My parkrun trail today took me back to Oxfordshire. The parkrun events page lists Oxfordshire as part of the southeast, even the towns to the north of the county so, if I was to tick off all the parkruns in the region, I needed to come back here. My destination today was Witney.
Witney is an historic market town on the River Windrush, about twelve miles to the west of Oxford itself. The first recorded mention of the place comes in AD 969 when a Saxon charter list it as Wittanigge. It appears in the Domesday Book as Witenie. The name suggests an island (“eye”) owned by someone called Witta or Wittan. The Windrush here divides into two streams so the centre of the town could feasibly be described as an island. In 1044 Queen Emma granted the Bishops of Winchester an estate in Witney and the bishops duly laid out the medieval town which is still the basis of the place we know today. The remains of a Bishop’s Palace are still to be found alongside the parish church. Queen Emma is commemorated by a street in Witney called (and if there’s any sniggering, there’ll be trouble!) .... the street is called Queen Emma’s Dyke.
From medieval times Witney was a centre of the local agricultural economy. The Domesday Book records the town as already having two mills in the eleventh century. There is a museum in Witney today, the Cogges Manor Farm museum, dedicated to the story of rural life. By 1277 there was also the first cloth or fulling mill. Witney became famous for the production of woollen goods, particularly blankets. Many more mills were built in the town and the weaving of blankets continued until only very recently when it seems the age of the duvet brought it to an end. Blanket making is still remembered at Blanket Hall, a museum (and pie shop!) in the centre of town. The local football team still rejoices in the nickname, the Blanketmen!
Modern day Witney is a prosperous and thriving place, home to around 28,000 people. The old town centre is still there and still contains some ancient churches, venerable public buildings and pretty cottages built of Cotswold stone. Around the fringes you find more modern housing estates and out to the west there is a business park which contains some light industry and technology companies. It is only a short commute to Oxford for those who have jobs there and the RAF base at Brize Norton is just a few miles away. The MP for Witney was, until very recently, David Cameron (but we won’t hold that against them!)
The parkrun takes place at West Witney Sports Club which is at the industrial park end of town. The run takes place around the sports fields and an adjoining stretch of woodland. It consists of a short lap around the fields and then two long laps taking in both the fields and the woodland. On the long lap you run up along the broad grass verge between the road and the woodland. You then come back through the woods along a path which is very narrow, twisting and undulating. This was the trickiest part of the course particularly second time round when you had to pass the tailenders you had lapped! From the results it would appear to be quite a slow course. The average time here is 31 minutes (as against 29 minutes nationally) and nobody (until today) had managed an age graded performance of over 80%.
Witney has proved quite popular in the six months of its existence and numbers are creeping up towards the 300 mark (270 today) It was a dull grey morning with a light drizzle in the air. I’d like to have a chat with the person who designed the start and ask him what he was thinking! It starts in a corner of a field and then you have to dash into a line of trees and then after maybe 150 yards, turn around and come back in the opposite direction. It was a fairly chaotic start with people swerving left and right and, when we finally emerged from the trees, I found myself a long way down the field. In the distance a couple of guys had shot off on the way to breaking the course record. I gradually moved through the field up to a more appropriate position. There were quite a few children ahead of me and it took me a while to get past the last of them. I passed quite a few people on the first short lap, not so many on the first long lap and hardly anyone on the final circuit. The last lap was tricky as we were now passing the backmarkers which was especially difficult on that narrow path through the woods. Still I got there in the end. 10th place in 20:37. I’d guess on a fast flat course I’d have been at least a minute faster so I am happy enough with that. I’m glad to have seen Witney and experienced the parkrun but I don’t think I’d make this course my home parkrun. There was a photographer there today so here I am coming round the first lap.
My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 177. Iwas first in my age group, third overall on age graded scores and I managed another age category course best. In addition it was my 199th parkrun in total and so next week’s effort will mark my 200th anniversary. I had been pondering where to celebrate my 200th run when the possibility came up to run with some of my Realbuzz friends at St Albans. So that’s where I will be. Do feel free to come and join us as we will be running in memory of Marika who sadly passed away recently.
I couldn’t find any video of Witney parkrun so I’ll finish with a few photos borrowed from Flickr. Check out how narrow that path through the woods is!
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