Sunday 26 May 2019

Sunny Hill parkrun

Hendon, in North London has had settlements since at least Roman times, but the name itself is of Saxon origin and means 'high hill'. In days past the area would have been largely wooded and this provided many trades with fire-wood. With many of the wooded areas felled, and Hendon's close-proximity to the ever-expanding city, it became the perfect location for farmland.

One of the farms that inhabited the area was Church Farm and it would have produced the hay which Hendon was famous for - the fields were known as Sunnyhill Fields. The house that sat in the centre of the farm was constructed in the mid-1600's and still stands today. In fact it is Hendon's oldest surviving dwelling. Adjacent to the former farm is The Church of St Mary's which is thought to have sections that are around 900 years old.

sunny hill park

The railway was built through Hendon in the 1860s and this was a catalyst for its expansion into a proper town with many motor and aviation factories springing up next to the line which they could use to transport their goods. Hendon saw another population boost when the London underground reached the town and provided an affordable way to reach the centre of the city.

The early 1900s saw the opening of Hendon Aerodrome by Claude Grahame-White. This eventually became RAF Hendon and is now home to the RAF museum (more about this below). Adjacent to this is the Hendon Police College (officially called the Peel Centre) which is where police officers receive their training. This was used as a filming location in Avengers: Age of Ultron (Iron Man vs Hulk battle).


In 1921, 16 acres of the Church Farm farmland was bought by the local council and made into a public park. It was subsequently extended to cover 22 hectares. The park in question is called Sunny Hill Park. It is mostly open grass fields with some scatterings of mature trees, plus some of the historic hedgerows which would have divided the fields have survived. It has all the modern-day facilities that you'd expect to find in a park such as a cafe, tennis courts, playground, sports pitches etc. In March 2019 it became home to Sunny Hill parkrun, which we visited on 25 May to take part in event 9.

The preferred way to reach this venue is really on foot, bicycle or by public transport and the closest tube stations are Hendon Central or Colindale (both about 2km from the start). The closest main line station is Hendon (approx. 2.5km). Also, the 113 and 221 bus services may come in useful as they stop right outside the park. I didn't spot any bicycle racks in the park but there is a playground fence adjacent to the meeting point which could be used instead.

thanks to john leonard for the photo of us

If travelling by car it's worth noting that there is a car park in the north-west corner just off Watford Way (A41), but it is pretty small. We counted and we think it will take about 31 cars. With that in mind I would have a backup plan to park on one the side roads adjacent to the park. There are parking restrictions in place but they are mostly active between 1pm and 6pm on event days. This relates to the Allianz Park Stadium which is where Saracens FC Rugby team play their home matches - I don't really know much about rugby but from what I read they seem to be pretty good at it.

Once in the park you'll need to find the meeting point and perhaps the toilets. There is no mention of toilets on the event course page, but there are some around the back of the cafe. A notice I saw inside the gents toilets suggested that these are public toilets, but they probably aren't accessible when the cafe is closed. The parkrun meeting point is next to the playground and the tennis courts which are very close to the cafe, toilets and the car park, this is also where the briefing takes place. The start is further down the path adjacent to the playground.

southern tip of the course

The course itself is made up of a small anti-clockwise loop of the northern end of the park, followed by two full laps of this picturesque park. I've seen the laps described as being figure-of-eight shaped, but I think this is slightly incorrect as to be a true figure of eight the route would have to cross itself. Which it doesn't. An 'hourglass' would be a more accurate description. The lap does however look like an eight when you look at the GPS data of the course. Underfoot is tarmac all the way around the course, so road shoes are the way to go as far as footwear is concerned.

The name of this park is really honest in its description, and while the sunny part will vary from week-to-week, the hill part is always guaranteed! So from the start there's that small loop which is around 700-800 metres in length. It's not long before you get the first incline thrown at you, it's fairly gentle and with fresh legs no trouble to negotiate.

around the centre of the park

Once the full laps start, the hilly bits become a little more serious and the first one of the lap is fairly steep. This leads to the centre of the park and immediately into a downhill which is again pretty steep - this was particularly challenging with the running buggy. The next part heads towards the southern tip of the course past the fields of long grasses and wildflowers where a series of mild undulations culminate in another steeper climb to the highest point of the course.

Heading back towards the centre of the park is where you can really appreciate the view to the north and west. If you're focussed and putting in a good effort you probably won't see it, but the arch of Wembley Stadium is visible from this section; you'll have to crank you neck around almost 180 degrees to do so, so it might be best to jog back up afterwards if you are interested in seeing it.

centre and eastern parts of the park

Back at the centre of the park the marshal sends you off into the eastern side of the park which again features a bit of a climb and descent. The course soon links up with part of the first smaller loop and leads back around to the start area outside the playground. Another lap of the large loop looms before the final approach to the finish funnel which can be found on the grass just after the playground.

To sum the course up you'd have to say it's a bit of a rollercoaster ride. In fact there are only a few short sections that are flat; the rest is either up or down. The marshals can only be described as fabulous and were very encouraging to my daughter who somehow finished this tough course only 26 seconds off her parkrun pb. She was particularly pleased when one of them told her that she was amazing, so thank you for that.

finish / cafe

After the run the team go into the Sunny Hill Cafe which serves a fusion of mediterranean and middle eastern food.

We had already made alternative plans so skipped breakfast there and headed across the road to the RAF Museum which on top of being totally free-of-charge to enter was absolutely brilliant! I was particularly excited to see the Avro Vulcan, the Hawker Siddeley Gnat T1 (Red Arrow), Avro Lancaster, and of course all the other famous military aircraft including a few Supermarine Spitfires and some German Messerschmitts and Fokkers.

raf museum

Our parkrun results soon came through and we saw that 48 people had participated. This number was lower than the usual turnout of around 80, most probably due to it being a Bank Holiday weekend. I had recorded the GPS data of the course and I got a reading of 101 Metres of elevation change during the run. You can view the data on Strava, here: Sunny Hill parkrun. The accompanying course fly-by generated on the Relive app can be viewed here: Relive Sunny Hill parkrun.

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