80 – Stuck in a Loop
Evesham parkrun #151
Hampton Ferry, Boat Lane,
Evesham, Worcestershire, WR11 4BP
24th March 2018
Luckily the run director is running as late as me. Arriving on the dot of nine, I just make the first timers’ briefing. There’s time to regain my breath. I’ve just run 800m from the car park at close to parkrun pace. The local lady I was with calmed me with her confidence that they wouldn’t start before we arrived.
The start is a charge. Perhaps I shouldn’t use that word here. A wind-break of evergreens blocks the view, but the old battlefield is not that far beyond the trees. Representative democracy died up there seven centuries ago.
The first 100m is heavy going – ‘real cross-country’ terrain. There’s plenty of room, though. It’s exhilarating to run freely from the off. I’m not surprised that I slow as we return along the riverbank. The adrenaline generated by panicky late arrival has set me away faster than I can sustain.
Runners trickle past me as we head upstream. After the footbridge we head left onto the grass and I settle into my pace. Beyond Abbey Bridge, we’re on the grass again. The return leg is faster, on tarmac path until the bridge.
There’s serious training on the river. It’s about 40 yards across. Perhaps the bend’s too tight for eights, but there are fours aplenty. Some are coxed, others not, all working hard against the stream. One poor quartet aren’t just being harangued by their cox. A coach just behind in a launch is exhorting greater effort.
I try to lift my own performance, but this seems as fast as I can manage. The lady I ‘jogged’ with earlier comes past. It’s no surprise she’s quicker than me. Onto Ferry Meadow I’m tracking a lady with a ponytail and blue-grey outfit. She’s running along the fence. My line is further left. Just as I decide to switch towards the rails, she veers onto my course. The grass is always greener...
I complete the lap in 13:17, but that includes the initial stampede. I’m running slower now. This time, I follow the vestige of a track down the starting straight - two ruts for tyres astride a bare mud centre section dotted with puddles. It’s a slightly better surface. A fence with two wooden rails separates us from a massive right-hand field. Between me and the river there’s a green-painted, metal shack with a protruding pipe draining away underground.
A gap in the trees allows a better view of the Avon. On the far bank two small cruisers and a couple of open boats are moored. There’s a line of 50 vertical poles, about the length a pole-vaulter might use. The river isn’t tidal. They’re a warning just how high and fast this river can flood. parkrun cancelled here last week due to water-logging.
At the end of the straight is Hampton Ferry. A wooden jetty just downstream marks the crossing. The little ferry boat, for pedestrians only, is over on the other bank, below a large, square, two-storey house with grey rendering. Beyond, where the slope eases, mobile homes cluster above the flood line. All that’s moving on the water is a Canada goose.
‘Ferry Walk,’ proclaims a tall, metal sign, ‘1 ½ miles, 1 hour stroll’. I’ve just run the distance in a quarter of that time.
I follow the tapes through a gentle U-turn round two permanent parkrun posts and a telegraph pole onto the riverside path. It’s slightly muddy after the overnight rain. The trail is lined on both sides with small trees, their buds still closed in this very late spring. Each set is numbered with white paint, 62, 61... The intervals are about 15 yards. A far older tree further left is smothered with ivy and surrounded by bushes.
I splash through puddles. It’s quicker than stepping round. Beyond the support from the finish marshals, another mature tree juts into the water. Two brown, wooden benches are far too wet to sit on. Across the river, the steep bluff beyond the bank opens out. A cream-painted, Georgian-style house with sash windows and a portico adorns the skyline. A few modern bungalows peep over the ridge. A half-timbered house, infilled with brick, seems the oldest building in the area until I spy a battlemented tower with pinnacles, St. Andrew’s Church in Hampton.
A small yacht, laid up half-way up the hill, is out of place, ‘Town Crier’, a bright yellow narrow boat is at its mooring. By left-hand tree 48, we’re curving ever more sharply left as the Avon’s loop tightens. The trees are taller here, suggesting the north-western ones were planted as a later extension.
To the left, atop a slight ridge, the copper oxide green cladding of Evesham Leisure Centre intrudes. Past tree 41, I cross a wooden footbridge. It is eight paces across the little man-made backwater. The Fish Refuge is ‘a safe haven for fish fry and juveniles from predators and high river flows’. The interpretation board pictures tench, roach and chub as the main species.
We run onto the left hand grass of the next field, watching as instructed for twigs dislodged by the wind. I’m making inroads on a tall, young lady with a blonde ponytail, whose family I saw dashing to the start. Some of the trees seem to have been constrained during their early growth. Their trunks spread slightly wider above the first six feet.
The leader’s returning between the trees, dark-haired, broad-shouldered, in a black strip with the gold 10km logo of some recent triumph.
As I overtake, I’m also overtaken. A more powerful woman, perhaps a cross-country specialist, bustles through. I soon lose contact. The double arc of trees intersects a line of a dozen Scots pines that fringe the car park. There are picnic tables towards the end of Corporation Meadow, but summer seems distant while running through this gloom.
A marshal and some cones route us back onto the main track. We keep left as a leading lady emerges from the dip beneath Abbey Bridge, It was the first in the country with a completely concrete structure when it opened in 1928.
‘Another Fine Mess’, a graffito featuring Laurel and Hardy, mars the subway. As we return to daylight, there’s a green circular Shakespeare’s Avon Way logo on the fence. It’s hard to believe the play area was a construction site when the bridge was effectively rebuilt in 2013-14.
We vacate the avenue for the returning runners and sidestep left again through a gap in a small rail fence onto the wide expanse of Crown Mead. The rising ground beyond the flood meadow hosts a nursery of Christmas trees, a new twist to the Vale of Evesham’s market gardening tradition.
Three beautiful towers of honey-coloured stone add optimism to the murky skyline. The left-hand one, a tower topped with a small spire is St. Lawrence’s Church. In the centre, a smaller tower supporting a taller spire is All Saints’ Church. To the right, and most impressive, Abbey Bell Tower was finished in 1532. Sadly, it was redundant just years after completion. The Dissolution of the Monasteries put an end to the Abbey in January 1540.
We turn where Battleton Brook joins the Avon on the far bank, just before the meadow reaches the boat-house and Abbey Park. I recall the end of a canal holiday, handing over our narrow-boat to the next crew. We moored over there just upstream, below the three sweeping stone arches of Workman Bridge.
A large bed of yellow and purple crocuses on this bank suggests spring may come at last. A small stone monument between two of the trees records that The Memorial Avenue was presented in 1949 by Frederic James Masters, a third generation Mayor of Evesham.
I’m working hard, speeding between the lime trees. On the far bank some fine houses are followed by Waterside Cemetery, then the modern redbrick Community Hospital. A strip of gardens along the riverbank gives way for a couple of riverside cottages. I chase down a lady in a white shirt with small horizontal stripes. I must run my final kilometre in isolation. I’m well behind the next runner and no one else is close behind.
Beyond the bridge, there are daffodils on the bank. I work hard along the footpath, reasoning it’s better to use energy here than sprinting on rougher ground at the end. More mobile homes give way to Thirties housing. The little River Isbourne joins on a more rural stretch. A gaggle of high-spirited ladies are running down the grass. They must be completing their Couch to 5km course today.
Across the bridge, I turn right. I drive across the country. This time I run tight to the rail. It’s me against the watch.
* * *
It’s an unpleasant thought. We’re running for fun, but men must have run for their lives here all those years ago. Simon de Montfort’s army crossed into Evesham about where Workman Bridge is now. They spent the night of the 3rd August 1265 in the town. He’d governed for a year in the name of King Henry III, whom he held captive. Now the Royal heir had escaped and raised an army.
Next day de Montfort’s men marched north. Although outnumbered, they attacked Prince Edward’s forces. They failed. Once driven back beyond the bridge, they were caught in the loop. Defeat became massacre
The Benedictines retrieved de Montfort’s mutilated body and buried him near the high altar. After running I find the memorial in Abbey Park. Stones set in the grass delineate the old walls.
An Anglo-Saxon swineherd, Eof, saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in the oak forest which occupied the loop – locally a ‘ham’ - at the end of the seventh century. When summoned Bishop Ecgwin of Worcester saw a similar revelation, so he founded the Abbey of Eof’s - ham. * * *
Men: 1. Tom Davies (Holme Pierrepont RC) 19:57; 2. Steve Sandalls (Evesham Vale RC) 20:42; 3. James Banner (Evesham Vale RC) 20:48
Women: 1. Lauren Cooper 21:45; 2 Tamsin Bowden (Evesham Vale RC) 21:57; 3 Agnieska Loeff (South-West Road Runners) 23:42
Age Gradings: 1. Michael Ede (Cheltenham & County Harriers) M60 21:18 75.98%; 2. John Hitchcock M55 21:30 73.33%, 3. Banner M50 20:48 71.47%
© 2018 Nigel Harding