18 August 2018
Now we’d been bitten by the parkrun tourism bug we couldn’t seem to stop. Rob said we should declare August parkrun tourism month and try a new venue every week. Everyone was talking about where to go next. The popular vote was Moors Valley and, even though Commando and I had been there last summer, we didn’t want to miss the fun so decided to go along too. Poor Kim had to work so couldn’t join us but our numbers were swelled by Ian and Kate.
We left home extra early for the twenty seven mile journey to Ashley Heath in the New Forest. Moors Valley Country Park is on the very edge of Hampshire, straddling the Dorset border. It’s filled with sculptures and fabulous climbing frames made from trees that fell in the great storm of 1987, along with a tree top walk and a miniature railway. We used to take the boys there when they were small. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t have time for any climbing today though. Parkrunners can park for a nominal £1 charge but have to leave by 10:30. We could have paid more and stayed longer but the runners would probably not have been up for climbing or walking after their run so there wasn’t much point.
The parking payment system is automatic. You need to put in your car registration and money then press Pay Now if you’re a park runner. While we were tussling with this Ian put his hand in his pocket and found a Rubik’s cube. Quite what it was doing in his pocket is a mystery but, with Ian, anything is possible so no one was too surprised. The sight of the colourful little cube made us all reminisce about our attempts to solve the puzzle back in the 80’s. I had to admit I never quite managed it and Commando owned up to using a book of instructions to solve it. Ian, of course, was an expert. In fact, he said, he could probably do it while he was running parkrun. This sounded very much like a challenge, so we asked him to prove it. The deal being, if he failed, he would buy us all coffee.
As we walked to the start by the giant totem pole there was some discussion about whether there was a world record for running parkrun whilst doing a Rubik’s cube and whether we should phone the Guinness Book of Records adjudicators. Then, after a swift team photo, it was time for the off. This was my cue to check out the cafe. Last time I’d been too concerned with finding the finish line to worry about coffee and there’d been no time for coffee after the run. This time I knew exactly where the finish was and the early start meant I’d had no time for breakfast. Whatever happened with the Rubik’s cube challenge I wasn’t going to miss out on my coffee again.
Another thing that stuck in my mind about our last visit was my very close encounter with Bigfoot as I went in search of the finish line. It had been quite a surreal moment, one that made me question my sanity more than a little. My photographs were the only thing that made me sure I’d really seen him and I still don’t know what he was doing there. Although I was fairly sure lightning wouldn’t strike twice, I kept my eyes peeled for him as I walked towards the cafe but he didn’t put in an appearance this time.
Moors Valley Country Park was originally Kings Farm. In 1984, East Dorset District Council purchased the eighty two acre site and, over the next four years, built a nine hole golf course, a narrow gauge steam railway, play area, lake and visitor centre. The new Country Park opened in 1988. The visitor centre is actually a barn, originally built in the 1780’s and transported from Manor Farm in Easton Royal, near Marlborough, Wiltshire. Each individual timber was labelled and colour coded so the carpenters knew exactly where everything went. The barn was probably a tithing barn. Sadly, I was far too interested in the coffee inside to think of taking photos of the outside.
While my coffee was being made I did have a look around the inside of the old barn. The beautiful beams of the roof were a real sight to behold. Although the external oak timbers of the building are new, almost all the internal wood is from the original barn. It is remarkably well preserved.
With my coffee and a sneaky breakfast pastry in hand, I went back outside. There were tables to sit at but I thought I should probably find somewhere nearer the finish line. Ian is one of the super speedy runners and I didn’t want to give him the chance to finish before I got there and cheat on the Rubik’s cube challenge.
In the end I found an empty bench close to the railway station and settled down to enjoy my late, but delicious, breakfast. A few other spectators were sitting around at other picnic benches and the marshals were gathered by the finish funnel but there was no sign of any runners by the time I’d finished eating and drinking.
At this parkrun there is a man on the last bridge before the finish who rings a bell every time a runner comes past so I knew I could risk a little wander, as long as I didn’t go too far. While I’d been looking for somewhere to sit I’d seen a trail running behind the railway line. It looked as if it led to the other side of the railway station so I thought I’d check it out to fill the time. The sign told me there was also a nature trail but, much as I’d have liked to, I knew I had no time to explore it.
It turned out to be a very short walk. Even so, it gave me the chance to see the railway signal and two tunnels. There would probably have been more to see but, when I heard a bell ring, I knew the first runner would soon be crossing the finish line and Ian would not be far behind. Luckily, there was a bridge crossing from one side of the station to the other so I dashed over it, just in time to see Ian running towards the finish funnel.
It turned out the Guinness Book of Records people weren’t needed and Ian owed us all a coffee. Running a 19:30 parkrun at the same time as completing a Rubik’s cube had defeated him, although, in fairness, he’d made a better job of both than I ever could.
While Ian recovered from his disappointment I found a spot at the end of the finish funnel to watch for the other Spitfire runners. The finish line is right next to the lake and I was slightly distracted by the ducks and a lone swan I could see in the distance. It was quite a surprise to see Commando finishing next, ahead of fast boys John and Rob. Somehow, on the fairly flat gravel and tarmac track through the woods and around the lake, he’d managed to run 21:43 and get himself a course PB. John and Rob weren’t far behind.
The next Spitfire across the line was Chris, which was a bit of a surprise as I hadn’t known he was there. Then came Kate. As Rachel is recovering from injury and is a little like me and likes to take it easy and enjoy the scenery, I knew I could take my eye off the ball for a little while.
There was plenty to distract me while I waited. A cygnet had come to the edge of the lake to see what all the fuss was about and I managed to get a few shots of him between runners. He reminded me that I haven’t seen a single cygnet at Riverside Park this year and I was pondering on this when John alerted me to Rachel heading towards the funnel. Luckily, I managed to capture her and the fabulously bright leggings she won in a competition to give the bright fabric design a name. She probably won’t thank me for it though, as she hates having her photo taken.
Our second visit to Moors Valley parkrun has come to an end. With an average of three hundred and thirty odd runners each week, it’s far smaller than Southampton but it’s also far flatter and, by all accounts a very scenic course through woodland and around the lake. The downside is the distance to travel and the parking. The £1 charge doesn’t exactly break the bank but, having to leave by 10:30 makes stopping for a post run coffee a bit of a stretch, especially as the queues at the cafe are rather long after the run.
Even though Ian owed us all a coffee we decided we’d best hit the road. He didn’t get away with it though. We stopped off at a service station on the way back. The coffee may not have been as good but the debt was paid and we had plenty of time to joke about his lack of multitasking skills.
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