Sunday 4 September 2022

Edenbrook Country parkrun

In the north-east corner of Hampshire you will find the town of Fleet which is covered by Hart District Council. The area where the town sits had originally been flat, open, tree-less, common land on which local people had grazed cattle. The name Fleet comes from the French word La Flete which I'm lead to believe means 'shallow pond' and had been a small settlement in the 1700s. During the 19th century, the Enclosure Act placed common land such as this into the hands of local landowners, this, of course, made most of the area off-limits. It stayed that way until 1878 when a large area of enclosed land was auctioned. The newly acquired land was divided into plots and sold to prospective house builders and individuals, which accelerated the growth of the town.

edenbrook country park / hart leisure centre

In the late 1990s the Berkeley Group (a house building company, formerly known as Berkeley Homes) applied for permission to build new houses on the western edge of Fleet. In 2006 permission to build the new homes was granted and this included the development of a sports centre and a country park. The newly created community was given the name Edenbrook Village and the 24 hectare country park took the name of Edenbrook Country Park. The park features woodlands, wetlands and meadows, plus contains 4.7km of footpaths, bat roosts, bird hide, picnic areas, a BMX pump bike track, mountain bike track, community gardens and an amphitheatre.

On 23 April 2022 the park became home to Edenbrook Country parkrun, a 5km walking and running event which takes place every Saturday at 9am. At the time of writing the event is still in its trial period, so it is crucial for the future of the event that we follow the guidance issued by the team and do not upset any other park users or neighbouring residents (the same goes for all parkruns, of course). We visited and took part in their 20th event on a dry and sunny morning on 3 September 2022. We used the car and we were fortunate to have no issues with traffic on the M25 or M3 (it was a different story on the way home!).

main briefing and start

The parking for this event is free-of-charge and there are multiple options - firstly the country park has its own parking facilities, however this car park is pretty small so cannot accommodate everyone. Fortunately the Hart Leisure Centre is right next door and has ample space - the parking here is free for up to three hours (check the procedure with the centre if staying for longer - you may need to do provide your registration number at the main reception to avoid getting a fine). Please bear in mind that it is requested that parkrunners use the far back section of the leisure centre car park and that we do not park on the adjacent residential roads (failure to adhere to this may lead to permission to hold the event being withdrawn).

For travel by train the nearest station is Fleet which is on the South West Railway line that runs between London Waterloo and Basingstoke. Fleet Station is approximately 3.8 kilometres away from the park. I'm not aware of any buses that run to the park. The leisure centre also has lots of bicycle racks and is the location of the toilets (I hear you can also use their showering facilities for £1.10 per person). The meeting point for the parkrun is at the entrance to the country park which is just a few metres from the leisure centre's main entrance. The parkrun first-timers briefing followed by the main briefing are held around this area just before 9am and once complete the morning's assembled parkrunners are sent off for their morning walk, jog or run around the park.

around the course

The current course here at Edenbrook Country Park is a 'two-lap with a start/finish tail' configuration, is run in an anti-clockwise direction and is flat. It was described as a lollipop-style course when we visited, but it has quite a short stick section. Underfoot you will find a selection of gravel paths with varying sized aggregate to negotiate. The gravel is fairly compact but the top layer is loose and I found that a few tiny stones managed to get inside my road shoes. Trail shoes may have been a better option as they tend to offer better protection against this kind of unwanted intrusion. However I imagine most people will be happy enough in road shoes around this course. There is a note on the official course page which says the course is liable to flooding (the park is a flood plain) and if it does the event may be cancelled, so be sure to check the official social media channels before travelling, especially during wetter periods.

The course follows paths which are a standard width all the way around and this includes the start, so the first section is likely to be quite congested. To try to help everyone to get away smoothly the team has 'estimated finish time' markers where participants can self-seed in order to help keep things orderly. The opening section is tight with bushes or fences on either side of the path. There are initially no grass verges to spread out onto, and even when a grass verge does appear there are very clear signs instructing participants to 'keep off the grass'. This opening section is about 400 metres long and meanders around in a very pleasing way until it reaches the beginning of the two lap section.

around the course

The lap (the sweet part of the lollipop) is negotiated in an anti-clockwise direction and participants are requested to keep to the right hand side. This is due to the course featuring a couple of sections where participants run in both directions along the same bit of path. The great thing about this is that it makes for a very social event and no matter where you are in the field you are never too far away from a fellow parkrunner. I'm pleased to say I saw and heard plenty of waves and encouragement between participants all the way around the course. It is very well marked out with arrows and cones so the chances of taking a wrong turn are very slim, plus there are the wonderful marshals dotted around the course at key points (thank you).

The country park sits on land which was previously 'low-grade farmland', but this has been transformed into a place which is suitable for the needs of a variety of wildlife. It is also now part of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area plus it is also a Suitable Alternate Green Space (SANG). The scenery is lovely and is largely made up of a selection of meadows and ponds, plus the River Hart flows through the park. It's a tributary of the River Whitewater and is not very wide, it's more like a stream and the parkrun course passes over it a few times.

around the course / the dragon and the 'happy to chat' bench

Quite a few of the park benches and notice boards are carved and contain depictions of local wildlife, seeds and leaves. One of the benches I saw was engraved with the words 'Happy to chat bench' which seemed like a very nice idea. Also keep an eye out for the carved dragon which I gather was created by chainsaw artists. I saw a map which suggested there may be areas for cattle grazing, but I didn't see any on the day. I did, however, see some of the resident swans.

If you are in a place within the field where you are being lapped (approx 35 minutes plus), please watch out at the very end of your first lap because as you are keeping to the right-hand-side of the path you will need to make a left hand turn to start your second lap. However the participants who are lapping you will probably be overtaking on the left, so just keep an eye out for each other. At the end of the second lap the course heads back down the meandering path back towards the leisure centre where the start line is now the finish line. You will find a bank of volunteers lined up right after the finish line, ready to scan your parkrun barcode and finish token.

finish and barcode scanning

I recorded the route using my Garmin and you can view the data on my Strava account. I also used the Relive app to create a fly-by video which can be viewed on YouTube. The results for event 20 were published a short while later and 256 people had taken part. This is pretty much on-par with the expected turn out, but lower than the current official average of around 300. If visiting keep an eye out for cancellations at the other local parkrun events (especially Frimley Lodge and Rushmoor) as this may cause attendance numbers to rise quite a bit.

As the event finishes right outside the leisure centre, it is the perfect place to grab some post-parkrun refreshments. I have to admit I got a bit carried away chatting and totally forgot to go in to check the menu. We had an absolutely brilliant time at the event - it was made even more special due to the number of fellow parkrun tourists (I want to try to list all the names but I'll miss someone and then feel bad) who had turned out for Rosemary Egbe's 400th different event (she's only the 9th person worldwide to reach this number - congratulations!).

me with kathy brown, jon webb and the rest of the tourists

A quick mention to Kathy Brown who I was chatting to post-event. Straight after leaving I realised that I should have thanked her in person for awarding me the cow pin badge (a variation on the Cow Cowl) about five years ago, which was for services to parkrun tourism (for the blogging). Also a quick mention to Mark Pinney who films all the parkrun courses he visits with his GoPro camera. The videos can be found on YouTube on his channel markrun. (the direct link to his Edenbrook Country parkrun video to follow once it has been published).

The run director, Jon Webb, had also given me a special mention during the run briefing which included some extremely kind words regarding the blog and even put up a sign of recommendation. I also found out that eventually the start area may be moved to a wider spot which will of course help with the congestion at the start.

This was one of those days where everything just worked out perfectly and I'm so glad we made the effort to visit. Thank you to all the volunteers that made the event possible.

Related links:

My Strava data (3 September 2022 / event 20)
The Relive course fly-by video (3 September / event 20)

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