I have decided to continue on with my parkrun reports. They help to keep my mind usefully occupied and I like to have something to look back on. I’m still intent on getting to that 250 venues target by the end of March and so today I was headed to Gravesend in Kent and to Cyclopark parkrun.
Gravesend lies on the south bank of the Thames, just east of the Dartford Crossing. It lies opposite the port of Tilbury and there is a ferry at this point to take you across the river. The name Gravesend has nothing to do with graves but is believed to derive from the word grav or graf, meaning a count or lord. It is recorded in the Domesday Book as Gravesham, hence “home of the lord”.
It was already a place of some substance by the Middle Ages when it had developed into a small port on the way into London. The oldest known building in the town is Milton Chantry which dates from the early fourteenth century. In the early sixteenth century many adventurers set off from the Thames Estuary headed for the New World. One of them, John Rolfe, returned from the Americas with a Native American bride. She had been christened Rebecca but was known to posterity as Pocahontas. Alas Pocahontas fell ill and died and was buried in Gravesend. There is a statue of Pocahontas to be seen outside St George’s church. There is also a replica of the statue to be found in Jamestown, Virginia.
By the nineteenth century Gravesend had become a major staging post on the Thames Estuary and two iron piers were constructed to enable steamships to moor there. Much of the local economy was bound up with maritime trade although other industries were developed such as cement works and paper mills. In the 1930s Gravesend had its own airport. This was subsequently used as an RAF base and eventually built over and became a housing estate. Nowadays around 75,000 people live in the town. There is still plenty of work in the town or else it’s a quick commute into central London.
Is Gravesend a nice place to live? Well, according to the people who live there the answer seems to be … no, not really. The town was featured in a recent list of the ten worst places to live in the UK. Locals used phrases such as “the armpit of Kent” or “chav central”. The local council recently tried to improve the town’s image by proposing a name change to Gravesend-upon-Thames.
Along the southern edge of Gravesend runs a busy road which used to be known as Watling Street but is now known, more prosaically, as the A2 trunk road. The building of the A2 resulted in an area of waste ground and into this gap the council decided to place a new cycling facility - the Cyclopark! The Cyclopark opened to the public in 2012. It offers a variety of trails for off road cycling, a 2.9km tarmac circuit, a 340 metre BMX track and also a skate park. And in 2019 it saw the start of a new parkrun. The parkrun doesn’t take place on the cycle track (though that might have been fun) Instead it is held on the long tarmac path which runs along the northern edge of the park.
The course consists of a double back and forth along this path. The western end of this route drops down gently for about a half mile, so you can stretch your legs out on the slight downhill but then you have a bit of an uphill drag back to the finish. Nonetheless it is a pretty fast course and I was hopeful of a decent time.
There were 116 starters there today on a morning that bright and rather chilly. I settled into a steady pace and soon found myself running on my own in around tenth place. I enjoyed coasting down the long downhill but then laboured slightly on the return leg. I passed the approximate halfway point in 10:45. It seems I then maintained that pace exactly because I crossed the line in 21:31. That’s my fastest time of the year so far, my fastest as an over 65, indeed my fastest for quite a while.
So I was pleased with my visit to Gravesend. If I lived in Gravesend, I would be at the Cyclopark every Saturday morning.
My statistics for today - my number of different parkrun venues has now climbed to 245. I was first in my age group and second overall on age graded times.
If you’d like to have a quick glimpse of Cyclopark parkrun, here’s a three minute video.
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