Sunday, 7 April 2019

Brooklands parkrun

The country estate of the Locke King family once dominated a large part of the southern area of Weybridge, Surrey. Its centrepiece was the family mansion, which was built in 1861 by Peter Locke King. Interestingly, the estate was formerly owned by Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany - this is THE grand old Duke of York, yes, the one from the nursery rhyme. Upon Peter's death in 1885, the estate was inherited by his son, Hugh Locke King.

Hugh had a passion for automobiles and came to the conclusion that Britain should have its own motor testing track in order to assist the motor industry to develop, and to keep up with the progress the European motor car producers were making. So he went ahead and built a 2.75 mile (4.43km) oval-shaped racing track with banked sides within the grounds of his estate. This was the first purpose-built racing tack in the world. It's name was Brooklands.

brooklands

In 1909 an aerodrome was added and Brooklands became the centre of the British automotive (motorsports) and aeronautical industries. All the big names of the day had their own warehouses, workshops and offices here. Tyre companies found the track especially useful as cars could be driven at top speed continuously for however long was required. Malcolm Campbell, famous for setting the land and water speed records in his Blue Bird vehicles during the 1920 and 1930s also had a workshop here.

The aerodrome was one of Britain's first airfields and within a few years had become home to numerous flying schools. With the onset of World War One, the facility was requisitioned by the War Office and the Vickers Aviation Ltd set up a factory where military aircraft were constructed and tested. In 1920 motor racing was resumed at Brooklands and the first and second British Grand Prix were held here in 1926 and 1927 respectively.

members banking

The Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft was assembled and tested at Brooklands in the years leading up to the Second World War, and when war broke out, Brooklands once again became a military site with the Hawker and Vickers factories producing wartime planes such as the Wellington and Warwick. The famous bouncing bomb used by the Dambusters was designed here by Barnes Wallis. Bombing raids by the Luftwaffe took place in 1940 and by the time the war ended, the track was in such poor condition that motor racing was never resumed here - the last race having been held in August 1939.

The post-war years saw aircraft production increase with the Vickers-Armstrongs conglomerate purchasing the site and produced military and commercial planes. In 1960 the company was merged with three other aircraft companies which together became the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Brooklands was heavily involved in the production of Concorde. In total well over 18,000 aircraft were produced at Brooklands between 1908 and its closure in the late 1980s.

briefing etc...

Some sections of the original track became lost to various developments, but around two-thirds of it are still largely intact, albeit somewhat overgrown in places. This is mostly thanks to a 1975 preservation order which granted the remaining sections of track, buildings and structures protection under the law. The Brooklands Museum Trust was set up to manage and preserve the area and the museum itself opened in 1991. In 2009 Brooklands was featured in an episode of James May's Toy Stories where he and around 300 locals successfully created a Scalextric track which followed the line of the original track. With a total length of 2.953 miles, this set a new, and at time of writing still current, world record for the longest slot car track.

The south-eastern corner of the site is now Brooklands Community Park which was created as part of the Mercedes-Benz World and the Brooklands hotel project (more about these later). Opened in the mid 00s, the 60 acre park contains a mixture of features including part of the former runway, the 'Byfleet Banking' section of the race track, woodland, children's playground, and a path alongside the River Wey. If you look closely you will find a selection of historic traces of the past like the 'Bayliss' iron railings which marked the original site boundary line. In November 2018 the park became home to a free, 5k walking/running event called Brooklands parkrun.

start line etc...

Parking is available in the free-of-charge Brooklands Community Park car park (height restriction of 2.1m) which is at the southern end of the park just off Sopwith Drive. There are no toilets within the park itself but the local Tesco which is just across the road does have some (on the right next to the main entrance, plus more upstairs in the cafe). Tesco's car park also serves as a secondary option in case the main car park has filled up. For anyone travelling by train, you'd be looking at alighting at Byfleet and New Haw station which is just over a kilometre walk away.

The meeting point for the event is at the shelter next to the basketball court right in the middle of the former runway, just a couple of minutes walk from the car park. If you happened to have cycled to the event, the shelter has some bicycle racks but if these were unavailable you could always secure it to the playground fencing. The run briefing takes place here, before the whole field relocates to the northern end of the park, which is in sight of the 40% scale model of Concorde which acts as a Gate Guardian for the Brooklands Museum complex.

woodland section (1)

The two-and-a-bit lap anticlockwise course contains a mixture of hard surface (tarmac/concrete) and a softer dirt path for a section through woodland (the split overall is roughly 3.5km / 1.5km). The course itself is entirely flat with the exception of a short, sharp slope within the woodland area. It's absolutely fine for buggy runners here, but you could end up with slightly muddy wheels during the wetter months.

With that in mind, if conditions have been particularly wet you may find a light-ish trail shoe would assist at points, but keep in mind that the majority of the course is road shoe territory (For the record, I wore my light trail shoes to be on the safe side, but it had been quite a dry spring and I would have been fine in my road shoes).

woodland section (2)

The route itself starts on the former runway and heads south before crossing the Byfleet Banking section of the race track. Now entering the wooded area, this is where the surface changes underfoot to dirt/mud. It's peaceful in here and I felt quite relaxed as I plodded along with my son in the running buggy and my daughter chatting away to my side. We even spotted some bluebells growing under the trees. The path meanders gently until it eventually reaches a small wooden bridge that crosses a brook.

Look out for the historic iron Bayliss iron railings around here - if you look closely you can see where the trees have grown and consumed parts of them. After short section alongside the River Wey the course emerges from the woodland, the surface changes back to concrete/tarmac and participants now cross back across the race track - don't forget to have a sideways glance where you can admire the historic Byfleet Banking. The course heads alongside the track and in between two more brooks (you now get an idea why this area is called Brooklands) for the next 500 metres.

byfleet banking

Heading back onto the runway, the course heads north along the eastern side of the tarmac and after a short diversion around some cones, heads back around to the start. You'll get a decent view of the Concorde model when the trees are bare, but when in full bloom it may be difficult to spot.

The second lap is identical to the first, and the finish line is just a couple of hundred metres further along the tarmac. It's worth noting that the runway area is, as you'd expect, quite exposed, so you're likely to feel the effects of any wind.

back towards the runway

Barcode scanning is taken care of at the finish line and the team currently head over to Tesco's Cafe for post-event refreshments. The event has been pretty popular from day one and after only 21 events, the average number of attendees is 272.

The results were processed in due course and 282 people took part. I, as always, had recorded the course using my Garmin and you can view the course in further detail on my Strava page. You can also watch the Relive video of the course which was created from the GPS data.

runway / finish

With the parkrun done and dusted, we continued onto the next part of our day out at the track where we visited Mercedes-Benz World. As I touched on above, this was a project in the early-mid 00s and Mercedes offer a selection of driving experiences at various prices, the most expensive is about £1,200. However there were other, more affordable options. However, even of you are not a paying customer, you can go in and view a selection of new and historic Mercedes-Benz cars. The highlight for me was seeing the three Formula 1 cars on display up on the second floor.

The Brooklands Hotel is just next door and has design features that reflect the area's past, it also pays homage to the Solomon Straight (part of the Campbell Circuit, not the main loop, and apparently named after a goat) which runs straight through the main lobby in the form of a line permanently set into the floor. Something I've spotted which I can find absolutely no evidence to support online is that from above the building looks like the shape of a V8 (or V10 or V12) engine, which are typically found in high-end sports cars, The cylinders are arranged in the V shape in order to fit more of them in the available space, this means more power can be produced (anyway, something like that. I'm not an expert).

brooklands museum: mp4/14 / concorde / harrier

Following that we went into the Brooklands Museum where the entry fees are £16 for an adult and £9 for a child. Many highlights here including seeing the Concorde (a family friend's grandad worked at Brooklands and was involved in producing the parts), the Napier-Railton (which holds the fastest lap record at Brooklands), sitting in the cockpit of a Harrier (Jump Jet), and seeing more Formula 1 cars.

The museum staff allow children to sit in one of the F1 cars (it's children only as the steering wheel does not come out to give adults the space to climb in), so my daughter got to sit in Mika H√§kkinen's World Championship winning McLaren MP4/14 (Being on F1 fan, I may be slightly envious!). By the end of the day we were totally shattered, but we'd all had a fantastic time at Brooklands and have it in mind to go back and do it all over again sometime in the future!


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