Sunday 2 June 2019

Hanworth parkrun

Hanworth is a district in west London with a population of around 23,000 people. The name is thought to have come from the Anglo-Saxon words 'haen' or 'han' and 'worth' and means 'small homestead'. Over the centuries it has had various variants used including Haneworde, Hanewrthe and Haneworth.

The Manor of Hanworth was held by various people and families from around 1000bc until in 1512 it came to the Crown. Henry VIII used the original manor house as a hunting lodge before being granted to Anne Boleyn and subsequently to Katherine Parr. It was also home to Princess Elizabeth, who is said to have stayed at the house on occasion after becoming Queen. It is thought the park grounds were laid out during the 16th century.

hanworth air park / hanworth parkrun

The manor house burnt down in 1797 and its replacement was built five years later just a short distance to the north. The new house was called Hanworth Park House. In the early 20th century the house was used as a military hospital during the First World War. The estate was then bought by John Alexander Whitehead and created an aerodrome called London Air Park, which was also known as Hanworth Air Park.

Hanworth Park House became the aerodrome's clubhouse and many lavish society events were held here, including aerial tea parties, air pageants and races. The airfield itself is famous for being visited by the Graf Zeppelin on two occasions and as the landing place for Amelia Earhart who flew into Hanworth a couple of days after becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

start area

With Heathrow airport nearby and expanding, the Air Park was eventually forced to close. The land was bought by the local authorities and turned into a 52 hectare park in 1959. The Grade II Listed house was used as a residential care home from the 1950s until the 1990s. Sadly it has been neglected ever since and currently lays unoccupied (and fenced off) within a wooded area in the centre of the park.

The park itself is still going strong and is largely made up of open fields of scrubland with intersecting grass pathways. Some of the land is now part of Feltham Community College and there is a leisure centre on the eastern border. There are some sports fields and a children's playground. As of May 2019 there is now also a free 5km running/walking event called Hanworth parkrun.

early part of the lap / raised metal trip hazard

We visited the park on 1 June 2019 to take part in event 5. The surrounding roads to the north and east of the park have restriction-free parking. Head towards Forest Road to the north if you want to be close to the start, or head to the Hanworth Air Park Leisure Centre (free parking) or side roads off Uxbridge Road to be closer to the finish and the post-event coffee which is in the leisure centre café.

If travelling by train it looks like Feltham is the closest station to head for. Although in London, the underground doesn't cover the immediate area so isn't really an option unless you fancy a warm-up jog from Heathrow Airport. Cyclists will find the closest racks in the leisure centre car park.

The meeting point and start of the event is near the house, which is hidden by the trees that surround it, so you're best to look out for the signs-of-parkrun rather than using anything else as a guide. If you arrive from the direction of the leisure centre you will pass the finish funnel way before finding the start.

around the park / longford river / st george's church

This is a clockwise two-and-a-bit lap course with a mixture of grass and gravelly paths underfoot. Being a former airfield means it's totally flat, so it's a decent option for anyone looking to challenge their best 5k effort. As far as footwear is concerned, regular road shoes will be absolutely fine in dry conditions. It's possible that some will prefer trails during the winter, but most of the course is on the gravelly paths.

The lap starts on grass but changes to gravel along the north-eastern section of the course - interestingly this section runs along the line of Longford River which is now underground, having been covered during the park's time as an airfield. The funny thing is that it's not a real river at all. It was constructed in 1638/39 in order to route water from the River Colne all the way to Hampton Court and Bushy Park to feed their water features.

hanworth park

Watch out for the raised metal plates in the centre of the path which could easily cause someone to trip. Also, at the end of this path you are at the most easterly point of the course. At this spot you are only 800 metres south of the closest point of Crane parkrun's course (blog here).

The route continues on the same surface all the way along the eastern side where it meanders gently with long grass to either side. Looking across the park I was imagining what it must have been like to witness the 236 metre long Graf Zeppelin landing on this very spot (actually, I didn't have to use too much imagination as there are videos on YouTube - check out this one which has sound).

the finish

There's a short trip across grass adjacent to the Feltham Rugby Club clubhouse followed by a short section of smooth tarmac alongside the playground. St. George's Church is now in full view - there has been a church on this site since at least the fourteenth century and it was a place of worship for the royal family during their time at Hanworth.

The tarmac soon comes to an end and the gravelly path returns for the section around the western border. If you are looking carefully you might spot part of Hanworth Park House poking above the tree-line. It's also a great spot for spotting planes on their final approach into Heathrow Airport. The course had arrows and marshals in all the right places so there was no risk of taking a wrong turn. The marshals were also very encouraging to my daughter.

post-run chatting

It's back onto grass as the lap returns to the original starting point. I should note that the grass here has quite a few potholes so keep an eye out for them. After two full laps, there's around 400 metres left until the finish. I had the kids with me (one in the running buggy and one alongside me) and it was a pretty hot morning, so we took it nice and easy. We spent a bit of time at the finish line chatting to other participants and volunteers.

I'd recorded the course using my Garmin and the GPS data can be viewed on Strava. There's also a Relive course video which I have added to my YouTube account. A total of 120 people had participated in event 5 and this is not far off the current average.

the planes

We then moved onto the Hanworth Air Park Leisure Centre for some breakfast - the options are very limited and basic, but it did the job. We were soon back in the park exploring the playground before watching the Hanworth Airpark Model Flying Club flying their incredible model planes. We finally left the park in the early afternoon and headed home. We'd had a brilliant morning at Hanworth parkrun, so a huge thanks to everyone involved in making in happen.

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