Durlston Country Park parkrun

Posted on: 28 May 2022

A bit of a longer journey today.  Having done nearly every parkrun within easy reach of home, I have to travel further and further to find one I haven’t done.  But there are some places which I fancied checking out so today I made the journey down to the Dorset coast, to Swanage and Durlston Country Park parkrun.

Swanage is a smallish town/port (population 10,000) on the Dorset coast, just to the west of Bournemouth and Poole.  It is situated in that corner of Dorset known as the Isle of Purbeck which is not, strictly speaking, an island but does have water on three sides.  The town is first mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle of 877 AD.  “This year came the Danish army into Exeter from Wareham, whilst the navy sailed west about until they met with a great mist at sea and there perished one hundred and twenty ships at Swanwich”.

For many centuries Swanage was known principally as a small fishing port.  The other main industry in this area has been quarrying.  Nearly two thousand years ago the Romans quarried marble here.  More recently the local limestone, more usually known simply as Purbeck Stone has been used in the construction of many of Britain’s public buildings.   Quarrying brought a certain level of prosperity to the town and in the nineteenth century it was heavily redeveloped with a view to developing the burgeoning tourist industry.  New railway lines were built, also gas and waterworks.  A pier was constructed.  Swanage earned a mention in the novels of Thomas Hardy under the name Knollsea.  He describes it as “a seaside village lying snug within two headlands as between a finger and a thumb”.  This area would certainly be worth a visit today.  It contains some lovely countryside, a beautiful coastline and many places of historical interest.

Just to the south of Swanage lies Durlston Country Park, around 320 acres of unspoilt countryside sitting atop the limestone cliffs.  The most prominent feature here is Durlston Castle, which is not and never has been a castle as such.  It was built in the late nineteenth century by George Burt, the original owner of the estate, and was intended to provide facilities for visitors, something it still does today.  George Burt also commissioned the making of a huge stone globe, made from the local limestone and engraved with a map of the world, as it was in 1880.  The Great Globe can still be seen in its original location.  Durlston is a beautiful spot with views out over the sea to the Isle of Wight to the east and Portland Bill to the west.

Durlston parkrun is a fairly recent addition, this being only run number 11 today.  The course is one of the more elaborate that I have experienced.  It comprises a longer lap, then a shorter lap, then an out and back, followed by the long lap again and then the short lap.  The long lap comprises a downhill section then a stiff climb to get back to the top.  The short lap comprises a downhill section followed by a very stiff climb to get back to the top.  The out and back section is steadily downhill on the way out then uphill on the way back.  I think I can say that of the 255 parkruns that I have attempted, this was the toughest course.  You come to Durlston for the views, not for the chance of a PB!

It was a lovely sunny morning and there were over a hundred runners at the start.  They were nearly all tourists - the run director asked if there were any first time visitors there and nearly everybody put their hand up.  The start was downhill so I stayed at the back of the field and started off very gently.  It was a beautiful sight to see the runners going along the cliff top path in the direction of the lighthouse.  But then we turned right and faced the first steep climb.  I passed quite a few people on the climbs, particularly as many people were reduced to a walk.  I had to take things carefully on the steep downhills though as I didn’t want to fall over again.  The pattern was set.  I would pass people on the flat sections (not many of those) and on the uphills but I would be passed on the downhills.  I didn’t mind - my only aim for this run was to get round safely.  I was slightly shocked, as I approached the finish, to glance at my watch and see that I was not far under thirty minutes.  I needed to speed up slightly to make sure my time began with a 2!  I finished in 35th place in a time of 29:43.  My slowest ever time, bar tailwalking.  Don’t let me put you off coming here though - it’s a course everyone should experience, if only for the lovely views.

My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 255.  I was second in my age group and fifteenth on age graded scores.

Nobody has yet made a video of the course so instead I shall leave you with some pictures that I took this morning.

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