Tuesday 22 August 2023

Lyme Park parkrun

The Unitary Authority of Cheshire East has a population of around 400,000 people and sits within the ceremonial county of Cheshire, in the North West Region of England. Historically the area has strong links with the textile industry, with notable towns being Wilmslow, well known for cotton, and Macclesfield which was once the world's biggest producer of finished silk. The far north-east of the area is home to the village of Disley, which sits just a stone's throw away from the large, historic country estate of Lyme Park.

Lyme Park covers an area of around 1,400 acres and sits in the parish of Lyme Handley within the Peak District National Park. The majority of the grounds are made up of a vast deer park which is home to a herd of Red Deer. These are thought to be direct descendants of the original deer that were present when the park was first enclosed in the 14th century. The land was granted to Margaret Legh, daughter of Sir Thomas Danyers, by King Richard II in 1398. The estate also features 15 acres of formal gardens.

The central feature of Lyme is its glorious mansion; construction of this house began in the 16th century, and further alterations were made in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is noted to have Elizabethan, Palladian and Baroque features. The estate was home to the Legh family for almost 550 years (although an engraved stone on the house says 600 years), when in 1946 it was given to the National Trust. In 1983 it was designated Grade I Listed status. It was managed by the Stockport Corporation / Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council until the National Trust took over completely in 1994. 

We visited the estate on 19 August 2023 to take part in its free, weekly, timed 5 kilometre event called Lyme Park parkrun. The parkrun event has been in place since 22 February 2014 and is open to all abilities including those who wish to walk. We travelled by car, but as we live in Kent, we stayed overnight in a Premier Inn before making the short journey by road on the morning of the event. For the record the closest Premier Inn is Stockport South (6.5 miles), however we had chosen to stay in the Macclesfield North Premier Inn (12 miles away). There are also some independent hotels in Disley.

Arrival by vehicle is simple enough, but please note the official opening time for the car park is 8.30am, so there's no point in arriving any earlier than this. In fact arriving early can cause a blockage on the A6 just outside the main gate. There is a large on-site car park which is free-of-charge, and parkrunners also get to bypass the usual entry fee for the grounds. If travelling by public transport, Disley Station is the one to head for (approx 30 minute journey time from Manchester). Google maps reports the walk to the centre of the park as being around 2.5 miles, so make sure you leave enough time to cover the distance. For those using bus services, the 199 Skyline and the 360 both seem to stop outside the main vehicle entrance. If you travel by bicycle you can secure it at the bicycle rack in the car park.

Once on-site the toilets are noted as being open from 8.30am, so that ties in nicely with the gate opening time. They are located at the Timber Yard Cafe building, but please note that this is in the opposite direction to the parkrun meeting point, so don't arrive too late if you think you'll need to use the facilities pre-parkrun. The meeting point is on the open grass area to the south of the car park, and this is where the main briefing was held. The event also starts around this point, but the finish is in a different location.

Lyme Park parkrun uses a point-to-point route, but is probably mostly referred to as a 1 lap course. Underfoot is a mixture of surfaces, including loose stones, rocks, woodland paths, tarmac and grass. The official course page describes it as 'Breathtaking. Literally!'. The first word of the quote is a double entendre, with the main gist of this being that it is hilly. In fact, it is in the top ten of the hilliest UK parkruns. The second meaning will become apparent later on.

As for footwear, it is an off-road type of course, so in the winter trail shoes are a must. My personal preference would be to use trail shoes all year round. Buggy runners are welcome at Lyme Park parkrun, all I'd say is note the above and be prepared for a tough course with very uneven surfaces at times. If you were to look it up on the 5k app, it is noted as not being suitable for buggies.

Dogs are also welcome here, but do bear in mind that it is a deer park so it is worth checking the 'Visiting Lyme with your dog' page beforehand. I would say that this course is not suitable for wheelchair users. Please also note that there are electric fences in certain points around the course.

On the day we visited, the parkrunners and volunteers congregated at the refreshments hut in the car park. The first-timers briefing was held here before moving across to the south side of the car park. The parkrun starts at the gate and first makes its way along the Gritstone Path heading to the south. The path is part of a much longer, 56 kilometre walking route, called the Gritstone Trail, which runs from Disley to Kidsgrove. The initial stretch of the course is initially quite narrow, underfoot is very stony, and the first 500 metres are a pure relentless climb averaging between 10% and 13% incline. The first 400 metres have a lightly wooded area to the left, which many participants chose to run or walk through rather than sticking to the rocky path. To the right is open grassland with a view across Drinkwater Meadow and beyond.

Upon reaching the 400 metre point, there is a second gate and this takes the parkrunners into Knightslow Wood. At first the incline maintains the same trajectory, but it does ease off and become relatively flat for a bit, before climbing again, but at a less severe 5%. Underfoot is a forest trail path. The 800 metre point, which is also the southernmost point of the course, is the location of another gate. This point features a 90 degree left hand turn and after a little bit more gentle climbing the highest point of the course is reached. 

The woods and the park's boundary wall are on the left and on the right hand side is open land, where you may spot some cows grazing on the other side of the electric fence. This path is sometimes referred to as The Rollercoaster, as it flows up and down. One of the short downhills is particularly steep. From this section onwards I seemed to become the focus of interest for a swarm of flies and they would not leave me alone for the rest of the parkrun. I was aware that some other parkrunners were having similar struggles, but there were other people who were not affected at all.

Another left hand turn and another gate marks the point where the parkrun is closest to one of the park's interesting features, an octagonal tower called The Lantern. You can't see it from the course because it sits within Lantern Wood. There are many theories to its origin and purpose, but the most-common suggestion is that it is a folly, constructed to be viewed from the dining room in the mansion. It is Grade II Listed. The course at this point continues the downhill theme as it follows the path to the east of the main house, which despite its size, is not visible from the parkrun course. 

Leaving this area, the course again starts to climb. First on a tarmac path, but shortly after onto grass where the terrain becomes more rugged and open. In the distance is another of the park's iconic features, the large, square sandstone building called The Cage. A structure called The Cage has been in existence since around 1580, however the original building was taken down and rebuilt between 1734 and 1737. Its exact purpose is not known, but it is most likely to have been a hunting lodge. The hunters would have used the building to spot the deer, before heading out on their hunt. The ladies would remain in the building to watch the hunt from the building's elevated vantage point. Afterwards they would have dined on the first floor.

The parkrun route heads straight towards The Cage, the path climbing gently until reaching the base of the three-story building. The view from this elevated position reveals the second meaning of the course page's description, breathtaking! On a clear day you can see into Greater Manchester and also across towards Kinder Scout, in Derbyshire, which is the highest point in the Peak District. During parkrun there's not really time to take it all in, so it is worth making a note to walk back over afterwards. The course then continues straight past The Cage and starts to head down the hill.

The downhill section here is fairly steep and continues for exactly 1 kilometre all the way to the northernmost point of the course. Underfoot is mostly a rocky path which is quite treacherous. At the very end of the downhill section, at 3.7 kilometres into the event, there is a sharp left hand turn. This is the lowest point of the entire course, and you know what that means, don't you? The final 1.3 kilometres is all uphill. On paper the first part is the hardest as it registers around a 10% incline for a few hundred metres. The incline does ease off a little after that, but at this stage in the parkrun any uphill is going to feel tough.

The final stretch of path heads just to the west of The Cage and leads towards the finish line, which as noted above is in a different location to the start. Barcode scanning takes place straight after the finish funnel. From here it is a short walk back to the car park, or to the parkrun's official post-event refreshments venue, the Timber Yard Cafe. They had the usual selection of drinks and cakes, but the choices for food were quite limited - even more so when it comes to vegetarian or vegan options. However, the staff were nice enough to prepare a not-on-the-menu food item for my daughter. Other refreshments options are the hut in the car park, or there's another cafe in the mansion itself.

The parkrun results for event number 414 were published later that morning and 168 people had taken part. This figure was at the higher end of the normal attendance figure. A normal week tends to be in the 100-150 range, but this can dip under 100 when the weather conditions are not favourable. I did of course record the course with my Garmin, and the course data can be viewed on Strava. The total elevation was 127m according to my readings. That GPS data was also used to create a Relive course fly-by video which can be viewed on YouTube.

If visiting this venue, it would be wrong to leave without taking a proper look at the mansion. So after our refreshments that's what we did. As we were already in the grounds we could freely explore them without a charge; this includes the deer park and the formal gardens, but not the interior of the house itself - for that you would need to pay an additional fee. The formal gardens are very nice indeed, but there was one spot I wanted to go to, and that is on the south side of the lake. This is where the classic viewpoint of the house can be found, and it is fantastic. Fans of TV or films may recognise the house from the BBC's version of Pride and Prejudice (1995), but it was also used in The Village (2013-14 TV series) and in The Awakening (2011), and many others.

Once we had finished exploring the formal gardens, we headed back up towards The Cage. Quite unexpectedly we found that it was open to visitors between 12 and 3pm, so we also had the opportunity to go inside The Cage, but only the ground and first floors because apparently the upper floor was in bad condition and not suitable for visitors. Sadly we ran out of time and didn't get to see The Lantern. Another spot that we didn't quite manage to get to was the Bowstones, which are a bit further along the Gritstone Trail - you can apparently see into seven different counties from here.

Our extended post-parkrun walk had clocked up at a further 8 kilometres, so a 13 kilometre stint of combined running and walking was about enough for us by this point in the day. It was still only about 2.30pm, but it was now time to leave Lyme and continue our adventures elsewhere.

This event had been in my calendar for at least 18 months prior to our visit, so it was brilliant to finally have the opportunity to take part in a parkrun in this very special place. Everything had been amazing (we'd also had a little family event to celebrate, which tied in with being at Lyme on this particular date). A huge thank you goes to all of the volunteers, especially to the day's Run Director who was kind enough to make a special announcement to the crowd during the main briefing. We were made to feel very welcome and this is definitely a very memorable and special place to visit.

Related Links:

My GPS data of the course (19 August 2023)

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