I headed west this Saturday for my weekly parkrun to the town of Marlborough. Marlborough is an attractive, historic market town on the edge of the Wiltshire Downs. It lies on the A4 which used to be the main London to Bristol/Bath highway and also on the River Kennet which was also once a major route from west to east.
This is an area which has been the scene of human activity since ancient times. Avebury, Silbury Hill and Stonehenge are only a short drive away. The name Marlborough is thought to come from the marl or chalk hills in the vicinity. Burgh or Borough indicates a fortified position on a hill. The oldest structure in the town is a large mound, now in the grounds of Marlborough College, dated back as far 2,400 BC. In 1067 William the Conqueror assumed control of the town and built upon the mound a new castle, originally from wood but later reinforced with stone. William also nabbed for himself the nearby Savernake Forest as a royal hunting ground.
Marlborough and its castle seems to have been popular with a number of medieval kings and queens. Henry II stayed here for talks with the king of Scotland. Richard I gave the castle to his brother who in turn became King John. In 1204 King John granted the town a charter which allowed it to hold an annual fair. Henry III was married here and, for a while, based his parliament in the town. The castle fell into disrepair by the end of the 14th century but remained Crown property. Edward VI then passed it to the Seymour family, his mother's relatives.
The town suffered grievously during the English Civil War. In 1642 Marlborough was attacked by Royalist troops who looted and set fire to buildings and carried off many of the townspeople as prisoners. In 1653 much of the town centre was devastated in a fire. There were further fires in 1679 and 1690. This was indeed unfortunate but it did allow a new town centre to be built featuring lots of fine 17th and 18th century buildings. The High Street in Marlborough is known for being very wide, one of the widest in the country.
On the southern edge of town you will find Marlborough College. The college was founded in 1843 originally for the sons of Church of England clergy. Nowadays it is one of the leading co-educational independent schools in the country. The list of famous ex Malburians is long and extensive, everyone from Sir John Betjeman to Jack Whitehall to Kate Middleton.
Marlborough today is a pleasant place to live and to visit. It is home to around 9,000 people. The town hasn’t really exploded in size like its near neighbour, Swindon. The M4 has rather bypassed it and the two railway stations it once boasted are long gone. But it seems to remain a busy and prosperous place.
Marlborough has a number of connections with running. Bruce Tulloh who was one of our top runners of the sixties was based in Malborough for many years. His wife was one of the volunteers at the parkrun today. Richard Nerurkar, one of our fastest ever marathon runners, also taught at Marlborough.
On a hilltop on the northwest edge of town there is a broad expanse of open grassland, designated Marlborough Common. This is where the parkrun takes place. The course consists of two laps, mostly on grass, winding around the perimeter of the common. The common is on a slight slope so the first half of each lap is mainly uphill and the second half is more downhill. Results suggest that this is quite a tough course - nobody has thus far, in twenty runnings, managed an age graded performance of over 80%. We weren’t helped today either by the ground being rather soggy and a very strong wind blowing across the hilltop.
There were 141 starters gathered there this morning on the common. We set off quite briskly into the wind. I was maybe twentieth after the first kilometre but gradually I moved through. I found the combination of soft ground and strong winds quite hard work. I passed the end of the first lap in 10:30 ish. On the second lap I seem to have slowed slightly as the people I was chasing got away from me. Still ninth place in 21:28 was not too bad.
I’d be perfectly happy to return to Marlborough at any time - it’s a very nice town. I think if I was looking for a parkrun pb though, I’d head somewhere else!
My statistics for today that was parkrun venue number 197. I was first in my age group, second overall on age graded performances and I managed another age category course best.
As usual I shall finish with a YouTube video of the course. This is what it looks like (speeded up)
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