Saturday 25 February 2023

Stockley Country parkrun

Just to the north of Heathrow airport is the suburban village of Yiewsley, which has a population of around 13,000 people. It technically sits within the suburban town of West Drayton, and within the London Borough of Hillingdon. The discovery of stone tools has led archaeologists to believe the area was occupied during the Neanderthal period, 70,000 years ago. There have also been discoveries of tools dating from Lower Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age), which covers the period from 3 million years ago through until 300,000 years ago.

In 1794 the Grand Junction Canal (later renamed the Grand Union Canal) was opened and this passed through the area. This was to prove very important for the future of the local area, which until this point had been rural with no significant industries. The earth in this area of London is particularly well suited to brick making, I understand this is due to deposits in the soil made from when the River Thames flowed here many thousands of years ago. The brick making industry produced the Cowley Stock brick and this gathered pace in the very early parts of the 19th Century as London was rapidly expanding.

Estimates on the exact number of bricks produced locally vary, but at its peak it would have been somewhere between 20-100 million bricks per year. Adjacent to the canal was the hamlet of Starveall, and one of the large brick making operations, Starveall Brickfields, was based here. As the hamlet expanded and became more well known, concern was raised around its name, which was effectively a poke at the poor soil quality in relation to crop growing (Starve All). The owners of Starveall Brickfields didn't like the association, so in 1911, the name was changed. The new name was formed by combining Cowley and Stock, the result was Stockley.

The brickworks, the local farm, the school, football club, the dock and more, which all previously used Starveall in their names were all changed to Stockley. The brickfields were now named Stockley Works. At the time, the only trace left of Starveall was in the name of the Grand Union Canal bridge 195 - it is still there and still has the same name (it may also be known as Old Stockley Road Bridge). The newly named Stockley didn't fare too well either, as eventually the raw materials for making the bricks became depleted and the brickworks closed down in 1935. The hamlet of Stockley was eventually absorbed into the expanding town of West Drayton.

The canal cuts through what used to be the Dawley Estate, which is said to have had a grand house and beautiful gardens - all sadly demolished in 1776 to make way for the canal and brickfields. In the summer of 1986 the Stockley name was revived when a business park, called Stockley Park, was opened by the Prince of Wales on part of the former estate to the north of the canal. This was quite a notable development as it was the first purpose built business park in the UK, it also involved the relocation of tonnes of rubbish that had been deposited in the earth once brick making and gravel extraction had ceased. The developers also introduced 1.6 million earthworms to the site.

Along with the office space, the development also includes an 18 hole public golf course and a country park called Stockley Country Park. The whole development straddles the borders of West Drayton, Hayes and Yiewsley. Many well-known companies have offices in the business park including Canon, Sharp, Marks and Spencer, and Hasbro. It is also the home of the VAR hub which is where all Premier League football matches Video Assistant Referees monitor the matches live. Apple also had an office here, but I believe they have now relocated to a new premises in Battersea Power Station. The site is split in two by Stockley Road dual carriageway, and they are linked via a suspension bridge which I understand is known as the 'A Bridge'. The entire development has been given Grade II listed status on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens in England. The main focus of the rest of the write-up is on the western half which contains the lion's share of the country park.

The country park covers 274 acres of the development and features over 140,000 trees and shrubs as well as 11 lakes. It is home to an abundance of wildlife including hedgehogs, bats, many species of birds and fish. It also has a small playground. In January 2023 the country park became home to its very own free, weekly, timed, 5km event on Saturday mornings, called Stockley Country parkrun. parkruns are inclusive events and despite the word 'run' appearing in the name, there is no obligation to do so, walking is a perfectly acceptable way to participate.

We visited on 25 February 2023 and took part in event 7 (my 200th different parkrun venue). Travel options are relatively good as the park is fairly close to West Drayton Station. This is served by Great Western Trains and also by the Elizabeth Line. The walk from the station is just over a mile and is along the residential streets of Yiewsley. For anyone preferring or needing an overnight stay, there is a Travelodge located within the Stockley Park business park area, so this is very convenient - it's on the eastern side of the 'A Bridge', so would be a nice pleasant walk to the start.

For those arriving by vehicle, firstly if you are following road signs or entering details into a SatNav or Google maps, make sure the route is taking you to the car park at the southern end of Chestnut Avenue. I had avoided entering Stockley Park as that is the business park, so I entered Stockley Country Park instead. However, although it took me to the country park, it wasn't the correct car park (this one was tiny and would hold no more than about 10 cars). So if using Google maps as navigation, I found that the option called 'Stockley Park car parking' was the one that went to the correct place. You could also use the postcode UB7 8BU.

There is a modest-sized free car park. It has 76 regular spaces, plus 5 disabled and 5 for Brown Badge holders (the brown badge scheme is for local residents over the age of 65), and is located just off the residential streets (these appear to be free of parking restrictions). Incidentally, one of these residential streets, Whitethorn Avenue, is where Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood lived as a child. The car park has a two metre height restriction. Please also note that the car park is opened and locked by the parkrun team, so it is not a suitable parking location if you wish to remain parked for longer than the parkrun itself. Should you arrive by bicycle, there didn't appear to be any cycle racks at the park's car park, or within the park. The playground fence seemed to be the only real option. 

An important point to note is that there are no toilets in the country park. The closest publicly accessible toilets would be in either a supermarket or somewhere similar. The closest McDonalds appears to be on Station Road in nearby Hayes and should be open from 6am, The closest large supermarket seems to be the Tesco in Yiewsley which opens at 7am (this seemed to be the most popular option). The Shell petrol station on High Road, Yiewsley is listed as having toilets on their website. The National Rail website says there are toilets at West Drayton Station, but I'm assuming they are behind the barriers, so probably only useful if you travel by train. There are undoubtedly other nearby options, but I'll also mention Heston Services on the M4 which is also not too far away.

Once in the country park, the parkrun meeting point can be found on the south side of the football field (please note, the meeting point is not on the open grass field adjacent to the car park). If walking from the car park, just join the path that runs past the playground and follow it into the trees and across the small bridge. The meeting point, briefings, and the finish are all located here. The official course page mentions the path parallel to the 'prominent tree' as the location of the start, however on the day we visited the start was in a different location.

The bulk of the course is made up of two full clockwise laps of the country park, but that doesn't quite get the course to 5k, so there is a bit of ground to be made up before the two laps start. This is noted on the course page as being one-and-a-half laps of the football field, but on the day we visited this beginning section had been altered, with the start point being at the north-west corner of the park (incidentally quite near the very small country park car park noted above). The start was within an avenue of trees but I would note that the path here is narrow. The surface underfoot is a mixture of a stony / compressed gravel path and compact earth, with a bit of grass at the very end.

The course is fine for buggy runners, and although I don't usually like to speculate on the suitability for wheelchair users, it doesn't appear to be the ideal type of course. However, I did spot that there was a wheelchair user taking part the week before we visited, so it proves that it is possible. There's not a huge amount to see around the course, as it uses the paths which are contained within woodland. The things to look out for are the golf course of which (I think) 4 of the holes are located on this half of the development, you may also spot one of the small lakes, and my favourite feature, which is the 'A Bridge'.

During the full lap there are some ups and downs - the inclines are found at the beginning of each lap with the downhill bits occurring as the course heads east towards the A Bridge and then southwards along the eastern border. There are also sections where the path is quite narrow so participants need to keep an eye out for each other when lapping or being lapped. We were right near the back, so were lapped by a large percentage of the overall field. It was a little tricky at times but we managed to make it work. Also keep an eye out for golf buggies around the entrance to the golf course area.

During our visit, there were plenty of arrows marking the course and the marshals were positioned in all the right places - they were extremely friendly and offered lots of encouragement. With the two laps complete, the finish is found on the grass next to the football pitch back at the original meeting point. Barcode scanning takes place immediately after and once the tail walker comes through the finish line everything is packed away and the event is over. There is no cafe within the country park, so no obvious place to congregate post-event. The information on the official page suggests there may be a post-parkrun social gathering but no venue is listed. So after a quick play in the small playground, we hit the road back home.

I recorded the course with my Garmin, so you can see the route that was used for event number 7 on my Strava account. Whether this is the final version or whether there is still some tinkering of the start loop to come remains to be seen. That GPS data was used to create a course fly-by video using the Relive app, and that can be viewed on YouTube. The results were published a short while later and 206 people had completed the course. Finally a massive thanks goes to all the volunteers that put the event on.

Related Links:

My GPS data of the course (Event 7 / 25 Feb 2023)
The Relive video of the course (Event 7 / 25 Feb 2023)

With Me Now Podcast (Containing the profile of the event / 8 March 2023)

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