Saturday 3 June 2023

Fulbourn Hospital parkrun

Fulbourn is a village on the outskirts of the city of Cambridge in Cambridgeshire. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Fugleburn or Fugolburna which is said to mean 'stream frequented by waterfowl'. Historically there were five manors in the area (Zouches, Manners, Colvilles, Shardelowes and Fulbourne) and these were collectively known as 'The Five Manors of Fulbourn'. The only manor that survives to this day is the Grade II Listed Fulbourn Manor and this has been a private residence of the Townley family since 1788. The village itself is home to around 4,500 people. If you follow the road from Fulbourn towards Cambridge you will spot the Fulbourn Windmill which has stood here since 1808. A little further along on the very edge of Cambridge is Fulbourne Hospital, which specialises in mental health treatment.

The hospital first came into existence as a result of the Lunacy Act 1845 and the County Asylums Act 1845 which mandated that all local authorities must provide asylums for the mentally ill. Thirteen years later, in November 1858, 'The County Pauper Lunatic Asylum for Cambridgeshire, the Isle of Ely and the Borough of Cambridge' finally opened. Although built in the Victorian era the design of the building was Elizabethan. An on-site farm existed and was tended to by the patients. The original grounds to the front of the building were well-known for their large petal-shaped beds. Each petal had a different crop planted within it and the produce used to feed the patients. 

The name of the facility changed throughout the years, in addition to its original name, it also operated under the names 'Cambridgeshire County Asylum' and 'Fulbourn Mental Hospital'. The hospital became part of the National Health Service upon its creation in 1948 and it is now known simply as Fulbourn Hospital. Additional buildings were added over the years and the housing of patients moved from the original building into smaller bungalow-style buildings. The main 1858 building is called Victoria House and is now home to the headquarters of 'NHS East of England' with some of the adjacent land being home to a business park. The main modern-day hospital sits just to the west of Victoria House.

In December 2019 the hospital became home to its very own free, weekly, timed, 5km event, Fulbourn Hospital parkrun, which became the second UK parkrun to be staged within the grounds of an active NHS facility. The first was Bethlem Royal Hospital parkrun, in London. I visited the event on a lovely, sunny morning in June 2023 and took part in event number 94. I travelled by car and parked in the free-of-charge, on-site car park. For cyclists there is a sheltered bicycle rack, adjacent to the car park, which ended up completely full just before 9am. I've never been to Cambridge before but I think cycling is a popular way to get around.

For anyone travelling to the venue by public transport, the nearest train station is Cambridge, which is in the city centre. The onward journey to the hospital is around 3 miles, so if you don't fancy walking/running, the Citi 1 and Citi 3 buses may come in useful. I hear they will get you to the Fulbourn Cherry Hinton Tesco Superstore which was built in c.1992 on land which was formerly part of the hospital. From here there is a footpath that leads from Tesco into the hospital grounds, or you can walk around using the main roads. The travel options are all very well covered on the Fulbourn Hospital parkrun's official course page. Once at the venue the main meeting spot is in front of the brand new Resource Centre building which conveniently houses the toilets and the cafe - the building should be accessible from around 8am.

The briefings take place at the meeting point and everybody then moves across to the start area which is just on the other side of the nicely landscaped open grass field. The 5k parkrun course is made up of one small lap around the main grass area, followed by four full laps of the course - all in a clockwise direction. The terrain is largely flat, but there is one section where there is a gradual incline that has to be done five times. Underfoot is mostly grass, but also has sections on a concrete path and a tarmac road. I'm told that the drainage is very good due to the chalky soil in this area, so it should never get overly muddy here. Those who prefer to be cautious may wish to go for trail shoes in the winter, but in the dryer seasons road shoes will be just fine. Buggy runners will be fine here, but please note that no dogs are permitted at this venue.

Please note: The course has changed slightly since I visited.

The course starts on a concrete path which runs alongside the main entrance road. It can just about accommodate two people side-by-side so expect a bit of over-spill onto the adjacent grass. Within about 80 metres the route turns onto the grass and makes its way around the main grass area. The exact path to take is marked by a seemingly endless number of disc cones, which must take ages to put out and then clear away, but do come in very useful. There was a warning during the briefing to watch out for rabbit holes while on the grass areas, and although I did see some, the main route was surprisingly free of them. In fact, the grass paths used for the course are very smooth and enjoyable to run/walk on.

This main first section of grass is where the gradual incline can be found. According to my GPS data, the incline lasts for around 100 metres and rises by about 5 metres, so it is fairly gentle. When reaching the end of the incline on lap 1, everybody is directed to the right by one of the brilliant marshals and the course simply works its way around onto the opening concrete path where the small lap is completed. For the record the small lap is 500 metres in length.

The next four laps all start the same but when you reach the marshal at the end of the incline everybody goes left through the trees and into another section of the hospital grounds. This section initially remains on grass, but does eventually end up on the tarmac road for a short stretch at the far end turnaround loop. The biggest thing to note about this section is that it features two crossings of the internal road (which is closed during the event, but I would still advise to keep an eye out for vehicle movement). These crossings both involve a kerb down and another back up onto the grass.

After the second road crossing, the course heads back into familiar territory and eventually rejoins that concrete path and the full lap is complete. The full lap is around 1.1km in length, and after completing it four times the course peels off from the concrete path where the finish line awaits. It's worth pointing out that there is a lot of lapping happening on this course, so every single participant will either lap someone or be lapped themselves. Most will probably find they do both! The main thing is to remember to keep count of how many laps you have completed, or if you are wearing a running watch just keep going until you hit 5 kilometres.

Barcode scanning currently takes place right after the finish line. Once that is done the natural thing to do is cheer some other parkrunners into the finish and then head across to the main meeting point at the Resource Centre building and grab some refreshments from the cafe, 'The Edge Cafe @ Fulbourn'. The Edge Cafe is a social enterprise with a focus on supporting members of the local community with their recovery following specialist mental health treatment, which of course fits this venue perfectly. It is run by a mixture of paid staff and volunteers.

The results were published online shortly after and 84 people participated in event 94 in times ranging from 18 minutes through to 55 minutes. I recorded the course using my Garmin, and you can take a look at that data if you'd like to see the course in more detail. There's also the Relive Course Fly-by Video which was created using that data and can be viewed on YouTube. I'd had such a lovely morning at this delightful venue, and I'd like to thank all the volunteers and other parkrunners for making me feel so welcome.

Related Links:

The course GPS data (3 June 2023)

Cambridge parkrun write-ups:

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