Monday 29 August 2022

Wollaton Hall parkrun

Nottingham is a unitary authority that sits within the ceremonial county of Nottinghamshire, it was granted city status in 1897 as part of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The early settlement was recorded in the Domesday book as Snotengaham. It had also been recorded with slight variations such as Snottengaham and Snodengaham, but around the city you'll hear and see references to 'Snotta Inga Ham'. The settlement was home to an Anglo-Saxon tribe and the name essentially means the village belonging to Snotta, with 'Snotta' being the chieftain.


The area was once known as Tigguo Cobauc which translates into 'place of caves' or 'place of cavy dwellings'. This relates to the vast number of man-made caves dug into the sandstone on which Nottingham sits. The earliest were thought to have been dug in the seventh century but new additions continued to be added for another 1,000 years. Over 850 caves have been recorded and they would have provided homes and workplaces for many people when they were active. The subterranean world contained beer/wine cellars, malt kilns, dungeons, a skittles/bowling alley, and Britain's only-known underground tannery. They were later used as air raid shelters during the Second World War.

In 1068 Nottingham Castle was founded on the orders of William the Conqueror. It was built on a promontory known as castle rock. The first iteration of it was a wooden structure but this was upgraded to stone about a hundred years later. It served as a royal residence for many years, and was the place where, in 1642, King Charles I raised his standard and declared war on Parliament thereby starting the English Civil War. The castle was destroyed after the Civil War to prevent it from falling back into the hands of the royalists. The site eventually became home to a ducal mansion which was also destroyed, but it has since been rebuilt and is now the Nottingham Castle Museum.

wollaton hall and deer park

Nottingham is of course heavily linked to the legend of Robin Hood, and you'll find links to him all across the town and in the nearby Sherwood Forest (I'll save the detailed writing about Robin Hood for when I visit the forest). Over the years Nottingham's main industries have been wool, brewing, glass making, and arrow making. In later years Nottingham became known for its world famous lace industry, John & Player tobacco and cigarettes, and for being the birthplace of the Raleigh bicycle company which took its name from the street on which the company was founded.

We visited Nottingham on the last weekend in August 2022 and spent some time exploring the city. We visited the City of Caves where we found out all about their history including stories about Gong Farmers, and Ned Ludd ('Luddites'). We found the Old Market Square which is one of the largest paved public squares in the UK, the square is overlooked by the stunning Nottingham Council House which has a clock and the UK's 6th heaviest bell (Little John) within its dome. Guarding the building are two art-deco lions called Agamemnon and Menelaus. Local people are known to use the phrase 'meet you by the lions' and this usually refers to the left lion (Agamemnon). We also visited a few old churches and saw the former lace market buildings.

wollaton hall

One of Nottingham's suburbs is Wollaton and this is where we spent the whole Saturday. Wollaton is a historic village to the west of the city centre. Although Nottingham itself does not have any strong links to the Romans, some remains of Roman crematoria and kilns, as well as Roman coins, have been found in Wollaton. It became incorporated into the city of Nottingham in 1933 but still retains its historic character. It is said to be one of Nottingham's most-popular places to live. The suburb also contains Wollaton Hall and Wollaton Park.

Wollaton Hall is a Grade I listed Elizabethan country house which sits atop the highest point of the 500 acre Wollaton Park. It was built between 1580 and 1588 for English industrialist and owner of coal mines, Sir Francis Willoughby. It is said that he specifically wanted to impress Queen Elizabeth in the hope that she would want to visit and stay as his guest (I don't think she did). The house was passed down through the generations of the Willoughby family. Ultimately the noise and pollution from the industrial Nottingham meant the appeal of living at Wollaton diminished and the house was let to tenants towards the end of the 19th century. In 1925 the hall was sold to Nottingham Council and opened as Nottingham's Natural History Museum the following year.

parkrun briefings and start

Wollaton Park has for the last 700 years been home to Red Deer and Fallow Deer. The estate was enclosed at the beginning of the 19th century with a red brick perimeter wall which runs for 7 miles. The grounds have been used for many purposes over the years including music concerts and festivals, and the 1985 and 1989 World Rally Championships were held here. The park and hall have also been used as a filming location on multiple occasions, however the most famous of these was when the hall became Wayne Manor in the 2012 film Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. (check out this video to see all the scenes featuring the mansion). On the subject of Batman, just to the south of Nottingham is a village called Gotham.

We visited Wollaton Hall and Deer Park on Saturday 27 August 2022 to visit the National History Museum for a special exhibition (more about that later) and, as we happened to be there, took part in Wollaton Hall parkrun which has been an active event since February 2020. We had spent two nights staying in the Nottingham Marina Premier Inn and checked-out of the hotel that morning before driving over to the park. The parkrun meeting point and car parking facilities are at the northern end of the park and can be accessed from Wollaton Road. There is a fee of £3 for up to two hours or £5 for the whole day. The preferred payment method is by using the RingGo app, but you can also pay by phone 'or in shops or cafes'. Please note: The car park does not have a traditional payment machine and the earliest you can pay via the app is 8am which is the official opening time.

around the course (first kilometre or so)

If travelling by bicycle, Nottingham seemed to have quite a decent segregated bicycle network and I can report that there were some bicycle racks outside the children's playground, which is next to the car park. I saw an additional set of racks next to another car park which is close to the mansion. If using public transport I gather the two closest train stations are Beeston and the main Nottingham station - both over 3 miles away. There are apparently a couple of bus services that run from the centre of Nottingham to Wollaton Park. Once in the park the toilets can be found next to the playground on the side of the Wollaton 508 Cafe building - this is the official venue for the post-parkrun refreshments and natter. There also appeared to be additional toilets in another building adjacent to the car park.

The parkrun itself takes place over a one lap, gently undulating, lollipop style course but with a zig-zag-style stick. The surface underfoot is mostly tarmac, but also features sections on grass, gravel and trail. I was unsure which shoes to go for and opted for my trail shoes to be on the safe side. I was happy with this decision but I have quite a low threshold for moving to the trail option, so I'm sure many people would be happy in road shoes, especially when the conditions have been dry. There are also a few protruding tree roots to look out for. In the winter I would imagine a larger proportion of people would move to trail shoes. The course seemed perfectly fine for buggy runners.

around the course (second kilometre or so)

The start of the 5km walking/running event is adjacent to the car park and features a long straight opening stretch through an avenue of trees. This slowly climbs where it turns and joins Lime Tree Avenue which curves around past the front of the stunning Elizabethan mansion. The course then passes the adjacent 17th century stables block which is now home to the Nottingham Industrial Museum. The route heads gently downhill into the southern half of the park. Wollaton Park Lake acts as the lollipop of the course. It was created in around 1700 as a feature of the park and was designed to 'capture the atmosphere of the English countryside'.

Once the loop is complete, the rest of the course is just a matter of following the original paths all the way back to the beginning. The main focal point during the event is of course Wollaton Hall and during the event you'll get to see it from multiple viewpoints, all of which are fantastic in their own special way. The park itself is wonderfully scenic and well worth exploring. There is also a golf course nestled into the grounds.

around the course (the lake / halfway / heading back)

I mentioned the deer earlier on in the post, and it's very important to watch out for them and not approach them as they can be unpredictable. Key times of the year to be extra careful are the calving season (June and July) and then rutting season (September and October). Later after the parkrun I saw one of the rangers telling off some members of the public who were approaching the deer (trying to take photos), so just keep your distance. A nice feature of the course is that the final kilometre is 'mostly' downhill. 

With the 5km finished, the barcode scanners are found, as expected, on the grass adjacent to the finish and the post-event refreshment venue is the aforementioned Wollaton 508 Cafe. The cafe building is an old Second World War hut and the name is a reference to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment who camped in the park in 1944. During the Second World War the northern part of the park had a large number of these huts installed and they housed German prisoners of war. The cafe had a nice selection of cakes and drinks on offer, and the food options consisted of hot sausage rolls (meat and vegan) as well as pre-made sandwiches and rolls (meat, vegetarian and vegan options were available).

around the course / finish / cafe

The results for event number 60 were processed in the cafe and uploaded shortly after. 283 people had participated and this was slightly higher than the overall average which stands at 254.2 at time of writing. As always I had recorded the course data using my Garmin and you can view it on Strava if you would like to see the course in further detail. The GPS data was also used to create a fly-by video using the very handy Relive app on my phone.

All the locals and volunteers had been really friendly and welcoming to us, so that really made our morning very special. Special thanks to all the volunteers especially the run director who we had been chatting to throughout the morning and managed to get some great pictures of us in what has become one of parkrun's iconic photo spots!

titus: t-rex is king

The parkrun had finished, the results processed, the playground played in, the breakfast eaten, and it was now time for the main reason we were in Nottingham - The 'Titus: T-Rex is King' exhibition which was taking place in Nottingham's National History Museum (in Wollaton Hall itself). The main exhibit was the skeleton of Titus, a T-Rex discovered in Montana's Hell Creek Formation in 2014. It was excavated in 2018 and the exhibition ran from July 2021 until the end of August 2022 (we visited on its final weekend on display).

It was said to be the only T-Rex currently on display in the whole of Europe and also the first time a genuine T-Rex skeleton had been displayed in the UK for over a century. The skeleton was much larger than I had imagined (the photos don't do its size and overall presence justice) and I'm so glad we visited. It was incredible!

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