It was a return journey to Kent for my parkrun today. I thought I had seen the last of Kent, having done all the parkruns in that county. And I hadn’t foreseen a return to Maidstone, having previously done Maidstone parkrun (along the River Medway). But new parkruns keep popping up all the time and so this morning I found myself heading to Mote Park.
Maidstone is the largest town or city in Kent with a population of over 100,000. It is also the administrative centre and county town. It has a history dating back to ancient times. It lies alongside the main road linking London to the channel ports (now the M20). It also lies on the River Medway along which goods could be transported easily in the direction of the Thames estuary. The main industries in the area were the production of food (this was the Garden of England after all) also quarrying, paper making and brewing.
Maidstone was the scene of a battle in the English Civil War. The Battle of Maidstone saw the parliamentary army capture the town from the Royalists, though not until after stiff resistance from the defenders. There has always been a military association with this area. From the Napoleonic Wars to the Battle of Britain, Kent has been the front line against attack from the continent.
Maidstone doesn’t necessarily attract the number of visitors that other places in Kent might expect. It doesn’t have the seaside attractions of Margate, the ancient cathedral of Canterbury or the white cliffs of Dover. It does however score highly on the quality of life rankings, having a high level of prosperity and swift access to London and to the coast and to the Kent countryside.
Over on the eastern side of the town lies Mote Park. The name is believed to derive from the Old English word ‘moot’ meaning a meeting place. Mote Park is another example of a medieval manor which later became a grand country estate and eventually a public park. It passed through the hands of several owners before eventually coming into the possession of the Marsham family. In the late eighteenth century they redesigned the grounds and also built a new Mote House, which still stands today. In 1799 King George III and Prime Minister William Pitt came here to inspect 3,000 troops of the Kent Volunteers. In the late nineteenth century, the estate was sold and eventually ended up in the hands of Maidstone Borough Council. During the Second World War, it was used as a training base for the army. After the war, the council was able to remodel the park with new sports and recreation facilities and reopen it as a public park. Mote House is still there but nowadays has been divided up into retirement apartments.
Mote Park today offers a wide range of sporting and recreational activities. It sometimes hosts concerts and other event (there was a food festival there today) At its heart there is a large lake, big enough to host a water sports centre. There is also a children’s playground, a BMX track, a pitch and putt course and a variety of sports fields. There is also - my personal favourite - a miniature railway! And, as of four weeks ago, there is now a parkrun. The course at Mote Park starts at the western end, by the boathouse, and consists of an out and back to the eastern end. On the way back, just to complicate matters, you come off the main track and do two shorter loops by the lakeside. The surface is tarmac paths throughout, although it is a lot more undulating than you might expect.
Mote Park parkrun is still relatively new and many of the runners in its early weeks are tourists. There were 140 first timers out of a field of just over 200! So off we went and almost immediately we were climbing uphill. It was a bit of a grind up to the high point of the course at Mote House, then it was down to the turnaround point. The nature of the course meant that we saw a lot of the other runners. It could be a bit confusing when you got to the two smaller loops. You couldn’t always be sure which runners were one lap ahead of you or one lap behind. And if you weren’t counting you might end up going round again by mistake - the runner just ahead of me had to stop and ask a marshal! The last section of the run is quite easy as it’s mostly downhill. I crossed the line in 23:15 for 30th place. That was okay on a course that was a lot tougher than I expected.
My statistics for today - my number of parkrun venues is now up to 258. I was first in my age group, fifth overall on age graded scores and also managed an age category course record!
So that was Mote Park! It’s a lovely setting for a parkrun but be prepared for those hills! Nobody has yet made a YouTube video of this parkrun but I did see Danny Norman there this morning with his camera so I might share his video with you next week. Who knows - I might even be in it! In the meantime, here is a photo of the runners heading up the first hill.
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