A run in Victoria Country Park – first published 18 May 2014

Mid May 2014 and Commando had a race to go to. As ever, I tagged along for the walk. Even at nine thirty it was sunny enough that I had to track down the sun screen before we left the house and, for once, I didn’t even take a coat with me. The venue was Victoria Country Park, somewhere I’ve walked many times and, as it was only a 10k and would take Commando less than an hour, I wasn’t going to get a chance for much of a walk in but, still, a walk is a walk and I had a plan…

18 May 2014

The runners gathered in the shadow of the chapel. Once upon a time there was a military hospital here, made famous by Florence Nightingale, I’ve written about it before on past visits so I won’t go into the history too much now. This is mostly about Commando and his run after all. The place was more crowded than I’ve ever seen it with runners from all the local running clubs, as well as some not so local, and familiar faces from the parkrun on The Common. Victoria Country Park is also a parkrun venue so I guess there were parkrunners on home territory too.

Once he’d dropped off his bag and I’d pinned on his race number Commando went off across the park for a little warm up run. While he ran I took the opportunity to snap pictures of the blossom on the horse chestnut by the path. These weren’t just any old horse chestnut flowers, the trees here are red horse chestnut, aesculus x carnea, a hybrid of Aesculus hippocastanum and Aesculus pavia.

By the time he ran back round the side of the chapel the start wasn’t far off. We chatted with some Common parkrunners as we made our way to the start line. Being a very low key affair there wasn’t much in the way of pomp or ceremony, once everyone was lined up they were off for three laps of the park. Now for my walk.

By the time I’d reached the other side of the park all the runners had turned the first corner so I had no problem getting onto the path on the causeway above the woods. There were a few dog walkers but, other than that, it was peaceful walking through the avenue of trees. By now you’ve probably guessed where I was going…

It didn’t take me long to reach the peace of the military cemetery. The first graves line the hill right inside the gate, shaded by a tall pine. Rhododendrons are flowering now, splashes of purple dotted here and there in the little clearings where each group of graves are hidden.

I wandered slowly from clearing to clearing, alone apart from the soldiers sleeping beneath my feet and the birds singing in the trees. As well as the plain white stones there are more elaborate memorials, crosses, even a flat, heart shaped stone. As always, I read the odd inscription as I strolled beside graves from both world wars. They were so very young, those men who gave their lives for our freedom, and the tranquility and beauty of this cemetery seems a fitting final resting place for them.

The Cemetery is spread over 17 acres and holds the dead from several countries. Sixty eight of the graves even belong to German soldiers. In some places the graves are in regimented rows, others stand alone. They are in sun and in shade and a few have fallen and even broken, lying on the still dewy grass.

Of course I couldn’t stay too long because I wanted to be at the finish line when Commando crossed so, all too soon, I left the quiet of the graveyard and started off back toward the park. Originally I’d thought I’d take the low path back to the park. It runs through the woods, mostly on a thin boardwalk through the boggy ground. I even set off along it but, before too long, things got too boggy. As I was wearing my normal Skechers not my hiking boots I decided to turn back.

The finish line was close to the chapel and little knots of spectators were gathered to watch the runners come in. I didn’t have too long to wait before Commando ran across. It may not have been his best time but, given how hot it was, I think he did pretty well.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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