It is getting increasingly difficult to find any new parkrun venues within driveable distance of home. The compulsion to add just one more to the list however remains strong within me and so this morning I was up early and headed up the M1 towards the town of Towcester and Watermeadows parkrun.
Towcester is situated in Northamptonshire, not far from Northampton itself. It derives its name from its situation on the banks of the River Tove. The ‘cester’ bit implies that there once was a camp there (from the Latin ‘castra’). Around 2,000 years ago the Romans passed through here and built a famous road, known as Watling Street, now known more prosaically as the A5. By the banks of the river they built a camp, which they named Lactodurum. It has been suggested that the Battle of Watling Street, the last act of Boudica’s rebellion took place near here in 61 AD.
After the Romans left, the Saxons came. In the ninth and tenth centuries, Towcester was a frontier town between the kingdom of Wessex and the area controlled by the Vikings to the north. Then came the Normans and they built a motte and bailey castle here. The castle has long since fallen into ruin but the mound on which it stood is still there and is known as Bury Mount. The Mount is right next door to the Watermeadows and so, after the run, I jogged up it and enjoyed a lovely view out over the town.
In the Middle Ages and beyond, Towcester was able to thrive because of its position on Watling Street, then the main road up to the north west of England and Wales. There were some grand coaching inns built, some of which still survive. The Saracen’s Head was renowned enough to feature in Charles Dicken’s Pickwick Papers. The coaching trade died almost overnight with the opening of the London to Birmingham railway and, together with the decline of some of some traditional industries, such as lace making, Towcester became something of a backwater.
The town has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years, the population having grown from around 3,000 in 1961 to around 10,000 now. The general consensus seems to be that Towcester is a very pleasant place to live but, if you are looking for some excitement, you might want to venture elsewhere. If you look at the list of attractions in Towcester, the first place mentioned will be Towcester racecourse. For many years it was one of Britain’s top horse racing circuits until it ran into financial difficulties. Horse racing ceased there a few years ago. Before it finally went under, the owners built a greyhound racing stadium inside the circuit and Towcester continues to operate as a centre for that sport. If motor racing is more your thing, Silverstone is only a few miles down the road.
The parkrun course at Towcester is situated in the watermeadows on the banks of the River Tove and therefore has the appropriate name of Watermeadows parkrun. The watermeadows were acquired by the council about ten years ago and are now maintained as a recreational area and nature reserve. When the run began, back in February 2019, it was advertised as an all grass circuit, but since then they have built a new path around the watermeadows made from compacted gravel. The path is approximately 1,200 metres in length and so four and a bit laps make up the distance of a parkrun. The course is reasonably flat, only the gentlest of undulations, and should be pretty fast.
It was a bright crisp morning and the watermeadows were looking lovely in the early autumn sunshine. If I lived in Towcester, I would come here regularly to train and I’d be here most Saturday mornings. There were 85 starters today, about average for this event. I got away reasonably well and settled in behind a group of three or four runners. I got to halfway in around 10:50 but then started to fade a bit. The people I had been running with moved away into the distance, but I managed to keep going at a reasonable pace for the last couple of laps. One thing I like about lap courses is that you always know where you are and how far you have to go. I reached the line in eighth place in a time of 22:10. I was happy enough with that - it was about what I had expected.
My statistics for today - my total of parkrun venues is now up to 265. I was first in my age group and also first overall on age graded scores. I haven’t managed that for a while.
If you’d like to have a little look at the course, then here are Ian and Iona visiting the place earlier this year.
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