“I’d like to welcome you all to Brathay Church Bridge parkrun. Do we have any tourists? Any first timers?” A sheep in the next field raises its head momentarily. My friend Jo doesn’t even raise her eyebrows any longer. I let her be RD one week, though we take it in turns to be tailwalker.
It’s Saturday, it’s 9am, and it would take more than a global pandemic to stop me turning up for parkrun. The first week of lockdown, I ran solo, doing 2.5k each way out and back from the front door.
Then Jo had a better idea. Initially meeting accidentally, and always running or walking at a respectable distance, we started our series of not-parkruns from bridges, a different one each week. Thirteen so far, and all but one within warm-up distance from home. A dozen have been out and back; one, a challenging and hilly route starting on the lower slopes of Wansfell, was a circuit that included the Billy Goats Gruff Bridge.
We are lucky (my most-often-used three words over the last three months) to live where we do, in the heart of the Lake District where there are not only lakes, but also many rivers and becks with bridges over them.
Jo has standards. An older, stone bridge will take precedence in route selection over a more modern wooden or metal structure. Which is why we were starting today from the footbridge to Brathay church rather than the nearby Bronwen Nixon Memorial Bridge (mainly wood, on a metal girder base) which will have to be chosen eventually when we run out of more substantial edifices.
There have been two from Rydal. The Rydal Grotto bridge route took us across the road, through the woods and along the lake shore, while the Rydal tea-room bridge followed a steeper trail along the Coffin Route in the direction of Grasmere. Steeper still was the ascent of Skelghyll woods from our starting point at the Bridge House in Ambleside.
The town now has its own real parkrun, in nearby Rothay Park, one of the infants of the parkrun family with only six events held before lockdown. We wouldn’t run round there on a Saturday, of course, in keeping with HQ requests, but we can report that the local council has created a new path linking Miller Field to the main gate, which means the volunteers will no longer have to lay the artificial “path of doom”.
But we have done a not-parkrun from the far side of the park, from Miller Bridge (out to Waterhead and back). Fastest route? Pelter Bridge to Clappersgate and back, all on tarmac. Most enjoyable? Probably Skelwith Bridge, out and back towards Elterwater. (There’s another bridge near Skelwith waterfalls we can use for a subsequent starting point.)
The search for new ones comes naturally to this tourist (104 different events to date). And the routine has been almost as priceless as the regularity of human company; anyone living alone will recognise the limitations of conversational responses when talking to the teapot.
It’s familiar. It’s what I’ve done every Saturday for the past ten years, and what I’ve missed more than anything else during these crazy times. And, yes, of course I wear my apricot tee-shirt and my barcode wristband (fastened around the wrist on Friday night, so that when I wake in the morning I’ll know it’s Saturday). And yes, we go for a (take-away) coffee afterwards. Virtual parkruns concentrate on recording times, and mine have been enfeebled by injury. Zoom chats with the core team at Fell Foot, my home parkrun, have only made me long even more achingly for the real thing.
So we carry on, with the ritual weekly briefings. So far we’ve had no dogs, no under-11s to be kept on a short lead, no milestones to celebrate. Jo’s birthday is coming up soon-ish, but that’s on a Sunday. The proper celebrations will happen when we can all get together for the real thing. Who cares if July 4 is the date we can go in pubs or to cinemas or dine out? That’s officially New Zealand parkrun-envy day.