Saturday 1 April 2023

Barking parkrun

Barking is an area within the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. It has a population of around 50,000 people. It's name originates from the Anglo-Saxon word Berecingas, which would have initially have been linked to a settlement linked to a man called Bereca. The town's name was recorded in the Domesday book as Berchingae. The area formed part of the Manor of Barking which covered Barking, Ilford and Dagenham. For a long period. it was held by the Nunnery of Barking.

The Nunnery was based at Barking Abbey, founded in 666AD, which was one of the most important nunneries in the country. The Abbess of Barking held the title of Lord of the Manor, and had precedence over all other abbesses in the country. In its early days, the abbey was a 'double house'. So called because nuns and monks both resided here, only in separate, identical buildings. The Vikings destroyed the original building in 871AD. It was rebuilt during the 900s as a single-sex Benedictine Nunnery. William the Conqueror resided at the abbey for a short period after his coronation while the White Tower (the oldest part of the Tower of London) was being constructed.

At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Barking Abbey was in control of 19 manors. By 1541 the abbey had been demolished, just like many others. Some of the building's lead and stone was used for repairs to Greenwich Palace, and in the construction of Henry VIII's manor house in Dartford. The Manor of Loxford sat just to the north of central Barking and was one of the manors included within the abbey's demesne. The grounds had a house called Loxford Hall, which is still standing, but is currently being repurposed as flats. Within the grounds was Loxford Water, a tributary of the River Roding. Loxford Water was dammed in 1898 to create a lake, and this now forms the northern border of Barking Council's first public park.

When it first opened in 1898, the park was called Barking Town Urban District Council Recreation Ground. It had a bandstand, gardens, bowling green and tennis courts. Over the years additional features were added such as a miniature railway, putting green, paddling pool, lido, and football pitches. Not all of these have survived to the present day. For example, the lido fell into disuse in 1988 and sat derelict for just over 20 years, before a multi-million pound redevelopment of the park saw the pool filled in and the space repurposed as a splash park. The park's name is now simplified to Barking Park, and has gained a skate park, indoor bowls club, a children's sand-based play area and a cafe. In July 2012 the park became home to Barking parkrun.

I originally visited Barking parkrun on 29 December 2012 and I remember being given such a warm welcome. I had always intended to revisit, but it wasn't until April 2023 that I finally got around to it. On my first visit I travelled by tube and alighted at Barking Station. This station is served by National Rail, London Overground and London Underground, so there are plenty of options. The park is less than a kilometre away from the station. The 5, 62, EL2 and EL3 buses all stop right outside the park.

If travelling in a vehicle, there are two car parks to choose from. The first is accessed from Longbridge Road which is the main road that passes the southern border of the park. I understand this car park is free for up-to 1 hour, but there is a fee for anything over that. The second car park is over on the eastern side of the park next to the allotments and can be accessed from South Park Road. This car park is free of charge. Should the car parks not suffice or not be available, the adjacent residential roads have restrictions Monday to Friday, but seem to allow parking at weekends. For any cyclists, there are a few cycle racks in the central part of the park (outside the toilets, and outside the splash park).

Upon entering the park from the main road, the first impressions can be that it is quite barren. However once in the central hub, the park's main features and the meeting point for the parkrun can be found. This central hub is also where the toilets are. On the day we visited in April 2023, they were already open when we reached them at 8.25am. The first-timers briefing takes place at the meeting point, followed by the full briefing at the start line, just next to the tennis courts. At 9am the parkrun gets underway. The course consists of two anti-clockwise laps, and underfoot is 100% on tarmac so road shoes will always be the type to go for. It is also nice and flat. Buggy runners and wheelchair athletes should have no problems on this course.

The lap starts by heading east away from the central hub, passing the children's play area and the splash pool on its way to the easternmost point next to the allotments, where the elevation drops ever-so-slightly as the course meanders along in a very pleasant way. At this point there's an almost-180-degree turn and the course then follows the bank of the lake for the next 700-or-so metres. The lake is home to the usual wildlife such as ducks, Canadian Geese and Swans. During the 1950s and 1960s, a converted paddle steamer called Phoenix II used to take passengers on trips around the lake. These days, the lake is still used for pleasure boating; at present there are unicorn themed pedalos available for hire.

At the end of the lake, the course effectively does another 180-degree turn and enters the formal Victorian Ornamental Garden area of the park where the elevation rises ever-so-gently. It is landscaped with various trees, plants, flower beds and meandering pathways. In 2012 45,000 new plants were planted as part of the park's refurbishment. This area also features the Men of Barking Memorial Wall. The memorial was unveiled in 1922. As the name suggests, it was put in place to mark the efforts of local people who served in the First World War. This was later updated to also include the Second World War. It is a beautiful looking memorial and well worth a visit. The bandstand is sadly no longer present in the park having been removed, possibly sometime around the 1970s (I can't find the exact year).

The final section of the lap features a pizza-slice-shaped (a circular sector?) loop of the south-western open grass area which ends with a nice stretch along the central tree-lined avenue. At the end of this avenue the first lap is done and the full lap is simply completed a second time. At the end of the second lap, the finish funnel can be entered and with that, the 5k course is complete. Barcode scanning is done right next to the finish line. I should add a special mention to the marshalling and the detailed positioning of signs and cones around the course - both done to perfection! For post-parkrun refreshments, there is of course the onsite cafe called Big Friendly Coffee which serves everything you'd expect from a park cafe. The official post-parkrun refreshments venue is the Daily Munch cafe which is just to the east of the park, on Upney Lane.

After the parkrun, we spent some more time exploring the park. We then took a walk into the town centre to see Saint Margaret's Church, where famous explorer and cartographer Captain James Cook was married in 1762, and the site of Barking Abbey plus one of its remaining gates called the Curfew Tower. Back in the park, we would have liked to have had a ride on the miniature train however, it is only open from Easter until the end of September, so we were a week early. As we were exploring, our parkrun results came through and 116 people had taken part in event number 492. This day was also a special occasion for us, as our son completed his 50th 5k parkrun, and he managed to do this before his 5th birthday. So I think that puts him in quite an exclusive club.

I had recorded the course with my Garmin and the course data can be viewed on Strava. For the record it is exactly the same as the course I ran on my first visit in December 2012. I also used that data to create a course fly-by video using the Relive app on my phone. We left after having a brilliant morning out in Barking. The team had yet again been so friendly and kind, even giving our son a mention during the briefing to highlight his milestone. I'd like to add a very special thank you to all of the volunteers and other participants for their support and hospitality.

Related Links:

GPS Course Data (1 April 2023 / Event 492)
Relive Course Fly-by Video (1 April 2023 / Event 492)

My blog from my first visit (29 December 2012)

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