As you sweep through the majestic entrance to Dallas Burston Polo Club you could be forgiven for thinking that you are in Dubai or a ranch in Texas, rather than in rural Warwickshire. The entrance proudly boasts 5 stars under the name of the club, and reveals a driveway that leads to an enormous club house with grand gates that wouldn’t be out of place in a royal park or palace – although these ones stand alone and aren’t actually the gates to anywhere! The club, which includes six polo grounds, a pavilion, a champagne bar, club rooms, a royal suite, an all-weather equestrian arena and a 3,000-seat events centre, is one of the grandest sporting and leisure venues in the UK (according to its website!) It came as no surprise to discover it was also the set of an episode in “Made in Chelsea” in 2014. But rural Warwickshire this is, set just over a mile outside the pretty market town of Southam, which is situated midway between Rugby and Leamington Spa. And it’s nothing to do with the American city of Dallas either; the name comes from the owner, Dr Dallas Burston, a former GP, who made his fortune by building up and selling pharmaceutical operations.
Resisting the urge to sing the theme tune from Dallas, on Saturday 23 July 2022 I drove into the club premises, past statues of bulls and a rhino. There was evidence of quite a lot of construction work around the site, and I understand that plans have been approved to make the club even grander with the construction of a boutique 43-bed hotel complete with spa and restaurant in the grounds. However, I was not there for some glamorous event, but for something far more mundane – to take part in Dallas Burston Polo Club parkrun! I had planned to meet a friend, Jo, and this was to be something of a reunion, since I hadn’t seen Jo since before the parkrun. Another mutual friend was supposed to be joining us but sadly she tested positive for Covid a couple of days beforehand.
Jo and I had put our names down to be tailwalkers, and Jo brought her dog, Cassie, complete with motivational parkrun bandana. After parking up we made ourself known to the Run Director and picked up our hi-viz jackets, which were all neatly laid out together with landyards with the route and emergency details – all very organised. And my tailwalker high-viz had an added furry tail pinned on – so between us we had two tails – although Cassie was much better at wagging hers than I was!
After a volunteers’ briefing, we milled around chatting and taking photographs, and Jo discovered there was someone there from her running club. Then we attended the first timers’ briefing, and the run brief before we were off. The route is relatively straightforward, and was also extremely well marshalled with marshals at every turn or corner. Described on the website as a flat, 2.5 lap multi-terrain course, it’s actually two laps around the polo fields (with a bit of a dog-leg two-way section in the middle) and then there is a tail which takes you along part of the Harry Green Way, “a beautiful trail footpath ending in the woods behind the Millstone Hare.” The Millstone Hare is a pub on the estate, which looks like it’s been there for a hundred years but was actually built in 2016, developed from a hand drawn image created by Dr Dallas Burston himself. On the doorstep of The Millstone Hare is its namesake, an old millstone, unearthed during the development of the building. And the name of the pub seemed even more appropriate as on our first lap, as we made our way across the polo field two hares dashed out and ran across the field – one seemingly heading for the pub! Fortunately Cassie, and the other dogs there, were all on short hand-held leads, otherwise it might have been mayhem! It was a beautiful day, and watching these hares ‘hare’ across the fields in the sun was really idyllic, and I silently thanked whoever had the genius idea of siting a parkrun in such a setting, allowing access to everyone to enjoy such luxurious surroundings.
The first two laps of the polo fields were all in the open sun with no shade, and it was already heating up quite a lot even at that time of the morning. The course is very flat so could be very fast but is mostly on grass so it was a bit uneven underfoot, with various little holes that could cause trouble for the unwary. A horse’s hooves, especially at flat gallop, are highly adept at turning the most impeccable grass surface into a churned mess, and even a single seven-minute chukka can wreak havoc on the grounds. Which is why at polo tournaments all around the world there is a tradition in polo of divot stomping! Whether at half time, or between chukkas, guests are invited onto the pitch to try to flatten the grass with their heels. Perhaps this could become a new parkrun tradition too – to do a cool-down lap and repair the grounds!
As we went past the entrance, I saw that the bull statue facing the entrance was now donning a pink volunteer’s hi-viz. I have no idea if there was any significance to the large statues of bulls and a rhino, other than perhaps the owner just liked them and thought they added a touch of grandeur. At one of the turns there is a statue of some herons, but this is by a small pond where I guess herons can sometimes be found. Then after the two laps of the fields, the route turns into some very welcome shade as it runs along a trail footpath towards the finish funnel.
After the parkrun I was disappointed to find that the Millstone Hare was not open, as I had previously seen a With Me Now video https://youtu.be/nJUgNYlcCH4 in which the parkrunners gathered after parkrun to socialise and parkfaff in the pub. But I understand that the pub will open early for parkrunners to parkfaff in the winter months, but that in the summer months the pub is open late often with many events so is difficult to staff early in the morning as well. Instead, there was a mobile catering unit called The Bistro for coffee and breakfast, but they only take cash which we didn’t have – so come prepared! Instead, I took the opportunity to have a little look around the stables and the area where some horses were being exercised, before going into Southam for coffee at Cafe 16.
Overall, Dallas Burston Polo Club parkrun has everything you might want in a parkrun; plenty of parking, toilets open before the start, a lovely course, an organised event team and friendly marshals! I’m sure I’ll be back one day – yee-hah!