So where did I get to this week? I decided on Ellenbrook Fields. I have been planning on getting myself to Ellenbrook Fields for quite a while but today I finally managed it.
Ellenbrook Fields are on the western edge of Hatfield, which is in Hertfordshire, just north of London, a short distance up the A1. Hatfield is a town that offers an interesting blend of the historical and the modern. It dates back at least as far as the Domesday Book when it was known as Haethfeld. In medieval times it was part of the estate of the Bishops of Ely and for a time was known as Bishop’s Hatfield (like nearby Bishop’s Stortford) The old town of Hatfield grew up around the manor of Hatfield House. The old palace was built by a Bishop of Ely in 1497. In Tudor times the house belonged to the Cecil family who were prominent members of the Tudor court. Elizabeth, later Elizabeth II, was confined here for three years in the 1550s. Legend has it that she heard of her accession to the throne while sitting under an oak tree in the grounds. She held her first Council in the Great Hall (The Old Palace) of Hatfield. In the early seventeenth century the house was extensively rebuilt in the Jacobean style. It is one of the outstanding buildings of that period that still survives and is well worth a visit today.
Hatfield grew only slowly in the following centuries but then, in the 1940s, it was chosen to be the site of one of the New Towns around London, along with Letchworth, Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City. The old town was left alone (thank God!) and a new town centre was constructed in red brick and concrete just a little way to the west. I can’t say it’s the most attractive town centre I have ever seen but the new town of Hatfield provides homes and employment to thousands of people. The population had grown to around 30,000 by the year 2000 and stands at nearer 40,000 now. There are retail and business parks around the periphery. Hatfield is also home to the University of Hertfordshire. The UoH is a technology college with around 25,000 students and some 2,700 staff and is probably the largest employer in the area nowadays.
The town was previously home to another major enterprise. The aviation pioneer Geoffrey de Havilland opened an aircraft factory, complete with its own airstrip, on the western edge of town in the 1930s. Amongst the aircraft manufactured here were the Mosquito fighter bomber and the Comet airliner, the first commercial jet airliner. The firm was taken over by Hawker Siddely in 1960 and then merged into British Aerospace in 1978. BAE finally closed down the site in 1993. There were various suggestions as to what to do with the grounds but eventually the land was returned to nature under its old name of ... Ellenbrook Fields. Its past as an airfield is recalled in the names of some of the surrounding roads, such as Mosquito Way and Comet Way. The old taxiway is still there, indeed it is part of the parkrun course.
Ellenbrook Fields derive their name from the Ellen brook which runs through the park and joins onto the River Colne. It comprises around 400 acres of grassy fields (grazed by cattle) and patches of woodland. It was used as a film set about 20 years ago when Steven Spielberg filmed ‘Saving Private Ryan’ here (more particularly the final battle in a French village). Spielberg later returned to shoot some of his TV series, Band of Brothers, in the same location.
The parkrun course at Ellenbrook comprises a short lap of about 1.5 km followed by a longer lap of 3.5 km around the perimeter. Underfoot you find a combination of tarmac/ concrete paths mixed with dirt/grass tracks. Being an old airfield, it is almost completely flat. You finish with a long straight down the old runway. Ellenbrook Fields parkrun has been going for about three years and has an average turnout of around 180. Lately however the numbers seem to be going up - there were 319 finishers today.
We were greeted by the warmest conditions so far in 2019. We were all sweating quite a bit by the end. I had no expectations for this run - I am still struggling with various aches and pains and would be happy just to get round in one piece. Consequently at the start I went off very slowly and was happy just to jog round in the middle of the field as we completed the first small lap. I picked up the pace a little bit in the second mile and gradually moved up through the field. I wasn’t overexerting myself but nonetheless I was happy when we came round to the top end of the runway and I could see the finish. One of the problems with long straight finishing stretches is that you can see the finish in the distance but it takes an age to get there. But I got there eventually. 46th in 22:59. That was okay. Actually it was quite good under the circumstances. I enjoyed my visit to Ellenbrook and wouldn’t mind coming back here to try and run a faster time when I’m a bit fitter. My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 205. I was second in my age group and 18th overall on age graded scores.
If you’d like to have a little look at Ellenbrook Fields and have a few minutes to spare, here it is in YouTube form.
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