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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.

The friends in question are all members of South Derbyshire Road Runners, and we knew many of them as a result of meeting them at our parkrunning second home – Conkers parkrun.

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.

Friday Night

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.

Saturday Afternoon

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.