Sunday 19 September 2021

Dinton Pastures parkrun

In the ceremonial county of Berkshire you will find the village of Hurst in the civil parish of St Nicholas Hurst, which has a population of just over 2000 people. It sits about half-way between the towns of Reading and Wokingham. The area was originally known as Whistley and the Manor of Hurst is a 16th century Elizabethan manor house which sits in 40 acres of parkland near the centre of the village. Since 1979 a 335 acre area to the south of the of the village has been home to Dinton Pastures Country Park.

The park contains meadows, woodland and seven lakes. These areas attract and support an abundance of wildlife, including many hundreds of species of birds. It's also home to many land animals such as stoats, mink, weasels, foxes, and deer. We spotted some rabbits hanging out in the playground early in the morning. The River Loddon flows through the western side of the park and the Emm Brook through the eastern side.

The park is also home to the Dinton Activity Centre where you can partake in activities such as kayaking, canoeing and sailing or simply hire a pedalo or row boat for something more relaxing. On land there is the option of the climbing wall, abseiling and a zip wire, as well as an interesting game called Disc Golf (essentially it's golf played with a frisbee). The park also has a children's play area, Dinton Adventure Golf, two cafes and the Airstream Caravan which serves light takeaway refreshments. In the north-west of the park you will find the Museum of Berkshire Aviation

The area the park now occupies was once part of the Great Forest of Windsor, and had for previously been used as farmland. It eventually became known as High Chimneys Farm, and the main house, which does indeed have high chimneys, was built in the 1500s. In 1924 the farm was sold and the new owner renamed it Dinton Pastures Farm after his home village of Dinton, in Buckinghamshire.

During the 1960s and 1970s the land was used for gravel extraction and the majority of the gravel extracted was used in the construction of both the M4 and the A329(M) roads which run past the south of the country park. It was this extraction process that created the large pits that now form the lakes. Wokingham District Council took over the land towards the end of the 1970s to create the country park.

In July 2018 the country park became home to a free, weekly, 5km event called Dinton Pastures parkrun. However, this was not the first time a parkrun had taken place here. It had previously been used as Reading parkrun's back-up course as their Thames Valley Park course is prone to flooding.

The permanent event was an instant hit with initial numbers in the high 100s. Over the years this grew to a steady weekly attendance figure of around 300. The post-covid return saw numbers drop a little and it would be normal to see somewhere in the mid-200s at any given event. The official average number at time of writing is 254.8.

We visited on 18 September 2021 to take part in event 99 as this was the last event number I needed to take my Wilson Index to a nice round 100. There are a total of 6 car parks spread across the park all of which incur a charge of £1.65 per hour up to four hours. If staying for longer there is a flat rate of £6.60. There is a payment machine if you like to do things the old fashioned way, however the fee is also payable via the RingGo website/app. We parked in the main car park which is the most convenient option if you'd like to be close to the cafe and toilets.

If travelling by public transport, the closest mainline station is Winnersh Triangle but due to the nature of the road layout, this isn't the best one to use. I would instead head to Winnersh station where the route to the country park is a simple walk straight along Robin Hood Lane / B3030. For cyclists, I saw some small bicycle racks in the car park, but most cyclists seemed to lock their bikes to the trees around the parkrun meeting area.

The parkrun meeting area can be found just to the west of the car park in a triangular clearing just past the playground, next to Mungell's Pond. The course is totally flat and takes place over two anti-clockwise laps. However, the laps are not exactly the same (we'll come to that later). Underfoot features a combination of compacted gravel/stones and dirt, in dry conditions road shoes are fine, but after rain or in the winter you may find trail shoes to be the better option. I took part with my son in the running buggy and it was mildly bumpy for him, but otherwise perfectly fine.

After the run briefings, the crowd of eager parkrunners are escorted further down the path to the start area. The start line is fairly narrow, so it takes a bit of time for everyone to get going. Both of the laps effectively loop around White Swan Lake, but in different ways. The first uses the path that runs directly alongside the lake, until diverting away for a loop around a smaller lake called Tufty's Corner. It then rejoins the southern side of the lake until the loop is complete.

The second lap follows the path which runs alongside Black Swan Lake which eventually re-joins the White Swan Lake path at its most northerly point, before following it all the way back to complete the loop. This second lap does not include the Tufty's Corner loop. Once the second lap is complete, the course heads back to the original meeting/briefing point where the finish is on the grass. A better way to get your head around the course would be to view the GPS data or a Relive video.

It's a difficult course to describe in any great detail, as the surroundings don't really change much as you progresses around the course. The general theme is that you are on a forest path with trees on both sides and every now and then you get a glimpse of one of the lakes through gaps in the trees. When you do see the lakes, the views are picturesque. You may even see some of the swans. It's a pleasant place to be and the only interruption to the peace and quiet is on the south side of the course where you can hear the hum of the traffic on the A329.

Post-parkrun, we headed straight over to the Dragonfly Cafe which is adjacent to the car park and the toilets. They still had pretty strict covid-19 precautions in place, so we placed our order and took a seat at one of the numerous benches in the garden. Our parkrun results came through while we were eating our late breakfasts and 216 people had taken part in event 99.

For anyone with kids, they'll love the playground so don't expect a quick getaway. We also took a walk along the eastern side of Black Swan Lake to the brand new Dinton Activity Centre. The cafe on the upper level has a balcony which is a great place to sit and enjoy the view across the lake.

After over seven hours of parkrunning, breakfasting, playing and exploring we decided we'd better hit the road back home. It was already 3.30pm and we were exhausted, but very happy with the great day out we'd had at Dinton Pastures.


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