As you may remember from my recent post, last Saturday was the inaugural Parke parkrun. If you read the course description beforehand, you may have been under the impression that the course goes a bit like this:
Run, run, run, run, run, bit stony, run, run, bit of a slope, run, run, trees, run, run run, steep slope (but it’s downhill so that’s okay), run, run, run, run, river, run, run, run, cycle track, run, hill, run, run, trees, run, run, run, stony again, run, run, run, finish.
The more astute among you may have noticed the occasional mention of the word “hill” in there. You may have sat at your computer (or tablet, or phone) and thought “hmm, sounds a bit hilly, a little undulating, perhaps”. Having run the course on Saturday I can confidently say that you are completely and utterly mistaken.
It’s really hilly.
Now before I get strung up by the organisers, I should probably stress that it’s not too bad, really, as far as the slopes go. I may have exaggerated slightly for effect. But it is unlikely to be a PB course for most people.
We arrived on a mist-shrouded Saturday morning, driving through a field of extremely nonplussed sheep to reach the car park above the manor house. It was my first time at a new parkrun and I was very surprised to see so many multi-coloured runners tying shoe laces, stretching, searching for the loos and generally wandering about the place. Overall there were 103 runners there, which was a far greater number than I had expected. We still managed to easily find a parking space, not so easily find the loos, and then joined the others down at the start/finish line.
Thanks were offered (to the volunteers, to the National Trust and to the people who had helped get the event up and running) and then we were off, running along the drive towards the house. Before we could wreak havoc on their nicely manicured lawn, we were diverted off down a stony track towards the River Bovey. The going was a little muddy underfoot, but nothing compared with some of the tracks at Plym Valley earlier in the year. This section is fairly narrow, so we soon settled into single file, waiting for it to open up again and some overtaking to take place.
Reaching the furthest end of the first loop, we turned back on ourselves and immediately began to climb up towards some trees. This is a gradual slope and, although the pace dropped a bit, it was easy enough to keep going as it headed up towards the clouds (which were quite low; it wasn’t that big a hill). Just before the top, however, it suddenly throws a steep incline at you, and then taunts you with a conveniently placed bench as the path levels out again. The path returns the way you came, albeit somewhat higher than on the way out, as you run between the trees back towards Parke House.
The hardest part of the whole course is probably the descent back to the lower path. It is a seriously steep slope and, with the muddy conditions underfoot, we had to take it very sedately to avoid arriving somewhat surprised at the bottom of the hill, face-first and minus a shoe.
From there, you cross the river and complete a second, shorter loop. This is almost a mirror-image of the first loop, following the river to start off with before climbing, only slightly, to reach a cycle track. Turning off the cycle track, you meet the second hill of the course. For those of you familiar with the Plym Valley hill, this is of a similar ilk and was a little bit of a surprise at that stage in the run. Once you’ve conquered this second hill though, it’s plain sailing as you descend back to the cycle track, the flat cycle track, and then descend again to re-cross the river.
The final stretch takes you back up the stony track beneath the house to rejoin the main driveway and a flat race to the finish line.
Despite being very local to Parke, I haven’t been there since I was on holiday in Devon with my family when I was about 10. As with the Killerton and Plym Valley parkruns, this isn’t just a chance to go for a 5k run on a Saturday morning, it’s also a chance to run through some beautiful countryside and, in my case, visit somewhere I hadn’t been to in 20 years. Even on a damp, misty morning, the parkland still throws up some excellent views and we were cheered on by the hammering of woodpeckers in the trees. At least, I think it was the woodpeckers. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the sound of the blood pumping in my ears as I huffed and puffed up the hills.
We had finished the first Parke parkrun. And, not only that, Mrs RB had finished her first barcoded parkrun. We made sure to get them scanned and then headed off in search of the cafe.
If the route description leaves you a little unsure about whether to try the Parke parkrun or not, please can I offer the cafe as the deciding factor, the jewel in the crown of this parkrun. It was doing a roaring trade by the time we arrived, with the aroma of bacon tempting most people towards the parkrun special. We shared a bacon focaccia and had a cup of coffee each, sat outside the cafe. A word of warning, don’t drop your guard for a moment or the resident cat will be in to steal your coffee. He appears to be a proper caffeine addict. And surprisingly quick.
So that was Parke parkrun number one. It was good to see it so well attended and I will definitely be back again to test myself against those slopes. With Plym Valley, Killerton and now Parke all within reach of where I live, there are plenty of options for the discerning parkrunner. In my opinion they all offer a different challenge and that is surely no bad thing.