Sunday 23 October 2022

Rushmoor parkrun

The town of Aldershot, in Hampshire started out as a vast open area of common land. The name is thought to have come from the Alder trees which were found growing locally. The monks from nearby Waverley Abbey (the first Cistercian Abbey in England) used part of the area as farmland where sheep were grazed. The manor of Aldershot was first recorded in 1573. Aldershot remained a small village until 1854 when the War Department bought 10,000 acres of land and established the British Army's first permanent training camp, Aldershot Garrison. The town is known as the Home of the British Army.

In 1894 the first Aldershot Military Tattoo took place when a special display was put on for Queen Victoria. This went on to become a regular event and raised a considerable amount of money for charity. In 1923 a permanent home for the tattoo was built and this was called Rushmoor Arena. The military base was the site of an IRA bombing in 1972 where seven people were killed. The modern-day town is home to around 10,000 people linked in some way to the military which includes around 4,000 soldiers. 2,700 hectares of local land is currently used for active military training.


In 1974 the borough of Aldershot and the Farnborough Urban District merged to create Rushmoor Borough Council, which took its name from the aforementioned Rushmoor Arena. There are just under 100,000 people living in the area covered by the borough. The land used by the military is vast and within this is an area containing many sports facilities including the Aldershot Military Stadium, Aldershot Garrison Sports Centre, including swimming pool and martial arts centre, plus hockey and tennis clubs. There is also an area of flat open grass containing further sports fields which since May 2014 has been home to Rushmoor parkrun

We visited on 22 October 2022 and took part in event number 337. Upon arrival it is very obvious that you are not in a regular town. Everything is quite neatly laid out, and it feels clean and tidy. It doesn't take long to notice that the military areas are kept very secure, so you'll see gates with security points, possibly with armed soldiers, and mile upon mile of fences topped with barbed wire or razor wire. You may even see 'Guard Dogs on Patrol' signs and notices about the official secrets act. I guess it's just what you'd expect, but the sheer scale of the military's presence surprised me. 

rushmoor parkrun meeting area

If travelling by train, there are a few options. The closest station is North Camp and is about 1.5 miles from the parkrun. This station has no onward bus link. The walking/cycling route looks possible but I would research the exact route beforehand as it involves getting to a footbridge which crosses the A331 (which is effectively a motorway). The main Aldershot railway station is further away but has a direct bus link, so would possibly be the better choice. Lastly there is Farnborough station which I hear also has a bus service towards the venue.

A free-of-charge car park is available for parkrun attendees and this is in-between the Garrison Sports Centre and the Aldershot Military Stadium, which are on the opposite side of the main road, called Queen's Avenue, from the parkrun venue. There are actually multiple car parks in this area but parkrunners must only use car park number 6. The road that leads into the car park is accessible from Queen's Avenue, but I would advise reading the official text on the parkrun course page before visiting for the first time. The car park itself has a few width restriction posts at the entrance and it almost feels as if you're not supposed to enter it.

the start and the central grass area

For anyone arriving by bicycle, I didn't see any bike racks, so you'd have to make do with using the various sign poles or posts that support the bordering wooden fence. The toilet is located within the grounds of the stadium which is conveniently located just off the footpath in-between the car park and the parkrun meeting area. Access is possible via the gate on the corner of the walkway and Queen's Avenue. Just go through the gate and straight across the car park - the toilet is right next to the spectator's stand. On our visit it was all open and available before 8.30am. The meeting point for the parkrun is on the opposite side of the road (use the crossing to reach it), just inside the flat open grass area which is known as Queen's Parade.

Before the parkrun gets underway there are two briefings, one for first-timers and then a main briefing for everybody. The numbers are quite high at this venue so the team had a microphone with a loudspeaker to ensure everybody could hear. The course at Rushmoor parkrun is comprised of two flat anticlockwise laps, and the surface underfoot is mixed terrain and features a gravelly path, tarmac, a natural towpath and a dirt path. Shoe choice may be tricky at times. Regular road shoes are fine in the summer months, but as the winter sets in trail shoes would probably end up being the better option. For the record, running buggies would be fine here.

the section along the main road

The route starts on the only path in the park, and this cuts straight through the centre of the park to its most northerly point. Just to the northwest of the park is Farnborough International airport, so it is quite likely that you'll hear jet engines roaring into life and probably see a few planes taking off in the distance. The parkrun course then leaves the park and heads alongside Farnborough Road (the A325). It can be a tad noisy as the vehicles whizz past at 60mph, so if you're having a nice social, chatty parkrun, you may have to speak up at times.

At about 1.5km (and again at 4km) the course turns off of the roadside path and down onto the towpath that runs alongside the Basingstoke Canal - It's a very pleasant section to run/walk along and was particularly pretty when we visited in the early autumn just as the trees were displaying their yellow and gold leaves. The path isn't overly wide so it was a bit of a squeeze as we were being lapped, but it was fine. The course then leaves the canal side and heads through some trees and back out into the park where there is another extremely pleasant section. This time it's through an avenue of trees which lead back towards the start area with Queen's Avenue just to the right. After two laps, the finish is found just next to the start area.

along the canal

So with the 5k complete, barcodes are scanned adjacent to the finish just as you'd expect. The official venue for the post-parkrun refreshments is Daisy's Cafe which is just up the road in the North Camp area. We didn't join the parkrunners for coffee so can't offer any comment on the cafe. The parkrun itself, seemed to be a very fast course, so it'd be a good place to visit if you wanted to have a go at setting a personal best. In fact we had volunteered as the day's parkwalkers and it was our first time under the hour in that role. The results for event 337 were processed and online a short while later, 309 people had participated. This figure was about spot-on for the current 2022 average, but numbers of attendees are much lower than they were pre-lockdown, where it was quite normal for well over 500 to attend.

Post-event we spent a bit of time gathering up a few conkers so we could play some games later on in the day. We also managed to have a quick peek at some of the military vehicles at the Aldershot Military Museum and also saw The Alexander Observatory (aka Aldershot Observatory) which opened in 1906, both of which are on the same road as the parkrun. The area is also home to the Wellington Statue which is made from bronze using cannons captured at the battle of Waterloo (sadly we forgot to go and have a look). The grounds of the airport are home to the Air Accidents Investigations Branch.

the avenue in the park / finish

Interestingly, Rushmoor is twinned with a number of other towns across the world. Firstly the German town of Oberursel which doesn't technically have its own parkrun, however Nidda parkrun is only about 7km kilometres away. It is also twinned with the Polish town of Sulechow which is roughly 20km from parkrun Zielona Gora AND it's also twinned with the Polish town of Rzeszow which is of course home to parkrun Rzeszow. It is also twinned with the Meudon muncipality of Paris, France and although there isn't a parkrun in Meudon, both parkrun du Bois de Boulogne and parkrun de Montsouris are close by. Its twinning with Dayton, Ohio sadly doesn't have a parkrun nearby.

After uploading my GPS data from my Garmin to Strava, I created a course fly-by video using the Relive app on my phone. Just click on the links if you want to see the course in more detail. Lastly a big thanks goes to all of the volunteers that helped to put the event on, and for making us feel so welcome during our visit.

Related Links:

The course GPS data (from 22 October 2022)
The course fly-by video (from 22 October 2022)
parkrun du Bois de Boulogne (blog7t write-up from 2016)

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