Wednesday 22 November 2023

Pymmes parkrun

Edmonton is a town within the London Borough of Enfield, north London. The town was recorded as Adelmetone in the Domesday Book of 1086, and had 87 households, putting it in the top 20% of all settlements recorded in the document. For many years it was simply a village outside of London, but the arrival of the railway line in 1872 provided a catalyst for its expansion. It now has a population of around 82,000 people and is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in England.

In 1327, a local landowner William Pymme built a grand house in the area, called Pymmes House. It sat within its own landscaped grounds. Over the years, the estate changed hands many times and, according to Wikipedia, was home to some notable people including Sir Henry Tyler who was involved with organising the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in Hyde Park (also known as The Crystal Palace Exhibition), he also donated numerous items for display at the Science Museum, which was of course created using the profits from the Great Exhibition. The house was also home to the Nawab of Bengal for a short period.

The estate was bought by the local council at the very end of the 19th century, and in 1906 Pymmes Park opened to the public. Historically, Pymmes Brook - a minor tributary of the River Lea, and named after the Pymme family, ran along the southern border of the estate, but much of it has now been culverted and flows underground. A separate water course ran through the centre of the grounds, and this was landscaped into a lake. Pymmes House was destroyed by a fire in 1940 and the remains were demolished soon after. A Victorian walled garden still exists in the park and this is Grade II Listed. In more recent times, the park was reported to have been used as a filming location in the Rogue One Star Wars movie, although I'm not entirely sure if the footage made it into the film.

The park itself features two very distinct halves. The northern part consists of a large open grass field which is marked out with, I think, six football pitches, and there is a football pavilion building at the far north end. The southern half contains the formally landscaped areas, featuring many mature trees and includes the lake and the walled garden, plus there is a fair-sized children's playground. There are a few sports facilities such as a bowls club, basketball courts, and tennis courts. There is also an amphitheatre located in the central southern area. Finally there is a wetland area adjacent to the lake. The park is also a Site for Local Importance for Nature Conservation.

The local council seems to be very keen to promote fitness activities in its parks, and one of these activities is the park's free, weekly, timed 5km event called Pymmes parkrun. It had its inaugural event in April 2011, and is open to all abilities including wheelchair users and those who wish to walk. This particular parkrun was initially set up and run by the council's Sports Development Team and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club's Foundation Team. It was these teams that managed the event when I first visited back in 2012, and if I'm totally honest, my experience was not great.

I didn't write about this in my original write-up, but the team didn't turn up until 9am, and while waiting for them, a fellow parkrunner who had popped over from a neighbouring event alluded that we may have to self-time and then email our barcode details and finish times to the team for processing. I don't know for sure, but it sounded like this may have happened previously. The issues must have been noted as a problem at parkrun HQ, and I believe an intervention must have taken place. In March 2013, at event 101, the organisation of the event was officially handed over to local volunteers and this marked the start of a new era.

On 18 November 2023 I revisited the venue to see how things had changed 11 years on, and I'm pleased to say that the experience was infinitely better than my original visit had been.

In 2012 I had travelled on public transport and alighted Silver Street station, which is right outside the entrance to the park. The only thing that has changed is that Silver Street station is now served exclusively by trains on the London Overground. If travelling on National rail, you can alight at Edmonton Green and either walk or change to London Overground to Silver Street. The 32, 102, 149, 444, and 279 bus services all stop close by.

If driving, the venue is easily reached via the North Circular Road and free on-street parking is available on the roads that run alongside the west, north and east borders of the park. In 2023 I parked the car on Victoria Road. The roads are residential so the parking spots are quite popular, but I didn't have any trouble finding space. The only thing to note regarding parking restrictions is that due to the park's close proximity to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, these roads are restricted to permit holders on match days between noon and 9pm, so that shouldn't cause any problems for parkrunners. For bicycle users, I didn't spot any bicycle racks in the park itself, but there are fences and benches that I saw people using. However, there are some proper bike racks just outside Silver Street Station.

It is worth noting that the toilet block in the park is now permanently closed, so if you think you may need to use the facilities you will need to head elsewhere. As we were driving, we had a quick pit-stop at the Lea Valley Tesco Extra (N18 3HF) which worked just fine. Another possible option could be to head over to Fore Street where you could try the McDonalds or hope to find a sympathetic cafe owner. Once in the park you need to head towards the amphitheatre which is where the parkrun people all meet up. Anybody that visited pre-lockdown would have assembled at a different meeting point - this new location is a much better spot.

The briefings take place in the area in front of the amphitheatre and once complete, the crowd of parkrunners move across to the start area which is on the path in between the lake and Victoria Road. The parkrun takes place on an almost-three-lap anti-clockwise course. The surface underfoot is 100% tarmac and the park is flat. Standard road running shoes will be fine all year around. It is also ideal for both buggy running and for wheelchair users. At 9am the assembled parkrunners are sent off on their 5 kilometre journey around the park.

The start is in the southern half of the park, which is the prettier half. There are many trees to admire and you'll get a small glimpse of the lake at the start, but to take in the best view across it you'll have to explore the park a little deeper either pre or post parkrun. The course simply uses the perimeter path at all times and as long as you always stick to that path, you can't get lost. Please note that there are no arrows marking the route. On my first visit there were no marshals, but on my second visit there were three dotted around the course at various key points.

From the start the participants head north along the eastern perimeter path which runs alongside Victoria Road. The path turns slightly deeper into the park where it passes the playground via a lovely avenue of trees (our 2023 visit was during the autumn where the park was in its full golden autumnal coat). At the end of the avenue, the route passes the permanently closed toilet block and enters the northern half. Here the central area is a large open grass area and there are mature trees lining the park's border with the adjacent roads. Participants simply follow the path. Anyone that visited before the course change will remember this section as the event's original start and finish area.

The path continues around the northern side of the park, heading along the northern border adjacent to Park Lane where it passes the football pavilion building. The course then turns and follows the path on the western side of the park which runs alongside Swan Briar Walk. Just before moving back into the southern half of the park, the path passes the wetlands area. This was created to assist in improving the water quality of the lake. It seems that before the works, and probably for many years, some of the plumbing in the local area had been installed in a way that inadvertently led to waste water from homes and business being discharged directly into the lake.

Heading back into the southern half, the park takes on the feel of a typical Victorian style London park. The course passes the basketball courts and the tennis courts as it takes in another lovely avenue of trees which leads directly to the southwest corner. The course turns and now runs alongside Silver Street where the course passes Yacht Pond where the adjacent path is quite narrow. Look out for the memorial to Lance Corporal John Alexander Christie, who was born in Edmonton - he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during World War I. Right after passing the pond you will find a section that has been playfully named 'Yacht Pond Hill'. It's just a tiny slope, but I really love the fact that it has been named in such a way!

The path now leads back around to the original start point to complete the lap, which is 1.7km in length. A second full lap is completed, then just before the end of the third lap, the course turns into the finish funnel which can be found on the path adjacent to the Pymmes Park Visitor Centre building. This is the building with the abstract mural covering it. Barcode scanning takes place immediately after the finish and the post-event social is advertised as being at Cobblers Coffee Shop, which is over in the main shopping area, on Fore Street.

Pymmes parkrun was for many years one of the smallest events around. The first few years saw regular single figure attendances, which considering this event is in a highly populated part of London, was quite unusual. Over the years, the attendances ever-so-slowly crept up and in April 2018, at the 7th birthday celebratory event, they had their first ever 100-plus attendance figure. As of 2023 the average weekly attendance seems to hover in the 120-150 range. The results for event 584 were published later that morning and there had been 142 participants.

I recorded the course using my Garmin and the course data can be found on Strava. I used that data to create a course fly-by video using the Relive app on my phone. The video can be viewed on YouTube. With the event over, we made our way back to the car to travel home. I must say that I really enjoyed my re-visit to this park - it was much nicer than I remembered it being, and I've made a mental note to schedule my next visit for the summer. It was fantastic to see the event thriving after its difficult beginning. A huge thank you goes to the team of volunteers that made us feel so welcome.

Related Links:

The 2023 course GPS data (18 November 2023)

The 2012 course GPS data (25 November 2012)

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