Saturday 9th March saw me staying in Crediton, Devon, for the weekend so that I could attend the AGM of the Lundy Field Society. As the AGM didn’t start until 1pm, there was time to fit in a parkrun in the morning. I had travelled down the night before, staying in an AirB&B in Crediton itself, so a quick look at the Tourist Tool and I could see that the 3 nearest parkruns were Exeter Riverside, Killerton and Haldon Forest. I had done Exeter Riverside on a previous occasion, and whilst I would like to do Killerton one day, I had an idea that it was a bit hilly and tough and I wasn’t sure I was up to it at the moment. But the idea of doing Haldon Forest grabbed me – my last parkrun was at Storthes Hall where I discovered the delights of running through trees, and wanted to see if the experience would be replicated at Haldon.
Wikipedia didn’t tell me much about the area, however. It merely stated: “Haldon Forest is a forest located in Devon, England. The forest consists of several different woods. Geographically, Haldon Forest is located between the towns of Chudleigh and Exminster and is south of Exeter. Not to be confused with Headon Forest.
However, the Forestry Commission website was a lot more informative, telling me that Haldon Forest Park was 3,500 acres of woodland just 15 minutes from Exeter, with 4 walking trails, 5 cycling trails, Go Ape, Go Segway, picnic areas, bike hire and a café. No mention of parkrun, but as this would only be the third event it will probably take some time before it appears on the website.
After two days of nearly constant rain, by parkrun eve I was wondering whether it might be a mistake to opt for a trail parkrun. Having ‘liked’ their facebook page to keep an eye out for any last minute cancellations, on Friday Haldon Forest parkrun shared a post from Killerton parkrun on their page which said: “Muddy Course!!!!!! What a surprise……. What is not a surprise is that I insist that you wear trail shoes tomorrow. NO old road shoes. The paperwork for slips and trips is onerous and avoidable if you follow my request. In addition to this the rangers are going to struggle to collect injured participants so you’ll have to hobble back, which is not as fun as it sounds.” Fortunately, I had packed trail shoes, but wondered if Haldon Forest might also be a mud-fest and momentarily considered switching to Exeter Riverside.
But the lure of the trees drew me and I found myself following my sat nav along a very steep, hilly single track road at early o’clock to Haldon Forest. The course page is very clear about the parking situation, stating that there is “300 car parking capacity in the main Haldon Forest car park. Car parking is chargeable at 0 – 2 hours £4, 2 – 4 hours £5. All day £7. Annual parking pass for £30 is available.” Even though I had arrived early, one parking ticket machine was not working, and there was a queue for the other one – so you need to leave plenty of time for buying a ticket. I then noticed that you had to have change for the machine although it did state that payment by notes or card was available from the Rangers’ Office, and I didn’t have change. Fortunately, a kind parkrun cow-cowl-wearing tourist wearing a Killerton apricot top said that he had lots of change in his car, and was able to change a £5 note for me into pound coins to put into the machine – thank you Mr Killerton Tourist!
Incidentally, in the briefing, the RD mentioned that there had been some grumbles about the cost of parking. Personally, I didn’t mind paying £4 to park, especially once I found out that Haldon Forest is a non profit venture so all of the parking fees go back into maintaining the forest. The RD also mentioned that if you volunteer you get free parking which is a great incentive to get the volunteer roster filled up.
As far as facilites go, Haldon Forest has everything covered. Ample parking, toilets and a café all on site. Plus a ‘Go Ape’, so you could make a day of it and go and do some ziplining and have a high tree-top adventure after parkrun!
By this time several parkrunners were gathering, and it was nice to meet fellow tourist Nicola Stott who I had been in conversation with on facebook earlier in the week, and who was their with husband Ian, son Tom and their beautiful bearded collie. There were quite a few dogs there although the course page notes (and it was re-iterated in the run briefing) said that “Unfortunately due to a narrow incline section cannicross harnesses are not allowed at this event”.
I noticed some banners advertising the Forestry 100 Running Series and made a mental note to look this up when I got back home, especially as running through trees is now my favourite new thing! The Forestry 100 Running Series is a series of 10k trail runs through forests to celebrate 100 years of the Forestry Service, one of which takes place in Haldon Forest.
The RD then indicated for everyone hanging around by the café to follow him down towards the start. This was about 5 minutes walk from the car park – I took a bag and a layer but there wasn’t really anywhere to put it when I got there, and in hindsight it would have been better to leave it in the car. It was pretty cold, windy and looked as if it was going to rain, and lots of people were commenting on how cold it was as we stood around waiting for the briefing. However, the parkrun weather fairies came up trumps again, as almost as soon as they heard “go” they turned on the sunshine which looked magical as it streamed through the trees.
The RD then gave the briefing, using a megaphone, in which he warned us to ‘leave something in the tank’ for the hill that was on the first loop, which filled me full of dread! He also mentioned that there was a mountain bike event taking part, which was also marshalled, and that at various points the mountain bike course crossed with the parkrun course and you might be asked to stop and wait for the mountain bikes to cross at various points.
And then we were off. I was expecting a mud fest, but amazingly there was only one place that it was slightly muddy, with the majority of the course taking place on well-marked trails that were not at all muddy. The course is described as “2 loops along wide forest trails with one narrower incline. The trails take in lovely views and go through beautiful scenery.” And it was absolutely beautiful. At various times we seemed to be running along the Raptor Trail, which made me think of dinosaurs but apparently refers to birds of prey that you might see on the trail. The steep incline, which I had to walk up, was quite soon into the run and had an encouraging marshal at the bottom who told me that fortunately I would only have to do it once. And at the top of the steep incline the route ran along a ridge with gorgeous views across the countryside, where you could even see the River Exe.
At one point there was an interesting sign of what appeared to be a dinosaur falling backwards. At the end I noticed that there was a volunteer, who I think was the Forest Ranger, who had a similar little card in a see-through pocket on his hi-viz jacket. When I asked about this, I was told this was a “Zog” card – and he had them to give to any small children that he saw that were upset. This all relates to a ‘Zog” trail – an activity trail for children; Zog being a character similar to the Gruffalo.
At one point there was suddenly a noise from behind me that made me jump; it was a mountain biker who appeared from a trail from the left onto the trail that I was running along. I guess if you are into mountain biking, this would be a brilliant place to do it – at various points along the parkrun there were mountain bikers including some young children on bikes.
I did a pretty slow time, but it didn’t matter – it was such a beautiful course and at times I was just enjoying being in the forest and listening to the birdsong and trying to be ‘mindful’ of my surroundings. After going through the finish funnel and collecting my finish token, you then had to take your token to the scanners who were 5 minutes’ walk away by the cafe, and I couldn’t help thinking that this might result in a number of tokens going missing, despite a notice asking you to leave your token in a box if you didn’t want a time. The scanners are situated right by a nice café called “The Ridge” – sadly I couldn’t stay for coffee and parkrunchat as I had to get back for the AGM but another time I could easily while away some time over a coffee, enjoying some parkrunchat.
The results came out very promptly after the event, and I was pleased to find I had got another parkrun stopwatch bingo number, as well as event #3 towards my Wilson Index score! I had a lovely morning at Haldon Forest – it’s an excellent addition to the parkrun family, and a big “thank you” to all the volunteers who made this possible – especially the cool dude in the bear hat – start ’em young!