Sunday 5 February 2023

Bushy parkrun

Bushy Park, in West London, covers an area of 1,100 acres which makes it the second largest of London's eight Royal Parks. It sits wholly within the London Borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames and is nestled in-between the localities of Teddington, Hampton, Hampton Hill, Hampton Wick and Molesey. The vast size of the park means that each of the five localities' boundaries all cover sections of the park. It is, as you'd expect, steeped in history.

The land is known to have had settlements as far back as 4,000 years ago, and a bronze age barrow and burial mound was found and excavated in 1854. The most significant of the finds seems to have been a bronze dagger which is now apparently kept in the British Museum. Over the years, the land was used largely for farming, with a small section of land enclosed around 1491. In 1514 construction of Hampton Court Palace began just to the south. The owner of Hampton Court at the time, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, began enclosing (some say it was appropriated) further parcels land that now make up the park.

bushy park / hampton court

In 1529, Hampton Court Palace came into the possession of King Henry VIII. He established the area as a deer-hunting park. Initially it consisted of three separate areas, known as Hare Warren, Middle Park and Bushy Park. Henry had plans to create an extensive navy, so had thousands of acorns planted in order to provide the timber for the ships. The name Bushy (or Bushie) is said to come from the thorny bushes that were placed around them to protect them from the deer.

King Charles I created an artificial water channel called Longford River during 1638/9 - its purpose was to capture and transport water from the River Colne to Hampton Court to supply its water features, it is 19km long and it flows through the park where it also feeds Bushy Park's ponds and the formal water garden. Within the water garden is the Grade II Listed Brew House; beer was produced here for the residents of one of the park's grand houses, Upper Lodge, at a time when beer was safer to drink than water. In 1702, King William III died from pneumonia after sustaining an injury when he fell from his horse after it had stumbled on a mole's burrow in the park.

water gardens / bushy house / upper lodge / shaef plaques

In the early 18th century, the park gained its most well-known formal feature with the addition of the picturesque, mile-long Chestnut Avenue (originally called Great Avenue). It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (designer of 54 London churches including St. Paul's Cathedral), and served as a grand approach to Hampton Court Palace. Towards its southern end is the Diana Fountain, which features a polished bronze statue of a goddess surrounded by four boys, four water nymphs and four shells. Opinions vary over who the statue actually honours, it is sometimes linked to the Roman Goddess Diana, while other sources say that it honours the nymph Arethusa. For the record, it definitely has nothing to do with Princess Diana. The fountain had previously been installed at Somerset House by Charles I for his wife Henrietta Maria, before being relocated to Hampton Court Gardens by Oliver Cromwell. It has been in its current location since 1713.

It was around this time that the three separate park areas are thought to have started to be known collectively as Bushy Park. The end of the 18th Century marked the point where the park first became open to the public. This was on the orders of King William IV.

diana fountain

A couple of large houses sit in the northern part of the grounds, these were originally called Upper Lodge and Lower Lodge. Upper Lodge retains its name and is next to the park's formal water gardens, as mentioned above. Lower Lodge was originally built in 1685, but later redesigned and renamed Bushy House. This was home to several notable people including Prime Minister Lord North and King George IV, who is said to have been in residence at the time he became King. In later years the exiled Prince Louis of France took up residence here. It finally ended up as the National Physical Laboratory whose work includes the first working atomic clock as well as pioneering work in the world of computing including one of the world's first working computers (designed by Alan Turing) and the development of packet switching. The NPL also maintains the UK's primary standards of measurement and was involvement in the development of the infamous 'bouncing bomb'. 

Within the grounds of Bushy House is an apple tree which was grown from a section of Sir Isaac Newton's original apple tree (the one that helped him with his work on gravity). Sadly this area is not generally open to the public, but the NPL sometimes have open days where you may be able to see it. Continuing on this theme, a batch of seeds from one of the original tree's apples went to space with British astronaut Tim Peake. In 2020, Bushy Park was chosen as one of the sites where one of the space saplings would be planted. As of January 2023, it still hasn't been transferred here. However it is planned to be protected by a dome and will be located within the Woodlands Garden.

bushy parkrun

Over the years the park had gone from being common land to being totally enclosed, and with the addition of the brick wall, public access was now impossible. A famous story is that of Timothy Bennett, a local shoemaker, who successfully fought for the restoration of a public right-of-way through the park. This path still exists and is named Cobbler's Walk in his honour. It runs east-west connecting Hampton Hill to Hampton Wick. There is a memorial to him next to the Hampton Wick gate. It was during Queen Victoria's reign that the park was fully opened to the public.

During World War I Canadian troops were based in the park and the King's Canadian Hospital was established in Upper Lodge. During World War II, Bushy Park became home to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHEAF) whose commander was General Dwight D. Eisenhower. 8,000 American troops were located in the north-east corner of the park in the USAAF base called Camp Griffiss, which was named after Lieutenant Colonel Townsend Griffiss; the first American airman to die in Europe after the US entered the war. The top secret plans for Operation Overlord (Battle of Normandy) were made here which of course involved the D-Day landings. After the war some of the buildings were used as Bushy Park High School before being demolished in the early 1960's.

the start

Bushy Park also has a long history with sports, most notably rugby, cricket and hockey. It is currently home to Teddington Rugby Club and four Cricket clubs. It was one of these clubs, Teddington Cricket Club, whose members were looking for a winter activity, so in 1871 devised the rules for a game called hockey. These are the rules that form modern-day hockey. On the western edge of the park is Hampton Pool, this is a heated, outdoor pool which is famously open 365 days-per-year. In 2012 Chestnut Avenue formed part of the Olympic Games Cycling Road Race route. The local area is also a very popular place for elite long-distance runners to live and train, I understand this is linked to St Mary's University which is well-known for producing world class athletes.

The modern day Bushy Park is still a deer park, providing home to around 320 red and fallow deer. The park now has a children's playground, a cafe called The Pheasantry and lots of wonderful areas to explore. A few areas have undergone refurbishment in recent years including the Diana Fountain and The Water Gardens. The majority of the park's terrain is made of open areas of natural grassland, bracken and trees. The park lost around 1,300 trees during the Great Storm of 1987, but there are of course many that survived that night. Around 200 of the remaining trees are classed as veteran (the highest number in any of London's parks), with 94 of these designated as ancient. In 2015 the park was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Longford River still flows through the park and it feeds the ponds and the formal water garden. The park also contains Europe's longest avenue of Lime trees, which, I hear, was created in 1622.

first section of the course

On 2 October 2004, the park became home to a small weekly event called Bushy Park Time Trial. In October 2008 the name changed to Bushy parkrun. This park is of course the home of parkrun, and the story of how it began is very well known throughout the parkrun world, so I won't go over it again here. The event takes place over a 5 kilometre course on the eastern side of the park, and is open to all abilities including walkers. In fact these days, walking is very much encouraged and actively supported with the addition of the parkwalker volunteer role. You'll be very welcome no matter how you decide to participate.

This was my second visit to Bushy parkrun, the first having been almost ten years earlier. On that occasion, I cycled from Central London and secured my bike to the bicycle rack at the main car park. For the 2023 visit (my daughter's 100th 5k parkrun), we went as a family so we used the car. The main car park (free of charge), just next to the Diana Fountain is the obvious place to park, but you do need to arrive nice and early to secure a space here - access to this car park requires entry via the Hampton Court Gate at the southern end of Chesnut Drive. For most of the year, the vehicle gates open at 6.30am, but during the deer culls, which take place intermittently from September through to December, the vehicle gates open at 8am. Further details can be found on the Royal Parks website.

around the course - cobblers walk

An alternative car park exists within the park and this can be found near the Pheasantry Cafe. It is also free of charge. Access to this car park is via the Teddington Gate vehicle entrance which is at the northern end of Chestnut Drive. This is a good option if you are planning to go to the cafe afterwards. Another option is The Hampton Court Green car park, which is outside of the park, plus there is some limited on-street parking on Hampton Court Road. These both require a fee to be payed. For other free parking options, you may be able to find some on-street parking to the north of the park, in Teddington. To the south, there may be some restriction-free roads on the other side of the river. The Hampton Wick area, to the east of the park, looks to largely be residential parking at all times, so avoid that. Finally to the west of the park, in Hampton, there seem to be some options.

Using public transport is an advisable way to travel to this venue. It'll remove the stress of finding a parking space. Hampton Court, Teddington, and Hampton Wick Train Stations are all nearby. If travelling from Central London, the trains that run from Waterloo to Teddington and Hampton Wick seem to be the more frequent option. There are different routes in use from Waterloo, so some reach Teddington first, then Hampton Wick while others reach them the other way around. Another option should you wish to avoid on-the-day travel is to stay overnight nearby. I hear the Teddington Travelodge is a popular option (The Travelodge website quotes £5 for 24 hours of car parking in their car park).

around the course

The meeting point for the parkrun is just to the east of the Diana Fountain, not far from the main car park. The toilets are located nearby, and can easily be found next to the playground. There are also toilets located at the Pheasantry Cafe. Bushy parkrun is the original and largest parkrun in the UK. It regularly has over 1,000 participants, so when you arrive it'll be pretty obvious that you're in the right place. The main briefing takes place at the start line, and as you can imagine it is quite a sight. In order for all participants to hear, the briefing is done via a PA system.

Please bear in mind that the deer that reside in park are wild animals and need to be treated with caution and respect. There are some general deer safety guidelines plus some extra rules for dog owners on the Royal Parks website.

The parkrun takes place over one single anti-clockwise lap, although technically it's a point-to-point course as the start and finish do not actually join to create a full lap. It is contained wholly within the section of the park that falls within Hampton Wick. The terrain underfoot is a mix of fine gravelly path (this surface is known as hoggin), but there are also sections of tarmac and grass. Road shoes are fine in dry conditions, but my personal preference would move towards trail shoes during the particularly wet times of the year.

around the course - chestnut avenue / cobblers walk

I understand this course is the third different permanent route to be used at Bushy parkrun (but I hear there may have been other variations). The first was used from 2004 until 2006, and the second version from 2006 until changing to the current course in 2015. The park is perfectly flat, with not even a hint of any hills. Buggy running is totally fine here, just watch out during the first kilometre as it'll be very congested.

The opening stretch is on grass, at the eastern end of Lime Avenue (right next to the playground). It's super wide which allows for the high number of participants to line up and get off to a good flowing start. After a few hundred metres the course joins the hoggin path which runs alongside The Royal Paddocks, I understand this area is used by the Sovereign for stabling and grazing. The course then passes the Hampton Wick Royal Cricket Club at the south-east corner of the course. It then heads north past the Hampton Wick Gate and the Timothy Bennet Memorial, before turning and heading towards the centre of the eastern-half of the park, using Cobbler's Walk, where the course passes Leg of Mutton Pond.

around the course - the last kilometre (or so)

When reaching the central point, the course heads back out towards the perimeter path where it passes the Shaef Gate and the USAAF memorial. This area is also where the bronze-age burial mound was discovered. I understand the course passes over it. The next section heads south along Chestnut Avenue before turning to head back towards the centre of the course along Cobbler's Walk, but from the opposite direction. When the central point is reached, the course turns again passing Leg of Mutton Pond and then along the bankside path along the edge of Heron Pond. You may notice the course is shaped like an hourglass, but I've also read it described as a butterfly. The finish is found on the grass just after the pond.

The post-finish set-up at Bushy parkrun deserves its own mention. Owing to the very high attendances, Bushy parkrun uses a double funnel where once crossing the line participants are queued in groups while waiting to be issued with a finish token. The marshals have this down to a tee, so don't be worried about the process - just pay attention and go where you are told to go and everything will work out just fine. When the numbers get very large they can switch a triple funnel system. It is all very impressive.

Barcode scanning takes place afterwards, and as you may expect, during the busy finish periods queues do form. To give you an idea how busy the finish funnel gets, during the busiest periods there are over 100 people crossing the line every single minute. That generally occurs in the 20-30 minute finishing time window, before starting to ease off after the 30 minute mark. Once all the participants and tail walkers have crossed the finish line, the team move onto the post-parkrun social/refreshments over at The Pheasantry.

post-parkrun queue / scanning

The results for event number 916 were posted online later that morning and 1277 people took part. Plus a staggering 69 people volunteered. I recorded the course using my Garmin and the GPS data can be viewed on Strava. I also used the Relive app to create a course fly-by video, so feel free to look at those if you would like further visual information on the route. I did notice that there is a note on the official course page which suggests the previous course may sometimes be called back into action. There are links at the bottom of this page which show the GPS and fly-by of that one.

With all the excitement of visiting Bushy parkrun over, we decided to explore the rest of the park, which as I mentioned above, is huge. The resulting walk covered a further 10.69 kilometres where we saw most of the historic features and areas mentioned at the beginning of this write-up. Until this point I'd only ever been in the parts used for the parkrun and junior parkrun (we were regular volunteers there for a bit, many years ago). It really is a lovely place to spend a full day, so if visiting, don't rush off home straight after the parkrun. A final mention should go to the team of volunteers who not only put on the event for their local community, but also welcome hundreds of Bushy first-timers every week, making their pilgrimage to the home of parkrun. Thank you.

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