Sunday 14 July 2019

Uckfield parkrun

Uckfield is a town in East Sussex with a population of around 15,000 people. The source of its name is not 100% certain but is thought to be named after a person called Ucca who may have owned the open land, which in Old English would have been known as a Feld.

Another theory is that Uck is a derivation of the ancient Celtic word for water or a stream with the fedd part meaning high or height. There is evidence of Stone Age settlements at this location dating back to around 9,000BC. However, the first written evidence of the name of the town is from the 13th century where it was called Uckefeld but may have also been spelt Uccafield or Uccafedd.


The town is centred around the crossing-point over the River Uck and would have once been a popular stop-over place for pilgrims travelling between places like Canterbury and Chichester. Having a river with such a name has lead to many instances of vandalism to the river name signs on the bridge (the addition of an F for anyone that hasn't realised!), so they came up with a specially shaped sign in an attempt to thwart the vandalists (see photo above).

In the north-east corner of the town is Uckfield Rugby Club which has been active in the Sussex Rugby Football Union since 1967. Since 4 May 2019 the rugby club grounds have been home to Uckfield parkrun and we visited the town for the 11th running of the event. If we had taken the train we could have easily alighted at Uckfield Station which is the terminus of the line from London Bridge, that would have left us with just under 2km to walk (uphill) to reach the rugby club.

pre-event / start

However we drove the car to the venue and parked for free in the rugby club car park, which does fill up even with the addition of some pitch-side grass parking. The official advice is that additional parking can be found at Uckfield College which is just under a kilometre away, however the nearby side streets didn't appear to have any restrictions. I didn't spot any bespoke cycle racks, but I'm sure there would be no issue in finding a post or fence to secure a bike to. Toilet facilities are available for use inside the club house.

Uckfield parkrun takes place on an out-and-back-with-loop-at-the-end off-road course so while road shoes were fine for when we visited during a nice dry, sunny period in July this will be full trail shoe territory when the winter comes around. Some people may even go for spikes, but I'd check with the organising team first to make sure they are allowed.

first kilometre

The first section is a nice, easy lap around the rugby fields and this ensures that the participants are nicely spread out before heading into the surrounding countryside towards the neighbouring village of Buxted where some of the paths can be a little narrower.

The course meanders through a section of woodland before going through a single-file path through some long grasses before turning a corner and entering the grounds of Buxted Park which is a private country estate that happens to have some public footpaths running through it. It also happens to be a deer park dating back to 1199. While on the subject of animals, it is possible that you may see deer and/or cows during the event - we didn't see either but did see plenty of evidence suggesting cows had been around recently.

buxted park lake etc...

Heading further into the country estate you'll pass the lake covered in lily pads which is said to be home to some exotic birds (I didn't spot any), you'll even cross a couple of small bridges - note that one has a significant step at each end. Then there are the views across the beautiful countryside - simply stunning, especially as you head along the long straight section. Towards the end of the out section there is an WW2 Pill Box which would have dated from 1940/41 - it is obscured from view by trees and bushes so you probably won't see it.

The total elevation change came out at 45m on my Garmin, but the majority of the course is largely flat. Most of this elevation is tackled during the loop at the far end of the course - the big plus point is that you get even higher up which just makes the view even better! During the loop you will see the centrepiece of the estate which is the grade II listed mansion - the current building was originally built in 1725 but has had modifications since then.

the long out section and the pill box

Interestingly, the village of Buxted used to be next to the mansion, but just over 200 years ago, the then owner Lord Liverpool persuaded the villagers to move a mile down the road in order to enlarge his grounds and improve his countryside views. The only remaining building from the original village is the 13th century St Margaret's Church which is just visible through the trees.

The mansion has been visited by many dignitaries over the years and both Queen Victoria and King George V are known to have stayed here. The mansion was bought by the owner of Twickenham Film Studios in the 1960s and is reported to have hosted many of his celebrity friends here including Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck. It was then sold to the ruler of Abu Dhabi in the early 1970s. It is now a 44 room luxury hotel and known as Buxted Park Hotel.

the loop / buxted park mansion

Sorry.. back to the parkrun. Once you've passed the mansion you eventually start heading back downhill where you can really take in the view once more. Before rounding things off, I should mention that the underfoot surface throughout the course can be rather uneven in places and there were plenty of pot-holes, so remember to also have an eye on the ground to avoid twisting an ankle.

The uneven ground made running with the buggy particularly challenging (and resulted in a very bumpy ride for my son), but it was totally doable in the dry. I would imagine buggy running here in the winter could present too much of a challenge for some.

views during the loop

Before you know it you rejoin the familiar path which you follow all the way back past the pill box, along the long straight section, back over the bridges and past the ponds. Then you leave the Buxted Park private estate and head back through the long grass, through the woodland and emerge adjacent to the rugby club where a short sharp jaunt up the bank will bring you back up onto the smooth rugby ground grass and finally into the finish funnel.

It would have been so easy to take a wrong turn or get lost on the course, but it was painstakingly marked out with so much attention to detail to ensure that nobody did. The set-up team have quite a job on their hands every Saturday making sure everything is set out properly, so deserve a serious pat-on-the-back for their efforts. It was also wonderfully marshalled with the reassuring sight of the parkrun hi-vis at regular intervals.

heading back / bridge with step / long grasses

Post-event the team head into the rugby clubhouse for refreshments, which we sadly could not partake in as we had arrangements back in Dartford. The results were soon processed and 256 people completed the course at event 11, which is not too far off the current official average of 231. I recorded the GPS data of the course with my Garmin and you can view it here; Strava: Uckfield parkrun GPS data. For a bit of a visual, you can view the Relive course fly-by video here; YouTube: Uckfield parkrun Relive Video.

into the finish / post-event

Finally, a huge thanks to all the volunteers for making us feel so welcome. You'll know already, but you have a truly wonderful parkrun venue here.

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