My final tourist trip for 2023 today. I could maybe continue on but, by now, I have visited every parkrun venue within easy driving distance and nearly every venue at the limit of my range. Any addition to my list would either require a very early start on Saturday morning or perhaps an overnight stay. I’m getting kinda old and I don’t really fancy getting up at an unearthly hour for a long drive in the dark, in uncertain weather conditions. My last trip for a while would be to Radstock in Somerset.
I do have memories of the adjoining towns of Midsomer Norton and Radstock from when I lived in Somerset although, if truth be told, my main recollection is of driving through here on the way to Bath. This area of Somerset has a history dating back at least as far as the Iron Age. It must have been known to the Romans as the ancient Fosse Way passes through here. The name Radstock implies a stockade alongside a road For many centuries it was a quiet rural area and Radstock was an inconspicuous village.
The great transformative event in this region came in 1763 when a rich seam of coal was discovered here. It is impossible to overstate the importance of coal in our nation’s history. Coal heated our homes, fuelled the industrial revolution, propelled trains and ships. A hundred years ago, more than a million people were employed in the coal industry. Nowadays the number of working pits in the UK is down to seven (three of them open cast) and by 2050, we may be down to zero.
Radstock was at the heart of the coal mining industry, much of it on land owned by the Waldegrave family, previously the Lords of the Manor. In 1901 the number of collieries stood at 79 and annual production at over a million tons. By the time of nationalisation in 1947, this had reduced to 12. The last two pits in the area, Kilmersdon and Writhlington, closed in 1973. The mining industry is commemorated by a museum in the centre of town, also a pit wheel nearby, plus some memorial gardens. Modern day Radstock is a pleasant enough place to live, nestling amidst the Somerset hills, although, for work, people generally commute to nearby Bath or Bristol.
There used to be a branch line of the Somerset and Dorset railway to take away all that coal. But when the pits closed, the rail line was closed as well. More recently the old track has been paved over and offers a route for walking, cycling or running. As of September of this year it has also been home to a parkrun. It’s called Five Arches with reference to the arches of the railway tunnel. The parkrun course consists of a double out and back. You start at the eastern end of the Greenway, as it’s now called, and run for about half a mile before returning to the start area. You then head out again, running nearly the full length of the trail, almost into Midsomer Norton, and then return to the finish. The course is on tarmac and largely flat so it should be reasonably fast, if the weather is okay.
Speaking of which, I was rather nervous when I saw the weather forecast and indeed, on the drive down, the rain was pouring down. Fortunately it eased off as I arrived in Radstock and we had only a light drizzle to contend with. Five Arches, in its early weeks, seems to attract between one and two hundred starters and there were 138 runners there this morning. I was hoping for a decent time and set off fairly briskly. I found it hard work though. I had been suffering with a cold recently and my chest was still rather wheezy. I settled into an even pace. I needed eight minutes for the short loop and then sixteen minutes for the longer section. Pretty even pace. I was glad to see the finish and crossed the line in 24:02 for 49th place. Actually a decent performance under the circumstances.
My statistics for today. My total of parkrun venues now stands at 303. I was first in my age group and 18th overall on age graded scores.
If you would like to see the course for yourself, here’s a YouTube video.
So that’s it for parkrun touring, at least during the winter months. I shall still be running but mainly at local events and shall enjoy the luxury of getting home by 10 AM. Look out for new reports in 2024.
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