Monday 30 October 2023

Bromley parkrun

Bromley is a town in south east London which sits in the London Borough of Bromley. At 59 square miles, it is the largest borough in the whole of London and has a population of around 332,000 people. The town of Bromley is home to around 88,000 of these. The name was first recorded in the 862 Anglo-Saxon charter where it appeared as Bromleag, which would have signified an open field or heath where Broom (a large deciduous shrub) grows. It also appeared in the Domesday book (it appears to be written as Bronlei) where it, with 56 households, was in the top 20% of settlements in the country at the time.

The Manor of Bromley was created in 862 and in around 1100, the original Bromley Palace (also known as Bishop's Palace) was built. The palace building still exists and stands to the east of what is now a very large central shopping area, where since 1982 it has formed part of Bromley Civic Centre and the main offices for the London Borough of Bromley. Bromley itself prospered over the years by being on the main route between London and Hastings. The arrival of the railway in 1858 provided a further boost to the growth of the town.

Bromley has a large variety of green open spaces, but the one that is of interest for this blog is Norman Park which is located approximately 1 mile to the south of the central shopping area. The land that now forms the park was historically farmland belonging to the Norman family who resided nearby in The Rookery (the site of the house is now the Bromley campus of London South East College). Bromley Council purchased the farmland in 1934 in order to create a park and they named it after the family. It covers an area of 56 acres and is mostly large open grass areas often marked out with a total of 8 (or sometimes 9) football pitches. There are four small brick pavilion buildings dotted around the park, used for storage of equipment and containing changing rooms for the football teams. All of the areas adjacent to the park are either fields or woodland.

The Ravensbourne River meanders through the centre of the park where it is flanked by a selection of large mature trees - the river had previously been culverted but was restored in 2000. The far south-west corner of the park features a children's playground and that is it as far as everyday facilities go. However, the park also has a sports facility, known for many years as Norman Park Athletics Track, but now goes by the name of Norman Park Community Sports Centre. It is run by Blackheath and Bromley Harriers AC. I visited the track in 2015 for a Southern Counties Veterans Athletics Club meet, where I set my all-time 400m and 3,000m personal bests. The write-up for that event can be found here: SCVAC Kent Divisions 2015.

On 29 August 2009, Norman Park became home to a free, weekly, timed 5km event called Bromley parkrun. It is the 19th oldest active parkrun event in the world. The first year or so featured attendances in double figures, but by a year into the event it started to regularly attract over 100 participants each week. As the years went by the attendances continued to grow and in 2019 the event broke the 900 barrier for the first and second times. The current attendance record of 942 was set in August 2019. The attendance figures as of October 2023 tend to regularly be over 500, with some weeks breaking into the 600's. Incidentally, when I first registered for parkrun in 2010 I selected Bromley as my home event.

Despite it initially being my home, my first visit to Bromley parkrun didn't happen until October 2013 (my 112th parkrun the 42nd venue I had visited). In October 2023 I finally got around to making my second visit to the event, so I used the opportunity to put together this updated write-up on the venue.

If travelling to Norman Park in a vehicle, the park has two car parks and both are completely free-of-charge. The smaller of the two holds about 90 vehicles and can be accessed via Hook Farm Road, just of Bromley Common (better known as the A21). The larger car park is accessed from Hayes Lane and can hold around 200 vehicles. Despite this fairly high number of spaces, the car parks do reach full capacity when parkrun takes place. There are some additional options to park on local side streets, with the best selection being around the Hayes Lane area.

For travel by train, the closest stations are Bromley South (1.1 miles) served by Thameslink and Southeastern trains from London Victoria or London Blackfriars, and 'Hayes (Kent)' (1.3 miles) which is only served by Southeastern trains from London Bridge. Depending on your start destination, it may be easier to travel to Bromley North; this is also served by Southeastern trains from London Bridge but on a different branch and is further away from the park (1.8 miles). Buses that pass close to the park are the 119, 146 and 314 which stop on Hayes Lane, or the 61 and 208 which stop on the A21 (Bromley Common). Finally, if cycling there are bike racks adjacent to both car parks.

Once in the park, the parkrun attendees and volunteers initially assemble near the pavilion on the north-east side of the park. For the record, it is known as pavilion number 3. The building is fully accessible to parkrunners and there are toilets inside. Bags and coats can be left inside for the duration of the event. However it is perfectly fine to go straight to the start line, but please be aware that Bromley parkrun has a summer course and a winter course, and they have different starting points. The summer course is usually used from May-October and the winter course from November-May. However, the move to the summer course can happen as late as July. From what I have read, Bromley Council may 'deliberately leave the grass to grow for biodiversity purposes' and this means the courses cannot be switched until the mowers have been out.

The summer course takes place over two-and-a-bit-lap of the park course which is mixed terrain, with the split being almost 50/50 between grass and tarmac. The winter course is 100% on tarmac and is two-and-three-quarter-laps. The park is pancake flat and this lends itself to being good for putting in a good time. Buggy runners are fine on either course, and I would also suspect wheelchair athletes would be fine too, although the winter course looks to be the better option. For shoe choice, given that there are summer and winter courses, road shoes should generally be fine all year round.

The start of the summer course is on the grass at the south-west corner of the park, next to the playground. The start of the winter course is on the south side path, but further to the east, not too far from the Hook Farm entrance and quite close to pavilion 4. The briefings take place at the respective start point. Both courses are negotiated in a clockwise direction and both finish in the same place (outside pavilion 3). The winter course is the easiest to describe, as it simply just follows the tarmac path right around the perimeter of the park - there's simply no way that anyone can get lost or take a wrong turn, because it is one single path which loops round almost like a running track with a slight kink where it passes around the Hook Farm car park.

The summer course uses the same tarmac path for part of its route, but has a section that cuts onto the central part of the grass and follows the course of the Ravensbourne to the south and the returns on the opposite side of the river heading back to the north. The route remains on the grass while passing the parkrun pavilion, until eventually rejoining the main path near the Hook Farm car park. In order to remain on-course it is important to keep an eye out for the cones and to keep these to your right - if they are on your left, you may be cutting a corner and could inadvertently encroach on the football pitches. After two-and-a-bit laps have been completed, the final section avoids the Ravensbourne bit and continues straight on into the finish funnel. When I first visited this venue, the barcode scanning took place inside the pavilion building where odd numbered tokens were scanned inside one doorway and even numbered token were scanned inside another. In 2023 the scanning took place outside.

The post-parkrun refreshments arrangement is that hot drinks are available at the pavilion free-of-charge to parkrunners and the volunteers after the event. If you are lucky there may even be something sweet to nibble on. If something a little more substantial is required, the team may then head over to Taste Bud on Chatterton Road (not far from the Hook Farm entrance). If that's not quite your cup of tea, Norman Park Community Sports Centre also has a cafe/bar. We didn't go in so can't give any further information regarding the range of options offered. Their website did not have a menu at time of writing this post, but it was noted that one will be added soon.

Throughout the year, the parkrun can be subject to cancellations, both planned and last minute. Notably during the summer months there can be other events, such as the Bromley Pageant of Motoring (usually in June) using the park. Then there is often a fireworks display and funfair in early November (although not in 2023). The park is also subject to quite severe flooding and this inevitably leads to cancellations - of course this can happen at any time of year, but the winter is when the risk is highest. Given that the winter course is all on tarmac, snow and/or ice are both likely to lead to a cancellation.

The results for Bromley parkrun event 642 were processed and uploaded a short while later, and the attendance figure was 564. So that was very representative of the current expected number of attendees as of October 2023.

I have a selection of GPS readings and Relive course fly-by videos for the courses - the links to those can all be found at the bottom of this page. I will note that when I took part way back in 2013, the tarmac path was still under construction so the old 2013 GPS data is ever-so-slightly different to the 2023 version as that course was almost entirely grass. The last thing to add is that the volunteers were all brilliant and the vibe here was really good. Thank you very much for having us.

Related Links:

London Borough of Bromley parkrun write-ups:

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