So today’s parkrun saw me headed off to East Grinstead. This is another of those towns not too far away from where I live, whose name I am familiar with, which I have seen on various road signs but which I never have actually visited or passed through. Today I could put that right.
East Grinstead is in West Sussex, east of Gatwick, south of the M25, west of Tunbridge Wells, north of Ashdown Forest. I’ve looked on the map for any sign of a North, South or West Grinstead, but East Grinstead stands alone! The name derives from the old Anglo-Saxon word ‘Grin’ meaning green and ‘stead’ which simply means a plot of land as in farmstead. It nestles on a high point of the Sussex countryside, indeed it is sometimes referred to as “the capital of the High Weald”.
The town as we know it today was laid out in around the year 1200. The first church was built around this time - St Swithuns, although the current building dates from the eighteenth century. In the High Street you will see a row of half timbered cottages from the fourteenth century. (Picture below) Other important buildings include Sackville College, a Jacobean almshouse, originally built to provide shelter for the elderly. East Grinstead flourished as it was a major staging post on the coach journey from London to Brighton. The London to Brighton rail line came through here in the mid nineteenth century and gave East Grinstead the chance to become a commuter town. Nowadays a large number of residents travel up to London Victoria in the morning although nearby Gatwick is also a major source of employment.
During the Second World War East Grinstead suffered the indignity of being bombed and 108 people were killed when a bomb hit the local cinema. At the end of the High Street is a rather impressive statue of Archibald McIndoe who treated servicemen who had been badly burnt at the local Victoria Hospital and thus became a pioneer of plastic surgery. The disfigured airmen became an accepted sight in the town, hence the inscription on the statue, “the town that did not stare”. Here’s the statue with Sackville College in the background.
East Grinstead is inordinately proud of being one of those places that lie on the Prime Meridian. Thus it is possible to start a run in the Western Hemisphere and finish in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Tom Cruise has sometimes been spotted around these parts because the European headquarters of the Church of Scientology are situated here. Indeed East Grinstead is home to a number of religious and quasi religious movements. Apart from Scientology these include Opus Dei, the Rosicrucian Order, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and… the Caravan Club.
The parkrun takes place in the grounds of East Court. This is a rather fine eighteenth century mansion originally built by lawyer John Cranston. In later years the place fell into disrepair until it was taken over by the town council who made the mansion their headquarters. They do also rent out some of the grander rooms for weddings and business functions and conferences. It’s a lovely setting for a parkrun. The course starts with a lap of the lower field. Then there are two laps of the upper and lower field. The grounds slope down from the mansion and the gradient is pretty stiff as you get near the top. The course is mainly on grass, though it sometimes diverts into the surrounding woodland. By any criteria, it is a rather testing course. I checked out their results beforehand and in the slightly less than a year that the event has been taking place, surprisingly few runners have broken 20 minutes on this course and only two people have managed an age grade of over 80%.
It was shaping up to be another hot day though, at 9AM, the temperatures were just about bearable. I set off rather slowly and there were rather a lot of people ahead of me after the first short lap. I gradually moved through the field as we laboured up the slope towards the mansion. I was chasing a guy in a blue vest but never seemd to get closer than a hundred yards. On the second lap I nearly came a cropper. I missed a sign and went the wrong side of the trees and had to turn around. I did better than the guy I was chasing though - he vanished into the woods and only realised his mistake after he had run a few hundred yards in the wrong direction. I wondered where he had got to! That put me into sixth place and that’s where I finished. My time was 21:28, which is the slowest I’ve done for a while but, I guess that’s okay on that tricky course.
So to sum up East Grinstead - it’s an attractive, historic town. It would be a good place to live or to visit. The parkrun setting is one of the nicer ones I have been to. Just don’t go there expecting a PB!
My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 172. I was first in my age group and second overall on age graded scores.
I’ll finish as usual with a video of the course. If you’d like a little glimpse and have four minutes to spare, here it is.
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