It only takes about ten minutes for a forest to work its magic by reducing stress levels and re-connecting you with nature. So this week we’re visiting ten classic forest parkruns, all hosted on Forestry Commission sites, to whet the appetite of even the most ardent city slickers!
1. Bedgebury Pinetum parkrun, Kent
Launched: 19 March 2016
Number of people who have collected a finish token: 2,986
Number of high-vis heroes: 203
Average finish time: 30:12
Bedgebury Pinetum parkrun takes place at the Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest in Kent. It is set amongst 2,200 acres of forest.
It is an undulating forest course with 67 metres of climb and descent, and the Forestry Commission has signposted most of the turns with black arrows on a white background.
The first hill climbs to the highest point in Bedgebury, and from here it is a glorious downhill route to an old sawmill along soft and peaceful trails. At exactly half way everyone takes a deep breath for another uphill and slightly muddy forest trail where all you hear is the footsteps of fellow parkrunners and the encouraging calls from the priceless volunteers.
The final kilometre is a very welcome downhill section where you can make up some time before the final hill and a wave to the Gruffalo sculpture. The highlights don’t stop there, with the post-event Bedgebury Café overlooking one of the lakes providing an idyllic location for a well-earned hot drink.
2. Brandon Country Park parkrun, Suffolk
Launched: 9 March 2013
Number of people who have collected a finish token: 4,010
Number of high-vis heroes: 309
Average finish time: 29:17
This delightful course has a little bit of everything: forest, flat breckland, a sandy hill, a haunted mausoleum and a stunning pond with lots of wildlife, including the colourful Mandarin ducks. There are some fast birds in the sky too, with the route located under the flightpath of the airbase at Mildenhall. And it isn’t just those who are walking and running who get the magnificent views – the volunteers can watch everyone coming up the hill and cheer them on at the half way point.
With just 18 finishers by event number three, they now average around 120 each week. New Year’s Day 2018 saw the numbers swell to 392 however – more finishers than finish tokens! With typical parkrun ingenuity the quick thinking volunteers wrote the finish positions on the back of their hands using marker pens.
Finally, there’s the fabulous Copper Beech Cafe to look forward to afterwards, where many friendships have been formed over a post-parkrun coffee.
3. Delamere parkrun, Cheshire
Launched: 2 March 2013
Number of people who have collected a finish token: 10,821
Number of high-vis heroes: 542
Average finish time: 28:59
Set completely in pine and mixed woodland, a trip to Delamere parkrun involves a single lap route, 3k of which is a circuit of Blakemere Moss which is always squawking with wild fowl at 9am.
The route is gently undulating with a short steep rise at the start to get across the railway, but coming back the other way is your reward as the finish approaches. The surface is rough road and trail.
As well as the brilliantly supportive real-life volunteers on the course, at one crossroad there is a Gruffalo to greet you – all six foot of him! He makes sure nobody goes the wrong way.
Less than 200 metres from the finish is the visitor centre café where parkrunners enjoy a discount!
4. Ludlow parkrun, Shropshire
Launched: 13 February 2016
Number of people who have collected a finish token: 2,265
Number of high-vis heroes: 250
Average finish time: 30:09
Ludlow parkrunners don’t half celebrate and adulate their undulations!
Taking place in Mortimer Forest, which straddles the Shropshire and Herefordshire border, the course is an initial anticlockwise loop followed by two clockwise laps on undulating, scenic trails.
No strangers to parkrun tourists, Ludlow parkrun has seen a large cohort from Worcester parkrun descend from the campsite opposite and a hen run in full bridal outfit!
The glory of traction and of the seasons are witnessed by both locals and visitors alike. The bluebell carpets, birdsong and warm mists offer shafts of light and chatter on the two laps of rhythmic footfall. parkrunners, leaves and cobwebs give way to the occasional sight of deer and occasionally to a Narnia scene of snow-capped trees. Then it’s off to the Ludlow Brewery for a post-parkrun chat!
5. Forest of Dean parkrun, Gloucestershire
Launched: 24 April 2010
Number of people who have collected a finish token: 6,491
Number of high-vis heroes: 507
Average finish time: 28:20
The Forest of Dean is an ancient working forest that over the centuries has been used for royal hunting, sourcing timber for Tudor warships, coal mining, and more recently a free weekly timed 5k every Saturday.
Forest of Dean parkrun is two clockwise laps, with the appearance of the course changing throughout the year thanks to a combination of the seasons and harvesting. Ominously described as ‘playfully undulating’, the route can have PB potential in the drier months but trail shoes are recommended for the majority of the year – particularly for one trail section known affectionately by regulars as ‘Coverham Swamp’.
The course passes two ponds against a backdrop of birds songs, with wild boar, deer and sheep, who are in perfect harmony with the ‘scream team’ of Linda and Mel who provide the on-course encouragement for anyone who needs a boost.
There’s an abundance of campsites and plenty to do after your parkrun fix: Go Ape, BMX/off road biking, a sculpture trail and steam railways.
6. Forest of Dean junior parkrun, Gloucestershire
Launched: 29 January 2011
Number of people who have collected a finish token: 1,055
Number of high-vis heroes: 279
This lovely route through the beautiful Forest of Dean has some uneven terrain and can get a little muddy during the winter months – but that’s all part of the fun! The two lap course is shared with deer, the occasional wild boar, and cheering volunteers who hold the High 5 Avenue!
Part of the course goes off road, through the trees, dodging tree roots to enter back onto the pressed pathway, past the alligator lake and onto the finish. Just in time for refreshments!
Last winter the event was plagued with snow and had to be cancelled several times. One such week, determined Event Director Peter Compton, armed with a shovel, decided he would dig a path through the snow as if his life depended on it. After 20 minutes he confidently announced “we can do this”, only for core team members who were laughing hysterically to point out that only 50 metres of path had been cleared. Needless to say it was another cancellation!
We’ll leave the last word to Run Director Lara:
“We are lucky enough to have a young lad who parkruns with us, William Lyons, who has Congenital Myasthenic Syndrome. His movement is restricted and he has previously been unable to run at all with walking any distance a true struggle. With a huge amount of grit and determination he has managed the full course with only a little assistance from his dad. He has become a firm favourite with all the core team as not only does he show such determination but he is also an delightful young man. I think all the ladies are secretly a little in love with him!”
7. Moors Valley junior parkrun, Dorset
Launched: 13 November 2016
Number of people who have collected a finish token: 1,372
Number of high-vis heroes: 251
Moors Valley Country Park is home to Moors Valley parkrun on a Saturday and Moors Valley junior parkrun on a Sunday. Both courses begin at the same point, behind the Visitor Centre and next to the Totem Pole. Juniors take part in a lively and fun-filled warm up in the lower car park before heading to the start line. The emphasis is definitely on the fun, and many people stay on for the day to enjoy the many attractions in the park, all year round.
Moors Valley comprises a large Country Park and Forest offering approximately 1,000 acres of managed woodland and Country Park to explore. There are miles of mapped walking and cycle routes, two large adventure play areas, cycle and mobility scooter hire, model steam railway, golf and pitch and putt, restaurant, staffed information point and Visitor Centre, disabled and baby change facilities at two large toilet blocks. Admission is per car, and you need to know your number plate to pay at the pay stations at the end of your visit. Concessions for parkrunners!
The 2k junior course is a delightful one lap frolic through the woodland, on undulating (not hilly!) gravel pathways before heading back past the golf course towards the Gruffalo picnic area and the colourful finish funnel. En route you will encounter amazing marshals at every turn, who just love to give a high five or two!
Although the course is all off road and within the boundary of the Country Park, it shares the park with other users, typically dog walkers and cyclists, however it is not unusual to see a horse or a deer, maybe the Gruffalo and his friends, and they’ve even caught sight of Santa on a Segway!
Post-parkrun refreshments are courtesy of Seasons Restaurant where a warm welcome awaits everyone, all year round!
8. Rosliston parkrun, Derbyshire
Launched: 12 March 2016
Number of people who have collected a finish token: 3,989
Number of high-vis heroes: 435
Average finish time: 31:19
Rosliston parkrun, known to regulars simply as ‘Roz’, takes place at Rosliston Forestry Centre – the first woodland planted as part of the National Forest back in the 1990s. Those same regulars describe the course as “twisty turny, uppy downy” which is a fair assessment! It is an entirely off road course on surfaced trails around the site.
There is a bluebell wood and a swamp, which is actually a grassed path through the trees – until it rains! Dotted around the course are wooden sculptures such as badgers, squirrels, giant snails and pigs reading books (that’s right, you heard us). The finish area is on a grassy area outside the café so spectators can chill out on the picnic benches, while finishers can hang out and cheer everyone else through.
Overlooking the finish is a giant wooden sparrowhawk, which can be climbed up and climbed in. It makes a great vantage point (and backdrop) for photos, and has been known to accommodate finish area volunteers in bad weather when waiting for the first finishers to arrive!
9. Whinlatter Forest parkrun, Cumbria
Launched: 13 January 2018
Number of people who have collected a finish token: 946
Number of high-vis heroes: 58
Average finish time: 31:50
Whinlatter Forest parkrun has been nicknamed ‘Beauty and the Beast’ thanks to the breathtaking views of the Lake District National Park that parkrunners must earn – thanks to a whopping 210 metres of ascent!
The route – which finishes at a higher elevation than where it starts – runs through England’s only true mountain forest, made up of Douglas Fir trees that were part of the very first plantings at Whinlatter in around 1920. The Douglas Fir give off a wonderful scent of citrus and grapefruit.
The course is circular with a mini loop that takes parkrunners back up the mountain, but again you are rewarded with magnificent views of the forest and Grizedale Pike so there is plenty to take you mind off the hill.
As a red squirrel reserve there is always a chance that you may spot one as you go around the course, as well as roe deer. With the Lake District Osprey nesting in the valley, you may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these wonderful birds during the Osprey season (March – September). As you travel downhill (yes that’s right there is a little bit of that!) you will also see the Gruffalo Owl sculpture that sits next to the finish. Then it’s off to the Siskins Café for a well-earned refreshment!
10. Wyre Forest parkrun
Launched: 29 August 2015
Number of people who have collected a finish token: 4,407
Number of high-vis heroes: 435
Average finish time: 30:08
Wyre Forest is is one of the largest remaining ancient woodlands in Britain, covering more than 26 square kilometres. The most popular kilometres amongst parkrunners however are the first 4k at Wyre Forest parkrun – before the famous sting in the tail known locally as ‘cardiac hill’! This beautiful one lapper seems to have a downhill that goes on forever and has newcomers wondering about ‘what goes down’ – and then they find out.
One of the prominent features on the course is Bill, a regular volunteer at the half way point that used to be marked by a pile of logs. Even though the logs are long gone, the spot is still affectionately referred to as ‘Bill’s Logs’. Bill is renowned for wearing shorts in all weathers, and because Bill isn’t even his real name. It’s Martin.
The folk at Wyre Forest parkrun love a fancy dress theme and lots of characters can often be seen jogging through the trees from bananas in pyjamas to dinosaurs. It’s all about having fun in the forest!
Click here to view the entire parkrun Tourism Series.
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