Elford Scarecrow Festival

If you’re looking for something quintessentially British, quaint and ever so slightly bonkers to do, you couldn’t do any better than by going to the Elford Scarecrow Festival. Taking place in the village of Elford, Staffordshire on the August Bank Holiday weekend, the festival is now in its 8th year and has grown enormously from its inaugural year, when the residents of the village made simple scarecrows and put them on their drive or front garden for others to see. Over the years the scarecrows have become more complex and clever, with innovations being added in recent years such as animation and sound, and the introduction of entire tableaux of scarecrow characters. The competitive nature of village life is brought to the fore with villagers vying to outdo each other in order to be crowned the “people’s favourite” as voted for by the visitors to the festival. It all rather reminded me of when one person in a cul-de-sac puts up some Christmas lights and figures, and their neighbour then tries to go one better until the whole close is bedecked with enough lights to illuminate a football stadium.

When my friends who live in the village invited me and some other friends to visit for the weekend, and they mentioned that it was the weekend of the Scarecrow Festival, I had simply no idea of the scale and wackiness of the festival. Arriving in the normally quiet and peaceful village, I was slightly amazed to see traffic cones along all the streets. I soon realised that the event was bigger than I had imagined, with around 100 houses taking part and thousands of visitors from across the Midlands arriving in droves to walk around the village and vote for their favourite. In addition to the scarecrows, there are a number of traditional British fete-type activities to take part in, from tombola, games like Splat the Rat, Guess the Weight of the Sheep, and Guess How Many Balloons in the Car, through to cream teas, face painting and an art exhibition in the Village Hall. It was all very League of Gentlemen, in the nicest possible way! And it has its own website and facebook page, with notices by each scarecrow inviting you to take a Scarecrow Selfie and upload it to their facebook page. Despite this, it is far from being ‘corporate’ and has the air of an old-fashioned village fete, and is run by volunteers from the village. Costing only £2 for adults and £1 for children for entry and parking, the event raises thousands – over £20,000 this year – for local charities such as the village church, the village hall and a project supporting victims of domestic abuse.

There is no way that words could adequately describe the bizarre and inventive creations of the Scarecrow Festival, but a picture paints a thousand words, so I’ve grouped photos of some of my favourites from this year’s festival below into different categories.  Click on the picture/gallery to enlarge it and see it in all its glory!

Starting with the tableaux: the lengths that some people went to were incredible to make entire tableaux of scarecrows; some also included sound and animation that’s not always obvious from static photos – like the AA photo which had the “Rolling River” music playing on a loop as in the current AA television advert

Then, with some inevitable cross-over with the tableaux section, there were the entries that were based on films, TV programmes or books:


There were some cracking puns:

Animals featured heavily this year, with an entire Elford Goes Wild section:

There were quite a lot of traditional scarecrows as well as the more unusual ones:

In the church there were a number of scarecrows, although apparently not as many as last year when they had an entire scarecrow wedding:

Some were quite strange, weird or frankly bizarre!

And some I just can’t categorise, but merely put in the ‘miscellaneous’ section:

Wandering around the village with my scoresheet tucked in my hand, I found it really difficult to choose my top three to vote for. I would find one that I really liked, and then around the corner would be one that was even better, and with so much variation it was like comparing apples with pears. But in reverse order, I voted for the following as my top three:

3rd: Gone With The Wind, which I liked for sheer invention


2nd – tribute to Bruce Forsyth, including Play Your Cards right playing cards, the Strictly glitter ball and the Generation Game conveyor belt complete with cuddly toy!


And my first place winner was the L.S. Lowry scarecrow, complete with Lowry paintings – I understand this was done by the Elford art group who also had an art exhibition of their own paintings in the village hall.


But none of my top three, however, won the coveted Scarecrow Trophy, which went to the makers of the Gruffalo scarecrow which was, admittedly, very good:


So if you’re looking for something to do next August Bank Holiday weekend, and can get along to Elford (which is just outside Tamworth in the Midlands) I urge you to do so. It’s good, clean, old-fashioned fun, and it’s all for charity so what’s not to like?

Just one final photo – the volunteers helping with the parking and traffic control were, of course, members of the ScareCrew!


Festival website

Festival facebook page




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Maidenhead parkrun: the one with the Olympian and unexpected media presence!

When my friend Sarah invited me and another friend Jo to go on a wine tasting tour of an English vineyard near to her home in Maidenhead last Saturday, my first thought was: “Can I still do parkrun?” Before I started running parkrun, Saturday mornings would invariably involve a lie-in and the chance to nurse my hangover from the Friday night, but now Saturdays have been re-named parkrunday and I hate the thought of missing my regular parkrun fix even to do something interesting! I wasn’t sure I had time to do my home parkrun of Walthamstow in East London and get home, showered and over to Maidenhead in time for the tour, which took place in the early afternoon.


But Sarah had the answer – arrive on the Friday night and stay over; then we could all go to Maidenhead parkrun in the morning; Jo and I to run and Sarah to volunteer. An added bonus would be that I would get an “M” for my alphabet challenge, and my 11th different parkrun so another notch towards my 20 parkrun cow cowl! (If this means nothing to you, read my previous blog post on parkrun tourism to find out!)


Saturday morning came around and we set off for Maidenhead parkrun which takes place in Braywick park. Fortunately with a local with us, we had no issues about finding out where to go/park etc., parking in the nearby Stafferton Lodge Toby Carvery where we were able to use the loos before the run.  Sarah went to get her hi-viz jacket and to receive her volunteers’ briefing, whilst Jo and I wandered around and chatted to the gathering parkrunners, including the friendly St John who turned out to be on the Maidenhead core team and was a mine of information, including the advice that if we showed our parkrun barcodes at the Toby Carvery afterwards when ordering breakfast they would give you free tea or coffee – bonus! #DFYB

As we chatted, we noticed that there seemed to be a reporter with a microphone talking to the event director – and then she thrust the microphone into Sarah’s face to ask her a question about volunteering for parkrun. It turned out that she was a reporter for Radio Berkshire, for the Andrew Peach show. They do a thing called Peach Quest which is a bit like the TV programme Treasure Hunt with Anneka Rice (yes, I’m aware that dates me!) where the reporter gathers clues to different destinations. It had been planned that the event director, Adam, would have the clue for her next destination which he read out live on air – all good publicity for parkrun.


We then noticed that Radio Berkshire wasn’t the only media interest there that morning; there also seemed to be a lot of photographers and cameras around. Jo then spotted a familiar face who seemed to be getting a lot of media attention – none other than the UK’s most decorated female Olympian, Dame Katherine Grainger. She was there to promote a new initiative by parkrun and UK Sport, funded by the National Lottery, called #teamparkrun. On 19th August, a number of Team GB athletes will be taking part in parkrun at events across the country, not to run it but to bring up the rear and volunteer as tail walker.  Dame Katherine was launching this initiative by volunteering as tail walker at Maidenhead, her first ever parkrun. She was absolutely lovely, posing for photos with lots of people before donning her hi-viz and listening to the new-comers briefing which explained the route and other information about the run. I wonder which parkruns are going to get a teamparkrun athlete, and if we’ll get one at Walthamstow? I guess I’ll have to go along on the 19th to find out!

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And then, a little late but forgivable with all the media excitement, we were off! The route is a two-lap course around a nature reserve, mostly flat but with one steep but mercifully short hill which has to be tackled twice. There had been quite a lot of rain in the days before, resulting in lots of brambles and nettles along the route which made me regret my choice of running shorts over leggings, and the path was quite narrow at the beginning resulting in a fair bit of bunching up at the start. But the runners soon stretched out and I found myself with plenty of room on the long straight first leg of the lap – one of the advantages of being a slow runner! As I neared the end of that long straight I fell in running next to Katy, who shouted out a cheery ‘hello’ to Malcolm who was standing at the end of the straight holding a sign that said “Malcolm’s corner”! Katy told me that Malcolm was a bit of a legend at Maidstone parkrun; he was a veteran fast runner who had volunteered at nearly every single parkrun since its inception, and she thought that the one that he had missed was because he was volunteering somewhere else! I ran alongside Katy for a bit and we chatted about running and parkrun – she belonged to a group of women called the Running Sisters who were non-competitive but supportive of each other – sounded great!

I was trying out a new Garmin and found myself struggling a bit between what I thought was the distance between 2-3k, so was suddenly surprised to find myself approaching the steep hill for the second time, to be cheered on by the marshal at the top of the hill encouraging us up the hill and saying that the finish was just around the corner. It was only later that I realised that my Garmin was set to miles not kilometres!

And before I knew it the finish line approached, and I met up with Jo who was waiting for me, and re-met Katy who then introduced me to one of her running sisters who was running her first parkrun only 6 weeks after having a suspected heart attack. With such a spirited run, she was encouraged to ring the parkrun bell which was waiting by the finish line. Dame Katherine was also encouraged to ring it when she finished her first parkrun before all the volunteers posed for a final photo.

This was my 10th run as a parkrun tourist, and each parkrun is different with its own positives and negatives. There were so many positives at Maidenhead that I haven’t mentioned, like the smiley young barcode scanner and the child with his own space-themes hi-viz, that all added up to make me feel welcome and part of the parkrun family. Spirit of parkrun: Maidenhead has it in bucketloads!





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Seaton parkrun: the one with the pebbles

What crazy fool would set even part of a parkrun course on a pebble beach? This was my first thought on reading the course description for Seaton parkrun, and one that I came back to when I actually ran it! I was down on the South coast spending a weekend with friends in Lyme Regis and the first thing I did after booking accommodation was to look up to see where the nearest parkrun was. Seaton parkrun was a mere 6-7 miles away, and with pleasing synchronicity the weekend I was there was Seaton’s 35th parkrun and my 35th parkrun on any course. I mentioned to my friends that I was going to run and one friend agreed to join me to run her first ever parkrun.


Initially on arrival in Seaton we had a bit of trouble finding where to park. The website gave the postcode for Orchard Short Stay car park, but this led to a dead end with no sign of a car park on my satnav! Fortunately we saw a woman walking along the road wearing a parkrun apricot vest so we stopped to ask her for directions. She turned out to be a tourist from Bushey parkrun, but she had run Seaton parkrun before and she directed us to the Co-op car park where you can park for free for two hours.


As we approached the seafront I could see various runners and volunteers milling around and so we knew we were in the right place. One of the things I like about parkrun tourism is seeing the different little touches and innovations that each parkrun has. At Seaton they have some large plastic crates with lids where you can leave your belongings and which presumably kept them dry if it rained, which I thought was a great idea rather than just leaving them out on the floor like other parkruns. There were also toilets near the start which gets another tick in my book!

The seafront itself in Seaton is lovely, with pretty beach huts painted in pastel colours, and a lovely wildflower meadow planted in a raised bed which was a riot of colour. But there was no time to enjoy this as all the faffing with the car park meant we were a bit late, and I discovered that we had missed the new runners’ briefing. However, a friendly marshal said that we couldn’t get lost as it was just two straight laps running up and down on the promenade next to the sea! The route differs slightly to that shown on the course website which states that the run starts on the pavement and at the end the runners run down a ramp to end on the beach. I was told that in summer they switch the route and effectively reverse it so that it now starts on the beach, and everyone was walking down the ramp to the beach ready for the start.


As we gathered on the beach I again wondered about the craziness of starting a run on a pebble beach. The pebbles were large and it was difficult to even walk along any section of the beach let alone run, as with every step I sank down into the pebbles. We had the usual pre-run briefing given by the event director using a megaphone which was necessary to be heard by the 141 runners over the sound of the sea crashing onto the pebbles. The event director asked if there were any tourists present and where we were from, and as people shouted out “Bushey Park”, “West London”, “Walthamstow”, one person in front of me remarked that there were more Londoners there than locals! On this occasion there was also a fabulous tail walker/runner who was wearing a tail particularly appropriate for this Jurassic coast run – love it!


And then we were off. The woman from Bushey who we had asked for directions had also warned us about the first section which is run along the beach, saying that although it was only about 100 metres she always feels like she’s going to die on this bit but you just have to grit your teeth and bear it. And she was right – I tried to run but found it almost impossible and was very relieved to get to the ramp which took us up to the promenade that runs along the seafront. Once on the Esplanade it was then just a straight run along the promenade to the end of the beach where – oh no – we had to run back onto the pebble beach again for 75 metres in order to turn around and run back along the seafront. At the other end there was another turn in front of the Hideaway cafe, before running back along the length of the promenade, turning again on the 75 metres along the beach, back along to the other end with the Hideaway turn before finally running back to the finish line which was half-way along.  One of the good things about this course was that as the runners spread out you are running on either side of the same pavement, and if you have friends running at a different speed to you, as they turn and run back along the other side of the pavement you can wave at them and also wave and encourage other runners with thumbs up etc.

There is something quite special about running along the seafront, even though there was quite a strong wind coming off the sea. The event was very well organised and well marshalled, with plenty of marshals along the route who were all really encouraging. I was wearing my Walthamstow parkrun apricot top and as I went past one marshal she shouted out “Well done, Walthamstow, nice to see you!”. The marshals at either end were great – one at the Hideaway café end was dancing perhaps to keep warm in the cold wind, and the other was shouting “no more beach” to everyone on the last lap! And they were friendly volunteer timekeepers and barcode scanners too.

After the finish, there is the chance to catch up with friends and enjoy a post-parkrun coffee in the appropriately named Pebbles café. I didn’t go on this occasion as I had friends waiting back in Lyme Regis, but if I was on my own I would have no hesitation in going for a coffee as everyone was so friendly. When the results came in I was amazed to find my time, considering the pebbles and the headwind, was only two minutes slower than my PB. In fact the first runner, Jake Smith, managed it in an incredibly fast 16:13 despite the pebbles!

So even though my first thought on discovering Seaton parkrun had sections run on pebbles was that this was crazy, it actually makes the run quite quirky and different, and doesn’t seem to affect times too much! Overall the event was really enjoyable, nice scenery, great to run by the sea, super-friendly and encouraging marshals, and just the right size (not too big, not too small). I may be back if I’m ever in the area again!








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ETM: Double Down by Dorrance Dance

ETM: Double Down by Dorrance Dance, currently at Sadler’s Wells, is jaw-droppingly brilliant. Quite literally – at times I was sitting open-mouthed and at risk of drooling. It is the most brilliant creative thing I’ve seen in a long time. And I’ve seen quite a few brilliant things already this year. Although described as “masters of tap”, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers they ain’t. It’s very difficult to find words to describe the performance but it’s a sort of tap meets hip-hop meets Tom Hanks playing floor piano in Big meets Vangelis meets Stomp meets the Kodo Drummers. And that in no way does it justice. With smoke, sampling machines, a Mo Farah look-alike bass player, the haunting voice of Aaron Marcellus, the amazing twisting rhythmic Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie (described in the programme as a New York City based b-girl: I have no idea what that means) spinning, twitching, tapping, body-slapping, clicking, percussion-playing dancers who looked at times as though a 10,000 volt electric shock had been delivered to their bodies yet who remained in supreme control, high octane-fuelled ultra energetic yet haunting; it most certainly got rhythm. Just go see it for yourself.


(Photos by Christopher Duggan, Matthew Murphy and Hayim Heron and taken from the programme)

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A few years ago, whilst on holiday with a friend in Argentina, I was lucky enough to visit a milonga in Buenos Aires. All the tourist information and guide books gave details of places where you could visit a tango show, and have tango lessons, but we wanted the real deal – a place where the locals danced tango and not just a show put on for the tourists. Then we found out about milongas. Wikipedia defines a milonga as “a place or an event where tango is danced… most milongas are held on a regular basis (usually weekly)… People who frequently go to milongas are sometimes called milongueros.” So this sounded like the real deal, but where to find one? As we walked around Buenos Aires I started to see notices stuck up on lampposts, advertising the next milonga, often with tear-off strips at the bottom giving the address. It seemed that often a milonga was not held in a dance-hall or club, but in a temporary space cleared for the purpose of holding a milonga, so maybe in a warehouse, anywhere where there was room. I asked at my hotel, which was a small boutique-style hotel in the San Telmo area, if there was a local milonga taking place that night, and with a bit of looking up on the internet, they gave me an address which was not far away.

We dressed up, went out for dinner and then after dinner made our way to the address we’d been given, which looked extremely inauspicious from the outside. It was an old building, several storeys high, and there was nothing on the outside to indicate that anything was going on inside at that time of night. There was, however, a little sticky label next to one of the doorbells saying merely “milonga”. I pressed the bell, and a voice answered in Spanish saying something that I didn’t understand, and the door buzzed and unlocked. We entered into a dingy staircase and walked up about five floors feeling a bit over-dressed until we reached our destination – outside one of the rooms in the building there was a table with a petty-cash tin on it, and a man and a woman standing by it. I asked if this was the milonga, and how much it was to enter, and was told that it was and the price of entry was pretty cheap – from memory it was about £5. We paid our entry fee, and walked through into a room that was pretty bare, but had a few café-style chairs and tables around the outside, and a counter with a few bottles on it that seemed to be the bar. We bought a bottle of wine from the bar and sat down at a table at the side of the room. When we arrived no-one was dancing, but shortly afterwards the music started and people took to the dance floor. The milongueros were all ages and of differing abilities but it didn’t matter – everyone was there to have a good time and enjoy the tango music and dancing.

Initially the music was recorded, but later in the evening a band appeared and set up in the corner and they were absolutely amazing. It was such a lovely evening and one of the highlights of my holiday.

Fast forward a few years to June 2017 and I found myself eagerly taking my seat at  Sadler’s Wells to watch a performance entitled “milonga”. The production was billed as “Tango for the 21st century” and was a collaboration between UK choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and an international cast including Argentinian Tango dancers alongside contemporary dancers, and all danced to a tango band on stage which also included Argentinian musicians.

For the next hour and 25 minutes I was treated to an amazing performance; it was more than a dance, it was a multi-media immersion into the streets of Buenos Aires and the world of tango and the milonga. A number of different vignettes merged seamlessly into each other; some took place in a dark set reminiscent of the milonga I attended a few years ago, others were danced in front of video screens playing scenes from the streets of San Telmo, from central Buenos Aires including Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo, and from the Recoleta area including a funeral scene from La Recoleta cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. The whole production could be used as a promotion for the Argentinian Tourist Board and I found myself reminiscing and watching the street scenes eagerly looking for places that I recognised. But however enticing the multi-media images were, they added to, rather than took away from, the incredible dancing. Although the programme labelled the cast members as either “tango dancers” or “contemporary dancers” it was not always easy to tell who was a tango dancer and who was a contemporary dancer. The choreography was superb; the dancers twisted and writhed seductively, sensuously and passionately throughout the piece, which included comedy and pathos alongside some stunning dancing. All the dancers were extremely accomplished, but I have to single out contemporary dancer Silvina Cortes who was mesmerising and seemed to have limbs made out of liquid mercury!

The current UK tour is now over, but it has been on tour since its premiere in 2013, and has visited 42 cities across 20 countries and 5 continents. If you get a chance to see it, snap up a ticket – you won’t regret it. And I will certainly be going again if it comes back to the UK – it’s a 5-star performance!



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Portobello parkrun: If Carlsberg did parkruns…

One week on from some parkrun tourism at Weymouth, I found myself away for a consecutive weekend break at the opposite end of the UK – in fact, in a different country altogether. I had been invited to help celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday, that friend having moved from London to Edinburgh six months previously.

I had tried to run a Scottish parkrun on a previous visit to Edinburgh last year but got caught out by the time difference; I hadn’t realised that Scottish parkruns start at 9.30am not 9.00am, and the half-hour’s difference meant that I didn’t really have enough time to complete the run before catching my train back to London. So I was keen to see if I could complete what I set out to do a year previously and run a Scottish parkrun.

There were some obstacles to achieving this aim though. Firstly, I was flying to Edinburgh so would have to rely on public transport to get to the chosen parkrun and back to my B&B. Then I would need to find space in my small cabin bag for running kit in addition to party outfits and other clothes needed for the weekend, and packing light has never been my forte. Finally, in order to accommodate people travelling up to Scotland after work on the Friday evening, the weekend’s festivities started fairly late with a meal in a restaurant booked for 9.30pm suggesting that I wouldn’t get away until after midnight, and a late, boozy Friday night is never that conducive to getting up early for parkrun on the Saturday morning. Did I really want to put in all this effort to go and run 5k with a hangover, or could I give myself a weekend off? At least the extra half hour in bed for the Scottish version of parkrun would be welcome, and led me to muse that perhaps the half-hour later start time was, in fact, due to the Scottish love of whisky rather than anything to do with the light as I had been led to believe!

To overcome the first hurdle I asked the advice of local parkrunners on the facebook parkrun discussion group page, and soon discovered that my B&B, chosen because it was near my friends’ flat, was actually quite a long way from either of the two parkruns in Edinburgh – Cramond and Portobello. But the website of both parkruns also signposted me to the excellent Lothian Buses website, from which I could see that there was a number 5 bus that went from about 10 minutes walk from my B&B and that took me to a few minutes walk from the start of Portobello parkrun, which was set in a park called “Figgate Park”. To overcome the second hurdle, I added a hold bag to my ticket, justifying the extra cost on the grounds that I could now take up the bottle of local damson gin that I had bought as a housewarming gift but was too big for hand/cabin luggage. And I gave myself a talking to in order to overcome the final hurdle, whilst also giving myself permission to miss parkrun if the night out ended up becoming too boozy and too late!

However, it was actually another hurdle that almost made me miss parkrun. Having enjoyed a lovely evening out on the Friday night, I returned to my B&B at about 12:30am and went to set my phone’s alarm for 7.30am but my phone completely froze and I spent the next 15 minutes trying to switch it off/on and trying to remove the battery.  I gave up eventually and decided to just go to sleep and leave it to fate as to whether I woke up in time or not. And 5 minutes after settling down to sleep the phone came to life again, so I was able to set the alarm.

Saturday morning came, and I set off to find the number 5 bus stop – however when I turned up at the area where I believed the bus went from there were a number of bus stops but none for the number 5, and no-one that I asked seemed to know where the number 5 bus went from. However, a café owner mentioned there was a bus that went from around the corner, which did indeed turn out to be the number 5 bus stop. 10 minutes stressful wait went by during which I almost resigned myself to missing the run as I didn’t think I would get there in time, and then the bus appeared. I asked the driver if he could let me know the nearest stop to Figgate Park, but he replied “Never heard of it!” Still not deterred, I got on the bus and followed the route on google maps (where would we be without smart phones?) and then was relieved when we went through the city centre to see a woman get on the bus wearing an Edinburgh frontrunners top and running leggings/shoes. She confirmed that she was going to parkrun, but was also a first timer and so had no idea where to get off the bus either. Fortunately, some other regular Portobello parkrunners got on the bus and they not only knew where to get off the bus but also kindly allowed me to tag along with them to show me the start.

After all the stress of getting there, and worrying that I would miss the start, I actually found myself there about 20 minutes early, and so I asked if there were any loos that I could use before the run. Apparently there aren’t any loos in the park, and this had been quite a contentious issue in the past and the one thing that goes against Portobello parkrun. But apart from that, I have to say that Portobello parkrun is perhaps the nicest parkrun that I have ever done. If Carlsberg did parkruns they would all be like Portobello (but with the addition of a nearby loo!).

Why so nice? Well, firstly the location is perfect – set in a beautiful park that seems to be a bit of a well-guarded secret as not only had the bus driver not heard of it, but neither had any of my local friends including one who had grown up in Edinburgh about 15 minutes’ drive away! The park is gorgeous, with a burn running through it that leads to a lake (called Figgate Pond) with a boardwalk and lots of wildlife including a heron that is often present, although sadly absent on my visit. The course is three laps of the park and is only slightly undulating. I particularly liked the fact that the path running down away from the lake is very close to the path running back up towards the start on the other side of the burn, so that as the runners spread out you can see the runners on the other side of the lap.

Secondly, the volunteers were lovely. The guy who gave the first timers’ briefing did it in an interactive way – getting us to walk through the funnel and showing where the barcode scanners stood etc. All the marshals on the route were encouraging, as well as those at the end on finish tokens/barcode scanning duty.

But what I particularly liked about Portobello is that the finish line is after a short straight section after the route peels off for the laps, and close to the start and where everyone left their things. So this meant that there were lots of people hanging around and cheering everyone in as they came up that final straight. I am very often one of the last runners to finish, and I am used to many runners having left and gone home by the time I finish, and yet here it seemed that lots of people stayed behind to encourage the slower runners.

And then there was a lovely café nearby for the traditional post-parkrun coffee, and to which a number of volunteers repaired to sort tokens, process the results etc. And the café had a loo which made up for the lack of loos in the park! Whilst in the café I got chatting to some of the other parkrunners and then we helped out the lovely Ella and her father to sort the 300 or so finish tokens.

It’s a close call as to whether I prefer Rosliston or Portobello as to my favourite tourist parkrun course; both are excellent. But both are pretty near as perfect as a parkrun could be, hence the “if Carlsberg did parkruns” title! And although I didn’t get an all-time parkrun PB which I put down to too many glasses of wine the night before, I am extremely glad that I made the effort to get up and out and to have completed my first Scottish parkrun. Thank you Portobello!


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Weymouth parkrun: the one with the pineapple! (Or how parkrun has changed my life)

Something very strange has happened to me. Throughout my life I have hated any form of exercise, and have only taken part in any organised sporting activity through necessity rather than choice. Team sports hold me in absolute terror with memories from school days of being in the ‘reject’ pile of the kids that the chosen team captains were forced to select after they had chosen all the sporty kids for their teams. Solitary attempts at exercise did not fare much better, whether it was going to the gym or, even worse, running outside. At least on the treadmill at the gym there was a television screen to distract me from the pain!

And yet, since I have been fully indoctrinated in the parkrun cult, things have changed dramatically. I use the word ‘cult’ in jest, as this is what a friend called parkrun as a joke, but thinking about it, there are certainly some similarities. Both parkrun and cults try to recruit new members, and welcome new recruits with beaming smiles and a friendly “hello”; both require you to turn up on a regular (weekly) basis; membership of both finds you changing your habits and even your personality; both engender a feeling of belonging, and no matter how hard you try to explain it to those on the outside they fail to understand the attraction. (Although I have questioned my life choices on a number of occasions on why I would want to get up at 7am on a Saturday morning and go and run 5k instead of having a lie-in and nursing my hangover!) And like all cults we have a great guru to venerate in the form of founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt!

As for that change of personality, it seems to extend beyond finding myself sometimes turning down alcohol on a Friday night because I have planned to go to parkrun in the morning! I was recently lucky enough to be invited to go away for the weekend to share an Air B&B with 7 other people in Lulworth, Dorset. Whereas in the past the first thing I would have done after accepting the invitation would have been to look up places to go and visit, and to check out restaurants and bars in the vicinity, now my first thought was to rush to the computer to see if there was a nearby parkrun that I could do! Looking at the parkrun website  and the unofficial tourist tool, the nearest parkrun appeared to be Weymouth, which was a mere 25 minute drive away from our AirB&B.  Once I got over my initial disappointment about not being able to complete another letter in the alphabet challenge (as described in my previous blog post about parkrun tourism), as I had already run a ‘W’ parkrun with my home run of Walthamstow, I turned to the course description and got excited to read “… one and a half laps anti-clockwise around the miniature train track and 9-hole golf course… loop around the Round Table ‘pineapple’ monument…” A parkrun with a miniature train track, golf course AND a pineapple, and by the sea too … what’s not to like? I knew that a number of our group had booked to go coasteering on the Saturday morning, but I messaged the group to see if any of the others fancied joining me at Weymouth parkrun and was pleased when Liz said she would join me, as she is another parkrun cult member!

And then Sarah said she would come along too – not to run as she doesn’t run, but just to keep me company on the journey over, planning to then go for a walk by the sea or to look around Weymouth whilst I ran. Talking to her about it, it seemed that whilst she had heard of parkrun (and after the media storm over the cancellation of Little Stoke parkrun, few people have NOT heard of it now) she didn’t know much about it. So I suggested she volunteered to help out and sent her the Weymouth helpers’ email address. I didn’t really expect her to take me up on the idea, but she did and proudly announced that she had heard back from them and she was going to be a marshal. Fantastic – another potential cult convert!

The day came, and 4 of our merry band of 8 set off for Weymouth; 2 to run, 1 to volunteer and 1 who came along for the ride and who turned out to be a useful friend to have along to hold our stuff and take photos – thanks, Cheryl! We had a bit of confusion over the parking situation: the parkrun website said “The run starts adjacent to the 9 hole golf course, east of Weymouth College. From Lodmoor car park head away from sea to right hand corner towards the nine hole golf course”, which seemed to suggest you could park in Lodmoor car park. Yet the directions for getting there by road took you to the car park of Weymouth College, 300m from the start. I think the discrepancy is that you have to pay to park in the nearer Lodmoor car park, whereas you don’t pay in the College car park so most of the regulars coming by car park in the college. Having parked, the difference between Weymouth and Walthamstow parkruns was immediately apparent – at Walthamstow we have only just started getting just over 100 runners, with the attendance record being 109 runners, whereas Weymouth was much bigger with runners appearing from all directions, and the attendance record being 476 runners.

Sarah went off for her marshall briefing and returned proudly sporting her hi-viz marshal jacket, having been briefed that she had to be “courteous and encouraging” to the runners.


Liz and I went to the new runners’ briefing and then made our way to the start where we found they have a staggered start system with markers for guestimated approximate finish times in 5 minute intervals, so that the slower runners like myself start further back and don’t become an obstacle for the faster runners at the start.

And then there was another cult similarity – the run director started singing and tried to get everyone singing and clapping along to “Monday, Tuesday, Happy Days…” The sheer number of runners meant that the run director had to use a PA system to be heard which rather distorted his voice, and unfortunately there were a lot of rude people at the back who continued to chatter away over the top of his briefing so I couldn’t hear a word of it.

But then we were off. The route is lovely, flat and varied, situated in Lodmoor Country Park, and runs through woodland and up to the rather striking giant pineapple statue (the new runner’s briefing told us that we couldn’t miss it – and she was right!) before running back to do another loop before the finish. One of the good things about the ‘out and back’ nature of the route is that if you’re running with friends who run at a different pace to you, you get to see them and give them a wave as you pass each other on the route.

And because Sarah said that she had a couple of friends running, the volunteer director kindly put her on a marshalling spot where she could see us three times as we looped around. As I approached Sarah for the last time I was delighted to see a novel home-made sign that said “Drinks ahead” and to later discover that they had a trolley with two huge water bottles and cups for much needed rehydration. I passed Sarah for the last time and then it was a sprint to the finish line and then I noticed the funnel – and WHAT a funnel! Now I’ve heard the term “funnel-ducker” on facebook parkrun groups but have never really understood it or realised what it was until Weymouth! At Walthamstow by the time I reach the funnel I am usually the only person in it apart from the person holding the finish tokens, and then the barcode scanner is right by the end of the funnel. But at Weymouth you collect your finish token and then enter the funnel which is a massive log-jam of people queuing up to be scanned. Even with the funnel manager tryng to keep order I can quite see now why some people are tempted to duck out of the funnel and go and get water and not wait around getting cold and waiting to be scanned.

Whenever I’m a parkrun tourist, I am fascinated to see how people sort their finish tokens. At Weymouth they had a fantastically organised and innovative system of Tupperware boxes and a board with hooks – and some cheery and efficient volunteers making short work of the task.

I didn’t go to the appointed post-parkrun café as my friends preferred to get away, but it seemed to be a little distance from the start/finish in Weymouth College, and by the official car park. And so it was just a question then of waiting for the results to come in. I had taken a photo of my finish token – number 352 – so I was a bit surprised when I got my result saying I had finished in position 353. Nevertheless I was happy as my time was a whole minute faster than my previous best ever parkrun time, no doubt due to the flat and fast course. But then when I looked at the results a couple of days later I saw they had been amended and I was now in position 351 with an even faster time! Confusing. I emailed them and got a lovely reply saying that they had had some timing issues – easily done with so many runners.

So things I liked about Weymouth parkrun, in no particular order:

  1. the route – lovely and flat, with varied scenery and things of interest along the way – like the pineapple!
  2. the lovely and encouraging volunteers, including the singing run director!
  3. the free water at the end!

Things I didn’t like about Wemouth parkrun:

  1. the large number of runners resulting in a long funnel queue
  2. the difficulty hearing the briefing, with the distorted PA system and the ignorant people talking over the briefing
  3. the slightly confusing parking situation (although I appreciate this was just because we were first-timers)

So what did Sarah think of her indoctrination into the parkrun cult? Well, she love it, and has said that she will look up her local parkrun and will go and volunteer there too. Great – another member of the cult!


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