Happy Birthday Southampton Parkrun

6 July 2019

This Saturday was Southampton Parkrun’s seventh birthday. As there was a music event going on on the flats where parkrun usually starts and finishes, the run was moved to the alternative course, beginning and ending close to the Cowherd’s Pub. Of course, this meant a bit of a longer walk for us to the start but, as that also meant more steps in the bag for me, I wasn’t complaining.

Commando and I parked in the Bellemoor car park, crossed the road and began to head across the Common, we hadn’t got very far before we met Rob. This morning he had his Event Directors hat on and he commandeered Commando to go off to Holly Lodge and help him with some equipment. This left me to walk to the start on my own.

Walking alone along the diagonal path from Bellemoor Corner to the crossroads wasn’t a hardship. It was a lovely morning, dappled morning light, no one else about, birds singing, just my kind of walk. So there I was strolling along swinging my arms and probably grinning like an idiot, when I heard a loud rustling in the undergrowth beside the path. The little bridge across Rollsbrook Stream was up ahead and I’d been looking forward to stopping and taking a photo of it. This rustling, almost crashing about, was too loud to be a bird or a squirrel though and it sounded quite disconcerting. There were no trails nearby and peering into the trees I couldn’t see anything but I was worried. Whatever it was, it was very large. As this is Southampton, not Canada, I told myself it was probably a large dog. This might be less scary than a bear but, in my opinion, only slightly.

Feeling quite nervous by now, I hurried on. The crashing and rustling continued and, just before I was spooked enough to break into a run, a man and a very large dog burst out of the bushes just ahead of me. What they’d been doing I couldn’t tell but I didn’t like the look of either of them so, keeping my eyes on the ground, I rushed on. Once I felt I’d put some distance between us I stopped and, on the pretext of taking a photo of the stream, looked back. Thankfully they were going the opposite way.

Just for the record, I’m not usually a scaredy-cat, but men and dogs clambering loudly through the undergrowth nowhere near a path seems like odd behaviour to me. Usually I like walking alone but this made me feel very vulnerable and I silently cursed Commando for leaving me. The Common always strikes me as one of those places you have to be on your guard. It’s very public, with lots of people coming and going but, because it’s so big, you can often find you’re self completely alone. Add to that lots of places where you could be dragged off into the trees and shrubs and it feels a little like a muggers paradise at times.

Still feeling very jumpy, I hurried on to the crossroads. There was still no one about so, on the pretext of taking a photograph of another part of the stream, I stopped again and checked the man and his big scary, leadless dog had not turned around and followed me. They hadn’t, which was something of a relief.

Now I was heading towards the parkrun start and, fairly soon, I could see the volunteers setting up the finish funnel. Because it was parkrun’s birthday almost everyone was in fancy dress. The main theme today was red and white, the Southampton football team colours.

Eventually Rob and Commando arrived, both in their Saints shirts. The RD’s today were Luis and Milz, giving the occasion an international flavour. More and more people were beginning to arrive so I hung around for a while taking photos. When Rob got up on the bench with the megaphone to give a speech thanking the volunteers who made everything possible, I sloped off for a walk. No offence to Rob but I really needed to get the steps in.

Being on the opposite side of the Common to normal meant I didn’t really have time a for a walk in the Old Cemetery. Instead, I decided to go and have a look at the Beyond Graffiti tunnel. Before the runners began streaming up the path I dashed off along the trail a little way up from the start. It would get me off the path, out of the way of the runners and, eventually, take me out near the tunnel.

It was pleasantly shady and I strode along thinking how lucky we are to have such a wonderful place to walk and explore in the centre of the city. There were huge white bindweed flowers twined through the undergrowth here. They get short shrift when they try to invade my garden but here, in the wildness of the Common, they’re quite beautiful.

The trail curves gently before crossing a stream, possibly part of the Rollsbrook Stream although I can’t be sure. There are some thick planks, like railway sleepers, forming a crossing point. Today I noticed one was was broken, making the crossing slightly more treacherous than normal.

On the other side of the stream the trail emerges opposite the Showground, where the Southampton show used to be held. When I was about nine or ten my mother entered a beret I’d crocheted into the show and I won a prize. I barely remember anything about the day but I remember the beret very well. It was bright yellow and I hated it, even though I’d made it.

As I walked towards the Beyond Graffiti tunnel I heard the unmistakeable thunder of feet behind me. The parkrunners were coming. I turned, thinking I might see Commando, but I was too far away so I took a photo and then carried on.

As always, there were a few new pieces of graffiti to make me smile. I wandered through, stopping every now and then to take photos. In one place there seemed to be a Star Wars theme going on. Further on there was a thought provoking monologue and, at the far end, some tag style pieces I couldn’t decide if I liked or not. By the steps leading up to the Avenue, I was pleased to see the little mushrooms I’ve been admiring for the best part of a year, maybe more, are still there.

There was still quite a bit of time before I needed to get back to the parkrun so I decided to take a loop of the far side of the Common. For some reason I’ve never actually walked the circular trail on this more or less triangular section of Common between the Avenue and Highfield Lane. Today was the day to do it.

By this time the sun was getting higher in the sky and the morning cool had turned to a hot mugginess. The trail, once I got a little way along it, was mostly shady. This suited me just fine. It was a pleasant walk, looking at the contorted shapes of the trees, the patterns of the shadows and the changing light.

The trail took me full circle, back to the tunnel. Now it was time to go back to parkrun. The runners were beginning to cross the finish line when I arrived and I was soon lost in cheering them in, watching all the while for Commando. Pretty soon Southampton parkrun’s seventh birthday was over and we were all heading off to the Bellemoor for some celebratory cake.

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