It’s getting harder and harder to find new parkrun venues to visit. I have completed all the events in London and the southeast and now have to accept the need for a long journey to get to any new venue. This morning I decided to make the effort and headed down to Dorset and the town of Bridport.
Bridport is a medium sized town (pop. 15,000) close to, though not quite on the Dorset coast. It derives its name from the river on which it stands, previously the River Bride but now known as the River Brit (great name!). At the point where the River Brit met the sea would have been the harbour for old Bridport. Over the centuries, thanks to coastal drift, this point has moved a little further southwards and nowadays the harbour area is a separate little village known as West Bay. West Bay has developed into a mini resort in its own right, with a nice beach, hotels and restaurants. It has been used as the backdrop to a number of film and TV productions, most notably the crime drama ‘Broadchurch’.
The town of Bridport dates back at least as far as Anglo-Saxon times. The Domesday Book records it as having 120 households. In 1253 the town received its first charter from Henry III and by the time of Edward I it was sending two members to parliament. The area suffered badly in the late medieval period, being ravaged by the Black Death and also targeted by French raiders in the Hundred Years War.
Bridport’s economy was based for centuries on the trades and industries common to rural England - farming, wool, brewing, tanning etc. There would also have been a small fishing fleet operating out of West Bay. But the thing that made Bridport famous was the making of ropes and nets. The industry goes back at least as far as the thirteenth century when King John ordered the town to produce as many ropes and cables as possible for his new navy. The flax and hemp needed to make the ropes could be grown locally. The main street in Bridport was especially wide and straight to make space for the ropes to be stretched out to dry. It is an industry that continues to this day, although nowadays ropes are more likely to be made from nylon fibres. The goal nets at football grounds and the nets at Wimbledon are made in Bridport. Bridport nets were even used on the Space Shuttle.
In the 2022 Sunday Times “Best Places to Live” guide, Bridport came near the top of the list. It has an historic town centre, some nice shops and restaurants, good public facilities and easy access to some lovely countryside and a dramatic coastline. It is home to a number of social and cultural events. Today they were holding the annual hat festival. I thought this might be something to do with the town’s history but actually it’s a recent addition to the calendar. Either way, I was sorry I hadn’t brought a hat!
The parkrun takes place at St Mary’s Field, at the southern end of town, alongside the river. This is the home of Bridport FC and the area is basically a long strip of football pitches. The course consists of three laps, some of it on grass but the majority on paths along by the river. There’s a bit of a gradient at the northern end but otherwise it is fairly flat.
There were 87 starters there this morning for event 96, slightly below the average. It was rather a grey misty morning, a reminder that autumn is approaching. Some of the runners and many of the volunteers had donned hats for the occasion! So how did I do? Not brilliantly, but okay. I settled into a steady pace. I seemed to be lapping at around 7:30 per lap. I didn’t especially enjoy the uneven bit at the top end of the lap, but the rest of it was okay. I finished in 22:41, which gave me 16th place. Not my best time of the year but not bad.
My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 263. I was first in my age group and third overall on age graded scores.
If you’d like a quick view of the course for yourself, here’s Danny Norman visiting St Mary’s exactly one year ago.
After the run I made a little detour to have a look at West Bay. I couldn’t come all this way and then not have a look at it. It would be a nice place to make a stop if you are hiking the South West Coast Path.
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