It was back to Wiltshire for this week’s parkrun. On the weekend of the half term holidays I try to avoid the M25 and the routes down to the southwest but I did manage to find my way over to Melksham.
Melksham is a middling sized town (population 20,000) in the middle of Wiltshire, about six miles south of Chippenham where I was a few weeks ago. It lies on the same River Avon, just a few miles downstream. Melksham originated as a settlement beside a ford across the river. The name is believed to derive from Meolcham, meolc being an old English word for milk. At the time of the Norman Conquest, Meolcham was part of a royal estate and already a place of some consequence. The Domesday Book of 1086 lists it as having 8 mills, 130 acres of water meadows and 8 leagues of pasture. There were 189 landowners, 19 ploughmen and 35 serfs in a population of several hundred. To the north there stretched an extensive forest, Melksham and Chippenham forest being a favoured royal hunting ground for many centuries. Much of that forest is now gone but, in its time, it provided the wood for building Salisbury Cathedral and nearby Lacock Abbey.
In 1219 Melksham was considered important enough to receive a charter to hold a weekly market. The prosperity of the town for several centuries was based on wool and weaving, there being a selection of water mills along the river. The wool and cloth industry declined in the nineteenth century but was replaced by other businesses. The biggest employer in town nowadays is the Cooper Avon Tire Factory (an American company).
Melksham became something of a transport hub when the main route from London to Bristol was routed through here in the mid eighteenth century. The King’s Arms Hotel in the town centre was one of the coaching inns opened in this era. In 1819 the Wilts and Berks canal was opened in the town. It was closed a century later but there are plans to renovate the whole stretch. Melksham was one of the earliest places in Britain to have a railway station, with the Great Western Railway driving a line through here in the mid nineteenth century. Alas, the rail line fell victim to Dr Beeching in the 1960s.
Melksham was the site of an RAF base from 1940 to 1965. Unusually this was an RAF base without a runway. It was used for training and maintenance. Many young people who saw service in the RAF passed through Melksham.
All in all, Melksham seems like a pleasant place to live with some historic buildings in the town centre and some attractive parks and leisure facilities nearby.
The parkrun course in Melksham is based at the King George V park to the north of the town. It lies on the east bank of the River Avon with a lovely view across to the tyre factory! The course comprises two laps, around the park, along the riverside walk, out to another field and then back to the starting area. It is slightly undulating with a mixture of tarmac, gravel paths and grass. Melksham parkrun has been going since December 2017 and usually attracts around 150 starters.
Before the run one of the older runners wandered over to me and I immediately knew what he was going to ask me! I like to kid myself that I look surprisingly youthful for a man of nearly 65. But I do find lots of elderly men coming over to check whether I am in their age category or not! Anyway it was a good morning for running, cloudy and not too warm, not too cold. Off we went round the park. I was moving quite well along the smoother bits and taking it more carefully on the uneven sections. I came back to the park for the first time in around 11 minutes. I wasn’t quite sure if this was good or not as the course at this point involved looping around and doubling back on yourself. I kept going. When I was fairly sure we were getting near the finish, I picked up the pace a little and crossed the line in 13th place in a time of 22:38. That was fine. Faster than last week.
My statistics for today - that brought my total of parkrun venues up to 230 (270 parkruns all together) I was second in my age group and fourth overall on age graded performances.
If you’d like a quick look at the Melksham course, here it is in YouTube form.
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