the early 1800s while the town itself was first recorded as Wichama in the year 799 and subsequently Wicumun in around 970. The town currently has a population of around 120,000.

Over the years High Wycombe has been home to a few different industries. The river was key to a lot of these with the water being used to power various mills - corn mills came first, followed by fulling mills which were used in the cloth trade, and then paper mills. Lace making was also once very popular in the town. In later times, the furniture industry started with simple chair making and the town went on to become known for producing high quality furniture.

wycombe rye

Long before all of that, in around 150AD, the Romans had built a villa on the site of Holywell Mead which along with Rye Mead, now forms what is known as Wycombe Rye, or simply The Rye. The remains of the villa were discovered in the 1720s by workmen. Archeological digs conducted in 1862, 1932 and 1952 found artefacts and a Romano-British mosaic floor. The site is underneath the Wycombe Rye Lido swimming pool complex so cannot be viewed, however I hear that the Wycombe Museum is a good place to visit for more information.

The Rye has a long history and is most notable for being used as a grazing area. Locals would walk their cattle to The Rye each morning and collect them at the end of the day. This was until 1927 when an Act of Parliament stipulated that the Rye could thereon only be used for recreation. It was also once a water meadow and, with The Rye being very low lying, is still a flood plain for the river. Flooding is more common during winter and spring, but flash flooding in the summer is also possible.


The modern-day Wycombe Rye area has a Green Flag Award and features open playing fields, a children's playground, an adventure playground called 'Ropes on the Rye', an outdoor swimming pool (the lido), Pann Mill and gardens, and The Dyke which is a long man-made expanse of water used for boating and fishing.

I had travelled to High Wycombe on a cold, miserable morning, by train from Central London to take part in event 282 of Wycombe Rye parkrun. It's a free, inclusive, 5km event which has been taking place on The Rye on Saturday mornings at 9am since August 2012. The train station itself is just a short walk away from the park, so was very convenient (approx 10 minute walk to the meeting point). The main reason I had taken the train was because the popularity of the event has lead to some parking issues and I was keen to keep my impact on this to a minimum.

paths during the first km / pann mill

If I had driven I would have parked in one of the local car parks - the main onsite car park is Holywell Mead car park which I understand costs 50p for two hours. It has 114 spaces and with the parkrun currently attracting around 500 participants each week, it does fill up quickly. During my walk from the train station, I saw that there is definitely no shortage of car parking in the local area, and the alternative car parks are listed on the event's official course page, which also has comprehensive details of local bus services. For cyclists, there is a small bike rack located in the car park.

The course is multi-terrain with the majority being run on hard surfaces and the rest on grass. Given that it was winter when I visited, I ran in my light trail shoes just to give me a little extra grip on the wet and sightly muddy grass areas. The course could be described in a few different ways - a lollipop, or an out-and-back, but I've settled on using 'spiraling, out-and-back lollipop'.

wendover way / the dyke

The meeting point for the run is on the grass outside the Lido, and as the air temperature was cold, the steam rising from the pool looked incredible as it hung in the air while the adjacent Warren Wood and Keep Hill Woods provided a stunning tree-lined backdrop.

The toilets are conveniently located right next to the car park and the meeting point. The main run briefing takes place at the really wide start line which is about 100 metres away, and everyone is then sent off to complete the 5 kilometre course. It starts on the grass and spirals in an anti-clockwise direction, reaching the main path which follows the northern border of the park alongside the River Wye.

water cascade and the steps!

At the north end of the park, the course passes the formal gardens and Pann Mill which is still in working condition. It opens during the summer and it still grinds its own flour. Also in the corner of the park is the water pumping station which pumps 9 million gallons of water from 250ft undergound into a nearby reservoir.

The course cuts across the corner of the 'Ropes on the Rye' adventure play area and onto Wendover Way - named after Viscount Wendover, who died aged 20 after being wounded at the second battle of Ypres during the First World War. Some land and the Grade II listed War Office iron railings were donated to the town in his memory. Heading onwards, the course makes its way towards the Dyke, which was landscaped in the 18th century as part of the adjacent Wycombe Abbey school grounds (at that time it would have been called Loakes Manor).

heading back

After crossing to the southern side of the Dyke, Wendover Way becomes a little narrower and is split into two lanes - one for people and the other for cyclists. The tree-lined path runs along the edge of the dyke, rising ever-so-slightly in elevation, all the way to the eastern end of the park.

This is where you'll find the sweet part of the lollipop - participants keep to the left-hand-side where the path forks and then head down a short, sharp decline onto football fields for a single grassy, clockwise loop. At the end of the loop, at about 2.8km into the run, the course crosses a tiny bridge and you find something that is not often seen at parkrun - steps!

grassy/muddy section and the finish

There are about 20 steps to negotiate as the path curves around to the right. Interestingly, they do not get a mention on the official course description page. If you are a buggy runner, fear not - there is also a step-free slope that you can zig-zag up as an alternative. At this end of the course, you may also spot the picturesque waterfall/cascade. Heading back along Wendover Way can be pretty busy with two-way running traffic so care is needed along here (especially if you end up in the cyclists' lane).

From here the participants simply retrace their steps all the way back to the finish area outside the lido. When the full course is complete, the wonderful finish funnel team will be waiting to register your finish time and hand you a token which is then scanned along with your own personal barcode by one of the volunteers on scanning.

token board / lido

At this venue, after scanning, the position barcode is given back to the participant where they proceed to hang it on the appropriate nail on one of the finish token boards. During the busiest period of finishers there was a bit of a queue to do this, but it's a great opportunity to get to know your fellow parkrunners. Once all of the morning's participants have crossed the line and the equipment packed away, the post-run gathering takes place in the Lido Cafe.

I had recorded the run using my Garmin and the GPS course data can be viewed via my Strava account, which is here: Strava - Wycombe Rye parkrun. I also used the relive app on my phone to create a course fly-by video and you can watch that on youtube, here: Wycombe Rye parkrun course fly-by. The full results for event 282 were processed and online a short while later. The miserable weather had culled the recent high attendances and there were 386 participants in total on the day I visited.

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