Wednesday 24 January 2024

Peckham Rye parkrun

Peckham sits within the London Borough of Southwark, in south east London and has a population of around 71,000 people. It was recorded in the Domesday book as Pecheham. The name is thought to have come from the old English words 'peac' and 'ham', indicating a homestead by a peak (or hill) and the area is also home to one of London's lost rivers, the River Peck. It is thought that the river was named after the settlement. There is also evidence of a Roman settlement in the area, probably a 'vicus' (village or administrative settlement).

In the 12th century, the Manor of Peckham was owned by William the Conqueror's fourth son, King Henry I. The King gave the manor to his illegitimate son Robert FitzRoy, 1st Earl of Gloucester. Upon the Earl's marriage to the heiress of the neighbouring Manor of Camberwell, the two manors became united. Peckham is said to have been used as hunting grounds by King John in the 13th century and he later granted Peckham an annual fair. By the 16th century, Peckham had started to become popular as a wealthy residential area. It was also surrounded by many farms - mostly small holdings called market gardens, and orchards, where the produce could easily be transported to the markets in the centre of London. In the 19th century the place was described as a 'small, quiet, retired village surrounded by fields'.

The railway came to Peckham in 1865 which provided easy access to the centre of London for workers, and by 1868 almost all of the local fields had been lost to housing. So the vestry of Camberwell St Giles bought an area of common land in the Peckham Rye area to protect it from being developed, and to ensure the local population had a green space to use for recreation. However, the common was so popular that it became dangerously overcrowded, so the vestry then purchased the adjacent Homestall Farm (the last remaining farm in the area) and in 1894 Peckham Rye Park opened. Shortly after this, in 1905, the H.J. Heinz company opened its first UK factory in Peckham.

Post-war Peckham saw many high rise residential buildings built including the infamous North Peckham Estate - this went on to become one of the most deprived residential areas in Europe, but has now been demolished and replaced with a better housing solution. It was the location of the murder of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor in November 2000. One of his friends, and one of the last people to see him alive, was the actor John Boyega, who is most well-known for his role as Finn in the Star Wars movie franchise. Peckham was also the fictional setting for the much-loved sitcoms 'Desmond's' and 'Only Fools and Horses'. In more recent times it was the setting for 'Apple TV's series 'Youngers' as well as the films 'Rye Lane' and 'I used to be famous'.

During the latter part of the 20th century, Peckham Rye Park suffered from years of neglect and maintenance was a low priority. However, in the early noughties the park was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £2,461000 to pay for restoration works. The park and the common are contiguous but still retain their own identities; The 64 acres of common, which is predominately open grass, covers the northernmost section of this picturesque triangular open green space, while the 49 acre park, which is laid out in a typical Victorian fashion, sits to the south. It is this southern section called 'Peckham Rye Park' that provides a home to Peckham's free, weekly, timed 5 kilometre event called Peckham Rye parkrun. It is open to all abilities including those who wish to walk and wheelchair users. 

I first took part in Peckham Rye parkrun at the inaugural event on 21 June 2014, and revisited to take part at event number 442 on 20 January 2024. If travelling by car, the obvious parking option is to use the designated parking areas which are accessed via Straker's Road. It is possible to park in the marked bays on the road itself or in the car park which has approximately 35 spaces - the parking facilities here require payment and this is done via PayByPhone. In the period between my visits the original car park has been redeveloped into a playground and a new, smaller car park created. The other option is to use one of the side streets to the south of the park (the area around Colyton Road) which are all completely free of restrictions. The Southwark Council website says the car park has designated bicycle racks, but I couldn't see any in that location. There are however a few sets of racks dotted around the park.

For travel via public transport, the 12, 63, 78, 197, 343 and 484 buses will get you to Peckham Rye. If using trains, please note that there is no London underground service that serves the area. There is, however, a London Overground service that stops at Honor Oak Park station. This station is also served by Southern mainline trains. The onward walk is about a mile, but be warned that it is a hilly route. Peckham Rye station is in the middle of Peckham's main shopping street, and provides another Overground and mainline option, where it is served by Southeastern and Thameslink trains as is Nunhead station. East Dulwich which is served by Southern trains is also nearby. 

The park has toilet facilities and these can be found adjacent to the car park, just off Straker's Road - the toilets didn't seem to have their opening times listed, but the gates to the park officially open at 7.30am, so they may be opened at around the same time.

The parkrun meeting point / start and finish area, can be found towards the southern end of the park near Colyton Road. The participants and volunteers gather on the main path, not far from the 'Two Trees' crossroads. The two trees are in fact an English Oak and a Common Ash tree. The briefings take place on the main path and at 9am the parkrun gets underway. The course consists of three anti-clockwise laps with a short tail which joins the loop to the start/finish area. It is 100% tarmac underfoot so road shoes will always be the best footwear option. The park is almost perfectly flat, and it is absolutely fine for wheelchair users and those who wish to participate with a buggy.

From the start, the course heads a short distance north along the nice wide path before bearing right when the paths divide at the picnic area & arboretum. The 1.7 kilometre lap goes past most of the park's features with the next being a small children's playground. Shortly after, the course passes the first of multiple locations within the park where the River Peck is visible - the rest of the river was enclosed as the area became heavily populated and is now one of London's hidden underground rivers. The highest source of the river is a short distance to the south-east, on One Tree Hill (next to Honor Oak station). Here stands the Oak of Honor - This name was given to it after Elizabeth I picnicked beneath it. The current oak was planted in 1905.

Upon reaching the perimeter path at the Homestall Road side of the park, the course takes a couple of left hand turns as it circumnavigates the park's adventure playground. The path that runs along the northeastern section of the course meanders gently from left to right before passing the skate park and the outdoor gym. This is immediately followed by the crossing of a small stone bridge across the River Peck. I'd advise being cautious while crossing the bridge as there is a risk of clipping your hip on the stone wall as you turn right to join the pond-side path. The route continues along the northern and western banks of the pond, which is home to all the usual kinds of pond-dwelling wildlife. 

Next up is the American Garden, and then the Sexby Garden - this was named after the park's original designer, Lt.Col. J.J Sexby - Chief Officer of Parks to the London County Council, who served until 1910. This garden is laid out in a formal style. A feature of the garden is a very old Ginkgo Biloba tree which has distinctive two-part leaves (this tree is the large one on the corner as you turn right next to the bowling green).

The course has a few twists and turns in this section, but the route is very clearly signed and marshalled, so the risk of taking a wrong turn is very slim. A detail that really makes this park stand out are the formal cast iron railings which really give it that typical formal Victorian park feeling. 

The course continues past the Japanese Garden (c.1908) which is home to a Maple Tree complete with red leaves in the autumn and pale leaves in the spring/summer. As if that wasn't enough gardens, next up is the rockery and then the Ornamental Pond Garden. The twists and turns on this course just keep coming and they continue through the next section called 'The Oval' (no, not the cricket ground, although that is only a short distance away). It is another nicely laid out garden area which as the name suggests, is oval shaped. The final part of the lap leaves the proper formal gardens and the area to the right opens up into sprawling open grass fields, with a small woodland area designed to encourage wildlife. This completes the lap. 

Once the three laps have been completed, the course turns down the tail section where the finish can be found. Barcode scanning takes place straight after and the results appear online a short while later. I recorded the course with my Garmin and the GPS data can be found on Strava. For the record, the course as of 2024 is identical to the course that was in use when I first visited in 2014. I used the course data to create a Relive course fly-by video and that is also available to view online. Being a three lap course, after a while the participants start to get mixed up as the faster crowd starts catching up to, and lapping, the rest. So whether you're at the front or the back, it's worth trying to stay focused on what's going on around you.

An interesting event takes place each year, usually in September - The four parkruns in the London Borough of Southwark have an event called the 'Southwark Slam'. This is where people are invited to visit all four of Southwark's 5k parkruns (BurgessSouthwarkPeckham Rye, and Dulwich) during the month. A brilliant idea which I'd imagine really helps to maintain a great community between the four venues.

After the parkrun, there is the opportunity to have some refreshments in the cafe called The Round (formerly cafe on the rye) which is run by the same family who run The Pheasantry in Bushy Park. I'd describe the pricing as 'premium'. It is located next to the new playground and faces onto the Peckham Rye Common side of the park. During the second world war, huts were erected on Peckham Rye Common to detain Italian prisoners of war. One of these huts was still standing when I first visited, but they have all now been removed.

If you are looking for sampling a bit of Peckham's unique culture, it is worth heading over to the main shopping area 'Rye Lane' where you will most-likely bump into all sorts of colourful characters. The southern end of the street is quite rough with lots of graffiti and boarded-up shops, while the northern end features more of the standard high street chain stores. Mixed in amongst the two are some independent shops plus the occasional trendy bar or cafe. There is supposed to be a colony of feral cats living just behind some of the shops - I had a look and I saw evidence of some shelters built for them, but couldn't find any of the cats (I read they may have been neutered a few years back, so this may explain it).

Just off Rye Lane is an independent cinema called Peckhamplex, which occupies an old Sainsburys (we used to go shopping there when I was really young). Anyway the cinema prides itself on its low ticket prices which as of 2024 are £5.99 plus 60p booking fee. It also hosts film premieres such as the aforementioned film 'Rye Lane'. Just behind the cinema is an old multi-story car park which has been repurposed into a cultural centre called Peckham Levels. It hosts theatrical and musical performances, workshops, art exhibitions, has a food court and a few bars. Plus it has a great view towards the centre of London.

If you head slightly to the south, you can visit One Tree Hill (mentioned above), or head east and you will find Nunhead Cemetery which is one of London's 'Magnificent Seven' cemeteries.

Turning attention back to the parkrun... In terms of attendees, Peckham Rye parkrun has an average weekly attendance of around 300 people. However, when we visited in January 2024 (event 442) there were 428 participants - the increased turnout being down to the new year's resolutionists. It really is a great little park which deserves to be seen and enjoyed, and having the parkrun here gives a few more people a reason to pay it a visit. I've really enjoyed both of my visits here. Finally, a huge thank you must go to all of the volunteers that made the event possible.

Related Links:

My original GPS data (2014) (exactly the same course)

Other Southwark Slam venue write-ups:

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