It was all going so well. I’d been looking for an event number 19 to fill a gap on my Wilson Index, and then I noticed that Roberts Park parkrun in Saltaire was going to be on event number 19 on 19 February. I love Saltaire, having been there on a number of times with family members who live in Leeds, and so when I saw that a parkrun had started there I was excited and eagerly looking forward to taking part in it. I had contacted my family to see if they were around that weekend (they were!) and booked the day off work to travel up on the Friday and make a nice long weekend of it.
And then as the weekend drew near there was worrying news about a great storm that was forecast for Friday 18 February 2022 – Storm Eunice, or Storm YouNotNice as termed on the With Me Now podcast! The Met Office issued a rare “Red” weather warning for large areas of the UK, including London and the South East, as Storm Eunice was expected to bring extremely strong winds in excess of 90mph, and warned people not to travel unless absolutely necessary. With that warning being issued, I realised that it would be madness to drive from East London to Leeds through the storm, and reluctantly cancelled my plans.
As the storm drew ever nearer, and throughout the day of the storm, it looked more and more likely that not only would I not be able to parkrun in Yorkshire, but it was looking unlikely that I would be able to parkrun anywhere! More and more parkruns in the South of the country cancelled, including Bushy, which had only ever cancelled once before in its 17 year history (Covid aside) because of fallen trees and storm debris in the park (the previous cancellation was in 2012 when the roads were closed in Bushy park for the Olympic road race). I was anxiously watching the cancellations page on the parkrun UK website, and coming up with plans B, C, D… as each parkrun fell by the wayside! The only one still on near me was Wanstead Flats, but as part of the course goes through a wood I felt sure that it would be cancelled once a course inspection was done. In total, 645 parkruns were cancelled in the UK (although not all due to Storm Eunice).
I then noticed that a little group of 3 parkruns that were quite close together in Essex were all still on, and so a plan was hatched as they were quite easy to get to from my part of East London. I chose Wickford Memorial as it was on event 34 which I also needed for my Wilson Index, and planned to get there early so that if it was cancelled I could divert to one of the other two nearby parkruns. I also contacted a friend who lived nearby, to see if she fancied joining me – and she did, having gone first to neighbouring Basildon where she is on the core team, in order to check and clear the course of storm damage.
I set off bright and early on the Saturday morning. The storm had died down and it promised to be a beautiful, bright, clear day. As I got to the town of Wickford though, I found the road to the park was closed, presumably due to storm damage/debris. I spent the next 45 minutes anxiously driving around trying to find a way into the park area, but all roads seemed to be blocked. My stress levels were rising rapidly until I contacted my friend who told me how to get into the park, and I arrived just in time for the run brief, although I missed the first timers’ briefing.
To get to the park you have to travel through a housing estate, and so it was quite a surprise to find the large park which seemed to have everything! As well as green areas, the park has a very well appointed children’s playground, football and cricket pitches, a tennis court, bowling green, toilets and a cafe and even crazy golf! The green spaces included an arboretum, wild flower meadow and a wooded area.
After the run director’s briefing, we were off along the mainly flat course which was mostly on permanent paths. The course follows the perimeter of the park for two and a bit laps, and runs alongside the river Crouch. Parts of the course are tree-lined, and I was surprised to see so little damage resulting from Storm Eunice. As the course ran along the South side of the park, it went through an avenue of trees, and I noticed that each tree had a little plaque at its roots, and vowed to come back when finished to read the plaques. And I’m so glad I did as it really brought me up short and made me think.
The avenue of trees is actually an Avenue of Remembrance, and is the ‘memorial’ bit of Wickford Memorial park. The idea of a Memorial Park was first suggested in 1946 as a memorial for the losses of the town of Wickford in World War II. A War Memorial Fund Committee was established and fundraised from the public for the money to purchase the land, which they did in 1947, and then they planted the trees in the Avenue of Remembrance in 1949, each tree having a plaque for a fallen soldier.
Reading each of the plaques I was incredibly moved. These soldiers were so young when they died, and yet look so old in their photos. There were different plaques with the same surnames, and some described how their brothers had also lost their lives in the war. At that moment, all my stresses and worries about not being able to find a parkrun that was on, or a parkrun with an event number to plug a gap in my Wilson Index, seemed silly and foolish. How stupid to be worrying over something so trivial, when these young men gave up their lives to fight a war far from home, destroying entire families. And since then events in the Ukraine have escalated and we have another war in Europe, with lives being lost and families being displaced. And so I felt incredibly thankful and grateful to be alive and healthy, in a lovely park in the sun with friends and afterwards enjoying a coffee in the park cafe with the wonderful parkrun community.
If you’re looking for a parkrun with all the facilities, and with a wonderful, friendly volunteer team, you can’t get much better than Wickford Memorial parkrun. But after you’ve finished the parkrun, been scanned, and gone for a coffee in the park café, do spend some time in the Avenue of Remembrance, reading all the plaques to the fallen soldiers. You won’t regret it.