By Jeremy Smith
We were staying with my sister-in-law and her family, just outside Saffron Walden, for the first part of the Easter weekend and Judith and I thought what better to do than find a local parkrun. We had three choices – Cambridge, Wimpole Hall and Hatfield Forest – and we plumped for the latter. Hatfield Forest, situated just outside Bishops Stortford, is owned by the National Trust and, according to its website, is the best surviving example in Britain of an almost complete Royal Hunting Forest.
We arrived early and attended the briefing for parkrun first timers and tourists and found out that this was only their third parkrun and that they had two routes – one for Winter and the other for Summer – and, given that there had been a lot of rain, that we would be running the Winter route (given the mud – see later – I dread to think what would have been the condition of the Summer route).
The run starts near the NT Visitors’ Centre (which adjoins a lake) and then follows a gravel track for about 200m, before we turned left along another gravel track (full of water-filled potholes) that led, after a further 400m onto moorland. At this stage, conditions underfoot weren’t too bad and we ran a further 300m before turning 180 degrees (a bit like we used to do for the Newcastle parkrun) along part of the same path before branching off until we reached the same track on which we had started (but further along). We then gently ran up an incline before crossing the first of three cattle grids which took us along another gravel path to the edge of the NT land when we then turned a sharp right across country, stooping below the branches of low hanging trees and onto another gravel path.
We then passed over another cattle grid, along a forest path, before crossing a third cattle grid that led us to open land. This was when the fun began – the recent rain had left the land caked in mud and we gingerly continued along to the four km point. I was finding it really difficult keeping my balance but managed to maintain my position with the exception of one runner who was sensibly wearing trail shoes (although spikes would have been more appropriate). The last 500m was run along duck boards – slippery when wet but treacherous with mud caked to my shoes. The route took us past the lake to a welcome finish outside the Visitors’ Centre, where they were serving hot drinks. I finished in a slowish 20ish minutes and Judith followed through a few minutes later. The winning time was over 19 minutes – the conditions underfoot probably adding an extra minute onto times.
We both enjoyed the run – which had a higher than average proportion of young children – and found it good preparation for the North Tyneside 10km the following day.