Saturday 5 May 2018

Catford parkrun

Catford is a district of south east London within the London Borough of Lewisham. The name was first recorded in 1254 with the 'ford' part referring to the crossing of the River Ravensbourne. The 'cat' part is more of a mystery. It is most likely that it came from the cattle that used the ford, however it has also been suggested that it could derive from a former landowner who was nicknamed 'cat', or the place where black cats were drowned during witch hunts.

catford town centre

Anyone familiar with Catford will no doubt be aware that the most infamous landmark in town is the fibreglass cat that sits astride the Catford Centre sign next to the main road. It was installed when the Catford Centre, which is an outdoor shopping centre, was developed in 1974. I worked here for a few years in the late 1990s and was still getting my hair cut in the Broadway hairdressers 15 years later.

A little further down the road, built in 1932, is the Grade II Listed Art Deco Broadway Theatre which hosts theatrical plays, comedy acts, movie screenings and live music. Catford was also known for greyhound racing which took place in Catford Stadium between 1932 and 2003 - the stadium itself has now been demolished and the land is being redeveloped into flats.

mountsfield park

Many years earlier, Catford was mostly a place of agriculture with wealthier families building large houses around the time of the 19th century. One of these large houses was built by a Henry Stainton as a wedding gift for his son Henry Tibbats Stainton. The latter was an Entomologist and this meant that he studied insects. His house 'Mountsfield' was constructed within 6 acres of parkland on a high point just under a kilometre to the east of the town centre. It was regarded as one of London's substantial residences.

Upon the death of his widow in 1903, the estate was bequeathed for a park. Mountsfield (the house) was demolished and the park opened in 1905. Over time adjacent pockets of land were acquired and the park enlarged until it finally reached a size of 32 acres. By 1914 a bandstand had been constructed and other facilities such as tennis courts followed shortly after.

start and opening section

The modern day Mountsfield Park is a picturesque, beautiful space with fantastic views. It is somehow hidden out of sight right next to the South Circular Road and provides a oasis of calm just metres from its constant drone of traffic. The park now also features a new children's play area, a bandstand, a football pitch, outdoor gym facilities, and a community garden. It is used for all sorts of community events including carols at Christmas, and a Teddy Bear's Picnic in the summer. It also hosts larger events including Lewisham Council's People's Day which attracts around 30,000 people each July.

In April 2018 the park became home to Catford parkrun, a free, weekly, timed, inclusive, 5k event held at 9am on Saturday mornings. The event takes place over a course consisting of two full clockwise laps (approx 1.8km each) and one partial lap (approx 1.4km) around the park starting at the bandstand. The surface underfoot is a mixture of tarmac, grass and compact dirt/stones, and the course profile is gently undulating.

around the mount

As mentioned above, the park is located just off the South Circular Road (aka Brownhill Road) to the east of Catford town centre. For those that arrive here by car, most of the side streets around the park have weekday parking restrictions but these are not in force at the weekend - the suggested road to park on is Stainton Road, and this is where I parked. Cyclists can secure their bikes to the bike racks right next to the bandstand.

If travelling by public transport, the 160 and 202 bus routes serve the park. For travel by National Rail, the obvious main train stations are either Catford or Catford Bridge, both in Catford town centre and involve a 1 kilometre walk to the park. However, Hither Green Station is actually a little closer to the venue. While not yet confirmed there has also been talk of an extension of the Bakerloo tube and/or the Docklands Light Railway into Catford, so keep your eyes peeled for those sometime in the future.

path in the south-west corner

The main meeting place is at the bandstand adjacent to the cafe which opens at 9am and the one single toilet whose opening time is a little sketchy - it may be open before the run, but don't rely on it. On my first visit here, the toilet was blocked and therefore 'out of order'. If you are visiting and need to be certain of toilet access, there is a branch of Mcdonalds down at Catford Island which is a small retail area in the town centre. There is also a Wetherspoons (The London and Rye - open from 8am) in the town centre (also a good option for a post-run breakfast of course).

After the main briefing at the bandstand the participants are sent off in a southerly direction past the playground before being directed to run around the perimeter of the adjacent grass field. Moving briefly back onto tarmac, the participants head downhill and return to grass to negotiate an anti-clockwise loop of a field in the south-west corner. This corner of the park is notable as it was the location of The Mount, which was a football ground with a 50,000 capacity that was home to Catford South End FC. It also briefly provided home to Charlton FC during the 1923-24 season. The ground fell into disrepair and was demolished in the 1950s.

through the trees

The parkrun course then makes its way north along the western border of the park where the surface underfoot changes to compact dirt and stones. It becomes narrower and you have to watch your head on the overhanging foliage, but meanders from left to right in a very satisfying way. This merges into the northern border where there is a short uphill section which leads to, and past, a tennis court. The participants soon reach the north-east corner which is where Mountsfield (the house) would have stood. This corner of the park contains the community gardens and some formal planting.

Swinging towards the centre of the park, the course passes another tennis court and the bandstand which completes the lap. The same loop is then completed a second time, followed by a partial third lap. This final lap takes in about three-quarters of the circuit, breaks off from the main loop at the northern end of the course just after the incline and heads south along the central pathway until reaching the finish line right next to the bandstand.

caution runners / flowers

The scanning of barcodes takes place right here at the finish, and the cafe (twitter: MandFCafeLDN), which is within what looks like a shipping container, is only a few footsteps away. If you get a chance, stand inside the bandstand, tap your feet and listen to the sound resonating - it's great fun. Also, don't forget to check out the views - you can see the Crystal Palace tower, the Shard, the Gherkin and Canary Wharf. You may even be able to get a glimpse of Hilly Fields which also has a parkrun that has a very similar community feel to this one at Catford (my Hilly Fields parkrun blog from 2023).

Once the parkrun had finished, I uploaded my GPS data to Strava and you can see the course in detail, here: Strava - Catford parkrun event 2. Later on I used that data to create a course flyby video with the Relive app. You can view the video, here: Relive - Catford parkrun course flyby. For the record, I used my road shoes which were fine as the course was mostly dry, but given that this is a mixed terrain course, you may need a little extra grip when winter sets in. Also, I suspect there's a chance that Lewisham's People Day event in July may lead to a cancellation of the parkrun, so make sure to check before leaving home.


This is a fantastic venue - I wasn't quite expecting the park to be so beautiful. The undulations, views, and landscaping are all fantastic, and I am pretty certain that I will swing by again at some point in the future. A massive kudos to the event director (David) and the rest of the team for getting the event up and running, and also a huge thanks to all the volunteers on the day.

- - -

A quick 2023 update to add that since the original write-up was posted, I have revisited on a few more occasions (twice in 2019 and again in 2023) and loved it each time, even during heavy rain in July 2023. For the record everything noted above has remained the same and I hope to continue to visit this venue every now and then well into the future.

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