Parkrun tourism, a return to Lee-on-Solent

22 June 2019

As the Race For Life was being held on Southampton Common this weekend we had to find another parkrun. There was a great deal of discussion about which one, with suggestions of various events we haven’t been to before. In the end though, we settled on a return to Lee-on-Solent, mostly because it was fairly close to home and didn’t involve getting up at silly o’clock. At least not for Commando and I.

The last time we visited this parkrun was May 2016. We were with a large group from the old running club. Much has changed since then though, mainly for the better. Today there were just two of us in the car. Commando and I planned to meet Rob at the start line. Hoping to get some training miles in for Thunder Run in July, he was running the fifteen miles or so there and then running the parkrun. We would be taking him home in our car. At least he hoped we would. As a plan it sounded slightly mad and, in the end, it didn’t quite work out.

We spotted him somewhere around Titchfield I think. My eyes were barely open at this point and I hadn’t had a coffee so my memory is hazy. Wherever it was, he was just about to run up a very large hill and Commando, looking at his watch, didn’t think he was going to make the parkrun on time. We pulled over and offered him a lift. He was reluctant but also slightly lost so got into the car. It was a good job because the route he would have taken would have added lots of extra miles and he’d have completely missed the parkrun. As we drove on a compromise was worked out. We took him up the hill and back on track to make the start, then we dropped him off again. If it sounds completely bonkers that’s probably because it is.

Obviously, we arrived first. While we waited for our nutty friend to join us we had a stroll along the shore. It was a beautiful sunny morning with barely a whisper of breeze. Perfect for running, or walking come to that. We passed the set up team drawing a chalk start line including a few motivational words. Then I headed up to the little walled area where I’d taken photos of the runners last time. The shots I got, with flowers in the foreground and runners in the background were some of my favourites and I was thinking of trying something similar today.

Last time the little wall was topped with low mounds of pink daisies. Now there were red geraniums, very pretty, but too tall for my purposes. While I was looking around for another likely spot, I heard someone call my name. By chance John and Rachel had decided on the same alternative parkrun as us. As Rachel is still recovering from her surgery, this meant I had some company on the finish line too.

Rob appeared at more or less the same time and, while the boys chatted, Rachel and I found a good vantage point on the grassy shingle just off the path. Moments later everyone began gathering for the start.

Pretty soon hundreds of feet were thundering past us. Somehow I found John, Rob and a slightly trailing Commando in the crowd. Lee-on-Solent is a fast flat course, great for PB’s if it isn’t windy and wet. Today though, was just about the joy of running. The three friends weren’t really bothered about record breaking and Rachel and I were so busy chatting we almost missed them as they came back along the shore to the finish.

Luckily, we did spot them and I even managed to get some pictures. With the running all done we went off to get a coffee. The only problem being choosing from the huge number of cafes close to the finish. Then it was time to head back to the car, with a little joking about Rob enjoying his run home of course. For some reason he didn’t find this very funny. So, with three in the car instead of the two who’d set out, we headed back to Southampton.

If you’re a runner looking to do a little parkrun tourism, you could do worse than Lee-on-Solent. You’d be wise to check the weather forecast first though. On a wet or windy day, five kilometres up and down the seafront there can feel more like ten. If you’re looking for a PB course, this might just be it but beware, it can get quite congested for middle of the pack runners. The big bonus is the number of cafes around the finish line for your post parkrun treat.

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Two challenges

21 June 2019

A little while ago I saw a Facebook post about a challenge to walk one million steps between July and September this year. Thirteen weeks walking around 11,000 steps a day seemed doable and the money raised would go to Diabetes UK. As my wonderful Mother in Law, April, suffered with type II Diabetes, it was a charity close to my heart so, on a whim, I signed up.

A few days later a Twitter post from my lovely friend Kim said she’d signed up to walk the Clarendon Marathon in early October. It wasn’t really a surprise, she’d been talking about it for a while and had even asked me about my two Moonwalk marathons. What was a surprise though, was the reply from Commando saying he’d signed me up to do it with her! Luckily both things worked together rather well but it meant I really was going to have to up my game and get some miles in.

Commando, possibly feeling a little guilty, bought me a brand new Garmin so I could track my miles and steps better. Armed with this and a training plan, the walking began in earnest this week. It started on Monday when I added a bit of extra distance to my normal daily walk up the hill to the shops by taking a longer route. On Tuesday I walked to the big supermarket in Portswood to get my daily milk and newspaper rather than just up the hill. This more than doubled the mileage but there was a bit of an issue.

Not long after I left home the rain began to fall. This wouldn’t normally have been a problem as I was wearing a light mac, but I was also wearing leather sandals. By the time I was half way across Cobden Bridge my feet were soaked and I could feel the burn of a blister starting on my left foot. As a start to a walking marathon training programme it wasn’t great.

A packet of blister plasters was swiftly added to my shopping list. I sat on the steps just inside the door of the supermarket to put one on. Then I went back out into the rain and walked home again with my four pint carton of milk and my newspaper.

On Wednesday I added miles to my normal up the hill shopping walk by going through the local woodland called Hum Hole. All the rain we’ve had meant it was extra green but the normally slippery path has been resurfaced since I last walked this way. Rather than being slightly slimy and slippery in the wet it is now grippy and beautifully spongy underfoot. Commando thinks they may have used recycled tyres, which seems like a brilliant plan on many fronts.

At the very top of the steep climb I paused to get my breath and looked up into the dripping trees. When I saw a woodpecker I could hardly believe my eyes. Often I’ve heard them pecking away in the woods but this was the first time I’d ever actually seen one. Of course, by the time I’d raised my phone to take a photo it had flown away so all I got was leaves and a moody looking sky. On the way home I spotted a new commemorative bench at the top of the hill. It’s really rather beautiful with its red poppies and it must be very new because I’ve not noticed it before.

Thursday saw me back on my Monday big loop up the Hill. There were different gardens to look at and one, filled with poppies caught my eye so I stopped to take a picture. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at it properly that I noticed the tortoise hiding amongst the flowers!

To add a little more distance I stopped off at the Village church and visited Pappy’s grave. Walking back through the precinct the clouds ahead looked threatening so I upped my speed on the way home. Luckily it’s all down hill. Unluckily, I didn’t beat the rain and got quite wet.

Kim and I had come to the marathon training game a little late to fit in a full training schedule but, luckily, we both walk, or in Kim’s case, run, a fair few miles every day anyway. The plan was to walk alone as much as possible but to have one long walk together each week. As Kim works shifts, it wouldn’t be the same day each week but today was our first.

The plan was to start from my house and walk to Southampton Common by way of Eastleigh, a distance of around eight miles. Commando and Rob would meet us in the Bellemoor for lunch and a Hamwic Harriers brainstorming meeting. It was a beautifully sunny morning, far warmer than it has been of late, and it looked as if we might even get there without getting wet.

Walking across Riverside Park towards Woodmill, I hoped I’d see the mute swan cygnets again. Today they were on the far bank though, just grey specks in the distance. There were a couple of black swans a little closer and they, and the good weather tempered my disappointment a little.

This walk reminded me of all the long walks I did to train for the two Moonwalks. Both times I’d taken a route along the river, adding a little more distance each week until I finally ended up walking to Winchester then turning around and walking back. The memory of all those lonely miles reminded me of the enormity of the task ahead. A few doubts began to creep in. Now I’m much older and probably not as fit. Will I really be able to do it all again?

Of course this time I wouldn’t be doing it alone. As I didn’t want Kim to start having doubts too, I painted a confident smile in my face, put an extra spring in my step and pretended I wasn’t worried. We walked together along the riverbank towards Mansbridge chatting away as if this was just any old walk. We laughed at the haughty looking greylag geese and reminisced about the day of the kayaks.

About half way to the bridge we came upon a family of mute swans with four beautiful grey cygnets. Seeing them certainly made up for my earlier disappointment. As we walked on I told Kim about the orphaned cygnets at this exact spot a few years back. We both wondered if either of the parents was one of those same cygnets? It was such a lovely idea we hoped we were right.

In no time at all we’d reached Mansbridge. From here I’d normally take the trail along Monks Brook towards Eastleigh but, with so much recent rain, this didn’t seem like a good idea. It’s muddy along there at the best of times and neither of us fancied a swim in the brook. Instead we walked along Mansbridge Road, just as I used to do when I was Moonwalk training. In fact, I probably haven’t taken the road route since then so it added to the deja vu feeling I’d been having on and off since Cobden Bridge.

Before I knew it we were passing the airport, stopping briefly for a picture of all the poppies on the verge by the Spitfire sculpture. The miles really seemed to be going far quicker with a little company and some chat.

We finally departed from my old Moonwalk route at Lakeside. Rather than carrying on up the road to Eastleigh we headed across the park towards North Stoneham. There was a quick stop for a toilet break in the fancy new building and a brief sit down on a bench for a snack. Snacks are an important part of long walks. Not only do they give you energy, but they also give you something to look forward to to break up the miles. Today I’d brought some of the chocolate salty ball running snacks I make for Commando. They’re basically dates, peanut butter, coconut oil, cocoa powder and oats with a few extras thrown in. Kim loves them so she was delighted I’d brought them.

We stopped for barely five minutes and then we were off again. The next part of the route had been worrying me a little all morning. In the past I’ve often walked across Lakeside, taken the bridge across the Monks Brook ford and crossed the road to Stoneham Lane. Now though the whole road layout has changed and I wasn’t sure if we could still get through. If we could it might not be as easy as it had been.

In the end my worrying was all for nothing. There is a new pedestrian crossing, albeit temporary, just the other side of the bridge. It took us to the beginning of Stoneham Lane, at least what used to be the beginning before the new part of the road was built. This part of the lane was always the most difficult to walk because it bends sharply and there aren’t even any verges to jump on if a car comes. Now though, there are no cars so it has basically become a very wide footpath. Today it was lined by big orange barriers and cones. What purpose they served we never did work out.

Once we’d passed St Nicolas Church it was fairly easy going. There’d been no more progress on the pavement since I last came this way but almost all of the lane did have a pavement and, in no time at all we’d reached Burgess Road and the Common felt very nearby. Of course it is all uphill but, with someone to talk to it didn’t seem too bad.

By the time we got to the Common there were a few worrying looking clouds on the horizon but we didn’t have far to go by this time so we just kept walking. We made it to the Bellemoor before the rain fell and discovered we’d also beaten Commando and Rob. Not bad going at all for our first marathon training walk.

Annoyingly I accidentally stopped my Garmin atLakeside so the walk is in two parts
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Remembrance, flowers, graves and grass cutting

15 June 2019

Yesterday, after Commando’s Running School appointment we drove into town to get something from the bike shop in Cumberland Place. There was a coffee in it for me so I didn’t much mind. It was also a chance to walk through East Park and have a look at the Cenotaph.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been a great deal of online griping about Southampton Council not organising a 75th anniversary event to remember D-Day. As a massive event was planned a few miles away on Southsea Common with heads of state from all the nations involved, including Germany and a controversial visit from Donald Trump, I kind of understood why. Even so, Southampton was the embarkation port for British and Canadian troops and two thirds of the entire British assault forced passed through the port en route for the Normandy beaches. It was also the embarkation port for reinforcement troops over the following weeks. It seemed a shame not to have some kind of ceremony, albeit small, in the city where so many of the soldiers departed never to return.

On 3 June a gentleman called Bill Reynolds took matters into his own hands. Instead of grumbling he did something. He cleaned the area around the cenotaph and posted online urging all the moaners to fill the empty space in front of the cenotaph with flowers from their gardens to honour all the lost men. It was a beautiful idea. It also galvanised the powers that be into action and a small remembrance service was hastily organised. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend but I’d seen photographs of the floral tributes and knew people were changing them regularly to keep the idea going. Yesterday was the first chance I’d had to see the flowers and I was delighted at just how beautiful they looked, even in the hot sun.

This morning I found myself looking at flowers of a different kind. While Commando was running parkrun, I took my usual Saturday morning stroll around the Old Cemetery. It was a breathtakingly beautiful riot of wildflowers and greenery. At least at first…

Every week I try to walk along different paths, stopping now and then to look at interesting graves, read an inscription or two or just see what Mother Nature has been up to. Today, as I approached the oldest part of the cemetery, I realised something looked very different. It took me a little while to realise what it was, probably because of the early hour and the lack of caffeine.

The cemetery was opened in 1846 and is one of England’s earliest municipal cemeteries. The majority of the graves are very old and, as many of the occupants have no one left to remember them, remain largely untended. There are still a handful of burials in family plots each year but, today, the cemetery is part graveyard, part historical curiosity and part nature reserve. It covers twenty seven acres and is maintained to preserve the diversity of wildlife and wildflowers. Grass cutting and other general cutting back are carried out at different times of year and varying frequencies in different areas depending on the species prevalent in each part. The oldest part of the cemetery appears to have had its turn to be spruced up and trimmed fairly recently.

Those who like to moan and grumble can often be heard complaining about the overgrown state of the place. Personally I love that is is partly wild. There is something comforting in seeing the way nature reclaims everything eventually. Yes, it does mean that some graves are hard to find, as I discovered last summer when I tried to find photographer Francis Godolphin Osbourne Stuart’s grave. It took weeks of searching and, when I did find it, it was so overgrown by brambles I had a terrible job getting close. Patience is a virtue in this case though, as is a little persistence. As each area has its turn to be cleared previously hidden graves reappear. Today Stuart’s grave was one of them.

With no brambles to trip me and no long grass to hide potholes, ruts and mounds it was a simple job to walk between the graves. When I reached the photographers grave I found I could easily get right round it and frame just the shots I wanted. It was even possible to get a close up shot of the inscription.

In terms of grave hunting the trimming back and bramble clearing is a great success. Having said that, I think I prefer the wildness to the cut back look any day. Still the wildness will soon return and I suppose things do need a little taming from time to time or we would probably not be able to find the cemetery at all, never mind walk the paths.

Despite getting my long awaited pictures of the photographer’s grave I was glad to get back to the unmown area. The chapel, at least from the front, looked stunning with pink roses clambering around its green doors. The ground around was sprinkled with fallen petals like confetti after a wedding.

The owners of the graves in this oldest of cemeteries may be long forgotten but Mother Nature is happy to provide flowers to cover them. At this time of year, especially after a cold, wet spring, those flowers are a joy to behold.

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North Stoneham Disappointment

14 June 2019

This afternoon Commando had an appointment to be tortured at The Running School, so I thought I’d go and take a look at the new housing development on North Stoneham Park. From the outset I knew it was going to be another kind of torture. When CJ and I walked this way, back in January 2017, we knew it would most likely be our last chance to see the unspoilt park. When I came this way a year later, work had already begun and the area was unrecognisable. It wasn’t certain what I’d find today but I knew it wouldn’t be gorgeous green fields and footpaths.

Allowing a beautiful and historic park to be built upon makes me angry and upset, as does the removal of public footpaths. Even so, I try to be positive when I can and the one good thing to come out of all this building work seems to be the installation of pavements all along Stoneham Lane. In the past I’ve avoided walking this way because the road is winding, with lots of blind bends, the traffic is fast and, with no pavements, it’s always felt rather dangerous.

The new pavement was a joy to walk on. Well, it was until I reached the point where it ran out. In fairness, it will continue, at least as far as the church, eventually. Even so, the ‘helpful’ sign telling me to ‘please use the other footway,’ was misleading to say the least. There is no other footway, just a narrow, deeply sloping grass verge and a ditch.

There was still quite a long section of untarmaced path ahead at this point so I climbed over the barrier and walked along it. It was quite an obstacle course but better than walking on the road and risking being run over. It took me almost as far as the church. After that I managed to run along the road to the grass beside the church wall without getting killed. Don’t tell Commando about the running though or he’ll expect me to do it all the time.

The grass beside the church wall isn’t easy to walk on, being rough, narrow and sloping. Whether the new footpath will change this isn’t clear but the wall is low enough to climb, which is exactly what I did. This took me into the churchyard. The grass here was long and damp but the view of the church with its famous one handed clock was worth getting wet feet for.

Although my plan had been to check out the building site I stopped for a while to admire the old lych gate. It was built in 1909 as a memorial to Emily, the wife of James MacArthur, the Bishop of Southampton at the time. It’s a beautiful structure, designed by Percy Stone, an architect, author and archaeologist from the Isle of Wight. The oak timbers came from HMS Thunderer, a ship that took part in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The inscriptions inside are hard to read but beautiful nonetheless.

Before I went any further I walked around the side of the church to check if the door was open. It has always been closed when I’ve come this way but I thought today might just be my lucky day and, if it was, the building work could wait. Sadly, the door was shut though so, after another photo of the one handed clock, I carried on through the gate and onto the lane.

The first part of the Lane looked much as it always had, although it seemed to have been improved a little, at least as far as potholes are concerned. The farmhouse, once the stable block and coach house for Sir Thomas Fleming’s Manor House, was still there. Behind the high stone wall there may even still be the old kitchen gardens, but I couldn’t tell for sure. The horses CJ loved so much were no longer in the field to my right though.

When I came to the bend I saw the first of the houses. It was clear these were not built for ordinary people like me. They are large and expensive looking with price tags to match. Half a million pounds or so is well out of my reach and that of most of the people of Eastleigh. These homes will almost certainly be owned by rich commuters who work in London.

Nice as the houses may look, I would far rather have the green fields filled with cows and the muddy footpath leading to the Stoneham War Shrine. The shrine was built by John Willis Fleming between 1917 and 1918, and dedicated to the memory of thirty six local men killed in World War I. Amongst them was Willis Fleming’s own son, Richard. Sadly, despite the developers promising the footpath would remain open, it wasn’t possible to walk it today or to get to the shrine. Granted there does seem to be a path of some kind and it’s less muddy than the original, but it was blocked off. As it also passes between all the fancy new houses it doesn’t seem like such a big improvement in my opinion.

Instead I carried on to the top of the lane. My walk in 2018 told me there was another footpath here, although it was rather narrow and not particularly welcoming. This is mainly down to the big yellow sign saying ‘private, no trespassing.’ It really is a public path, although the sign seems designed to put people off walking along it. Of course I ignored the warning and walked past anyway.

The day was warmer than we have been used to of late so I was quite glad of the shady trees lining the path. There was some mud, but I had expected that after such a rainy spring. It made my walk a little slower than it would have been but it was also much greener than I’d have expected in mid June.

A large fallen tree made me stop to take a photo. Luckily it hadn’t fallen across the path so I could keep on going. Between the trees to my right there were also glimpses of fenced in fields. Whether these will remain fields for long isn’t clear. It would be a shame if they too were eaten up by fancy houses.

On the trail I moved from light to shade, enjoying the sounds of birds singing and the greenery all around me. Briefly I could forget the disappointment of the incomplete pavement, the locked church and all those new houses and enjoy nature. There were even a few butterflies but none who wanted their picture taken.

Just after I passed a clump of foxgloves I turned right off the main trail, thinking I might be able to go in a circle and maybe find the shrine after all. This trail was narrower and I didn’t really know where it led but I walked for a while anyway.

There were more foxgloves and a couple of dog walkers coming the other way so I guessed it must lead somewhere. After a while it began to get quite muddy though and a look at my watch told me I really should be heading back.

Much as I’d have liked to find out where the trail went a large, sticky patch of mud was the final straw. Commando’s appointment was an hour long and I’d been walking for half an hour already. If the trail didn’t take me back to the new houses I could end up being late back. Regretfully, I retraced my steps.

Back on the main path a baby squirrel skittered in front of me then, noticing me, froze and sat trembling at the edge of the trail. I took a photo, not a very good one, and left him alone. CJ would have been enchanted.

Soon enough I was back at the fancy houses and giant diggers. It isn’t clear when the work will be finished or how much greenery will be left when it is. It would be nice to think that some of the trails I’ve seen today will survive but I’m afraid that is probably wishful thinking.

As I walked back along the newly repaired lane towards Stoneham Lane I couldn’t help feeling sad about the loss of the fields of cows and the slippy slidy adventure of walking the old footpath towards the shrine. Humans need a little wildness just as much as they need places to live. Sadly, the wildness seems to be disappearing fast.

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Summer wandering

12 June 2019

Spring was a reluctant visitor this year. May, usually all sunshine and spring flowers, was wet and chilly. All coats and jumpers rather than ever decreasing layers and sun cream. Summer, so far, is much the same. With so much rain the bright spring greens seemed somehow brighter and greener this year and have lasted well into June, so I guess it’s not all bad.

There haven’t been many sunny days but, when they come I try to take advantage of them. Right at the end of May there was a lovely walk along a verdant and overgrown part of the Itchen Navigation with Rachel. We chatted so much I barley took any photos but we both enjoyed being out and not getting wet.

Like so many days of late, this morning began dull and overcast but at least it wasn’t raining. With no guarantee the rain wasn’t waiting for me to go outside, I didn’t want to go too far so I opted for a short walk along the river. The skies may have been leaden but the river was as flat as a millpond and, on the first stretch some black swans made me smile. A little further on a pair of mute swans were guarding a clutch of four fluffy grey cygnets. They were too far from the bank for decent photos but my smile turned into a grin at the sight of them. Last year I didn’t see a single mute swan cygnet on the river here so it’s good to know they’re breeding again.

By the reed beds there were dozens more mute swans but no more cygnets. I stopped for a while to watch them, wondering if there were nests hidden amongst the reeds. If there were, I saw no sign of them though so I walked on.

Around the bend the path was covered with fluffy willow seeds. It almost looked like snow at first glance. With the temperatures we’ve been having lately snow wouldn’t really have surprised me too much.

My plan was to walk to Woodmill and then turn and walk back. It isn’t a huge distance but anything further felt like tempting fate. It seemed more rain was coming at some point and I didn’t much want to be out in it when it came.

A mass of daisies near the mill took me slightly off course. They seemed so bright and joyous against the backdrop of brooding clouds I wanted to take a picture. Then I noticed that the grass mowers had left a wide strip of grass along the edge of Woodmill Lane to grow wild. It was filled with wildflowers and looked so beautiful I just kept on walking.

Before I knew it, I’d reached the far corner of the sports fields, where Manor Farm Road meets Woodmill Lane. On a whim I decided to walk back along this side of the park rather than go back to the river and retrace my steps. As I usually stick to the river like glue it gave me a different perspective on the park. The field looked far larger from this angle and the distant line of trees hid the river so well you’d hardly know it was there. Of course I have walked this way before, it’s where the junior parkrun takes place and I’ve circled it in the past trying to make up miles.

Soon I was passing the backs of the houses on Manor Farm Road, feeling slightly jealous of their gardens backing onto the park. Now I was accompanied by the sweet smell of roses and the buzzing of busy bees instead of swans and burbling water.

It wasn’t until I’d passed the back of the school, almost opposite the reed beds where I saw the cygnets, that the river finally reappeared. I thought about heading back to it and seeing if the cygnets were any closer to the bank now but the buzzing of bees on the blackberry flowers distracted me. Then I noticed the men were working on the little steam trains that run here in the summer so I stuck to the path I was on.

The little railway loop has been here since 1962 and is run by model railway enthusiasts. So many generations of Southampton children will have fond memories of trips in the little trains, my nephews and my own boys included. There were no trains running today but the men were busy checking the tracks and repairing the engines.

Pretty soon I was crossing the grass towards Cobden Bridge. The rain hadn’t come but, as I climbed the slope out of the park and headed towards home I realised the clouds were slowly burning off and the temperature was rising. In fact it was feeling decidedly muggy.

My early morning cygnet surprise at Riverside Park wasn’t the last swan encounter of the day. This evening Commando and I headed off to the Common for the usual Wednesday Hamwic Harriers session. Tonight the session was loops of the boating lake and I was there to take photos and cheer.

The clouds and the slight edge of chill were back but at least it wasn’t raining. The runners all set off on a warmup lap of the Common while I took a more direct route to the boating lake. When I arrived I found two beautiful mute swans serenely floating. The serenity didn’t last long.

What the swans thought of all the runners going round and round their lake is a mystery but they seemed surprisingly unperturbed by it. City swans, like these and the ones in Riverside Park are a hardy bunch and must be used to just about anything?

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Moors Valley parkrun revisited

25 May 2019

Our normal Saturday usually begins with a quick drive to Southampton Common followed by parkrun. This morning though, a whole group of us were heading for Moors Valley parkrun instead so we had an earlier start than normal. At least we didn’t have any worries about getting lost. This was our third visit, although, for Kim, it would be a first. In fact, Kim was the main reason we’d chosen Moors Valley as she missed out last time due to work.

There were quite a few of us, most proudly wearing green 250 parkrun shirts. Those who haven’t yet reached such a lofty milestone were in their new Hamwic Harriers shirts. We also had a first time parkrunner with us. Sam’s girlfriend, Danielle, had been cajoled into running her first ever 5k. Commando kept prodding me in the hopes I would follow suit. We all know that’s not going to happen but he keeps on trying just the same.

Once all the runners had disappeared over the start line I wandered off towards the finish. It’s a beautiful setting, a large field with picnic benches to sit on, a lovely lake to look at and even a little train that goes round and round the park. The one thing missing was a finish funnel. Unlike Southampton parkrun, where the set up volunteers arrive at around eight o’clock to start getting everything ready, the Moors Valley volunteers just saunter slowly over from the start and set up while everyone is already running. Of course, with an average of just 366 runners, rather than the thousand or so at Southampton, their finish funnel is a much smaller, less complex affair.

The last two times I’ve been here I haven’t gone much further than the finish field. Today I decided to have a little look at the course, or at least the last part of it. Although I knew I’d only have fifteen to twenty minutes before the first runners appeared I walked past the giant dragonfly sculpture on the lake and began to walk the course in reverse. There was a vague worry about being trampled by runners or ending up in the water but I hoped I’d be able to find a good spot to take photos of the runners before that happened.

This part of the course is a fairly narrow path, mostly nice firm tarmac, with the lake on one side and fenced off fields on the other. Thankfully there were narrow grass verges where I thought I could escape the runners if I needed to. At least it wasn’t likely to be quite the mass stampede I’m used to in Southampton.

The views across the lake we stunning, meaning progress was slower than I’d hoped. Every few steps I got a different view of trees, clouds and blue sky reflected in the still, clear water. The wildlife I’d half expected to see was absent but there were lots of lily pads and a few real dragonflies, although none that wanted their photo taken.

While the view over the lake captured most of my attention, the other side of the path was not without its charm. Spikes of foxgloves made me stop yet again and I noticed a narrow, more or less dried up, stream on the far side of a broken wooden fence. This, it turned out, was the Moors River.

Mere trickle it may be but the Moors River is quite unusual. It begins it’s flow somewhere in Cranbourne as the River Crane, runs through Verwood then, just after it passes the northern most lake in Moors Valley Country Park, it changes it’s name to Moors River. It is also the last place in Britain where the orange spotted emerald dragonfly has been seen. If I saw any today though I didn’t realise and they certainly didn’t stay still long enough for photos.

A little further on a saw a small brick bridge. Right next to it was a parkrun marshal. After checking with him that the runners weren’t about to come zooming over the bridge, I realised this might be a hardly place to stand to get photos. A look at my watch told me it wouldn’t be long before the first runners appeared.

Finding the bridge didn’t happen a moment too soon. Seconds after I thought about the first runner appearing, there he was speeding by me. The first of our group, the very speedy Andy, was a little way behind him. He didn’t even notice me, despite all my shouts and cheers.

Adam came next. Even though he was flying so fast his feet barely touched the ground he saw me and gave me a grin and thumbs up.

Helen was next, then John and Rob. If I’d had to guess their finishing order this would have been exactly as predicted. Barring accidents or injuries, I was almost certain Commando would be next.

As soon as I thought about him he seemed to appear, galloping around the corner, thumbs up because he’d spotted me.

Now all the speedy runners had come past I knew things were about to get quite crowded on the path so I decided to make my way back to the start while there was still a chance of getting there. Without all the stops for photos it didn’t take very long. Commando was there waiting for me.

Sam and Danielle were the next of our group to cross the finish line. For a first ever parkrun, Danielle did brilliantly and hardly looked tired at all. Right behind them were Rachel, still recovering from major surgery and run walking, and Kim, who was keeping her company.

Once they’d crossed the line and got their barcodes scanned it was time to head back to our cars. Moors Valley parkrun is a bit of a journey but the venue is so beautiful it’s well worth getting up early for. Maybe next time I’ll actually walk the whole course?

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Flowers in the rain

18 May 2019

Another Saturday morning, another stroll through the Old Cemetery. As this morning was dull and drizzly, I was all too glad to get off the flats, where all the parkrunners were gathered, and into the relative shelter of the cemetery. There was no plan, no graves to search for, just a slow, peaceful wander with the pitter pattern of raindrops on leaves to keep me company.

The rhododendrons were putting on a beautiful show near the gate. A splash of pink to brighten the dullness. A solitary bee was slowly going from flower to flower, diving into the leopard spotted throats gathering pollen and nectar. Every time I raised my phone to take a picture though, he buzzed to the next flower, so I gave up and walked on.

A little way down the path I startled a squirrel. He froze mid bound, long enough to get a picture, but not a very good one. One slow step closer and he was off, shooting into the trees like a streak of lightning. On I walked, wondering how many squirrels were watching me from the branches?

Above me, through the leaves, there were patches of blue sky, but the drizzle kept falling all the same. A tunnel of hawthorn branches, bowed down with the weight of wet flowers, dripped gently on me as I passed. Hawthorn, the auger of spring, seemed to have somehow got it wrong because it looked and felt more like autumn. The flowers were pretty though.

The more open area beyond the hawthorn was dappled, not by sun, but by daisies. Each forgotten gravestone seemed to have its very own bouquet. Every flower was speckled with sparkling raindrops.

Off the main path, on a narrow trail, my feet brushed the wet flowers as I passed. Now and then I had to duck beneath low branches and sidestep precariously angled stones. Here I found buttercups, forget me nots and wild geranium, lapping up the moisture.

One section of the trail was all nettles to be carefully stepped over. The next all dandelion clocks, bedraggled by the rain. No amount of blowing would tell the time with these.

Further still another hawthorn grew so low across the trail I had to bend almost double to avoid it. The pretty white flowers, rimmed with pink dripped on me all the same but I forgave them because they were so lovely.

Heading back towards the gate now, the next hawthorn was brighter still. The branches arched across the trail were a mass of shocking pink. Each tiny flower seemed to shout, ‘look at me!’

Pink seemed to be the order of the day here. Even the horse chestnut had decided to get in on the act. Rather than glowing white, each candelabra of flowers was salmon pink, as if the flames were burning low.

Rain or no rain, I couldn’t wander amongst the graveyard flowers forever. The parkrun would soon be packing up and it was time to get back to reality. Spring maybe very late in coming this year and the rain just keeps on falling, but the flowers in the Old Cemetery know it’s May and summer will soon be on the way.

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