What’s that all about?
We were on our annual trip to Brighton for a half-marathon event, but it’s not worth going all the way down there for a single day, so we made a weekend of it.
We drove down on Friday evening, stopping for food on the way. We’d booked ourselves again into the Premier Inn in Lewes, as we do. We came here the previous year too, and concluded that the hotel had the right balance of comfort, accessibility and proximity to central Brighton.
Saturday is parkrun day
We’d come down on Friday night so we could run a new parkrun. There are several in the area that we hadn’t done, but we opted for Hove Promenade on the basis that it begins with a letter “H” and therefore contributed to everyone’s A-Z or parkruns. We found it easy to park on the side of the main road and the weather was nice – sunny and quite warm despite being by the sea. The run itself is essentially a double out-and-back along the seafront. There’s a promenade that’s only about 1.3km long, so to get in a parkrun you have to go up and down twice. It was dead flat though, and if we’d been adequately trained we could almost certainly have run a very fast time here.
We didn’t linger for breakfast once we’d finished though, as we’d got an appointment with a full lardy back at home base. A lazy breakfast was followed by a similarly lazy journey through the bathroom and a change of clothes into something suitable for going outdoors.
The Devil’s Dyke
The warmth and stillness of the morning continued into the afternoon and we decided we’d make use of that by going for a walk somewhere scenic. The chosen place was the rather impressive Devil’s Dyke, which is a very deep v-shaped valley on the South Downs just outside Brighton. The reason it’s such a big valley is, apparently, solifluction, or put another way, melting snow saturates the little bit of unfrozen soil on top of the frozen chalk, causing it to run off like a gloopy mess down the nearest hill. I’m sure a proper geologist would describe it differently, but I like to think I understand the principles, especially seeing as I just read them on wikipedia. Despite the rumours, there is little actual evidence that the valley was formed by anything from the evil realms. It is a common human trait to assign responsibility to the Devil for anything that’s a bit quirky. Personally, I look at it and think to myself that if I was religiously minded, surely you would assign such beauty to your God rather than pass it off as evil. The Downs are really lovely, and this is one of the best bits I’ve been to.
There’s a National Trust car park on the top of the hill, and it was pretty much full by the time we arrived at around midday. Shows what can happen when the sun comes out. It was really quite warm. The Gardner parking karma worked as usual, and we found ourselves in a nice parking spot from which, had we been older and more infirm, we could quite happily have sat there all afternoon enjoying the view. It’s a big hill. With steep sides.
We felt sort of obliged to go for a walk down into the Devil’s Dyke itself, so after a bit of farting about we headed off in a generally downhill direction, following a broad bridleway and stopping occasionally to grab a geocache. Most of the ones down here were multis and needed information to be collected in the field. The ones that weren’t multis were field puzzles. Some of them were field puzzles in a box which, when solved, told you where the real box was. So the caching was a bit slow. They were entertaining and challenging, and quite well put together, but we weren’t exactly getting around the loop very quickly.
Back at the plot, when we got to the very bottom of the hill, the girls decided they’d had enough of the caching. Izzy needed feeding and I don’t think Kas wanted to expend too much energy before the following day’s race. So they decided to walk back up the valley to the pub and/or ice cream van at the car park, while I continued on around the bottom to do the rest of the caches. To be honest, once I left them the remaining ones of the series turned into relatively easy traditional caches with no field puzzle, and I started finding them more quickly, apart form the ones I couldn’t find at all. So I met the girls back at the top of the hill after 90 minutes or so, having walked back up the mother of all steep hills to get to the top. Whoever decided to call these hills “Downs” obviously started at the top, not the bottom. The Downs are chalk uplands. Which makes lots of sense, really. Not!
Anyway, we reunited and had a swift drink in the accompanying pub before retiring back to Lewes for an evening meal at a local Italian.
The caches I found on the day were:
Kas had to be up and about for the half marathon quite early, leaving us with no time really to have breakfast in the hotel. We had to drive around the north side of Brighton to find our car park for the event. On our previous visits here we’ve always been able to park on the racecourse but this year we were due to park along a very long stretch of road that had been closed off to allow parkers. There was a massive queue to get in. When we did eventually get parked we then had a significant walk back along the road to find a bus.
The bus took us pretty much back the way we’d come. We went back to just one junction before we’d joined from Lewes and were then taken over the Downs and past the racecourse down to the seafront at the eastern end. This is the right end of the promenade for runners but definitely the wrong end for non-runners.
Me and the girls have been to such things before and, at a busy event like this, we’ve more or less given up on being able to spot our significant runner at the start. We mooched around for a while and waited at the start but didn’t see Kas go past. As we’d missed the hotel breakfast we therefore rocked off to get breakfast in a local cafe. We found a very nice one. Not a chain, but a one-off local job. The coffee was good and we found enough things to eat to keep us happy.
We spend over an hour in the cafe, so decided it was time to go and join the proverbial throng on the side of the main road and wait for Kas to come back. We were there for about 15 minutes before she arrived, I think. Anyway, Kas had passed us, so we then fought through the crowds to get to our assigned meeting point under the pier. It’s a big-enough event that there’s no point in trying to find people in the finish area, so we waited for Kas to come to us. She took a while. I think there may have been some coffee and massage involved.
Once she did reach us we had no particular desire to hang around in Brighton any longer, so we grabbed some chips and sat on the end of the pier before retiring to a bus and making our way back to the car park. It was already mid-afternoon by the time we got back to the car so we weren’t going to be home very early anyway.
The house was more or less where we left it, as usual.
What’s that all about?
Kas had arranged with some of our friends from North West Leicestershire/South Derbyshire to go on a jaunt to the west of London to have a go at the original parkrun. The original is the one in Bushy Park, close to Teddington. It is famous for normally having between 1,500 and 2,000 runners. And it’s famous for being the first, obviously.
I’m not quite sure how we got an invite, probably Kas spends a lot more time conversing with other runners than me, so it was probably something to do with that, however the invitation was most welcome and offered the opportunity to go and have a weekend down The Smoke.
We’d booked ourselves into the Travelodge in Teddington for two nights and drove ourselves down there after work on Friday night through a fairly normal level of Friday night traffic. We set off from home not long after the girls got back from school and we were down there before 7 pm.
We weren’t down there early enough to get a spot in their ground-floor car park though, which meant we were stuck with the very unappetising option of driving up the ramp to the upstairs car park. I say “unappetising” because it was a pretty sharp angle upwards and the ramp itself was quite narrow, and surrounded on both sides by 1m high concrete walls. Having only had my new car for about 6 weeks I was not at all happy with the idea, but there wasn’t really another option. It was possible to park on the road outside but I’d have to be constantly going back to check the acceptable hours, and anyway I really don’t like parking overnight on the side of a busy road.
I managed to get up the ramp without incident, despite the sharp slope and the very tight turn at the top, and was greeted by a virtually empty parking area. I’d sort-of decided the car was staying there all weekend until we were ready to leave, and one look at the base of the ramp out confirmed that would be sensible. At this point I managed to find my source of panic for the weekend. The ramp dropped a couple of inches down onto the path at the bottom, and I was concerned I’d ground the front end of the car coming down. This thought stayed with me right through until we actually moved the car, and contributed to me enjoying the couple of days much less than I should have done. I hate having a sense of impending doom like that. It might have been better, on reflection, to try moving the car earlier in the weekend as soon as a downstairs bay was empty, but there was no guarantee that there’d ever be one free. At least if I’d tried that I would either have been able to stop worrying, or I’d have converted the worry into one about how much the repair was going to cost. Anyway, we’ll come back to this issue on Sunday morning. For now, I parked, and decided to leave the car where it was, and then worried about it all weekend.
We’d arranged to meet a few of the “crew” in the hotel bar. We’d stopped on the way down for an evening meal ( at the sign of the big golden “M” ), so once we’d got settled in to the room we were able to retire to the hotel bar to see who had arrived and who hadn’t. We were first to the bar.
Saturday is parkrun day
After all, it’s why we were here.
We’d established the evening before that the hotel kept its breakfast room open late enough to do parkrun first and then come back for breakfast. This is much my preferred option. I can never get my head around having a big breakfast and then going for a run straight after.
So we met up in the hotel reception at about 8:15 and began the fairly long walk over to Bushy Park. It was quite a decent walk out to the start of the parkrun, so we didn’t want to be too late. Thankfully the weather wasn’t too bad. Because parkruns tend not to have anywhere to leave things, some of us (me included) had opted to stray out in our running kit with nothing over the top. That could have made for some very cold walking and a generally bad experience. We’d established that there was no point in trying to take the car – it was a circuitous route to get there and the car parks are invariably stacked to the gunwales.
We got there well before the start, though, and the more keen among us proceeded to do their pre-parkrun warmup runs. The rest of us mooched about getting impressed by the number of people turning up. There were loads. Also, two of them were wearing “500” t-shirts. I hadn’t even got my “250” shirt at the time, and had never previously seen a “500” – that’s optimistically every Saturday for 10 years, or more realistically every available Saturday for 11-12 years, I’d think. It takes some dedication anyway.
At one point, somebody spotted Mr. Parkrun himself and encouraged him to have his photo taken with us. He seemed quite reluctant, but then I guess because Bushy is a magnet for parkrun tourists and he’s the man who started it all, he probably gets his photo taken quite a lot when he’s there.
The run itself used a slightly modified start (due to the wet underfoot conditions) and was very busy. It’s pretty much of a flat amble around a beautiful public park. All four of us ran it. We were kind of impressed by the way they handled so many people at the finish too. I guess they are used to it. They were very regimented in having multiple lanes for finishers and a cunning system involving white noticeboards given to occasional finishers to identify when the token handers should swap from one lane to another. Brilliant.
We went round at a sensible plodding speed of just over 30 minutes and then ambled around for a while trying to spot others from our group. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.
At some point we decided to break ranks, because after running and having no overclothes we were starting to get cold and stiff. So off we pootled back to the hotel. We decided to do no more than grab jumpers and then go straight in for breakfast. We were hungry and the breakfast room was still very busy, partly with our group and partly with a bunch of rugby fans who were there for an afternoon match at Twickenham. Knowing how my brother supports rugby, they’d actually gone for a weekend of heavy drinking that happened to be punctuated by a game of rugby on Saturday afternoon. Anyway, the kitchen staff were doing a great job of not being able to cook things quickly enough. Everyone else was doing a great job of immediately devouring anything that made its way out of the kitchen. Breakfast took a while.
We hadn’t really planned what to do on Saturday afternoon, but the girls are always up for a trip into central London for a bit of shopping, especially if they’re shopping for M&Ms at the dedicated store near Leicester Square. There’s a lego store nearby too. So we grabbed a train from Teddington Station and settled in for most of an hour’s worth of trundling through south-west London’s suburbs before arriving at Waterloo Station. We walked from there up into the city rather than mucking about with the Underground. It’s really not very far and the weather was acceptably nice.
I don’t remember much about the afternoon other than visiting the Lego and M&Ms stores, and possibly Hamleys. I seem to remember I didn’t feel great for much of the afternoon either.
The train home was equally uninspiring and we had the chance to grab a few ZZZZZs before going out for the evening. We’d arranged with a group of the others to meet at a nearby grilled-chicken restaurant. You know which one I mean. They were running a bit late, which made it a bit of a challenge with them not taking bookings, but we eventually got sat down and had ourselves a selection of grilled chicken products.
It had been quite a long and tiring day, so we were all glad to get to bed instead of going to a pub afterwards.
Sunday – Hampton Court
Sunday morning greeted us with bright sunshine and another substantial breakfast.
We were in no hurry to get home, so we planned to go and spend a few hours at Hampton Court Palace. At last you can see why I chose the name of this post. The palace is literally the other side of Bushy Park from the hotel but involves a bit of a roundabout route when driving. We decided to move the car around rather than walk and then have to walk back again. This, of course, meant I had to face the demon of getting the car out of the car park. Picture this. You have to execute a 90o turn to get yourself lined up with a very narrow ramp that has 1m high concrete walls on both sides. In my car I can’t see over the bonnet, because it’s rather long, and I wouldn’t have been able to see the ramp anyway because, of course, it drops away from you rather sharply.
I was somewhat concerned about my ability to get around the corner at the top, so I got everyone else to get out of the car and stand on the metal fire escape to let me know how far away from the concrete walls my front wing was. I had to do a bit of shuffling backwards and forwards to get lined up correctly so that the front was missing one wall and the back was missing the other one. Whilst on the ramp there was maybe just 15-20cm of space on either side. Certainly not enough to get out of the car, and certainly not enough to be confident with backing up again if I had a problem. Once you’re going down, you’re going down.
At the bottom of the ramp, as mentioned earlier, there was a significant drop off their kerb onto the pathway, and I was very concerned I’d scrape the front. My car has suspension which can be set at differing ride heights, so over the weekend I’d googled it and discovered I was already on the highest ride height. So would the car get off that kerb without grounding the front? I employed the girls once again to watch out, not that it would have helped because I was kind of committed by this point. So under their guidance, I rolled off the kerb at the slowest possible speed, and was very relieved not to hear any scraping noises. I apparently had a good 2-3 cm to spare at the front. So all the worry over the weekend was wasted. I was fine, albeit the drive out was still quite stressful.
I was mightly relieved now, so was more than happy to continue on our way. We drove about 10 minutes to get to the main car park for Hampton Court and wandered off in search of the way in. It’s one of the Historic Royal Palaces, and as such can’t be entered free of charge by members of either the National Trust or English Heritage. I guess we’ll have to pay then.
Hampton Court Palace is a place I’d been to many moons ago, but had more or less forgotten what it was like, or even where it was. It’s essentially a bit of a journey through the excesses of the English and British monarchy down the ages. Some bits are older than others. The earliest bits are Tudor and the latest bits are very Baroque. Much of the Tudor was removed to make way for the Baroque, apparently.
Anyway, there was a guided walk starting a few minutes after we arrived, so we went for that. We got a geezer in period costume talking to us about the history of the place and showing us around the key features. We followed this all the way around, including a change from Tudor period dress to Stuart period dress at the appropriate time. It was a different person too. Anyway, I digress. Personally I found the Tudor part more interesting than the Stuart, although that’s maybe because the Stuart was mainly indoors and we were dressed for the outdoors. I got far too hot. Anyway, I liked the Tudor kitchens best.
After the guided walk we went for some lunch in the cafe before heading for the maze and the ornamental gardens. The kids didn’t find the maze especially taxing, and in fact it was nearly as hard to find the maze as it was to find your way around it. The gardens looked pretty spectacular in the bright sunshine. It was a beautifully fresh February day.
We made it through to the mid-afternoon and then decided we’d had enough. The kids had school the following day, so we didn’t want to be too late getting home. The drive back was dull and uninteresting, as these things should be. The house was more or less where we’d left it, which is always good.