It’s not often that we consciously wait for a specific parkrun location to start up. Most of the time we’re wishing they would stop appearing so that we actually have some chance of catching up! But we’d been hearing rumours about Haldon Forest parkrun starting for ages, and the idea of a Forestry Commission parkrun so close to home sounded fantastic.
Haldon Forest parkrun, as the name suggests, is in Haldon Forest, which is around 15 minutes drive South-West of Exeter. The event started on 23rd February 2019, and so we intended to go visit the following week. Unfortunately Ben was ill that week. And then our son was ill the week after. And then I had day 3 of my CiRF course. Having not made it to a new-to-us event since Henstridge Airfield at the end of January, it was therefore with an air of desperation that we headed down to week 5 of Haldon Forest.
Uncharacteristically, we left a few minutes earlier than planned, and the 40 minute drive was really straightforward. It’s a pay and display car park, which thankfully you can pay by card for if you go to the Ranger’s Office (we might have forgotten change). While Ben set the buggy up, I took the kids off to the toilets – or to be precise the row of portaloos opposite the cafe.
Getting to the start requires heading out the path back near the car park entrance, across the road, and then along another path. Definitely somewhere to allow yourself a little extra time to arrive. The excitement of being in a forest started to bubble, and the kids had a little explore while we waited for the briefing.
The run briefing was an all-in-one, which isn’t uncommon for newer events with lots of newbies and visitors. The run director stood up on a bank and had a megaphone, so was both visible and audible which always helps. The course was described to us as one small lap and one big lap, and there was also mention of a steep hill. Happily, Ben had the buggy and so I wasn’t too concerned.
The route starts on a nice wide compacted trail path, that soon starts descending with a sweeping turn. The trees sloping off to our right were a pretty impressive backdrop, and it really felt like setting out on an adventure. We continued on the same path until just over half a mile in, where we met a cheery marshal who pointed us up another path. Up being the operative word, as it’s a short sharp climb on looser terrain. One of those times I was grateful of having a 5 year old as an excuse to walk.
At the top of the hill was another marshal, and one of my favourite little sections as the path twisted through the trees. This section was also part of the Zog trail (although I assume in reverse), which gave a few extra things for us to spot. Shortly after a tree ‘tunnel’, the trees opened out and stunning views appeared, including across to what I assume is the sea. As we re-entered the forest, the first runners started to lap us. The path was a little uneven and twisted downhill, but Lani suggested we should stick to running on the left in case people needed to get past. Clearly parkrun etiquette starts at a young age!
The bottom of the hill saw the end of the short lap, with the faster runners heading right to the finish and us heading left to start the big lap. At this stage we were 1.2 miles in, which threw me a little as in my head short laps are less than a mile for some reason. The lap was the same, albeit slower due to tired 5 year old, until the cheery marshal, who this time directed us to continue further along the main path.
After another third of a mile of being asked if every tiny path was the one we needed to take, we got to the marshals for the turn off. This hill path was wider and better surface than the first, but it was also much longer. Good thing the setting was so beautiful. At the top there was a slight downhill, although this didn’t register as much as the large number of dogs that were with us on the path at this point – it got a bit crazy.
Soon enough though we rejoined the first lap and found ourselves back by the Zog signs. We admired the views again (I’m kicking myself for not getting my phone out to take photos), and as we re-entered the forest got a cheer and high five from the other half of our touring party. Once back down the hill, we turned right to top up the 3 miles to 5k, and headed across the finish line.
After chatting a little at the finish, we walked back to the road and then past the car park to by the cafe again. Barcode scanning was well signed, and there was also someone by the scanners handing out information sheets on how to volunteer and the roles available. I think this is a great idea to raise awareness, although you obviously need to be careful to make it clear that volunteering is still voluntary.
By the time we were back the cafe was packed out. This didn’t make a difference for us, however, as we had to head straight back to Taunton to meet some family we hadn’t seen for far too long. If we’d had more time we would definitely have stayed for some food and to go out exploring.
Overall it’s fair to say we all loved this parkrun, and are definitely planning to go back when the opportunity arises. We did get a comment from one of the volunteers at the finish that it’s not good for children to run this one frequently due to the compacted nature of most of the surface, but given the variety Lani is exposed to it isn’t too much of an issue for us.
Very much a happy return to touring.