Sunday 29 September 2019

Squerryes Winery parkrun

In the county of Kent, just to the south of the M25 and a stone's throw from the border with Surrey, is the pretty town of Westerham. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as Oistreham, effectively meaning something along the lines of 'western homestead', which would most likely relate to its position in relation to the larger town of Sevenoaks, 8km to the East. The area is known to have been inhabited for thousands of years.

statues on westerham green / squerryes winery

The town is known for being the birthplace of General James Wolfe, who is most famous for defeating the French army in Quebec in 1759 (where he died) during one of the battles for control of Canada. It was also home for a period to Alice Liddell, who was the inspiration for the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland book. However its most famous link is that to Sir Winston Churchill who lived at the nearby Chartwell Manor from 1922 until his death in 1965.

Westerham is home to another country estate, Squerryes. The grounds cover 2,500 acres of land on the outskirts of the town which are largely used for farming wheat, barley, and rapeseed. There is a 200-head dairy heard who supply fresh milk for a well-known supermarket. The house is called Squerryes Court and has been home to the Warde family for almost 300 years. In 2006 the estate owner planted 35 acres of grapes which now produce award winning sparkling wines. It is thought this same land was also used by a Roman land owner to do the same thing.

meeting point

The area of land in which the vineyard is located is halfway between Westerham and the adjacent village of Brasted. It's also not far from Biggin Hill airport and the former home of Charles Darwin, Downe House. As well as the vineyard and winery, there is a farm shop, cafe and the Westerham Brewery. In September 2019 it became home to Squerryes Winery parkrun, making it the 21st 5k parkrun in Kent. We visited the venue on their third event.

Due to the vineyard's countryside location, travelling to the venue is most convenient by car and there is a free on-site car park just inside the entrance. The nearest train stations are Oxted and Sevenoaks which are both just over 5 miles away from the venue. The 594 bus will get you from Oxted to the centre of Westerham. Another option would be to take the 246 bus from Hayes (Kent). The remaining walk involves using a public footpath through some fields (see the venue's course page for more info) as the main roads leading to the venue have no pavements.


Once on-site the start of the parkrun is easily found just on the grass in between the cafe and winery buildings, with the toilet being located in a cute little wooden hut behind the cafe building (please note that it is one single toilet, so there could be a small queue). The briefings takes place here and an important point to note is that freedom runs are not possible at this venue as it is private land, with access only being granted for official events.

The description of the course in writing (and during the briefing) makes it seem quite complicated, but once underway, it's actually fairly simple. The start is right next to the vines and is fairly spacious which is handy for lining up.

going around the vines

The opening section is on grass and involves a V shaped loop around the southern perimeter of the vines. I was expecting to see vines as far as the eye can see, but they occupy only a very small space - nothing like the scale of the Denbies Wine Estate (home to Mole Valley parkrun) which is about 20 miles to the west.

Once past the vines the course heads around the fields. When we visited, whatever crops had been growing had already been harvested so the landscape looked fairly bare.

the east field

There are essentially two laps to negotiate from here - the first is a large one which circumnavigates the east field and the west field before heading back past the vines. The second is a smaller lap of only the east field. The River Darent runs along the southern boundary of the course, and you can see it if you have a keen eye. It's the same river that runs past my home, so it was a nice link for me to look out for.

Once the second lap is complete, you head back along the vines, and then you get to do the coolest thing... There's a u-turn which leads you in between the vines, which we absolutely loved! The finish is then found back next to the start.

east and west fields

The surface underfoot changes between grass and dirt every now and then, but it is worth taking note of the fact that there are sections which are proper field dirt - ie you are not running adjacent to the fields but actually on them. There are also plenty of uneven surfaces and the odd rabbit hole. I forgot to change into my trail shoes when I arrived and ran in road shoes, but trail would have been the better option.

Some sections were slippery and it was only just the end of summer. Once the winter conditions set in, there is no doubt in my mind that this will turn into an absolute mud bath - great fun for those that enjoy cross-country courses, but I suspect the question around shoe choice will come down to trail or spikes. Of course, please do check with the core team before taking part in spikes.

west field

As for the elevation, there are some mild undulations around the course - the most notable incline is during the opening section of the east field as you head up towards the M25 which runs along the northern border of the farmland.

Overall, somehow it felt to me that there were more downhill sections than uphill, but of course that can't possibly be true! It's also worth noting that the official webpage for the event has stated that this course is not suitable for buggies, which is pretty sound advice. I'm sure some buggy runners would be fine in dry conditions, but I would talk to the team before doing so.

through the vines

Once the 5k is complete, barcodes and finish tokens scanned, the cafe is on hand to provide some refreshments. From what I could see, all the seating was outside. You can of course do a bit of shopping in the shop - I picked up a fresh sourdough loaf and some local eggs.

You could also buy some of the award-winning wine or maybe pop into the Westerham Brewery to see what goes on in there and maybe take home some local beer. I hear they do tours and other similar things, but you may need to book in advance if this interests you.

finish etc...

Overall, it was a really great little place to visit. I recorded the run with my Garmin and you can see the data on Strava. You can also get a better idea of the course by watching the Relive video which was created with the GPS data. At event 3 there were 146 participants.

Update: We revisited in October 2022 and the number of attendees is generally about the same when the conditions are good, so around 150. When the winter sets in the attendance figure seems to drop down to around 100. On this second visit I volunteered as parkwalker with the kids and I was very encouraged to see the venue had quite a healthy number of walkers all finishing in around an hour. My third visit was on 4 November 2023 where I got the chance to experience the muddy version of the course.

Related links:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...