Monday 24 June 2024

Grovelands parkrun

Grovelands is a former country estate which sits on the boundary between Winchmore Hill and Southgate, in the London Borough of Enfield. The name Southgate originates from its location at the original South Gate of the King's former hunting ground, Enfield Chase. Winchmore Hill is first recorded as Wynsemerhull possibly indicating a boundary hill, it had evolved into the modern spelling by 1586. The two suburbs have a combined residential population of around 25,000 people. The area has a number of notable current and former residents, with many being from within the music industry such as Rod Stewart, Paul Young, Cliff Richard, Keith Moon, Errol Brown and Amy Winehouse.

One of the area's other famous residents was Elizabeth Sawyer who apparently lived within the woods in Winchmore Hill. She was convicted and executed in 1621 for witchcraft after allegedly casting a spell on her neighbour, who subsequently died, after a disagreement involving a pig. She was the inspiration for the play 'The Witch of Edmonton'. The local area was almost entirely covered in woodland, and much of the land was worked as coppices which provided employment for the local population. The largest of the areas was called The Grove and this was purchased at the end of the 18th century by a Quaker brewer called Walker Gray who had a grand mansion built - it was completed in 1798, initially called Southgate Grove.

Shortly after the mansion was completed, the 260 acres of gardens were landscaped by Humphrey Repton and this included adding an ornamental lake to the grounds. Some of the areas of woodland were retained in order to create a rural feel to the garden. The next owner of the estate, John Donnithorne Taylor, embarked on a journey of enlargement where the lake was expanded from its original four acres to seven acres. One of his hobbies was apparently purchasing land and by the time of his death in 1885, the estate's size had increased to 600 acres. He also changed the name of the house and estate from Southgate Grove, firstly to Woodlands, and then to its current name Grovelands. His son inherited the estate and introduced a herd of deer, which are no longer present as they were relocated to the Luton Hoo estate.

The Taylor family continued to reside in the house until 1916 when it was lent (free of charge) as a war hospital. A sixty-four acre area of the grounds was sold to Southgate Urban District Council, who used it to create a public park called Grovelands Park. It opened to the public in April 1913. The house itself was sold in 1921 and it became the Royal Northern Hospital and then an NHS convalescent home, until it closed down in 1977. It then fell into a state of disrepair, but it was restored when it was purchased by Community Psychiatric Centres. Since 1986 it has been part of the Priory Hospital Group under the name 'Grovelands Priory Hospital' where it specialises in mental health and addiction treatment. It is known for being a place of refuge for many celebrities. A notable resident was Chile's General Pinochet who spent time here in 1998 while under house arrest on charges of 'genocide and terrorism that include murder'.

The park sits just to the east of the hospital grounds and retains much of Renton's original landscaping including meadows, woodland and the lake, which is now home to a colony of terrapins thought to be the descendants of abandoned pets that managed to survive and breed. In addition to these features, there is also a Pitch and Putt golf course, two children's playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts and Grovelands bowls club. In July 2010 the park became home to a free, weekly, timed 5km event called Grovelands parkrun. The event is open to all abilities including those who wish to walk or to anyone that would like to be involved with this fantastic community event via volunteering.

The reason this parkrun came into existence was largely down to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club's Foundation Team who took the lead in creating and managing the event throughout its first three years. The story I heard was that the football club needed some land for a new training facility, the local council had some, but a condition of them allowing Tottenham FC to use it was that they'd have to do something to promote health and fitness in the local community in return. In the summer of 2013 it was announced that the event would adopt the standard practice of being run by the community themselves, and that's how it has been ever since. I first visited on 22 June 2013 (while it was still being run by the football club) where I participated in event 144 and there were a total of 57 participants. Over the years the number of finishers has steadily risen, however it wasn't until October 2014 that the event broke the 100 mark. As of June 2024 the average weekly attendance is usually around 240 -260.

This write-up is from my second visit to Grovelands, and that was on 22 June 2024 - exactly 11 years to the day after my first visit. I've used two forms of transport to reach this venue. Back in 2013 I travelled by tube and alighted at Southgate, which is served by the Piccadilly Line. The onward walk to the park is just under a kilometre, so it should take around 10 minutes. There are some buses that stop in the local area, notably the W9, 121, 298 and 299 that all stop in Southgate, near the station. There is also a 456 service which stops just to the north of the park. The closest national rail station is Winchmore Hill which is served by Great Northern trains running on the London Moorgate to Stevenage line.

The park does not have a car park, but there are some free-of-charge on-street parking options. The obvious place to head for is Broad Walk, which is also sometimes referred to as Millionaires Row owing to it being the location of several large, detached houses. When I revisited in 2024 I parked on Woodcroft, which is just off of Broad Walk and very conveniently located opposite the park's eastern entrance. There are plenty of other residential roads on all sides of the park which are restriction-free, so parking should be relatively easy. For cyclists, I didn't spot any proper bike racks in the park, and it looked like most people used the small metal rail which separates the footpath from the lake.

The park's toilets are located within the cafe building. However both the toilets and the cafe are currently closed and this appears to have been the case for quite some time. The building itself looks to be in a poor state of repair and as of June 2024 I couldn't see any evidence of any change to this situation. So as it stands, you would be advised to find toilet facilities elsewhere. The closest options I could find were a Wetherspoons pub called The New Crown (open from 8am) or McDonalds (open from 7am), both a few minutes away from Southgate Station. For the record, neither of the train stations mentioned above have toilets according to their respective web pages.

Once in the park, the parkrun meeting point and start area can be found on the footpath junction at the north-west corner of the lake. This is at a fairly central point of the park. Back in my original 2013 write-up I noted that this felt very much like a flashmob-style parkrun, and I would still say the same eleven-years later. There was a visibility of volunteers from about 8.30am, but the majority of participants seemed to arrive at the start area after 8.55am. There was a first-timers briefing and this was followed by the main briefing which took place at the start line.

The parkrun takes place over an almost-three-lap anti-clockwise course and the surface underfoot is tarmac all the way around. Shoe choice is very simple as regular road running shoes are the best to use all year round. The hill profile can be described as undulating with the total elevation gain being 56 metres according to the GPS data on my Strava account. The course is totally fine for buggy runners, and I would imagine wheelchair users would also be fine here too, but this would be a decision for each individual noting that this is not a completely flat course. For the record, the course was exactly the same as it was when I visited in 2013, with the only minor changes being the positioning of the start line and the finish funnel.

The start is on the wide avenue that runs east-west across the centre of the park, with the course turning immediately to take the left-hand path which heads to the north-east with the woods on the right. When I visited in June 2024 there was a coffee truck parked on the corner that everyone had to go around. The lap can be divided into two sections; the first is the long anti-clockwise circular section which goes around the outside of the park's main large grassy area. It is actually a lot prettier than I remember it being from my first visit, and it contains a selection of long grasses and various clusters of trees. The path splits after about 300 metres, and the parkrun course follows the curve to the left as it passes the basketball courts.

This is where the uphill section can be found - it lasts for about 350 metres and the first half of it is the steepest with an average gradient of around 5%. The maximum gradient is 6.3% according to my GPS data. The second half of the hill sees the gradient gradually ease off until it returns to being flat for a short period. At the highest point of the course, the views across the grassland area are fantastic - I can't guarantee it will always look the same, but it looked very lush in June 2024. I should also mention that you'll find a few marshals at key points around the course. The downhill part is much gentler than the incline and lasts for a lot longer, although at times it is so gentle it feels flat.

The second section of the lap starts part-way through the decline and this section is like a tail with a point at the far end. In fact you could say the course resembles the shape of a tadpole, or even a bird's head with a beak. The first part of this section heads roughly in a south-easterly direction and there is a pleasant view to the left looking towards the lake. The end of this path features a very sharp corner which is very nearly a 180 degree turn. This leads onto the lakeside path and when the end of the lake is reached, the 1.75km lap is complete. The second lap is identical to the first, as is the third, but is a little bit shorter at 1.5km as it turns off the lakeside path shortly after joining it and into the finish.

Barcode scanning takes place on the grass immediately after the finish, and when all of the participants and the tail walker have completed the 5 kilometres, the event is over. The post-event coffee is noted on the course page as taking place at a local cafe. I gather from a reliable source that this may be Huddle Caffe in Winchmore Hill. Of course on this occasion there was a coffee truck selling drinks and snacks, but I'm not sure if it is there every week. I recorded the course using my Garmin and the course GPS data can be viewed on my Strava account. I also made a Relive course fly-by video and that can be viewed on YouTube.

After a brief post-parkrun downpour, we headed into the woods to explore and to let the kids play on the adventure playground. There's also a tiny stream running through the woods which seemed to be even more popular than the playground. We then popped over to the lake to try to spot some terrapins, but they seemed to be evading us. We probably would have stayed longer if the toilets were operational, but they weren't so we hit the road just before 11am.

Our parkrun results came through a short while later and 236 people had participated at event 659, which was very representative of the number to be expected here. Our morning in north London was very pleasant and the park was much nicer than I had remembered from my first visit. I'd like to finish by saying a huge thank you to all the volunteers that made the event possible.

Related Links:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...