Parkrun tourism, a return to Cams Mill

11 August 2018

There are hundreds of parkrun venues all over the world and, in Hampshire alone, there are nineteen different parkruns to choose from. Usually we go to the Southampton parkrun because it’s easy for us to get to and we know almost everyone there. For ages though, we have been talking about doing more parkrun tourism. This weekend Rob decided he wanted to see what Fareham parkrun was like. We had actually been before, back in June last year, but we both liked the venue so we said we’d go along too. 

Of course, driving to Fareham takes a little bit longer than driving to Southampton Common so we had an earlier start than normal. As we’d been there before we managed to get to the car park without getting lost, although there was still a slightly fraught moment where we almost missed the turn into it. Rob and Kim arrived at more or less the same time and we all walked back through the railway arches towards the pub.

As far as views are concerned, this is one of the most picturesque parkruns I’ve been to. The short walk from the railway viaduct to the pub took us over Fareham Creek. The bridge we crossed is barely recognisable as a bridge at all, overshadowed by the red brick arches and the traffic on the busy Delme Roundabout. This though, is where the River Wallington empties into Fareham Creek then meanders its way to Portsmouth Harbour and the sea.

Fareham has been a town since before the Norman Conquest. In fact William the Conqueror’s army marched past Fareham Creek on their way to Winchester in 1066. The Doomsday Book of 1086, lists just ninety houses but it’s grown a little since then. According to the 2011 census the population of Fareham is now upwards of forty two thousand people. This tidal creek and the estuary at Fareham are the only undeveloped parts of Portsmouth Harbour and, as such, have been designated a Site of Special Scientific interest.

On the far side of the bridge we walked around the side of the Cams Mill pub and discovered we were not the only  parkrun tourists at Fareham. First we bumped into Gareth, then Charlotte and, finally, John and Rachel appeared. Obviously great minds think alike. Of course I had to take a Fareham Parkrun team photo to mark the occasion.

While everyone was chatting I took a few photos of the wonderful views over the creek. There was a little boat, the same one I saw there last time if I’m not mistaken, a couple of white swans to make me smile and what looked like a black swan, but it was too far away to be certain. I’m not the first photographer to find these views enchanting. There are three FGO Stuart postcards of the creek. With more time I might have attempted to recreate them but the running was about to begin.

When the runners all headed for the start line I did think about going back over the bridge and trying to get a similar shot to the one Stuart took of the mill but I knew I didn’t have much time and I was more interested in seeing inside. In the eleventh century there were two mills here, using the power of the tide to grind corn. To look at the scene today it would appear one of those mills still remains but all is not as it seems.

The mill in Stuart’s photograph was known as Clarke’s Mill, owned by Mr Clarke and Mr Harris. It was a tarred wooden building overlooking the creek and fronting onto the main Fareham to Portsmouth Road. Compared to Stuart’s picture, the Cams Mill pub looks very much like the same mill but it isn’t. The original mill fell into decline and was demolished in around 1919. The Cams Mill pub is actually a modern recreation, built in 2013. To look at it you’d never know. The modern builders carefully studied all the old photographs available, possibly including Stuart’s, and tried to stay as true to the original as possible. Oakwrights built the timber frame and renovated timber was used along with reclaimed tiles and Fareham red bricks.

The building is no less impressive inside. The beams really do look ancient and the high arched roof of the mill looks much as the original must have. Of course, the building isn’t used as a mill these days and there’s no real history here, but the pub is certainly warm and welcoming with coffee brewing ready for the parkrunners and a lovely brick fireplace that must be very welcome in winter.

It’s always sad when historic buildings are lost but time marches on I suppose and nothing lasts forever. Even so, modern recreations of lost landmarks are a great way to preserve the feel of the history of a place, even what the real thing has been lost. In this case such a great job has been done it would be easy to believe this was the original mill. Perhaps some people do?

By the time I left the mill the parkrunners had all disappeared, leaving just a few signs and some marshals waiting about for their return. From our last trip here I already knew the best place to stand for finish line photos so I decided to explore a little further.

The Fareham parkrun course is out and back using the Fareham Creek Trail and partly encircling the Cams Hall Estate. Much as I’d have liked to walk the creek trail, I couldn’t, unless I actually joined in the parkrun. This is a relatively new parkrun, the first event was held in April 2016, and there are, on average, only around 192 runners each week. While I’ve walked a few parkruns at Southampton and not come last by any means, I wasn’t sure what kind of time the last finishers here took and didn’t want to be too conspicuous or keep the poor marshals waiting.

Instead of walking the trail and incurring the wrath of the fast runners and the marshals I decided to explore the estate a little. According to the Doomsday Book this land was registered to Earl Godwin in 1086 and there has been a Manor House here since the thirteenth century. Just behind the pub I discovered two small yellow brick buildings that looked very much like gate houses. In the distance, at the top of a shallow hill, I could just make out a large house. It looked worthy of further investigation.

So I began to walk up the hill towards the house. It was clear at once that this was not the original thirteenth century Manor House. The land passed through many hands over the centuries and much building and rebuilding took place. Then, in 1770, Brigadier General Carnac, the MP for Leominster, bought the estate, including a manor, mansion house, farmhouse and five hundred acres of land. He commissioned architect Jacob Leroux, who built the Polygon in Southampton, to build the current house. Just six years later he sold the estate to Peter Delmé, MP for Morpeth in Northumberland for £17,000.

A sign I passed told me I was heading towards a golf course and warned me of CCTV surveillance. This made me a little nervous about getting too close to the house but I kept walking towards it all the same. Across the grass I could see the parkrun finish and the funnel managers waiting. It would be a little while before the first runner crossed the line but I knew my time was short if I wanted to see Commando finish.

As I got nearer to the house I could see it was built of the same yellow bricks as the little gatehouses I’d just passed. It had a classical facade with a central pediment and those yellow bricks were set off beautifully by Portland stone. Delmé enlarged and remodelled the house, perhaps to impress Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Admiral Nelson, who is said to have stayed there. The house remained in the Delmé family for more than a century and Peter’s son, John,  commissioned Scottish Architect, Robert Adam, and his brothers to improve it further. The last male Delmé heir sold the estate to Montague Foster for just £10,250. It was then let to tenants.

During World War II the Admiralty requisitioned the estate. After they left, in 1948, a series of accidents and incidents saw the house fall into a severe decline. In 1950 an ammunition barge exploded in Portsmouth Harbour, shattered all the windows and blew the roof clean off. The ruin was sold in 1951 but it remained unrepaired and empty. Then thieves got inside, stole fireplaces and wrecked it further. It looked as if it might once again be a family home when Charles Church, amongst the richest men in Britain, bought it in 1962. His plans to restore it came to nothing and, in 1989, the house builder and Spitfire enthusiast was killed when his hand built Spitfire stalled and crashed in a field near Blackbushe airfield. Two years later the estate was sold to Strand Harbour Securities and Warings of Portsmouth. Finally it was restored and it is now owned by the Wilky Group who lease high tech workspace in the mansion and have converted the farm buildings to offices.

With more time and a little less nervousness about the CCTV cameras, I might have got even closer. The first parkrunners were beginning to cross the line though so I dashed across the grass and took my place at the finish funnel, my camera at the ready. There wasn’t long to wait. Commando was the first tourist to cross the line, closely followed by John and Rob.

While we waited for the others to finish we grabbed a free table in the sun outside the pub for our post parkrun coffee. As parkruns go, Fareham is certainly worth a visit. Maybe next time I might even bring my barcode and walk the course.

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

2 thoughts on “Parkrun tourism, a return to Cams Mill”

    1. William conquered Britain in 1066 but the Doomsday Book was started in 1085 and finished in 1086. Amazing it was done so quickly really, when you consider it was hand written and all the information had to be gathered. I’m rubbish at remembering dates but I always remember 1066 and 1086 for some reason.

      It was a beautiful day and not too hot at that time of day. I wish I’d had more time for real walking though.

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