The week before 10th September saw a huge amount of rainfall across the country, which whilst coming as a welcome relief to many gardeners after the hot weather and droughts of the summer, had served as a reminder that autumn is on its way. Yet the morning of 10th September it was sunny and dry in Yorkshire, where I was up visiting family.
As I was in Yorkshire, I had planned to do Chevin Forest parkrun. Two weeks beforehand, Chevin Forest had celebrated its 1 year anniversary, but it had been on my radar since before it even started, as a friend of mine is on the core team and had taken part in test events, and been Run Director at the first parkrun, and yet I had never made it to parkrun there for a variety of reasons.
Chevin Forest Park is situated in the Wharfe Valley, 10 miles North West of Leeds City Centre and overlooking the market town of Otley. The Chevin gets its name from an old English word meaning ‘sharp ridge’ and so much of the area is steeply sloping, which is perhaps why my brother (who goes mountain biking there) expressed surprise that they could find a 5k route suitable for parkrun, and who had put me off going there at Christmas as he thought it would be too touch for my dodgy knees!
But I decided it was time to give it a go, and put myself down on the volunteer roster as tailwalker, alongside my friend on the core team. And then I realised that Chevin Forest would actually be my “seventh C / seventh sea” and hence would see me completing my Pirates badge on the Running Challenges Google Chrome extension. For those that don’t know, this chrome extension plus other unofficial apps, awards virtual badges for completing certain parkrun challenges, based on the first letter of a parkrun, or the number of the event, or the time taken to complete it. For the pirates challenge, you have to complete seven parkruns beginning with the letter C and one parkrun beginning with the letter R – seven seas and an aaaaaaarrrrh! Realising that Chevin Forest would be my seventh ‘C’, a few weeks prior to the day we hatched a plan to wear pirate costume and be tailwalking pirates, complete with inflatable parrot!
However, on 8th September Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II died, and the UK entered a period of national mourning. Various sporting events, including all football matches, were cancelled that weekend and I wondered if parkrun would also cancel all events. An announcement was made on the Friday stating that rather than a blanket cancellation, “each individual parkrun event should feel comfortable paying their respects in the way they see fit.” Chevin Forest made the decision not to cancel, but instead to pay parkrunners’ respects by holding a minute’s silence before the start of the parkrun. Nearly 150 people – participants and volunteers alike – stood in perfect silence through which you could hear a pin drop, and which I found very moving. Even the dogs stopped barking and stood still in respect. We felt that it would not be appropriate to wear pirate costumes, and opted for a more respectful black under our tailwalker vests.
The night before I had had a text asking me if I had trail shoes which was something I had not thought about! I normally keep walking boots/shoes in the back of the car but I had taken them out some weeks ago and to be honest it has been so dry over the summer, that even parkruns that are known to be muddy have been dry as a bone and road shoes completely appropriate. I had forgotten all about mud! Reader, if you are reading this as a fellow tourist please note that trail shoes are best for the Chevin, although I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t as bad as I had feared and I was able to pick my way around the mud!
So having made my way over to Chevin Forest, parked and met up with my friend, it was a lovely surprise to see another friend there, as I didn’t know that she was coming. We collected our tailwalker bibs and checked in with the Run Director and Event Team, before making our way to listen to the First Timer’s welcome. It’s always a little stressful and worrying when you’re a first timer to an event, especially when they mention things like the “Killer Hill” (real name: Butterfly Hill) which has to be tackled not once, but twice! I always worry; will I get lost, will I be able to manage the hills, but I really needn’t have worried – not only was I with someone who knew the course well but also it was extremely well marshalled and signposted, and the even the ‘killer hill’ was manageable! The course is lollipop-shaped, with two laps of the lollipop minus the stick.
After the First Timers’ Welcome we all gathered to hear the Run Briefing delivered by the Run Director. Being at the back I was expecting not to be able to hear the briefing, but thanks to a new speaker system I could hear her perfectly. And I learned that there was a parkrun VIP present, also for their first time at Chevin Forest, in the form of Eileen Jones. Eileen is a member of Clayton-le-Moors Harriers running club, a fell runner, has run 309 parkruns in total, at 128 different venues (including Chevin Forest), and her home run is, I believe, Fell Foot parkrun in the Lake District which was cancelled on 10th September as the National Trust cancelled all parkruns run on their land as a mark of respect for the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. But Eileen is not just a parkrun VIP for having run so many parkruns; she is the author of the wonderful book “how parkrun changed our lives”. If you haven’t read this, do try to get your hands on a copy – it is fantastic. One lucky person didn’t have to go very far to get a copy, as the Run Director announced in the briefing that Eileen had very kindly donated a copy for one Chevin Forest parkrunner. As it was the 52nd Chevin Forest parkrun, it was decided that the person finishing in 52nd place would be the lucky recipient of this book.
And then after the briefings, minute’s silence, and applause for the volunteers, we were off. I had seen photographs of Chevin Forest before and watched a vlog of one of the presenters of the wonderful With Me Now podcast (of which I am a big fan) running at Chevin Forest (https://youtu.be/VPp7RPGkgfM) and so knew that it was beautiful, but didn’t expect it to be that beautiful! I was bowled over by the views and the Shane Green chainsaw sculptures – it was like there was something new and exciting to look at around every corner!
There is something special about being in a forest, and if you walk at parkrun (as I do now) you have more time to savour the atmosphere, to hear the birdsong and to be at one with nature. I have to say that Chevin Forest is one of the most welcoming parkruns for walkers, as the pictured “walkers are welcome” sign says! At one point there was a staggering view across what looked like the whole of Yorkshire!
One of the most important things about parkrun for me is the social side, and so a totally fabulous parkrun morning finished for me with a trip to the wonderful Mistal café opposite the entrance to the parkrun, where I was delighted to discover that not only did they serve wonderful breakfast, cakes and coffee, but they also gave parkrunners a discount on presentation of their barcodes! The With Me Now parkrun podcast has termed the time spent with friends in the café after a parkrun “parkfaff”; well all I can say is that we parkfaffed at the Mistal until the early afternoon!