parkrun tourism: Moors Valley

When my parents asked if we wanted to join them on their New Forest holiday, the first thing we did was to research the area. By which I mean look at parkrun options in the area. Their chosen location was only 5 miles from Brockenhurst parkrun, but somewhere else caught my eye. In our quest to (slowly) conquer the South West, there are a few events left that would take us over 2 hours to get to from home. Even though we were staying in the South East, one of those far-flung events was a mere 15 miles away.

And so it was that after our first night of holiday we found ourselves heading back into the South West to Moors Valley Country Park. Slightly out of the habit of parkrun tourism, the journey mostly consisted of panicking about whether we’d got everything, whether we’d be on time, and whether we’d find the start easily. And for me there was also the tiny detail of not having run 5k since Christmas Eve.

Moors Valley parkrun is set in a country park jointly run by the local council and the Forestry Commission. There is ample car parking (apparently most of the visitors aren’t there before 9) and if you leave before 10.30 then it only costs £1. As ever, we immediately saw plenty of running kit and soon located some hi-viz and the start. After a quick detour to the Visitor Centre for toilets, Ben headed off on his warm up.

The new runners’ briefing was possibly the best I’ve been to yet. A big map of the course was held up so that descriptions about pinch points and possible hazards actually had context. There was enough time to grab a drink and tell spectating family where the finish was before the run briefing. Milestone and birthday celebration hats were lent out, which I always think is a nice touch.

Despite the briefing being right near the start, there was enough room to re-arrange into the right order. Or at least there was for me, but then I was heading towards the back. I selected a run/walk workout on my Garmin ready for the start and tried not to get far too excited that I was actually lining up ready for a parkrun.

Despite being surrounded, the Gruffalo’s Child was still not scared.

The route starts by going past the Gruffalo sculptures, which is always a good start to any activity, before turning to head down the main path. A decent width, solid (but not tarmac) path with trees on either side is a major component in my ideal parkrun. Needless to say I enjoyed this part, even with the slight gradual climb. The nice thing with not going for a time was that I was able to take a look around and enjoy the scenery.

After half a mile on that path, we turned left for more of the same. We passed what looked like some amazing play structures, and I thought we should head back that way after the run. As we made our way round, the picturesque paths continued. My only issue was that I managed to land weirdly on a loose stone and slightly turned my ankle, but thankfully it was just uncomfortable.

Shortly before the 2 mile mark was the landmark I’d been waiting for – the start of the out-and-back section. In a race, out-and-back just to make up the distance is quite annoying. In a parkrun I don’t mind it so much as long as it’s a sensible length (this one was). The higher percentage of friendly runners makes seeing people going the other way a positive experience. Still, I was glad to reach the end of it and know that I was getting somewhere.

The terrain changes slightly at this point, as narrower paths wind through trees and the surface changes to tarmac. There started to be more visible signs that we were working our way round and then across the golf course. Just as I was starting to doubt myself on how things were going, I saw on the path something that I think every parkrun should have – a 4k marker.

Shortly after, Ben appeared from further ahead on the course (having finished, located a drink, had a rest, and started his cool down) to join me for the end. The final section of the course winds around the lake (which Ben could see before I could, due to my travel-size nature). It really opens up, and you can see the finish and the paths leading to it. As Ben peeled off to avoid going near the funnel, I happily discovered that my run/walk strategy had left me with just enough to speed up for the finish.

Plenty of space to rest

The finish area is by a big open grass area (popular later in the day for picnics and barbecues) and also by one of the stations for the miniature railway. Barcode scanners were slightly further along the path, but very visible. I also liked the fact that there were pots for tokens by the side of the path as you left that area. Anything that reduces the chance of accidental souvenirs!

We headed round to the cafe, where our supporters were sheltering (I seem to have neglected to mention there was drizzle for most of the run). It was really nice to see so many parkrun people staying around afterwards – and with the selection of food available it’s easy to see why.

As I said to some of the core team afterwards, I would love for that to be my home parkrun. The balance of the course is one that I would happily repeat. Looking at their Facebook page, I did notice that Moors Valley often have to appeal for volunteers, so if you live in the area then please consider helping them out.

In terms of a parkrun to visit while on holiday, this couldn’t have been better. After food we headed out for a walk and found that the play structures were as good as they’d looked (there’s a whole Play Trail). There was also the tree top trail, miniature railway and brilliant playgrounds. We ended up staying for much longer than anticipated, and actually went back later in the holiday. Which is surely proof that a bit of parkrun tourism is good for you.

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