Monthly Archives: April 2019

Oooh, Oh-stonishing Osterley parkrun

Digested read: parkrun tourism took me to Osterley parkrun.  I went in search of an ‘O’ and discovered an ooooooooooh!


Undigested read:

Well, that was unexpected.

Events have again taken me away from Sheffield and down south again.  I was seeking a different parkrun to take in some tourism at a new venue, done Kingston and Bushy parkrun already.  Bushy parkrun is obviously especially epic, but you know, seen the unicorns and rainbows there a fair few times and felt like I ought to check out some of the other local options this time round.  I was initially contemplating heading out to the Old Dear Deer Park parkrun, because that sounded lovely and is relatively near to where I am staying.  However, and I hope this doesn’t sound too ungracious, when I read the blurb for it on their parkrun page I was put off by fear of having to drive through Kingston on a Saturday morning to get there. I’m a scaredy cat what with the sheer volume of traffic and the mysterious hieroglyphics of its one-way systems – though I do have a particular soft spot for the falling phone boxes sculpture.  Always loved that.  You know the one I mean?  You don’t?  That’s terrible, you’ve missed out, let me google that for your…. here you are:


Love it!  I’d rather have functional phone boxes, but if we can’t any more I’m glad they’ve been preserved thus.  In the olden days when we used slide rules at school, had to endure the test card waiting for the TV to come on I always used to carry a 2d coin with me in case you needed to phone for help, and dear reader, it doesn’t seem all that long ago I had to use the red phone box on the corner to phone the fire brigade when my next door neighbour’s flat caught fire!  I know, I’m a living, breathing oral history project just waiting to be discovered…  anyway, you’ve distracted me, begging to know about the telephone boxes, where was I? Oh yes, debating parkrun options.

The other off-putting aspect of the Old Deer Park parkrun  was that further investigation of the route left me horrified to find it is basically three loops on grass that looks suspiciously like playing fields.  I’m still traumatised by having to run round a field at the start of Penistone parkrun last weekend, and it feels a bit too soon to subject myself to the twin trauma of humiliating flashbacks to both school sports days and my more recent misguided foray into cross country running.  (Ask yourself not ‘how hard can it be?’ but ‘honestly, why would you?’). I’m sure the Old Deer Park parkrun is delightful, and I will do it, but not for me this time round, too close in time to other XC type running scenarios. Hmm, what to do?  The thing is, when I stumbled on it on the events list, I was swayed a bit by the handiness of it starting with the letter ‘O’.  I’ve got the game-changing running challenges chrome extension thingymajig, and so I know I lack this for my parkrun alphabet.  Actually, I lack loads of letters, I’ve got hardly any, but I do know that the O s are hard to come by.  Hence, whilst I’m only half-halfheartedly pursuing that particular challenge – to complete a parkrun beginning with each letter of the alphabet apart from X because that isn’t currently an option –  the prospect of securing an ‘O’ was definitely appealing.  Hmm, so how to weigh up the pro of getting an ‘O’ against the con of reliving the humiliation of a cross country run?

The solution was to find another ‘O’ parkrun in striking distance, and so it was I came across Osterley parkrun.  Never heard of it, but it was only about 12 miles away from where I am staying, didn’t require going through Kingston traffic so why not.  My decision was made.  Some classy photos too on their Facebook page too hmm, looking grand.

Oh hang on, you probably want to know about the course blah de blah.  According to the Osterley parkrun website the course is described thus:

This is a 2 lap course on firm paths which starts and finishes in front of the mansion house.

Oh.  Concise certainly.   Somewhat minimalist, but not sounding too much like a cross country course.  Accurate too, now I’ve done it, but it really doesn’t quite convey the totality of the Osterley parkrun immersion experience.  Nor do the maps of the route, though they offer up a few teasers I suppose.  Proximity to the M4 isn’t an obvious selling point perhaps, but there’s a fair bit of green and blue boding well…


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I’d find out soon enough.

After the heat wave of last weekend, it was distinctly chilly, blustery and wet on rising this Saturday.  I left ridiculously early in case of hitting London traffic, and driving down cherry tree lined roads had my windscreen ferociously battered by blossom brought down by the winds.  I’ve never previously thought of cherry blossom as potentially endangering life, but it was unrelenting, a veritable pink-out of petals impeding my vision.  I’ve not had such an unexpected alarming blossom related experience since the eighties, when I was helping a friend move house and accidentally moved her set of five foot paper hyacinths into the wrong house.  I so wish I had a photo of them, they were magnificent, but this was the olden days when to take a photo you had to use film that came in a roll of 12 pictures and you had to take it to the chemist to be developed so really, just never took any.   It was an honest mistake, could have happened to anyone after all, what household doesn’t have to transport five foot paper hyacinths that are a prop from an Ibsen* play every time they move house?  The thing is, seeing as how you are asking.  I’d gone on ahead so I could stuff my car (an 850cc mini called the Jolly Titanic – not got a photo of her either) as much as possible, and she was going to walk on round behind me.

When I got to the house, the front door was open, and I could hear the other tenants moving about so I just moved everything into the hallway whilst I was waiting for her, imagining how pleased she’d be at how I’d cracked on.  … then she arrived.  It was the wrong house.  Her new house was next door.  Now, consider if you will what etiquette is required here.  It’s one thing to be caught accidentally moving stuff into a house, but more problematic exiting a house carrying boxes.   Should we alert the residents to what had happened?  Well, the answer to that is probably yes, but obviously we were too mortified to do this, so just carried everything out as quickly and silently as possible, leaving them none the wiser.  I still would have liked to have left one of the giant hyacinths behind just to imagine their reaction when they discovered it, mysteriously appeared in their hallway.  The weird thing is (yes, there was only one weird thing about this anecdote in fact) was that I must have been pretty noisy bringing stuff in, and nobody in the house came to investigate.  Strange but true.  The lesson in this story is that even blossoms can cause trauma in particular circumstances, which is perhaps why a phobia of flowers isn’t as irrational as you might at first think.  There’s a word for that by the way, in case you are putting together a pub quiz or anything – anthophobiaYou’re welcome. See if you can drop that into a conversation at some point today.  By the way, since googling this, my laptop has been over run with pop ups of where to buy flowers in full blossom RIGHT NOW – that’s not great if you were googling because you really were phobic is it.  Stressful sort of phobia, hard to avoid methinks…


Anyway, if you keep distracting me, I’ll never get to tell you all about Osterley parkrun.  Suffice to say, I made it through though, we Sheffielders are tough!  Besides, lots of unexpected delights accompanied my journey. Generally, radio 4, this always delights me (apart from just a minute, religious broadcasting, and, usually, the cloying smugness of ‘thought for the day’ but you know what,?  Learn from me dear reader and cast aside your prejudices, because today en route to utterly o-stonishing Osterley parkrun I listened to Thought for the day, and – get this – parkrun got a mention!  Martin Wroe – writer and journalist contextualised his ponderings speculating on those getting ready for the London Marathon on Sunday by mentioning the 170 thousand people across Britain getting ready to take part in parkrun right now, of which I was one!  He too ‘came out’ as a parkrunner, describing the sense of achievement on completing his first one, quietly proud and slightly bewildered – how did this happen?  A sentiment I can most certainly relate to.  How exciting.  parkrun is mainstream now, and I think this is for the greater good.  I may be chugging solo to a new parkrun, but I’m one in a 170,000 all doing the same thing.  Isn’t that amazing!

Satnav TW7 4RD, Jersey Road, took me through urban territory, and below alarmingly low flight paths as mahoosive planes came in to land at Heathrow. Well, I like to think these were all planned landings at the nearest airport, and not wayward joy-piloted Boeing 747s attempting to avoid detection by flying low enough to go under the radar.  They looked close enough to touch.  I was alarmed.  Eventually, I arrived at a relatively grand entrance, surrounded by an old red brick wall.  Nice.


FYI, the satnav wanted me to turn right here, but I threw caution to the wind and went straight on through.  It’s impressive, not quite as impressive as the entrance to Lyme Park parkrun, but pretty good.  I do like a drive way with acres of horse-filled paddocks on either side, and with mature trees a-plenty to provide an avenue of shade.  I was so early, there wasn’t any evidence of other parkrunners, but the venue was epic and plenty of time to locate the start.

Ooooh, this is looking really very nice, very nice indeed.


The drive also had savage inverted speed bumps.  See those innocent looking cobble stripes? They are in fact sunken pits that will rattle you car to its core.  Treat with disrespect at your peril.  Don’t look down.  One wannabe parkrunner did just that a few weeks back, and he’s still trying to make his way back up by the look of things…


I arrived super early, of course, and parked up in the National Trust car park.  Oooh, National Trust, that’s good.  Even more surprised this parkrun had previously evaded my parkrun radar.  You don’t have to pay for parking if you display your barcode apparently, but to be fair, there was no-one at the car park booth to take payment, so I think you’d possibly be OK without, but I didn’t risk it. I always have a squillion spare barcodes about my person and conveyance to parkrun too, for just such eventualities.

It was cold, but I was early enough to head off to explore.  Found a handy sign:


Headed off towards the house, bravely side-stepping the posse of pigeons.  I like birds, but these seemed vaguely sinister, they had an air of entitlement, which I wasn’t about to test.  They weren’t giving ground to anyone.  Later I saw the bird that had perhaps inspired them to hold their territory, and I concede freely, they’d learned from the best.  Indistinguishable from one another those avian cousins.  It’s all about attitude at the end of the day.  Believe you are indomitable and a winner, and command all you survey, and it shall be so!  Well, so the theory goes and the photographic evidence suggests it can help you up to a point.


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It was exciting approaching the start of the run.  It was good going to an unknown venue with zero expectations, as everything was like a grand reveal.  First off, the lake, blooming epic!


There was a teasing glimpse of the house the other side.  Huge mature trees of gorgeous spreading branches graced the beautifully landscaped space.  Even the ducks were upmarket, some stunning mandolin Mandorin ducks were strutting their funky stuff.


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In amongst the lilies were the first ducklings I’ve seen this year.  Super cute.  Now generally, as I don’t have children myself, I try to never pass comment on the parenting skills of others, but the mallard mum had got out onto the edge of the lake, leaving her youngsters squawking a foot beneath the vertical edge on which she was standing.  I was a bit worried, they had no way of getting out, and I remember seeing ducklings drown in similar circumstances.  I’ll spare you that story as we really do need to crack on… I decided against intervention, they’d have to work it out, as I presume they eventually did.  Disappointing though, I do love a duck, and they have strong protective instincts with respect to their young, but unfortunately, seem not to be blessed with great spatial awareness or problem solving skills.  I empathise.  Cute though.


So on and on I went, round the lake, it was distinctly nippy, also wet.  Wasn’t expecting wet.  Eventually, the house came into view and let me tell you this for nothing – Osterley park and house is pretty goddarned amazing!  No wonder it gets used as a film location.  Impressive doesn’t quite do it justice, it was like stumbling across the Bradenburg Gate – never seen so many pillars and steps!  Compare and contrast if you will.  See, practically indistinguishable!


I remembered vaguely that the run starts and finishes by the house, and it is quite a rendezvous point.  There wasn’t much sign of parkrun life, but a give away wheelie bin was in evidence, and one or too early birds in high viz commencing the set up.  I felt a bit self-conscious,  I was so early I felt I ought to offer to help set up, but it’s awkward as a tourist because obviously you don’t know the route and there is the potential that you will be more hindrance than help if you rock up unannounced.  Good work though hi-viz heroes!


Instead I just asked for directions to the loo. Well, ultimately my need for a precautionary pee took precedence.


My regular reader will know I put considerable store by pre-parkrun toilet facilities.  You will therefore be mightily relieved (as was I, literally and metaphorically) to hear that I declare the Osterley parkrun precautionary pee facilities to be outstanding.  They didn’t just exist and were open, and had toilet paper and all of that, but check out this as an entrance view:


and this as an exit view:


Seriously classy, it is far more landscaped than the entrance to my own front door, and considerably raises the bar for toileting facilities at parkruns elsewhere.  In future, I expect all my ablution areas to be contained with perfectly shaped topiary.  I had no idea what I’d been missing out on up until this point.  It may be true that you don’t miss what you’ve never had, but it is also true that there’s no putting the proverbial cat back in the bag once it’s out.  Mandatory topiary for public toilet blocks has to be the way forward.

The interior looked like this:


No, I wasn’t ever going to go for quite that much of an interior in-situ shot, I’m not completely dis-inhibited, not yet anyway.  Don’t you think every home should have a solid gold toilet, no wonder they have recently installed one at Blenheim.  No more bizarre than having five foot hyacinths, in fact the features would complement each other rather well now I come to think about it.

Impressed and relieved, I decided to head back to the car in search of a running jacket.  As I passed the steps a huge gust of wind sent the parkrun kit flying everywhere, it was like a re-enactment of that famous Odessa Steps sequence.  I made an attempt to help with the retrieve, but the high viz heroes were already on it, I’m guessing this may have happened before – not with a pram, but maybe with the instruction folder and parkrun signage…


I headed back to the car in search of some extra clothes and money for post run refreshments.  It was nice to have a bit of an explore, find a pony to gaze at and discover a marshal now on car park duty, pointing cars to another lesser used, but equally convenient car park.  I asked if I was ok where I was, at the main one, and that was fine apparently. Oh good.


I was back to the house again in time to see the finish funnel being set up – that looked like quite a work out, bending down to put out each and every cone at lightning speed.


Soon other parkrunners were beginning to arrive.  The atmosphere was building, parkrun would soon be go!  The steps up to the house provided a great vantage point from which to survey the action.  It was fun people watching, though those steps are pretty vertiginous.  And the hi-viz heroes did look exceptionally busy and important.  I always thought that was a consequence of the high viz (entry level importance) enhanced by the addition of a clip board and peaking when in possession of a loudspeaker.  In fact, it seems the gold standard is met by standing on the top of a humungous flight of steps, that confers absolute authority, it’s why that big bird pictured earlier was clearly not to be messed with.


After a bit, there was a gathering for the first timers briefing.  There were a few first time ever at parkrun people.  Wow, their Saturdays will never be the same again, how exciting to be on the cusp of absolute change.  Also some fellow tourists, some donning the cow cowls.  I didn’t wear mine.  Not an absolute oversight, but possibly an over-reaction to last time I wore one down here at Kingston parkrun some weeks back.  A friendly fellow tourist came over to say hello but I’d had a stressful and traumatic few days, and a night entirely devoid of sleep.  Consequently, I was sitting shivering on a bench,  mid snot-producing sob due to emotional overload and exhaustion,  and could hardly speak.  Consequently, I probably came across as quite unfriendly which is not the cow cowl way.  I thought I’d let myself go under the radar more here, just in case, although, with the benefit of hindsight, taking loads of photos is a bit of a giveaway that you are a newbie at a venue, though that stimulated lots of friendly interaction without me becoming inappropriately tearful so that’s good.

Here we are at the first timers’ briefing.  They train up their marshals from youngsters at Osterley – excellent work!


then we were all calmly back down the steps in readiness for the start

Battleship 03

Some ambling and milling in anticipation of the Run Director’s briefing:


Runners in position, a set of steps appeared for the RD, and the briefing was miked.  Excellent.  I found it hard to judge the numbers, but around 300 were there in fact.  It was all very orderly.  Cheers for milestone runners, good luck wishes to marathon runners for tomorrow, this parkrun has a lovely vibe.  If it was your local, I’m sure you’d get to know people really quickly, it felt friendly, well organised, and sported a good cross section of participants too.  It felt a lot more diverse and inclusive than some of the others I’ve been too.  I don’t know if that’s to do with the catchment area, probably, but it has to be also to do with it having a welcoming ethos I’m sure.


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I met a couple of ebullient tourists, who were up for being photographed, so that was nice (wave) this was but a preparatory introduction preceding properly getting acquainted later on.  I can’t talk and run, so rarely befriend new people during a parkrun, though it’s not entirely  unprecedented either. Even so, good to swap friendly greetings and chit chat at the start line, it makes for a more companionable experience all round.

The start seemed to come suddenly.  We were awf.


It’s two laps, well marshalled, and it is indeed on tarmac paths, but oh my, the route is lovely!  I’m afraid my photos just don’t do it justice, well, it was quite an overcast day and taking photographs isn’t really my forte, nor is running, nor are most things, I’m hoping I’m a late developer and will stumble on my forte eventually, though time is running out for me to be able to make the most of it should any as yet untapped talent finally make itself known to me…

You pass by mature hedges, get glimpses of impressive cows, through a little bit of woodland, past lake, and pastures, all sorts really!  Inevitably, the first lap was something of a blur as you encounter things for the first time.  It didn’t feel crowded, the running surface was good.  There was a weird moment when you could hear traffic from the motorway on the left hand side, but see rural loveliness if you kept your eyes right – and the backs of departing parkrunners ahead of course, as always.  It does feel like a patch of green rural idyll oasis in the midst of what is basically urban sprawl.   Friendly marshals pointed and clapped and other spectators stood and cheered enthusiastic encouragement too, which was rather fine.  You know what, unusually for me, I’m going to let the pictures do the talking…  There are a lot of pictures, and if each is worth a thousand words, that’s quite a lot of chit chat going on below.


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I tried to take a snapshot of every marshal I passed, mixed success perhaps, but let’s try to remember it’s the thought that counts!


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Inevitably faster runners lapped me towards the end of the first lap.  Some were super speedy indeed,


You pass the finish funnel at the end of the first lap, so I paused to get some pics of the early finishers.  It really is such a spectacular location, it raises the tone of the entire gathering.  It felt more like a pop-up running festival than a conventional parkrun!


The second lap, it all thinned out, and I took time to admire the cows – no idea what sort they were, but they looked splendid:


I was flagging a bit, I’m just not running regularly at the moment and it does make a difference. Surely the second lap couldn’t be longer than the first?  They hadn’t had time to add anything.  Could have been worse though, might have been running on a treadmill with a dubious distance registering GPS. That was on the news on Saturday as well.  Fitness trackers can add miles to your marathon – up to 10.8 miles apparently, if you are running on a treadmill.  That is astonishing, but then who wants to run on a treadmill anyway? You’d have to be desperate surely.  For me, the entire point of running is to get to new places, the thought of running on the spot, makes me shudder, and can you imagine that, doing, an extra inadvertent and unacknowledged 10.8 miles!  That’s three and a bit extra parkruns – and you wouldn’t even get to brag about it on Strava afterwards presumably. That’s a whole new level of pointlessness.


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In a break with my usual conventions, I did get chatting with another super friendly runner and Osterley parkrun regular towards the end of the second lap.  She was really knowledgeable about the history of the house, which I now can’t remember, but was impressive at the time. Somewhat embarrassingly I would suggest, the history of Osterley Park House seems to be covered rather better on Wikipedia than on the National Trust’s own site about Osterley House – maybe I was looking in the wrong place.  Neither account was as informative, personalised and entertaining as this parkrunner’s though, plus she could say which films it has appeared in – interior shots for one of the more recent batman films being but one, because Osterley House has its own batcave entrance.  Hurrah!  The upshot is, if you really want to know the history of this place, look out for this runner and stick with her.


We even ended up crossing the line together, what with us now being new best friends and everything.  Thank you lovely fellow parkrunner. Unfortunately, despite saying I’d join her for coffee I lost her, becoming distracted by chatting to other parkrunners and confused by the tearoom logistics, but more of this later.

Still plenty of support for the second lap – including a parkrun tourist who’d already finished coming back to cheer his other half home.


I lingered round the finish funnel to cheer in the fun factory at the back, child labour was still in evidence here, dishing out chocolates to finishers in this extra role.  I’m not sure what it comes under on the volunteer rota ‘other’ probably, though surely it’s only a matter of time before all parkruns include ‘sweetmeats dispenser’ as a core role on their rotas.  Always room for innovation as parkrun evolves.  It’ll soon be like having a photographer volunteer role, future parkrunners will be astonished it wasn’t a given from the outset.  Granted, it takes a special sort of parkrunner to take on such a role, so it can’t always be guaranteed, but it is there as a vacuum abhorred by nature and seeking to be filled if someone is sufficiently gifted, willing and able to step forward for the task.  I wonder what the chrome extension running challenges badge for that would be.  Extra splendid and much coveted I’m sure.


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I then trotted up the steps again, partly to retrieve my bag – left under the cover of the colonnade whilst running – and partly to try and get some atmospheric, beautifully framed finish shots.  Unfortunately, my dreams were a bit beyond my capabilities. You get the gist though… maybe it will inspire some ‘proper’ photographers to drop by and show us how it’s done!  Honestly, I’m embarrassed by how poorly my photos have come out, it is such a gorgeous location, one of my favourites so far.  Granted, it doesn’t have the wild feel of my preferred locations, but the unexpected country estate splendour of this place cannot be over stated.


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Back down the steps and to the finish line, in time to see this amazing couple finish.


They are Osterley parkrun regulars and we had a good chat, they shared their considerable running wisdom, and how running with the wheelchair at parkrun lets them share quality time together each week.  We talked about lots of things, what parkrun means to us, and I explained about my mum and Elisabeth’s corner at Bushy parkrun and how emotional I feel about what parkrun does for individuals and communities which goes way, way beyond providing an opportunity to go for a run with your mates.   However, the point I remember most clearly, and indeed cling to, is that the gent sporting the 500 milestone tee and pushing his sporting wife, shared with me that he got his last pb at the age of 72.  I’m a mere stripling at 54, a veritable youngster with almost two decades in hand before I need to worry about never again getting a pb.   This was really encouraging, I’ve barely started, and everyone knows you don’t want to peak too soon.  Much better to build slowly and steadily.  After all, did you know that the oldest female runner in the London marathon, Eileen Noble didn’t start running til her fifties , so I’m well on target for improving my performance and it’s perfectly possible I too will peak with a new and final pb aged 72.  Hurrah!  Good to know, she’s 84 now, and London this year was her 19th marathon.  I’ve done London once, so got years in hand before I knock out my next 18 between now and when I’m 84.  Once again I learn, it is indeed all about attitude!  I can do this.  My future running successes all lie ahead of me, and they may be unexpectedly epic! Tautology or not, good to know.   First though, coffee and cake.

Eileen noble

Lovely as the location was, and exciting as my parkrun progress had been, I was lured away from the chill of the outside by the prospect of coffee.  Now, this was a further conundrum, and explains how I so rudely lost sight of my running buddy.  You see, the thing about this place is that it is a two cafe venue.  Yep.  You read that right, there are not one, but two coffee places, right next to each other.  With the benefit of hindsight, I think that one does more cooked breakfasts and ‘proper’ food, whereas the other specialises in quick coffee and cake.  I went to the latter, because the queue was shorter, and I’d been reunited with the cow cowl wearing tourists from early on so we decided to sup caffeine together.  I couldn’t see my new best friend, so maybe she was in the other place, or maybe she’d been and gone by the time I’d done all my faffing.  Sorry about that though, the conversation that might have been, didn’t mean to be rude…


Inside the coffee place, was a counter of delights in which the truly disinhibited might cheerfully have face planted.  I settled for a photo.


I say I settled for a photo, but actually I had a latte and a cheese scone.

I joined my new friends for parkrun debrief.  They were experienced tourists with many a tale to tell, so it was most educational and enlightening.  Always good to meet a tourist, especially when I discovered they set up their own parkrun Tourism Journey Facebook page which is another cheery space to swap parkrun tales.   They also took the obligatory parkrun selfie of the three of us, so that’s good.  Not seen it yet, but one day maybe.

*STOP PRESS* – here it is, the selfie pic:
three muses parkrun gorgeousness

I know, pretty special aren’t we?  Individually as well as collectively gorgeous and sharing the parkrun lurve!

We swapped parkrun claims to fame – I milked being related to my mum (obvs) but I think they won for having used the same toilet cubicle at Mr S-H himself during a parkrun ambassadors conference at Warwick.  Not at the same time I hasten to add, and no documentary evidence was provided, but you wouldn’t lie about a thing like that would you?  Surely not.  But think about that for a moment, it means his buttocks have been caressed by the same plastic toilet seat that previously caressed those of parkrun royalty!  I  know.  Amazing the doors parkrun has opened to us.

We also shared enthusiasm for the National Trust.  I never dreamed in my youth there would come a day when I’d aspire to membership of the National Trust, but now I do.  It just goes to show that life doesn’t always take you in the direction you expect, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Recently I discovered a friend of mind got given life time membership of the national trust for her fortieth birthday from a very generous relative, and I actually felt a flicker of jealousy flash before me!  How times change.  One day I’ll get around to joining!

Inevitably, the time came when we had to say our goodbyes and go our separate ways.  It was hard to tear ourselves away but not as hard as it was for this runner to cross the line of the London marathon.   I don’t think it’s an absolute that you shouldn’t laugh at the misfortune of others, surely it’s OK to have a little chortle at this as it ended well and he got extra sponsorship money too.  Well, I say it ended well, but it depends where the story ends. He crossed the finish, and then someone stole his costume later.  That isn’t funny.   Time called on Big Ben costume – mind you, someone is trying to fleece Piers Morgan as a condition of returning it, so that’s a dilemma I don’t generally approve of blackmail, but moral positions aren’t always that clear cut.  Anyways,  let’s not dwell on that, let’s enjoy this again instead:


and that was that, quietly proud and slightly bewildered at another parkrun done and dusted, it was but a leisurely walk back to the carparks and a parting of our ways… ’til next time only.  There’s always a next time!


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In summary then, it was Oooh, Osterley was ostonishingly good.  Thank you lovely parkrunners, organisers, tourists, supporters and all for a lovely welcome at a gorgeous venue.  Very impressive.

Any cons at all then you ask?  Erm, not really, not that I can think of – only that if you have anthophobia, you should probably avoid Osterley parkrun at this time of year and beyond as there was a lot of wisteria in full flower, and I think if it’s well cared for – as was this –  you can get more than one flowering a year. that’s a lot of blossom lurking.  Just so you know 🙂


Wherever you are heading for your next running fix, have fun, remember all running is awesome, it’s all in the attitude and mindset, not in the actual speed.



Incidentally, parkrun uk did a profile of Osterley parkrun back in March 2018, looks like they had a slightly different finish then and also that on at least one occasion there were dinosaurs on the course.  Splendid and good to know.

For all my parkrun related posts click here.  Or don’t.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though.

*may not have been Ibsen – it was a very long time ago, be fair.

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

Phew what a scorcher! Pounding the Pennine paths at Penistone parkrun.

Digested read:  did Penistone parkrun.  It’s on the Trans Pennine Trail.  Out and back with a XC twist.


Undigested read:

There isn’t a chrome extension running challenges badge yet for ‘body parts’, but I daresay it is only a matter of time before there is so I thought I might as well get this parkrun in early in eager anticipation of the inevitable. To the immature, that might sound childish, but it isn’t really, it’s just pragmatic.  Also, just so you know, it was also not childish at all to have sniggered at the Facebook post I read online somewhere about someone who’d suggested to a deaf friend that they try Penistone parkrun out next.  However, they couldn’t properly use British Sign Language so were spelling it out a single letter at a time, this led to both much wide-eyed incredulous raising of eyebrows and subsequent mutual guffawing.  Can’t just pretend not to notice the name can we, especially given the idiosyncrasies of my satnav’s pronunciation and diction!

Penistone parkrun is a relatively new kid on the parkrun block, this was only their event number two, but it is, or rather was until just after 9.30 today, my Nearest Event Not Done Yet NENDY, and so I was keen to get over and give it a whirl.  I avoided their inaugural last week, in case they were hoping for a low profile start – parkrun etiquette favours avoiding inaugurals unless they are your new local to avoid overwhelming the event teams and scaring them off!  However, I gather it was absolutely heaving last week, quite a party by all accounts, so word got out somehow.  To be fair, there are some thriving running clubs in the vicinity and of course the lure of The Trunce nearby, so perhaps it is destined to be one of the bigger parkruns. Hurrah!  Lyme park parkrun was pretty fine and dandy too though, just so you know.  They have had a fire at Lyme park since which is terrible news, hope it recovers OK.  All news seems depressing at the moment, although I did hear that hives of bees survived the fire at Notre-Dame, so there is the occasional glimmer of hope in dark times.  Don’t you think the hives look a bit like beach huts though?  No?  Just me then…  not for the first time.

Where was I?  Oh yes, heading to Penistone parkrun as my newly launched NENDY.  It’s an easy run out – well drive in my case – from Sheffield, although I do find the route keeps you on your toes.  The speed limit on the A61 Penistone Road changes with such frequency it’s like participating in a reflex test in the Crystal Maze or doing a pilots proficiency test or something.  You really need to keep your wits about you. Even on the ‘faster’ sections, there are constant ‘warning slow down’ signs to 40 or 35.  This wouldn’t have been quite so bad, except that some bastard car was tail gating me apparently oblivious to the changing speed limits, I was scared it was going to turn into a hatchback version of the film Duel, and I’d miss parkrun.  I know!  Can you imagine?  Unthinkable.

I made it in one piece, it was misty to start, but promising to be a scorchio day.  You drive through some pretty lovely scenery, not spectacular like Winnats Pass perhaps, but pretty nice, farm land and past the intoxicating promise of the turn off to The Trunce.  Finally, I arrived at Penistone Tesco!  Not the most inspiring of locations in and of itself.  I was a bit sheepish about parking up in there, but that’s what the course instructions said.  I read the parking signs with care, but couldn’t see a time limit, and I figured I’d do a shop there post-run anyway.  I also took solace from seeing another parkrunner had got there even earlier and parked up their camper van really close.  If they were that brazen, I could be too!

Officially, there are no toilets at the start of this parkrun, but unofficially, there are some nice ones in Tesco.  I joined the steady stream of parkrunners traipsing through.  How Tesco feel about being unofficial sponsors of the Penistone parkrun event is currently undocumented.+ The proliferation of running tees in general and parkrun tees in particular was a bit of a giveaway as to the origin of this sudden influx of trainer wearing people.  All the best people were hanging out by the loos – I got to bump into Smiley Selfie Queen for the first time in a while, sporting her Sheffield Half tee.  I admit to some runner envy there. It’s a really cool t-shirt, good colour.  I just wasn’t fit enough to make the start line, but definitely feel like I’ve missed out. Yes, there is always next year, but what if the t-shirt is fluorescent yellow or lime green again?  I shudder at the very thought.

+Edit – alas, we do know as of 10 May 2019.  They are now unimpressed and have requested that parkrunners refrain from parking in their carpark or using their loos. It was perhaps only a matter of time before they did so.  I concede they have a point, it is a relatively small tesco after all.  If you use an official pay and display somewhere you can then seek out an independent coffee shop afterwards angst free.  Would recommend 🙂 .

I dumped my dark glasses in the car – not that I didn’t need them, but they are my expensive prescription ones and I was scared of losing them – took time out to cheerily point a fellow parkrunner in what turned out to be completely the wrong direction to get to the start.  Oops. Never saw them again either, hope they made it – and then rejoined Smiley Selfie Queen and her entourage so we could go to the start together.  For future reference, the start is at the back of Tescos and to the right hand side.  Just stand in front of the store, and go to the right, following the signs to the Trans Pennine Trail.

You can’t go wrong really, unless you make the mistake of asking someone like me, nope, scratch that, not like me, actually me.  Don’t think anyone else would have been quite so spectacularly wrong.  In my defence, it’s because I was having some distressing flash backs.  I’d been here before.  For my ill-advised foray into cross country hosted at Penistone, which I think must be an acquired taste, I found it humiliating and traumatic.  NEVER AGAIN.   That event started slightly higher up the field and was indeed accessed by the stairs round the back of Tesco on the left hand side, so my directional advice earlier on may have been delusional and distinctly unhelpful but it wasn’t actually deranged.

Burdened by negative thoughts and replayed humiliations, I was therefore feeling significant apprehension as we wended our way down to the start.  Oh gawd, that blooming field, I remember running round that and being lapped and wanting to die, those sentiments have never featured in the parkrun rule book surely?  Gulp.  Yesterday, was hot, cross bun day, I wasn’t reckoning on being hot and cross today as well!  I was anxious not only about the course, but the rising temperature, I was wearing waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many clothes.  It was good to have some familiar faces around to calm my nerves.

The start was by a skate park, which handily concealed the start flag, however, there was quite a gathering of people so you couldn’t really miss where to go.  There didn’t seem to be anyone wearing hi-vis to start with, but maybe they don them at the last-minute or something, as ‘suddenly’ just before the RD briefing there seemed to be loads, like a flash mob or something.

Whilst waiting for the start some time for a few mandatory selfies, hurrah.  Lucky I had some expert assistance on hand to ensure these were achieved to acceptable quality control standards, thank you Smiley Selfie Queen, you never disappoint!  She has a special tee shirt now you know, though wasn’t wearing it today. I’ll try and find it, just so you know I’m not making that up.  Here you are – this one is at Graves parkrun, another fab one by the way, highland coos en route, can’t go wrong with an offer like that.

Smiley Selfie Queen at Graves

Good to get a random runner who knows how to pose in front of the obligatory signpost too.  This bodes well.

I gazed about, watched people warming up, dumped my fleece

Then I had a genius idea!  I decided to clamber up one of the skate boarding ramps to get some nice aerial views of the starters, looked a picture from up there:

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Genius indeed!  Unfortunately, I then realised it was actually quite a daunting prospect to clamber down the ramp, wet with morning dew and super-slippery.  This is how cats end up stuck up trees.  There was a definite risk of somersaulting down ar*e over t*t, I decided the lesser indignity of going down on my backside was the way to go.  I descended in one piece, edging my way down behind a very small child who was adopting the same strategy.  It takes a toddler to teach us how to interact appropriately with our environmental challenges at times!

Nine o-clock was approaching, and the hi-vis heroes started to materialise

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The RD was looking super-cool, surveying the field from on high. He just materialised up there too, like when they use the teleporter on Star Trek (the original series of course) and just beam people right in.  I don’t know for sure, because I’d run off by that point, but I bet he didn’t have to just slide down the ramp on his arse when the time came for him to get off.  Plus he was holding a clip board, life can bestow on you no greater responsibility and status of importance than that.

Astonishingly, there was silence for the run director’s briefing.  This is really good, but does suggest to me that people were quiet perhaps because they were, like me, newbies, and needed to hear.  This raises the awful possibility, that people who regularly shout talk through run briefings are in fact the parkrun regulars who should really know better!  It infuriates me when people talk through the intros, it’s right up there as on offence along with failing to return library books, just soooooooooooooo anti-social.  Anyway, it was refreshing to see a bit of courtesy extended to the team, who are, after all, relatively new to this although the event ran like a well-oiled machine so if there was any event organisation stress going on, it wasn’t in evidence.

The course was explained, oh ye gods – you do have to start AND FINISH, by running round that blooming field.  Curses.  Then it’s out and back along the trail, trying not to collide with the barriers at various points.  I’ve seen loads of runners run into such obstacles, so that advice was by no means sarcastic, but sincerely meant!  He also said about juniors needing to be with a responsible adult as opposed to any old adult.  Few nervous parkrunners out there on the course on hearing that I shouldn’t wonder.  That bit of information could be a game changer!

Oh, hang on, you probably want to know the course don’t you?  Erm, it’s described on the Penistone parkrun official website blah de blah thus:

Beginning by the skate park the route follows the perimeter of the playing field in an anticlockwise direction and then exits left on to the Trans Pennine Trail heading towards Millhouse Green. It is out and back along the trail turning at the bench immediately before the Millhouse Green Crossing. On return to the park, enter at the Stottercliffe entrance and continue straight ahead once again following the perimeter of the field to the finish at the approach to the swing park. The course is a combination of gravel paths, grass and trail.

and it looks like this:

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I think the parkrun shape is a bit like a bent parkrun directional arrow, but then again, I’ve probably done a few too many junior parkrun set ups.  It’s quite fun coming up with interpretations of the Strava images of parkruns.  There was a thread on just this topic recently.  Hilarious, will try to find the link and borrow from it for your enlightenment and amusement.  Oh in the meantime, have you come across this ‘parkrun shape’ gizmo courtesy of Andrew Chilcraft?  Tells you how many laps each route is.  Fab eh?

Hang on, found it!  ‘If you look at your parky what shape does it make?‘ Rolls up sleeves – so can you make out the sperm; the squirrel pouring water into a pond from a watering can; the cowboy boot; the footprint with missing toes; the gurning one-eyed robot; the mini Australia; the duck eating spaghetti; the one that if you squint looks a bit like a child’s drawing of a house (genius work there – had me fooled) to describe (tortuously) but a few?  What a troubled creative lot parkrunners are!

I dare say, over time, someone will come up with a better interpretation of the Penistone parkrun shape, than ‘bent parkrun flag’, watch this space.  Or better yet, the Peniston parkrun Facebook page, reckon it will be cited there first.

According to my Strava it was 107 foot of elevation – no idea if that is accurate, but might be, might not.  It’s all flat really, apart from the Horrid Hill at the start.

Brief intro from the RD, applause for the volunteers, and then we were off.  Up and round the cross country field, in my case trying to avoid both crying too noticeably or being trampled.  It’s shortish, wettish grass, and up hill.  The only plus side to this start, is that you get to see the sight of the faster runners trailing off in front of you in all their picturesque glory.  It is indeed a sight to behold.

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The smiling marshals dotted along the way offered some solace, but I can’t lie, I wouldn’t relish that as the start of my home parkrun – though I suppose as you got better at it, you would feel great satisfaction in doing so.  Teasingly, you pass through the finish funnel very early on, at least this forewarns you that you will be required to tackle the hill again at the climax of your parkrun.

There is a nice bit of downhill, and then you slalom through the offset barriers to get onto the Trans Pennine Trail itself.  There was so much red and white warning tape, it was like there had a been a major incident there but moments previously.

Joking apart, I can see how you might crash into it what with the forward momentum from sprinting so fast (cough) down hill and being part of a crowd of other runners so you couldn’t quite see what was ahead.  It was very well marshalled, and today, as far as I could tell, their collective vigilance paid off.  Nobody winded themselves – or worse –  running into them, no incident reporting required today!

I felt palpable relief when we got onto the trail.  Even though you are barely underway, I felt less conspicuous somehow, and the flashbacks to getting stuck in tiny tyres in school obstacle course races (true story) abated as I trotted along the path along with everyone else.  It’s basically an out and back course really.  The Trans Pennine Trail was surprisingly picturesque, if you take a moment to look left and right there are some good views from the path.  I took this to the next level, taking several moments to stop and take pictures.  I nearly caused just the one pile up, for which I apologised profusely to a very forgiving fellow runner, but I inspired envy in another ‘I wish I’d thought to bring my camera with me so I’d have an excuse for stopping all the time‘ she lamented.  That’s me rumbled then.

There are some cool bridges to pass under along the way, one had mini bicycles adorning it, I like that.  I liked that a lot.  I wonder how they got to be there.

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One is either a stunt rider, or falling off.  I wonder if it’s like the Bayeux tapestry, or the Game of Thrones tapestry, and is representing actual stories?

Incidentally, did you know an Oxford Don has counted the number of penises in the Bayeux tapestry and it is 93, of which 88 belong to horses and 5 to humans (men for the most part I’m going to presume).  The professor concludes that the tapestry was therefore made by men since:

the evidence points to the embroiderers being male. ‘This is just the sort of thing which will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time in a boys’s school, but seems unlikely to have been the product of a female mind,’ he wrote in a BBC article. Now we know what fragile masculinity looked like in the 11th century.

All sounds very peculiar to me.  That’s his idea of academic rigour is it?  Mind you, we women are all made of sugar and spice and all things nice*, so perhaps he has a point….  However, it just goes to show the perils of using google search engines to search for historical tapestries just after searching for Penistone, computer algorithms eh?  Not inherently smutty perhaps, but reflecting the cultural context in which they operate and everybody is currently googling if not actual porn, then something titillating for the weekend.  Did you know somebody using the search term ‘Dogging in Endcliffe park‘ was directed to my blog.  I wrote a post especially for them, how disappointed they must have been!

I digress, which has never happened before – where was I.  Oh yes – Game of Thrones was a documentary right?  I think I may be the only person in the known universe who hasn’t seen it.  I’m a late adopter for lots of these things.  Shame.  The problem is I stuck with Lost, and it let me down.  Most anti-climactic ending of all time – actually, I bailed before the last series, once I cottoned on to the fact it wasn’t ‘clever’ writers making the plot so confusing, it was writers who hadn’t expected to have their bluff called by writing another series. They also had no idea where the story line(s) were going.  That’s hours and days and weeks of my life I’ll never get back  It’s no wonder I have trust issues these days, I just wont enter relationships with long series anymore, for fear of history repeating itself.  At least with Jessica Fletcher you know where you are, and also, she’s a parkrunner, even got a cow cowl themed neckerchief (stolen observational humour, thank you Bob Jones) – its similarity to my cow cowl buff is unmistakable, must be the American equivalent.  She sports hers with a bit more flamboyant bravado – could catch on.

So off I trotted, feeling waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too hot.  It was fairly crisp first thing, but as soon as the sun peaked out it was tough going for me at least.  I’m not good in heat.  It was a pretty full field here at Penistone parkrun, but it didn’t feel congested, I think the hill and field at the start spreads everyone out quite well.  The instruction is to keep to the right, but obviously you also need to give way to other users of the path, there didn’t seem to be all that many others out and about, a few runners coming cheerily in the opposite direction, but nothing that created a problem as far as I can see.   Though I did eavesdrop a interaction between an adult and junior and I could have sworn it was along the lines of ‘you are supposed to be at arm’s length’ as opposed to ‘within arm’s length’.  Nice twist on a theme there.  I’m better than I used to be around children since I got involved with junior parkrun (which for the record is the best thing in the world ever, FACT), those youngsters are hilarious, fantastic, inspirational and joy-filled – but I can lapse into fearfulness with unknown children as I don’t really know how to interact with them.  There have been many occasions previously when been instructed to keep a child at arm’s length would have been hugely helpful, reassuring and indeed most excellent advice.  … I don’t know for sure that that would extend to practical parenting skills though.  Then again, what do I know?

There was a lovely cross-section of participants.   All ages, all shapes and sizes, some very speedy buggy runners, one at least of whom disappeared over the horizon before I’d run five paces.  A couple of dogs on short leads, tails wagging.  It was an extremely good-natured parkrun, and it felt more established than it is.

Through the trees, under another bridge, gaze about.  Inevitably, there came a point when faster runners were coming back the other way, looking super speedy, and focused.  Also, like they were really pushing themselves.  I must try that for myself sometimes and see how I get on.  Scary thought, I do tend to stay in my comfort zone (I use the term loosely) I should really try to see how fast I can run flat-out one day, I’m scared of falling though, and that’s not completely irrational, last time I ran as fast as I could I ended up breaking my knee cap running into a low brick wall (in my defence it was dark at the time), and you’d have to concede that would put anyone off running really fast ever again surely.  I’d put 50p on that none of these front-runners have ever broken their knee cap as a result of collision with a brick wall whilst running.  Not one.  (Some of them will have done the odd face plant though for sure, goes with the running territory)

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They were a safety conscious lot at this parkrun, so wherever there was a gate, or similar potential obstacle, there was a marshal in place to offer support and, somewhat superfluous, directional pointing.  Super friendly to the last.  There were various running marshals visible en route as well, and that worked well, and is probably a good idea on a well-used public trail like this one.

Eventually, you approach the well-coned turn around point.

Cheery marshals waved you in.  That’s great, but, bit of feedback for the organising team, it did feel a bit too much like the finish funnel as opposed to the half-way point, could have raised some false hope there, for first-timers, oh and for me too, now I come to think of it. Actually, scratch that, maybe that’s why as you head back the way you’ve come from they’d got their inspirational tee in place to get you going again 🙂


Going back seemed a lot quicker, it always does.  I appreciated the bird carving, which was keeping an eagle eye on us runners (gawd, I’m hilarious – can you see what I’ve done there)


It was good to see the tail, cheerily marching at the rear, and quite a novelty for me to pass someone still coming out as I was on the way back.  I’ve been final finisher plenty of times.

It was but a hop, skip and a jump back.  I met a fellow Graves junior hi-vis hero who’d already finished and was coming back out again to meet another runner, I parasitised the advice a responsible adult was giving his accompanying junior, ‘count down from ten, then we’ll run to the bridge‘ whilst really wishing I’d gone for short sleeves and left my buff at home

Took in the sunshiney views and nearly went over on my ankle – made a good recovery though

At some point, I espied the parkrun photographer, taking shots from quite low down.  I immediately adopted my apparently nonchalant running gait, and then impulsively went with the not-at-all nonchalant grimace and wave seen a photographer AND a marshal oh my god how exciting pose.  We shall see if it makes the cut. BREAKING NEWS I did!  Here it is dear reader, a rare moment of smiling and running at the same time.

SF here I am

Steve Frith regularly turns out to take epic photos at running events locally, they really raise the bar in terms of action shots, often ‘telling a story’ or including character capturing portraits.  We shall see – I’ll be looting those that end up on Facebook later.

Here is but one story, to whet your appetite, this is how the parkrun relationship starts, ‘I’ll just try it once‘ you say, and then week two you are back again – this picture is the start of someone’s parkrun story, you can just feel the parkrun working its magic:

Penistone parkrun story

Thank you for giving up your time photographer and marshals one and all.  It was buzzing out there today, you should all be very pleased and proud of what you’ve achieved.

and tried to disguise my relief and joy at seeing the marshals at the end of the trail, who were sending us back off up the cross-country hill and to the finish.


The cross-country hill was still scary.  I know it’s in my head.  I could hear a crowd at the finish funnel cheering other parkrunners in, but it just feels quite exposed, that hill is hard to run up.  Fortunately another cheery marshal appeared from nowhere to offer encouragement, and also fortunately, a woman running alongside me was similarly puffing at the effort of hoiking upwards.  I was not alone.

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Eventually, like a mirage on the horizon, the finish funnel came into view, volunteers back-lit to create a vision of loveliness.  There was quite a party atmosphere going on.  People were cheering in friends, clapping anyone in view and at least one person ran in with another runner – though I fear that may have caused some confusion for the timers.

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and so it ended.  Smiles all round.  The Penistone showground site transformed into a parkrun vision of loveliness.  Thank you Penistone parkrun event team, you have created a thing of wonder.  It was a super friendly, well organised event.  Looks like it will be thriving with regulars too, there seemed to be a fair few genuine first timers and locals alongside the tourists and the curious who were represented too.  All in all orsum!


I went to retrieve my fleece, and then wandered to Tesco to do a bit of a shop.  It was slightly surreal doing my supermarket shop in a place heaving with other runners.  Every other shopper appeared to be a parkrunner, seemingly we’d completely swamped Penistone like some sort of benign contagion.  Everyone’s a parkrunner now!  This is as it should be.

I was still a bit dubious about what Tesco might be making all of it, so I did a sample survey of one by asking the woman on the checkout what she made of it all.  ‘I think it’s great‘ she said, ‘all these people discovering our lovely town‘.  So that’s good.  I appreciate the results should be seen as illustrative rather than representative, but even so, it’s nice to be able to state with confidence that 100% of the people I questioned about the impact of parkrun on Penistone were unequivocally positive about the whole thing.  Me too, so that’s more than 100%.  Phew.  I packed my hot cross buns purchase into my bag for life (I didn’t only buy hot cross buns) and made my way back to the car with a new spring in my step.  Now if only I could find a way to harness that elusive spring for when I was actually running…

Did you know, that accordingtoDavidAttenboroughsoitmustbetrue the wolverine can eat more food at one sitting than any other animal for its size?  Remarkable, especially discovering that a wolverine is an actual animal not a made up one.  In the category of reindeer (which some Americans believe to be a fictitious animal based on my experience) rather than (spoiler alert) phoenixes, which are if not actually imaginary, then probably extinct.  Unicorns are rare, but I’ve seen loads at Bushy park parkrun, so no worries on that score.

Well anyway, sounds like a challenge to me, I wonder how many hot cross buns I can demolish in one sitting, wish me luck…  I would think my own body weight for starters, but we’ll see.

Whilst I’m doing that, can we have a moment to offer up our gratitude to all the parkrun teams out there who make it so.  Penistone parkrun was great, the XC fear was person specific to me, more generally this was a friendly and inclusive run with a great cross-section of parkfunners enjoying the sunshine and camaraderie that is parkrun.  Oh, actually the sunshine bit, that isn’t always a given, just to manage your expectations if you are a newbie, but the warmth of the welcome will make you feel like the sun is shining on you, even if it’s actually hailing.  I promise.  Or your money back!

For all my parkrun related posts click here.  Or don’t.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though.  Bit of a time vampire, if you do, you might be stuck on the sofa for a while, read on at your own risk, if you choose to do so, that is contributory negligence and I’ll have no sympathy for you at all.  Lost all over again…

Next weekend is the London Marathon, I can’t believe I actually did that, I can hardly run 100 metres at the moment.  Oh well, whatever, at the very least, it does mean we get to watch running on the telly – or even actually run, be it at London or elsewhere.  How exciting is that.  May the weather gods be kind, don’t want another heat wave.  Whatever you are up to, happy running in general and parkrunning in particular.

In the meantime though, check out Steve Frith’s awesome pics for Penistone parkrun #2 on his Facebook page here and another fab album from Penistone parkrun #2 album 2 here.  It makes such a difference having these quality shots – I love reliving running events poring over the photos afterwards.  It’s like you get a window into other people’s running adventures too!  Thanks Steve.  Here are a few tasters for you to peruse as I finally take my leave.  Joyful runners, runners who’ve also seen the photographer and some stunning atmospheric shots.  If these aren’t enough to entice you down to join the fun factory at Penistone parkrun I don’t know what is!  Try to get beyond the XC reference, that honestly is just me 🙂

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*not really

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Discovering the Dizzying delights of Disley – Lyme park parkrun

Digested read: went to Lyme park parkrun, it was delightful, thank you for asking.

Undigested read:

Yes, you do get dizzy with delight at the beauty of it all, but you might also feel a bit dizzy with less than delight if you set off too fast up that hill at the start.  More of this later. Let’s start at the very beginning, as that’s well-known as being a very good place to start.

Lyme Park parkrun has been on my parkrun ‘to do’ list for ages and ages.  I did toy with the idea of doing it for my 200th run, but didn’t in the end, for reasons I can’t be bothered to elaborate on.  I felt like it ought to be saved for a special occasion, given the rave reports that echo outwards from its epicentre of parkrun gloriousness.  It’s beauty is legendary, the steepness of its start a marvel even to those of us who hail from Sheffield and think we know all about hilly parkruns, and the post run coffee options classy – it’s hosted at the National Trust property Lyme Park after all.  Also, a one-lapper, my favourite type of run, and they are few and far between.  What’s not to like?  The only down side is that it’s also quite a long way for me, and not really a route to drive in winter, well not for the lily-livered likes of me at least, so you have to pick the right day to go.  You can do this by ripping the innards out of a chicken and consulting The Oracle – not the premier Berkshire shopping destination, but the one at Delphi, which I understand has a more reliable track record in predicting the future depending on what you make of the ancient classics.  If like me,  you don’t live in Greece and are vegetarian anyway, as an alternative you can just check the weather forecast on the BBC website.  Whatever, for me the weather forecast runes looked good.  Even so, heading off to Lyme Park parkrun this morning was a bit of a last-minute call.  My running is so lamentable at the moment I feel more comfortable heading off to new parkruns where I can run (I use the term loosely) without any pressure by being anonymous.  I did consider going to Penistone parkrun, which had its inaugural today, but then felt they may prefer a low profile start – they don’t seem to have a Facebook page as yet, so I took that to mean they might be trying to stay under the radar – also, no loos at Penistone, maybe I should work on my pelvic floor for a bit before making the pilgrimage to that one, so all in all, I’ll save that for another time. Last night, I just decided, ‘why not Lyme Park parkrun?’ and why not indeed? (rhetorical question, there is no reason why not at all that could keep me from it!)  I charged up my sat nav and laid out my cow cowl in eager anticipation.  I would make it so.

I had a terrible night’s sleep.  I have completely lost the ability to slumber it seems.  If I could choose a super power it would be to be able to sleep at will.  Oh well, on the plus side, at least I was wide awake from about 4.00 a.m. so no worries about running late in the morning, only about actually potentially being expected to run, though parkrun is for all of course, walk, run, jog or – as in my case – walk/run/gaze about taking photos – all welcome.

Up, porridge, tea, arm out of the upstairs window revealed it was blooming cold, and blinking out there was actual frost on the grass and even ice on the car’s rear windscreen!  Well, I didn’t order that.  There was also the most glorious pink sunrise and a sky full of promise for a bright sunshiney day.  Hurrah!

The drive out to Lyme Park was beyond stunning.  I’ve been away from the Peaks for a while lately, and it’s ages since I’ve headed out through Hathersage, Hope and beyond to Winnats Pass.  Before I even got that far I thought my head would explode with the fabulousness of the views.  It was just stunning, completely perfect in morning sunshine.  I couldn’t capture it on film, but that didn’t stop me pulling over and having a bash


you had to be there really.  The light was perfect.  It was hard not to be distracted by the scenery, it made me long to get back out and explore these fantastic open spaces we are so lucky to have on our doorstep from Sheffield.  Not today though, today I was passing on through.  When I got to Winnats Pass I thought my heart would burst.  I remember the first time I discovered this place, after relocating to Sheffield and I could hardly process what an extraordinary landscape was unfolding in front of me, it’s beyond comprehension really, when you see it without any advance warning, but even now I know what’s coming it remains amazing.  When I was driving back home later on this morning along the same route, there was a car coming up the other way and whilst the driver was resolutely focused on the road ahead, the passengers were lent out of the car windows at waist height, brandishing their mobile phones like tourists on safari, compelled to remain in their vehicle but desperate to capture on film the astonishing and unbelievable vision of the landscape in front of them.  Africa may have its lions, but the Peak District has geography to make your eyes pop just as much.  Go see for yourself.


It was a bit heart thumping going up it in my little automatic car though.  I always worry it won’t quite make it up the hill, to be fair, this wasn’t the only time today I worried my carcass would never reach the summit of a steep incline.  Worth it though, on all occasions.  And I did make it too.

I drove past the heading off point for Mam Tor – not been there since the Mend Our Mountains sojourn, must get out and do that romp again in daylight this time.  Not my picture, but if you want a taster, this is what it looked like in the setting sun – not too shabby eh?  Not my photo, obvs.  Embarrassingly, I’m not sure who took it, think it was an ‘official’ one.  Thanks lovely photographer for sharing, whoever you were.

BMC MOM image

It was a bit over an hour to get to Lyme Park, and it was very straightforward, apart from me being a scaredy-cat on the steep hills.  I wouldn’t attempt driving there in icy conditions.  There is a sharp, but well-signed turning off the A6, and you go through some incredibly grand gates that will either make you feel you were – or should have been – born for this, or that you are trespassing. I felt like I was trespassing.


and that pic isn’t even the proper gate, but the extra mini one after you’ve turned off.  The drive to the actual house goes on for miles and miles, literally, not just metaphorically.  Top tip, if you are being dropped off for this parkrun, don’t wave away your ride cheerily at the gatehouse saying ‘it’s fine, I’ll walk from here‘ unless you are either a speedy and experienced ultra runner, or don’t mind delaying your Lyme Park parkrun until the following Saturday, you’d never make it to the start line in time.

I chugged down the driveway, and then there’s a little hut, where, once the park is officially open, you’d presumably have to stop and pay for parking.  I’m not sure from when to be fair, but I was there about 8.30 ish and just cruised on by.  Looked like if you were paying, it was cash only and right money preferred.


Onwards, the park is jaw-droppingly lovely.  I did pick the most gorgeous weather imaginable to attend though, the light backlit the trees and landscape spectacularly.  I kept having to pause and wave my camera hopefully through the car windows to try and get some shots.  Poor substitute for being there I know, but will give you a flavour of it perhaps?

There were hidden treasures lurking, mysterious towers on the horizon, tempting paths, weaving up through trees and over hills.  Yep, so far the reports of the loveliness of Lyme would seem not to have been exaggerated.

Finally, there is the house on the left, a kiosk, a scattering of hi-vis, and a pleasingly empty car park – though of course that meant I had to do the ‘where is the best place to park dance’ which is quite complicated and references my indecisiveness a bit too authentically.  It’s factoring in how to get out later on when it’s full, as well as which is the best space to secure when empty.  A complex equation I find.  You will either relate to this or not. If you do, then your heart will bleed for me, too much choice, too challenging to decide, if you do not, then you will have to learn to live  on with that sense of genuine bewilderment and incomprehension.  I guess it’s like those puzzles which say can you see the elephant or whatever in this image and you either can or can’t and if you can’t it’s just beyond belief anyone sees otherwise.  This isn’t an elephant though:


Actually, strictly speaking, it isn’t a duck or a rabbit either.  You do know your art history I take it?  This is not a pipe either….


Glad we’ve cleared that up. Anyway, need to crack on, you’ll be wanting to know about the parkrun and I’m nowhere near describing that yet.  Once parked, I went over to where the Run Director and team were gathered, adjacent to a closed refreshment kiosk and some parkrun arrows yet to be put into place  to check out what was what.

I established the star and finish were in different places, and that you could – depending on the RD – potentially leave a coat to be taken to the finish, though I decided to leave mine in the car in the end.  Most importantly of all, I was directed to the loos. Just as I had thought my heart would burst from the beauty of the landscape en route to the event, now I’d arrived I thought my bladder would burst from the litres of tea I’d quaffed pre-departure.  Fortunately, the National Trust have lots of loos. Hurrah!


They also had helpful signage about alternative names for dandelions, who knew?  And a lake.  And a tea rooms, and a National Trust gift shop, yet to open.

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Phew, much relief.  Slight panic when I thought I’d picked a cubicle without loo paper, but worry not, it actually had not one, but two toilet roll dispensers, presumably to cater for exactly this eventuality – I do love National Trust hosted running events!  I saw there was a Trust 10k sign up by the lake, so presume there is a Lyme Park Trust10, that would be epic!

Precautionary pee satisfactorily executed, I was able to have a bit of an amble about and check out my surroundings.  Great selection of warning signs here – is it reassuring or alarming to know the tail walker has radio contact with HQ in case of emergency?  Just not sure… and don’t get me started on the BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!  It is bad for the nerves!  I nearly had to go back for a second precautionary pee because of all the anticipatory excitement!  Didn’t though.  Need to practise running with my legs crossed in case I make it to Penistone.

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There were enthusiastic – or possibly lost – runners doing warm up loops, and marshals were heading out to their designated clapping and directional pointing spots, the event team were milling and coordinating and going about the busy and important tasks that keep the parkrun show on the proverbial road.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear one of them at least was in possession of a clipboard, that’s how busy and important they looked!  Friendly and welcoming too though, you’ll be glad but unsurprised to hear, it is the parkrun way 🙂 .

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As 9.00 a.m. drew near, people started to migrate towards the starting gate, which was at the bottom of a rather upward flat section.  Gulp.  The gathering commenced.

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Now would probably be a good time to describe the course to you, as it’s a well known fact I can’t talk and run at the same time, so it’ll be hard for me to properly tell you about it once I get going.  The Lyme Park parkrun website blah de blah describes the course thus:

Course Description – Breathtaking. Literally!
Lyme Park parkrun begins towards the back of the main car park – the open gate marking the start line. The first uphill section (almost exactly 800m) is tough, narrow and loose under foot, however your perseverance will immediately be rewarded as you pass through a second open gate into the woods, which is rich in colour, but more importantly, flat! As you pass under the trees and along this next section, you will reach a second open gate where you should turn 90 degrees to your left. This narrow trail runs parallel with the park wall and is gently undulated and highlighted with small crossing streams. Glance to your right and you may be treated to your first deer sighting. At the end of this section, turn left again, through a third open gate and run straight ahead, passing the archery field on your right and through the final open gate. Please take extra care at this short part of the run, as you pass the staff car park on your left. Bear round to the right and follow the road until you spot the first large stone, turning left as you reach it, and head towards Lyme Park’s Cage. This huge open space with spectacular panoramic views of Manchester and beyond, will almost certainly give you perspective, and take your mind away from any aches or pains. Pass to the right of the Cage and head downwards over a rocky path, taking care to lift your feet on this loose (and unforgiving) terrain. As the path blends into the grass, it becomes very slippery and ends with a sharp turn to the left. Marshals will be ready to catch you at the bottom! Dig deep for this last section, a gradual incline awaits up to the finish line, a few hundred feet in front of the house, and in perfect situ to head off for a well-earned breakfast at the Timber Yard Coffee Shop

and it looks like this:

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and Strava tells me that there is 496 feet of elevation, which doesn’t sound too bad to be fair, but in the doing of this parkrun, I did think I might bleed from my eyes at some point, so be warned.

Assembled, next thing was the run briefing.  Milestones various were acknowledged, this seemed a friendly parkrun with regular runners cheering each others various achievements.  There was just the one celebrity runner, the Incredible Hulk, something must have made him mad as he was in his green, bulked up form, but fair does to him, whatever else he might have to contend with, the Hulk doesn’t skip leg days when working out.  Good work.

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It was a brief briefing, and a refreshingly quiet and attentive parkrun crowd – though maybe they were saving their breath for that upward flat section starting out… and then it was awf, and awf we went, some with more enthusiasm than others!

You can’t really tell from the pictures, but the start is a bit of a shock.  It’s a steep climb upwards for about 800 metres.  You would get super fit if this was your regular parkrun.  Spoiler alert, I failed to run all the way up the hill.  I like to think this was because I was wanting to pause for photos en route, but I am well-known for harbouring self-serving delusions.  Don’t mock me, it is this delusional thinking that allows me to return to parkrun week after week.  A fair few people did opt to power walk as well, perhaps this is a known and legitimate run craft strategy and not a cop-out at all?  Yes. I like to think it is, therefore henceforth, that is what it shall be.  Strategy in action. Go us, but slowly, to save ourselves for the more forgiving inclines and genuinely flat bits!

There weren’t a massive amount of marshals on the course, it doesn’t really need that many, you can’t get lost, but the cheery support was welcome.  I’d swear some of those marshals had the super-power of teleportation though, as they seemed to Pop up more than once along the way.  Canny lot the Lyme Park parkrun crew….  Here are some, in all their glorious loveliness:

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So you go up a gravely roady bit, and through a foresty bit, and emerge onto a moorland bit and it undulates up and down and the views are FACT.  I was, as ever, in the fun factory that is the rear of the pack.  There were a fair few juniors embracing the event, which was quite motivating, as if they can do it on their little legs, I can do it on my little legs too. Granted, they aren’t carrying the same tonnage, but equally, they have less idea of what they have signed up to.  Maybe ignorance is indeed bliss sometimes, it’s so hard to be sure…

This is definitely one of the toughest parkruns I’ve done to date, but also one of the most beautiful.  It would probably be quite brutal in snow and ice, but it was blooming lovely today, despite it being pretty nippy out.  After a bit, you are directed off to cake!


Oh hang on, no, not cake, cage.  Rookie error.  I have no idea why the folly, or castle or cage or whatever it is.  A hunting lodge according to google…. it does look a bit like the Tower or London, and to be honest, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all to learn we’d run that far as it was hard going up that hill, as well as being pretty breezy up top!  Still, you are rewarded with the most amazing views, and it’s amazing what you can put up with given an incentive like that to keep on going.

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Past the cage, and there was a lovely down hill where you could be an aeroplane if you wished on the way down.  More marshals were in position by trees and with a succession of rather cute canine companions.  There was also a high vis clad horse rider, I’m thinking that was just a coincidence, rather than a crowd control measure unique to Lyme whereby they have a mounted marshal/police presence just to be on the safe side.

The downhill bit continues, and then you have to curve round towards the left towards the final finish stretch (don’t get too excited, it goes up again before going down).  Here, I induced panic in the marshal at his station, as I veered to the right to get a shot of him in situ leading him to think there was a navigational emergency unfolding before his very eyes.  He shouted and waved at me with not a little desperation. It’s good to know marshals take their directional pointing responsibilities so seriously, thank you my hi-vis friends for your vigilance as well as diligence on course today!  Also, in my humble opinion, best bobble hat of the morning too, although that award brings with it only kudos, no other acknowledgement as such, you’ll have to make do with the warm glow of recognition I’m afraid.

Once I’d cornered successfully, it was past the plastic cone mine (or possibly resting place, I’m not sure).

On the summit behind, you could just make out the tail walkers and marshals standing down from their posts:


ahead, parkrunners ran on, the finish funnel within their reach…

and just when your morale was beginning to sap, a further sign of encouragement, literal as well as metaphorical – I do love it when parkruns have their own personalised signs, it’s cheering!


and even better, it was actually true!  You are nearly there, just a few metres round the corner, the finish funnel came into view, and you run into the warm embrace of a flurry of timers and funnel managers and finish token giver outers and barcode scanners.  Hurrah!

and so it ends.

I lingered to watch the tail come in – didn’t have to linger very long to be fair…

and you know what was especially heartwarming, to see the hi vis heroes jumping for joy.  And why not, volunteering at parkrun is fab fun.  Didn’t quite get him airborne, but this picture potentially has more comedic value, so every cloud eh?  Just realised, do those plastic cones match the bobble hat stripes?  Methinks they might.


and that was that.

Lyme Park parkrun done.

I ambled back to the car, trying to get some atmospheric pics en route, along with the obligatory slightly awkward selfie.  Where is Smiley Selfie Queen when I need her?

We definitely had the best part of the day for the run, as it was getting decidedly nippy by this point.  As it was a long drive back, I stopped off at the cafe for a veggie egg and sausage sandwich and a latte.  Service was friendly but slow, presumably because they had to go and get a hen to lay an egg for me before they could cook it. However, that was fine, as queuing is an impromptu opportunity for parkrun socialising.  I met a fell devil runner who is also doing Round Sheffield Run in a few weeks time – note to self, I should train for that probably, and also was able to see the RD again, and marvel about the wonders of the Lyme Park venue, which I could confirm in person, most definitely had lived up to its most excellent reputation.  It is definitely ‘undulating’ though, and I run in Sheffield.  Just saying.

Mind you, it’s not as tough as the Marathon des Sables, and a dog just finished that, so perhaps we can all do more than we realise if we are but motivated enough, and we runners are mightily easily led by the prospect of a fine bit of bling…  This is most certainly a dog that’s finally had its day!

It really is exceedingly fine.  You should try it sometime. Best try to manage your expectations about the stately home actually levitating on the lake though, I mean it is very spectacular indeed, but there are limits.


So once again, thank you parkrunners and parkfunners all in general and Lyme Park parkrunners in particular.  It was reet nice oot.  I’d love to come back some time soon.

For all my parkrun related posts click here.  Or don’t.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though.  Bit of a time vampire, if you do, you might be stuck on the sofa for a while, ‘just researching options’.  Hmm.

Happy running in general and parkrunning in particular until next time.  I wonder what parkrun delights next Saturday will bring.


Categories: 5km, off road, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

Rocking the context appropriate look. Snow plogging microadventures r us.

Digested read: went plogging on the Sheffield Half-Marathon route.  It snowed.  It was still fun.

litter picking white out

Undigested read: I can hardly run a bath at the moment, let alone a half marathon.  This is a shame, because we are fully into not so much the run up (see what I did there?  Hilarious) as into the actual tapering period for the 2019 Sheffield Half.  This time last year I was well into my distance runs and used the Sheffield Half as a training run for the London Marathon. That seems like a life time ago. The past is another country I did things differently there.  Now, for various reasons, I’ve had my running goals for this year well and truly scuppered.  It is a source of much squirm-inducing regret that when my lovely running club asks us each month to volunteer our achievements and post them on Facebook for each return period that I find myself racking my brains trying to think of something to say.  Something – anything?  Nope, just an echoing void up there at present.  Nothing to report.  I blagged it the last two months, by explaining February was pretty much taken up with my merchandise testing commitments (Brooks Juno Bra thank you for asking) and then March brought with it my media commitments, culminating with my companion animal finding herself the poster giraffe for the Sheffield Half.  She was thrilled!  I got glory by association.  I might not make the start of the half this year, but hopefully the 5-10% of the population who are apparently particularly susceptible to hypnosis and suggestion will come to believe I was there just because they have seen this image circulating about the right time. I like to believe so.

sheffield half picture

Anyway, irrespective of whether or not I’m running, this is my blog, my rules, I can plog if I want to, however tenuous the theme in terms of its relationship to running.  Today’s theme is litter picking on the Sheffield Half Marathon loop, so that’s almost exactly the same as going for a run yes?

The background is that a group of us did this half marathon litter pick last year, after a last minute ‘who else is up for it’ Facebook post put out by a local running shop.  A fair few of us were, and rocked up, and it was fun. We got to dress up like Nemo and everything, though the amount of litter on the route was dispiriting.  It came about because those of us who’d been using the route for long run recces couldn’t help but notice the litter that had accumulated along the way, and it seemed a poor advert for our beloved Sheffield.  Instead of waiting around for some vague ‘other’ to take the initiative ‘somebody should do something’ Front Runner took the initiative, and put out the call. Seems that hit a nerve, and people came indeed.  Litter picking in general and plogging in particular is increasingly a thing – check out Runners Against Rubbish – which is good because it has to be done and bad because it shouldn’t be needed. Plogging runs featured at the Big Running Weekend a couple of weeks back too.  Anyway, pleased to report, they did the same again this year, suggested a group litter pick along the Sheffield Half-marathon route, and there was an even bigger turn out, this year than last.  yay!  Perhaps this will become an annual tradition.  Hope so.

shef half litter pick

So you see, whilst I might not be up to much running, I can still have running related fun times scrabbling about in mud and heave-hoing unsavoury discarded bits of rubbish out of polluted ditches with my running buddies.  We are hard core we Sheffielders, and we know how to make our own entertainment!  Plus, plogging in a ditch is pretty light weight compared to fell running which to the untrained eye might seem to stretch the definition of ‘fun times’ yet looks like great larks compared to the Barkley marathon.

You do know about the Barkley Marathons yes?  In case not – you might have just blocked the very thought as a subconscious protective reflex – this is a 100 mile plus suffer fest.  It has five laps, each lap of 20-plus miles in distance and includes about 12,000ft of brutally-steep, obstacle-laden, muddy mountain ascent through thick woodland.  That’s like climbing Everest twice, apparently,  which is another thing on my list of activities I have zero desire to undertake.  Just to be completely clear, I don’t even want to climb Everest once.  In conclusion, I think it’s fair to say that the Barkley Marathons stretches the definition of ‘fun’ a tad too far for even type two fun* recognition. Just saying.  Well done Nicky Spinks for giving it a go all the same.  Shame it meant you missed the first Trunce of the year but understandable in the circumstances.  Epic.  No-one came close to finishing the Barkley Marathons this year by the way.  I’m not surprised.  Nicky looks hard core yes, but she doesn’t look like she’s particularly having any real=time fun now does she?  It’s cool she’s wearing a dark peak fell runners bobble hat though.  Respect.  She’s still beyond awesome.




Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, having running related fun in the great outdoors.  So it was that last night I scooped up a friend and together we chugged up to the Norfolk Arms rendezvous for the collective litter picking endeavour.  Tooled up with our heavy duty gloves, we sat in the car, admiring the moody sky and dramatic clouds.  About five minutes ahead of our rendezvous time, heavy drops started to land on the windscreen.  ‘I hope it’s not going to rain’ remarked my litter picking buddy.  We laughed nervously.  It would only be a couple of hours.  We exited our vehicle and joined the gathering by the van, joining the queue for bin bags, struggling into our junior sized high-vis and delightedly welcoming our parkrunning buddy, Regal Smiley who’d rocked up to join the fun=fest and frolics in the name of keeping our run routes litter free. Yay!

As we greeted one another, the rain stopped.  That sounds good doesn’t it, except it wasn’t because there was no longer precipitation, oooooooooooooooooh no.  It was because it transmogrified into fat flakes of snow. Proper snow.  Full on white out, snow snow. It settled on our hats, and snowed with an intensity and density that is usually reserved for the closing climactic sequence of cheesy American films set against the backdrop of Christmas holidays. You know, where every problem is overcome, every misunderstanding cleared, and loving couples or families rush out red cheeked, starry-eyed and bobble hatted through a forest of Christmas trees already laden with snow, or along a city street with shop windows a-bling with Christmas lights as fresh snow falls and the credits roll.  Like that. Exactly like that, only colder and wetter and with less joyful cavorting on our part.  We did laugh though.  A lot.  And to be fair, if the weather was going to be dramatic, I’d sooner take the apocalyptic drama of unexpected decent snow over the soul-sapping water torture of horizontal rain.  Also, definitely better than having a helicopter induced storm hurl roadside barriers at you mid-marathon in China.  It happened.  It really did… quite relieved I didn’t bother entering that one now, especially after learning I wouldn’t get away with taking along the bike for part of the route after all.


Besides, we were here now, committed.

We took our bags, our gloves, out litter picker and our resolve and off we went, a trio of awesomeness, to take on Sheephill Road.  Time for a quick selfie first though…  Just for clarification purposes, that’s the start of the snow you can see in the flurry of white flakes, not a severe dandruff episode by a fellow litter picker just out of shot.

what larks eh

We bagsied the upper end of Sheephill Road from the Norfolk arms downed.  I thought we might have to fight for it – I feel a tad territorial for this section because it’s the same bit I did last year, which is ridiculous, but true.  As it happened, we three got it all to ourselves, and off we went.  We were an awesome team, covering both sides of the road like police forensic investigators seeking out clues in a finger tip search.  Litter picking is disturbingly surprisingly addictive.  No fag end is safe, no bottle too remote to be hunted down and caught bang to rights and bagged – probably to end up in land fill which is depressing, but preferable to choking wildlife at least.

There aren’t any whales in Sheffield, so I don’t think we were saving them particularly from consuming plastic on this occasion but then again, who knows where discarded plastic can end up.  No really, I spent some time volunteering at a wildlife centre in Zimbabwe and one day found myself removing plastic wrap from cucumbers flown in from the UK – probably grown in a poly tunnel, that were past their sell-by date and so were discarded from the shop and were now being used as animal food. How many countries had that plastic wrap visited in its single use lifetime? What is that about?  Crazy.  That’s why 44 kg of plastic was found in a dead whale only last month.  No fun to be had in that story, none at all.  Don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to work out contributory factors for cause of death for that one.  Or even James Herriot, or whatever the marine biology veterinary equivalent for that might be… This is plastic that emerged from a whale gut, I couldn’t be more astonished if it was a picture of Jonah himself bursting forth.

plastic in dead whale guardian

It was surprisingly companionable yomping along plogging and picking our way through the undergrowth with varying degrees of concentration. We evolved a system whereby Regal Smiley/ bicentennial woman who was in possession of the grabber (well, she does command natural authority, plus she was the one who had the foresight to bring it with her) responded to a sort of directional pointing system whereby we other two, lacking her reach, would get the bits we could and then point out to her the more elusive finds.  She would do well in the opal mines of Coober Pedy as once she was convinced of the presence of something, in this case litter, nothing would deter her from ferreting it out. Together, we were invincible.  That dear reader, is what team work is all about.

coober pedy

‘This image is courtesy of John Park, who you can follow on instagram at  if you fancy some virtual travel browsing through some stunning pictures of the great land down under and beyond!’

We didn’t find any opals, but we did find some vintage crisp packets, they don’t have the same market value though, well, not as far as I can tell anyway.  I didn’t research it all that conscientiously, I’ll be kicking myself when a vintage salt’n’shake crisp pack suddenly appears on eBay, with the faded lettering being described as ‘adding authenticity and character’ … I can feel my blood boiling at the very thought!

The weather did crazy things.  At times there were blizzard conditions, at times bright sunshine broke through, and there was the most extraordinary rainbow that seemed to arch across the whole city, I wished I’d got my camera with me, but then again it probably wouldn’t quite have done it justice, plus, I was able to delegate photo duties to Regal Smiley who did a fair enough job in the circumstances!

Here is the snow:

reet nice out

Well, some of it, and here is the rainbow. Also just some of it…

rainbow road

We were merry in our labours.  Also, encouragingly, the litter situation was way better than last year, and although there was still plenty, we made speedy progress.  No especially epic finds – well, apart from the almost buried plastic Christmas Tree and associated baubles, really people?  There was inevitably, lots of plastic, haylage bags, fast food polystyrene wrappers, huge amounts of cigarette ends, discarded bottles, one solitary gel pack wrapper. and debris from miscellaneous road accidents.   Had we but the time and inclination – oh yes and skill too – we could quite possibly have built our own vehicle with the bits of body work accrued along the way.  Some duct tape would have helped maybe, but then you can do anything with duct tape and imagination!  After all, if it can be used to fix a plane after a bear attack, I’m sure it could assemble some discarded car panels without too much difficulty.


After an hour or so, there was the pitter patter of tiny feet behind us.  Breathless, and inappropriately dressed for the inclement weather was a trio of youths.  I must be getting exceedingly old, because when they introduced themselves, still wet and shivering as ‘students’ my immediate thought was they were a detail from a local school sent to join the community initiative, but no dear reader, they were actual university students, doing a journalism course and in search of a local story.  Mind you, I do find increasingly I have become that person who notices that my GP and other officials look alarmingly youthful.  The logical conclusion of this I am actually old, not just old before my time.  I don’t know quite how to process that thought, so now I’ve shared it, I’ll ignore it and move one… Anyway, where was I, oh yes, clearly, we were the most newsworthy thing going on at the time, and so we were within their grasp. Also, I secretly suspect they’d got wind of my recently acquired poster girl status so perhaps were hoping for some sort of celebrity coup to boot, though they were far too professional to let on to that insider knowledge, didn’t want to seem all giddy in my presence I expect… So, what they wanted to do was a little piece on the community litter pick for one of their assignments. Fair enough, sounded entertaining.  ‘We are like the wombles!  You know “underground, overground, wombling free“‘ I half-said half (badly) sung, being met with looks of confused incomprehension, oh gawd, I really am old, surely they haven’t been forgotten – I had their LP at one point, ‘wombling free’ it’s a tragedy if that cultural heritage has now been lost, we do indeed need the Wombles more than ever!


We continued our litter pick, whilst they found a suitable lay-by to set up their gear.  To the casual observer they would have looked like spectacularly well equipped doggers.

They wanted some litter picking shots, featuring the grabber in action and in close up.  This required quite a lot of practise, and hilariously (well I thought so) the initial actual litter that was being used for the shot just didn’t cut it as camera eye candy.  Fortunately, one of the trio had brought along her own, more photogenic litter just in case.  This was in the form of a bottle of lucozade sport (I like to think, as the ‘sport’ reference seems especially apt, but I might have imagined the whole thing just because I wished it so), which she downed in one, so that she could jettison the bottle on the verge where it could be picked up and popped in a black bin bag on endless repeat until caught from all possible angles and the perfect shot, like the discarded bottle, was safely in the bag.  (Honestly, I’m on fire tonight!)

Then we stood in a slightly self-conscious line and the director said he was going to ask us each a question to camera as a sort of vox pox segment (well, what with my work as a supporting artist elsewhere, I have all the media lingo down to a tee). Now, this is where we approach the comedy climax of the evening…  but to fully appreciate this, you need context.

The thing is Regal Smiley has many talents.  Epic runner, parkrun run director blah de blah, but one of her most public-spirited duties is linked to her being the power behind the photographic throne occupied by Mr Carman.  Yes, yes, he takes squillions of pictures week in, week out, selflessly giving his time for the running community of Sheffield, but it is Regal Smiley who acts as upholder of human dignity and public decency, acting as censor to any shot that might unduly humiliate or embarrass the subject of the photo.  Obviously due humiliation is a different thing altogether, and comedic value can outweigh an unflattering shot, but even so, she has much respected form in saving us runners from the brutal reality of seeing in high-definition our true running likenesses if that truth might mean we never left the house again.  She is the guardian of our individual and collective self-esteem, for this we should all be grateful.  Therefore, it was not unreasonable, that before consenting to our vox pox section she politely enquired

Do we look OK?‘. I know what she meant, save us from the spinach caught in our teeth or the inside out jacket or the river of snot that I’ve failed to notice because my face is too numb from the stinging hail. It was self-evident to all.

You look great!’ he said confidently.   The reassurance he gave us was to be short lived.

It wasn’t self-evident to all.  I know this, because he added with a bit too much enthusiasm in his voice ‘being bedraggled and cold and windswept and filthy is exactly the appropriate look for this piece when you’ve all been out litter picking in the snow!’  Oh how we laughed!  I’m paraphrasing only slightly, we rocked our context specific look, it is fortuitous that these clips will never see the public light of day.  Well, unless one or more of us was to go missing on the way home and they had to play that snippet of us on Look North as the last sighting of us for identification purposes, oh the shame.  And that nearly happened to be fair, but more of this later.

We did our slightly stilted commentary on the community cohesion of litter picking, and love of the peaks and running, and how we met through parkrun and all of that. Then, in a moment of clarity me and Regal Smiley realised this could be our running related achievement for April when reporting back to our Smiley record keeper, so more photos of us all together and separately in all possible permutations were taken. The sun came out, rather spoiling our hardcore claims.  I think it’s fair to say the weather was changeable.




We left them doing there final ‘to camera’ summary and continued our meander back along the verges.  It started snowing again, we were on a mission.


It’s amazing how you see missed bits of litter when you view the landscape through a different angle.   We’d already done this section on the outward march.  Regal Smiley was emboldened to scamper over walls and criss-cross wobbly stones to reach tantalizingly placed litter the other side of walls.   There was definitely more than one point when I thought we might lose her over a crumbling dry stone wall. We discussed this possibility.  I was thinking at first we’d get away with pretending we’d never seen her, there weren’t many cars about and nobody was taking much interest in us… as long as we other two stuck to our story we’d be fine – then we remembered the cursed vox pox sequence, and if those keen journalism students got wind of her disappearance they’d be like the blooming Scooby Doo team, endlessly screening their now highly marketable footage as they tried for a ‘true crime’ documentary full length feature on ‘what really happened’. We’d never have got away with it.  So all in all, it was very fortunate, that we were able to haul her back roadside, and make it back safely!  No search team required…. this time.

scooby doo

Pleasingly, just as we returned to the corner of Lady Cannings plantation entrance, where we’d piled up all our bags, the Front Runner white van appeared to gather up our rubbish offerings.  It was a leaky, sodden and unsavoury mess of stuff, I wouldn’t have wanted it in the back of my car.  Above and beyond I’d say.  You can get Sheffield City Council to pick up bags from organised litter picks if you let them know in advance, but there was a different plan at work here.

And that was that, we said goodbye and went our separate ways.

I feel however I need to add this postscript.  As me and my tail walking buddy – did I mention that already?…


were derobing and clambering back into my car, we got chatting to a guy in the vehicle next to us.  He hadn’t been litter picking with us but he does solitary litter picks around his road all the time.  I mentioned to him that there is the Sheffield Litter Pickers Facebook group if he wants help.  He brooded on this point for a bit and then said words to the effect of he quite liked the cathartic effect of doing it alone and raging at the awfulness of mankind with every bottle plucked from a hedge or broken glass from the gutter he weirdly liked finding justification for his misanthropic view of the world.  I rather respect that.  It made me laugh.

And so dear reader, it was but two sodden hours on an April evening, but it was crammed with hilarity and micro-adventures a-plenty. Sometimes, it is worth just stepping outside the front door and seeing what unfolds.  Just be wary of cameras unless you are dressed in a context appropriate way. Oh and also, I feel a  need to share that really, in our own way, we three, and indeed all the other litter pickers out there last night, were tackling the same elements as the Barkley marathoners, because they too started their quest in sunshine, only to be caught out by wintry conditions and snow.  I may not quite be in Nicky Spinks’ league just yet, but I am somewhere on the continuum of weather she has experienced in her running challenges, and that’s a start.  Also, other litter pickers took independent initiative to play their part in an afternoon pick as they couldn’t make the evening one, ploggers are everywhere it seems, how splendid is that!  See them rock their context appropriate hi-vis too.

independent action litter pickers

Heart warming isn’t it?  And we could all do with a bit of good news in these dark times I’m sure.

You’re welcome.

*type two fun – things that are fun only when viewed retrospectively, from a very safe distance.

Categories: off road, teamwork | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

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