Just think of all the places I could have been this morning. I could have been slogging round the roads of Snowdonia in the wind and rain. I could have been sitting at home in the warm and dry, watching the rugby. But instead I decided to continue with my parkrun mission and headed off to Dunstable Downs parkrun.
I have been to Dunstable before or, at least, I have driven through it and all I can remember is that is set alongside a very long straight road. So it was back to Wikipedia to find out more. Dunstable is a market town of around 35,000 residents set in the middle of Bedfordshire. Its name is believed to derive from “Dun” meaning a hill and “Stable” meaning a market. There is evidence of human habitation in these parts going back to ancient times. The Romans knew the place as Durocobrivis. By medieval times Dunstable had grown into a small town. Henry 1 built a royal residence here on the site that is now the Royal Palace Lodge Hotel on Church Street. Dunstable Priory was constructed in 1131 as a base for Carthusian monks. Parts of that medieval building still endure as sections of the Priory Church of St Peter.
Dunstable grew into a medium sized market town, its economy based largely on rural industries. In the twentieth century it became home also to some light industry. There was a Bedford van factory here for many years. Nowadays many of the population head off to nearby Luton or Luton airport for employment but Dunstable still seems to be a major shopping centre. There are some big stores lining the long straight road through the middle. The local council has recently spent around £1.5 million on doing up the High Street and making it more pedestrian friendly.
Dunstable Downs are just on the outskirts of the town. They are a long chalk escarpment forming the north-eastern reaches of the Chilterns. At 797 ft (243 m), Dunstable Downs are the highest point of the county of Bedfordshire. From here you get some lovely views out over the Bedfordshire countryside. The area is popular with gliders and hang gliders and kite flyers and indeed anybody who enjoys fresh air and lovely views.
At their southern end, Dunstable Downs look out over Whipsnade Zoo. Whipsnade was created by the Zoological Society back in the 1920s as a counterpart to Regent’s Park Zoo. It was built on the site of a derelict farm. Amongst British zoos it is the largest in area and has one of the best selections of animals. The zoo has marked its position by carving out a large white lion on the chalk hillside. If you choose your moment you might catch a sight which you wouldn’t normally associate with the Bedfordshire countryside.
The parkrun course starts at the northern end of the Downs where there is a large visitor centre and car park. You start with a loop around the top end before heading southwards. You run through some woods and then loop round two large fields at the southern end before coming back through the woods and finish back at the visitor centre. The course is undulating throughout, though not as hilly as you might have feared. Underfoot the surface is mainly quite bumpy grass, with a muddy path through the wooded section.
My main piece of advice with regard to this venue is to choose a day when there isn’t a gale force wind blowing across the hilltop and the hills aren’t shrouded in drizzly rain! I obviously ignored this advice and arrived to find the volunteers huddled in a corner of the visitor centre. For a little while it looked like there might be more volunteers than runners but eventually 55 hardy souls made it to the start. My ambitions for this run were zero - just get round in one piece. I jogged gently round the first short loop and then picked up the pace a little and moved up through the field. It wasn’t too bad once you got going though I felt sorry for the volunteers standing out in the wind and rain. It was a bit of an uphill drag to the finish but I got there eventually. 12th place in 27:34. I’ve been running all my slowest times lately though, to be fair, I have been choosing the toughest courses and conditions. Dunstable Downs is a great place so do come here on a nice bright summer’s day!
My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 210 (number 247 altogether - nearly at that 250) I was second in my age group and seventh overall on age graded scores.
I couldn’t find any video of Dunstable parkrun but here are a few photos to show you what it looks like, at least when the weather is nice!
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