Another week, another parkrun. While I am still fit and healthy, while the weather is still good and while the possibility of another lockdown remains only a distant threat, I am inclined to keep bashing on in my quest to make it to 250 different venues. Today I travelled eastwards to the County of Essex and the town of South Woodham Ferrers.
South Woodham Ferrers is a medium sized town about ten miles south of Chelmsford. It is not to be confused with plain Woodham Ferrers which is a village a couple of miles to the north. Woodham Ferrers is a village with a long history going back at least as far as the Middle Ages. Its name implies a homestead (ham) in the woods. The Ferrers bit comes from the name of the Norman family who originally owned the land. Modern day Woodham Ferrers is a pleasant little place with its own church, primary school and village hall.
The area to the south of the village was long known as South Woodham Ferrers (what else?) For centuries you wouldn’t have found very much here, mostly just farmland, hundreds of acres of green fields merging into the marshland and creeks adjoining the River Crouch. The transformative event in the history of the town came in 1889 when the Great Eastern Railway built a line through here and constructed a station to serve the local residents. At the time the population here would have been very small, just a few farms and adjoining cottages, but it was proposed, at a time of decline in British agriculture, that some of those fields could form the basis of a new town. At first the response was very slow and there was only a patchy development of new houses and businesses along the river. By the 1960s the population of the area had only reached around 900 people. Then, in 1972, Essex County Council initiated a scheme to create a “New Riverside Country Town”. Land was compulsorily purchased, many of the old buildings swept away and a new town centre was created. The town square was officially opened by the Queen in 1982. Around it there grew a network of housing estates. Whoever named the roads in the southwest corner of town clearly had a Tolkien fixation as we find names such as Gandalf’s Ride, Hobbiton Hill, Arwen’s Grove and Thorin Gate. Adjacent to the town centre we find a secondary school and a selection of big stores. The population nowadays stands at around 16,000. At around the time of the Queen’s visit, Essex County Council produced a promotional video for the town. It’s worth watching for the song alone - “South Woodham Ferrers, it’s a whole new place to be”!
I have been to South Woodham Ferrers once before. About fifteen years ago we came here to visit friends of friends. My two memories of that day - I was startled by how new everything looked, but I also enjoyed the view from the back window, looking out on the meandering River Crouch. Residents of SWF may not have any old buildings to look at but they do have an attractive nature reserve to enjoy on the banks of the river.
The parkrun is based at Marsh Farm Country Park on the banks of the river. The course is basically an out and back. It starts in the car park and then runs along the riverside path. After about 800 metres you then turn left and run up the edge of a field, then right along the top of the field, then up a slight incline and along to the turnaround point. On the way back you turn left down the opposite side of the field, then rejoin the riverside path and then back to the finish. It’s mostly on gravel or dirt paths with a little bit of concrete.
There were 118 starters there today on a morning that was rather dull and grey with a breeze coming off the river. We set off from the car park. You need to get away quickly as the course soon narrows. I found myself behind two buggies and a dog! It’s a bit bumpy and uneven as well - I saw one young lad take a tumble early on. I was moving reasonably well and reached the turnaround point in just under 11 minutes. I didn’t quite appreciate that the return journey is slightly longer as you have to go round the far side of the field. I could see the finish line in the far distance and it took a long time to arrive. I finally crossed the line in 22:57 which gave me 18th place. Slightly slower than last week but my best position so far this year. Perfectly happy with that!
My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 224. I was third in my age group but second overall on age graded scores (figure that one out!)
So I was pleased with my visit to South Woodham Ferrers. The town is not all that exciting but the setting for the parkrun is one of the nicest that I have experienced for a while. I couldn’t find any video of the course so I will leave you with a few pictures instead.
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