Hooray, it’s February! Speaking as one who has run through many a winter, it’s always a relief to get January out of the way. Winter may still have a few tricks up its sleeve but there are just the first hints that spring is approaching - the evenings getting slightly lighter, the odd glimpse of snowdrops, Easter eggs in the shops! Last Saturday for the first time since last May, I had to miss out on parkrun when we were snowed in here in Grayshott. I was eager to get back into the old routine.
This week I headed west to Henstridge Airfield parkrun. Henstridge is a small village in a quiet corner of the English countryside on the Somerset/Dorset border. Henstridge is home to around 1800 residents. It is a quiet and peaceful place and would be otherwise fairly inconspicuous if it wasn’t for the fact that just down the road is a major airfield.
Henstridge airfield was constructed during the Second World War. There were a huge number of airfields built at this time - Wikipedia suggests that there were over 800 in the UK, though not many of them survive. Henstridge Airfield was a wartime Fleet Air Arm training airfield designated HMS Dipper. Work started on the airfield in 1941, but it was not until April 1943 that it was commissioned. Seafires, Spitfires, Typhoons and Masters operated here until the end of the war.
Part of the main runway was marked out as an aircraft carrier deck and there was an arrestor wire system so pilots could practice deck landings for real! The airfield was also used for special photography missions using the G45 gun camera. Film was processed and analysed on-site. It was also used for recreational purposes, hosting amateur dramatic productions and sports days for off-duty personnel. After the war the airfield became relief landing ground for RNAS Yeovilton, slowly running down until finally passing out of MOD ownership in 1957.
In 1953 Alan Bristow established Air Whaling Limited at the airfield flying Dragonfly, Hiller and Westland S55 helicopters. In 1955 he set up Bristow helicopters Ltd, also at Henstridge operating four Widgeons in the Gulf on oil exploration. Bristows moved to Redhill in 1958. The MoD then sold the old airfield in lots but there has never been a time since commissioning in 1943 when flying in one form or another has not taken place at the airfield.
Of the original five runways only one, 07/25 survives. It is a tarmac runway in good condition, 750m long by 26m wide. The Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance and the Yakovlevs formation display team are based at the airfield and the Wessex Strut of the LAA have been holding fly-ins here since the seventies. The airfield has become their adopted headquarters. Henstridge airfield today is a busy and lively place. As well as aviation events, the place also hosts vintage car rallies, car boot sales, charity events and much more. There are a great many businesses dotted around the perimeter of the airfield, mainly concerned with aircraft and with motoring. The place is a bit like a giant industrial/business park with a runway in the middle.
The parkrun at Henstridge has been going for about six months and usually attracts a good turnout. Amongst the starters today was a large contingent of pensioners with walking poles, taking up the opportunity to treat parkrun as a walk. It’s good to see parkrun reaching out to older participants (mind you, I’m a pensioner myself!) The advertised course is of two laps but in recent weeks with parts of the course waterlogged they have used an alternative route. You start with an out and back along a dirt/gravel track, then you turn around and do the out and back a second time. Coming back to the start area you are then directed to run round the outside of a grassy field, turn around at the far end and return to the finish.
I had chosen exactly the wrong day to visit Henstridge parkrun. Strong winds were whipping across the airfield to be joined, once we had started running, by some heavy bursts of rain. The gravel path was a mass of puddles and the path around the grassy field was getting muddy and slippy. Oh well, you have to take the rough with the smooth. So off we went along the gravel track, trying to pick a path between the puddles and the potholes. I found myself near the front, just behind a group of three, including the first woman. It seems none of us had run the route before as when we came to the end of the first section, instead of turning around, we continued on for several yards until someone shouted at us to turn round. By the time we came on to the grassy field I was running on my own in third place. I was hoping to make up the distance to the second runner but I couldn’t quite manage it on the slippy surface. So third it was in a time of 20:39. I was perfectly happy with that as I had no great expectations timewise today. Henstridge is one of the more interesting and unusual venues I have been to and I’d certainly recommend a visit, allbeit in better weather. There is plenty of parking and a café and toilets in some portakabins near the start.
My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 194. I was first in my age group and first overall on age graded scores. There are some photos already so here’s one of the start and another at one of the turnarounds.
I shall finish as usual with a YouTube video of the course. This is the route we ran today.
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