The Spitfires return to Hursley

16 August 2017

The venue for tonight’s RR10 was Hursley Park, near Winchester. Last year we had Kylie in the car giving us directions. She’d broken her foot and couldn’t drive there herself. Commando was also recovering from a broken bone in his leg so wouldn’t be running. Our little team of cheer leader, number taker and photographer made it there with relative ease, although the walk from the car park to the park was a slow affair. Surprisingly, without help from Kylie who was in Iceland working, we didn’t get lost this year, although it was touch and go for a while. 

Hursley Park was once the Hursley Estate, owned by Richard Cromwell. The Manor House stands at the top of the killer hill the poor runners would have to run up three times. It was built by MP William Heathcoate between 1721 and 1724 and stayed in the Heathcote family until 1881. My plan had been to walk up the hill myself before the race and take photos but, by the time I’d gathered everyone together for the team photo and then taken individual pictures of those who’d managed to still be missing, everyone was heading for the start line. In the end all I got was the top of the roof in the background of the photos I did take. Maybe next year?

In 1881, the Hursley Estate was sold to Joseph Baxendale, the owner of the Pickfords removal company. In 1902 he sold it to Sir George Cooper whose wife, Mary Emma Smith, an American railways heiress, had extensive renovations carried out. During  World War I the second floor of the house was turned into a nursing hospital for injured officers. Had Sir George not died in 1940 it would probably have served as a military hospital again. Instead, it was requisitioned by the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Design and Production departments of Vickers Supermarine were rehoused there after the Supermarine Factory in Woolston was bombed. This was where Supermarine worked on the development of jet fighters like the Attacker, Swift and Scimitar and, of course, the Spitfire. This evening, as everyone headed for the start line, it seemed as if the Spitfires had ruturned to Hursley, in spirit at least. The tough little aircraft were long gone but they’d been replaced by lots of tough runners in Spitfire shirts along with quite a large cheer team.

Pretty soon they were off. For a while I stood shooting photos of the stream of runners going past. Once the last had passed by I realised this was a bad plan. Even if I’d run like the wind, which I was obviously not about to do, I was never going to make it across the field to the hill in time to see the runners on their first pass.

By the time I’d climbed the small hill from the start line to the main field the fastest runners had already made it to the top. From this distance they were nothing but a colourful moving stream of humanity climbing up past the modern IBM Hursley development laboratory towards the Manor House.

Despite dashing across the field at something that could almost be called a run by anyone who doesn’t know what running really is, I only managed to get to the hill in time to see the amazing octogenarian, Annie, powering her way to the top. The fact that I’d gone straight across the field while she’d had to run all the way around the outside gives you some idea of just how slow I am even when I’m trying to be fast. Then again, it may show that Annie is exceptionally fast. Either way, I’d missed all the Spitfires. Luckily, they were still going to go past twice more.

So I climbed the hill. At the top I stood catching my breath looking down over the field to the gap in the trees where the start line had been. I couldn’t help wondering if any of the one and a half thousand IBM employees ever think about how lucky they are to work in such a scenic setting? IBM started using Hursley House and grounds for its development laboratories back in 1958. In 1963 the company purchased one hundred acres of the surrounding land. Mostly they work in the new office complex but the original house is still used as an Executive Briefing Centre and houses a computing museum. Sadly, it’s not open to the public.

The first of the Spitfires appeared for their second lap surprisingly quickly. All the usual suspects were at the front, although not necessarily in the usual order. My vantage point near the top of the hill meant I could spot them in plenty of time to get decent photos. Some looked a great deal happier on the hill than others.

When I spotted Commando I got so excited I almost forgot to take his photo. Luckily I remembered just in time and even managed to capture him with both feet off the ground. Given the hill this was quite some feat.

The stream of runners seemed never ending. Just watching and trying to spot Spitfires was exhausting. Goodness knows how they find the energy for all this running, never mind being able to muster a smile for me as they go past.

When Ian came past for the second time I realised I should probably start thinking about heading for the finish line. I took a couple more photos and then began to slowly make my way down the hill towards the field with one eye on the runners coming up. Unlike the gravel track the runners were on, the grass was slippery and I was half afraid of falling flat on my back. Half way down I stopped to talk to the rest of the cheer team. As I did, Commando came past for the second time. Somehow he even had the energy left to fool around for the camera.

Now I could see the first runners heading along the bottom of the slope towards the finish. If I didn’t get a move on I was going to be stranded in the wrong place and miss the finish photos. There was a mad dash across the field. Luckily I made it just in time to see the first Spitfires heading for the line. Despite three times up the killer hill there were still some real flying finish sprints.

Amongst them was Commando. Given everything he’s been through in the last few months and all the medication he’s taking, it brought tears to my eyes to see him finishing so strongly.

One by the rest of the Spitfires came flying past. Some were still managing to smile, although this could have been because the finish line was now in sight and they wouldn’t have to run up the horrible hill again.

Once it was all over and the last Spitfire ticket was collected by tonight’s volunteers, Tash and Tori, the cheer team lined up to wait for the amazing Annie. She may have been last, as she usually is, but, of all the runners on the field tonight, she is the one I admire most. Sadly, I was too busy jumping up and down and clapping as she went past to take her photo. If I have half her energy and spirit when I’m in my eighties I will be a happy woman.

So, Hursley was over for another year and now there is just one more RR10 to go. My job wasn’t quite over for the evening though. Back at home I had to download  all the photos for later, go through all the finish tickets, put names and numbers into the spreadsheet, double check everything, take photos of the tickets just in case another club was claiming them by mistake then send them off to Kylie. The Hursley RR10, with its killer hill is probably one of the toughest of the season. The journey tonight’s results took, from Hursley to my house, then to Kylie in Iceland before winging their way back to the RR10 officials to be published is certainly the longest so far.  An epic journey to end an epic race.

Please see my copyright information before you copy or use any of the above words or pictures. * Members of the Itchen Spitfires Running Club may copy and use any of the above photos.

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Marie

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

5 thoughts on “The Spitfires return to Hursley”

    1. I guess most of the old Manor houses have similar histories. Oddly, I’ve never watched Downtown Abbey. Being the one with the camera is far better than being the one running I think 🙂

  1. I don’t think Hursley Park is a Manor House,though it is a Mansion.One of my Facebook friends works in one of the modern buildings,and has been able to visit the House.She loves working there and spends some of her lunchtime exploring the gardens and the surrounding Countryside!

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