Question - what do you do when you have reached your 200th parkrun? Answer - you head off for number 201! I was headed back to the southeastern corner of Greater London today. I have seen a lot of this area on my parkrun trail. I’ve been to Bexley and Bromley and Beckenham. And I’ve visited Dartford and Dartford Heath. And then there’s Orpington and Hoblingwell. But still new parkruns keep popping up and so today I was off to Foots Cray Meadows.
Foots Cray is part of the Borough of Bexley but, as a village in its own right, it has a history going back many centuries. The ‘Cray’ bit refers to the River Cray which originates in Sussex and then flows northwards through Kent, giving its name to quite a few places along the way - St Paul’s Cray, Foots Cray, Crayford etc. The Foot bit refers back to one Godwin Fot, an Anglo-Saxon landowner mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) Apparently he owned a farm, four cottages and a mill. The oldest building in Foots Cray is All Saints church, built in the 1330s, possibly on the site of a previous Anglo-Saxon church.
Over the following centuries Foots Cray grew and prospered. Being at the point where the Maidstone road crossed the river, it was an important staging post, certainly more substantial than neighbouring Sidcup or Bromley. The local economy was based largely on farming. Some well-to-do people chose to build their country estates in this area. Around 1754 Bouchier Cleeve commissioned the building of Foots Cray Place, a Palladian mansion where he created a noteworthy collection of art. In 1822 the house was acquired by chancellor of the exchequer Sir Nicholas Vansittart, later Lord Bexley. The Vansittart family retained a substantial landholding in the area for the next century.
In more recent times Foots Cray rather got lost amongst the sprawl of suburbia but it’s still there as a village in its own right. Many of the old industries have vanished but there are new ones in their place. For example there is a huge Coca Cola plant on the edge of the village.
Foots Cray Meadows are just to the north of the village, straddling both sides of the River Cray. These were originally the grounds of the aforementioned Foots Cray Place. If you were hoping to see the fine mansion for yourself then you’ll be disappointed because the place burnt down in 1949. The only reminder of the fine architecture of the period is a rather grand five arch bridge which spans the river. The mansion lives on only in old photographs.
Foots Cray Meadows comprise around 240 acres of riverside meadows and patches of woodland. The river runs up through the middle, widening to form a small lake in the centre. Foots Cray is a Local Nature Reserve and one of the largest open green spaces in the area. There is a lot of nature to look at including, if you’re lucky, flocks of parakeets, the offspring of escaped pets! It’s a pleasant place to visit not least because there is a farm shop adjacent to it which offers free parking, fresh food, a café and toilets.
The parkrun course starts at the north end on a grassy area known as Royal Park and consists of a run out to two laps, the first lap slightly longer than the second. It is largely flat, with a few little bumps. Underfoot it is mainly grass with a little bit of dirt path and a tiny section on tarmac. It would be a good place to do your training if you lived round these parts.
There wasn’t a huge turnout this morning, just 56 runners, rather less than they normally get. No matter, small parkruns are just as good as big ones. From the start there was a guy in a light blue vest who went off quite fast. I joined a small group running in joint second place. Pretty soon this group just consisted of me and a guy running with his dog. On the second lap the guy with his dog got away from me. I can’t claim he had an unfair advantage as the dog was trotting along beside him, not pulling him along. I wasn’t sure what pace I was running though I hoped I might just dip under twenty minutes. As we came up to the last corner I thought I might just do it. But then I saw the finish, instead of being in the middle of the sports field was right at the far end. Still, third place in 20:17, that wasn’t too bad as it wasn’t the fastest course. I was happy enough to have visited Foots Cray Meadows and would recommend this parkrun if you like an off road course.
My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 178. I was first in my age group, second overall on age graded scores and I managed another age category course best (my tenth of the year so far)
I couldn’t find any video of this parkrun so I will leave you with a few pictures.
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