I’ve been away … in Cornwall! My mother’s family are from Cornwall so I have many fond memories of childhood holidays there. Still to this day I try to get down there at least once a year to check up on how my folks are doing. I love visiting Cornwall anyway with its beautiful countryside and fabulous beaches and I’d gladly spend my time there even if I didn't have any family connection. While I’m down there I take the opportunity of running a parkrun in a different area. I thought of maybe doing the Land’s End event but in the end I opted for the parkrun which was closest to where I was staying. My base for the weekend was Helston.
Helston is a smallish town (pop. 12,000) at the south western end of Cornwall. It was previously known as ‘Henliston’ then ‘Heliston’ and finally Helston. ‘Hen Lis’ is the Cornish for ‘old court’ and the ‘ton’ bit was added later. Helston was one of the more prosperous corners of the Duchy of Cornwall, its’ wealth coming from farming and mining for copper and tin. (This is real Poldark country!) The town had its own castle, built for Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall, although this had fallen into ruins by Tudor times. Daniel Defoe described Helston in 1725 thus “This town is large and populous and has four spacious streets, a handsome church and a good trade”. Three hundred years later, Helston is still a busy place, although the mining industry is long gone. It would be a good place from which to explore the Lizard peninsula, Britain’s southernmost point. On the edge of town is RNAS Culdrose. The sound I will always associate with Helston is that of Navy helicopters clattering overhead!
Helston is known for one thing above all others - it is the home of the Furry Dance, also known as the Flora Dance. Its origins are lost in the mists of time but it is believed to derive from an ancient ritual, welcoming the coming in of spring. It is held each year on May 8th. There are actually several dances, for various age groups, culminating in the grand midday dance in which smartly dressed couples dance down the main street. Traditionally the dancers wear a sprig of lily of the valley, which is the symbol of the town. The dance inspired a song, written in 1911 by Katie Moss and titled “The Floral Dance”. The song became an unlikely chart hit for the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band in the 1970s and then an even more unlikely hit when sung by Terry Wogan!
Just to the south of the town is the Penrose estate. The name comes from the Penrose family who were the original owners. The rather fine country house in the middle of the estate is still called Penrose House. In the eighteenth century the estate was acquired by the Rogers family who carried out many of the improvements and alterations we see today. The family still live in the main house but the bulk of the estate was handed over to the National Trust in 1974. The fields lie on the banks of the River Cober which runs southwards through the estate. At its southern end it forms the largest freshwater lake in Cornwall, known as Loe Pool or just The Loe. There presumably was once a river estuary here but the lake is now separated from the sea by a broad bank of sand and shingle, known as Loe Bar.
Penrose parkrun has been going since 2015 and has now been held more than 300 times. The start is at the northern end, just south of Helston and then the course is a straightforward out and back, mainly on tarmac but with a little bit of grass at the end. It is fairly flat with only a few gentle inclines. Visually it isn’t that exciting for the first/last mile as you are running through a tunnel of trees but it opens up as you approach the turnaround point and you get a nice view of the lake and of Penrose House.
I had some lovely weather when I was in Cornwall … except when I woke up on Saturday morning and found it was raining. Fortunately the rain had just about stopped by 9 AM. There were 158 starters on Saturday which was fairly average for Penrose. Their numbers can go up in the summer thanks to the number of tourists in the area. I wasn’t sure how well I was going to go as I had strained my knee slightly the day before, clambering over some rocks at St Michael’s Mount. Fortunately everything seemed to hold up and I maintained a steady pace. I reached the turnaround in 11:07, which was fine. I then kept up this pace, in fact was a tiny bit faster on the return leg to finish in 22:06. That gave me 21st place. Perfectly happy with that.
My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 259. I was first in my age group and fourth overall on age graded scores. Do visit this corner of Cornwall if you get the chance and, if you’re here, don’t forget to look in on Penrose parkrun. I shall finish, as usual, with a YouTube video. This one gives you a good impression of the course.
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