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St Albans parkrun

While there are many "S" events in the East of England, today's choice of event has been largely dictated by events beyond my control - the most significant of which was that it was Christmas day! As is normal practice, parkrun events are able to decide whether they want to host a Christmas day event, which ultimately meant that a lot of the contenders very understandably decided that they wanted to cancel in favour of other activities.

Travelling on Christmas day has also proved to be an interesting experience in the past too, with many places such as service stations and public amenities remaining closed for the day, and so I decided that my best option was to attend St Albans parkrun, as it is local enough that I could potentially make the whole trip (including a short run-tour) without any dependencies.

The area

St Albans parkrun is held in Verulamium Park, St Albans. A human settlement has been present in St Albans since the Iron Age, which transformed into the second largest Roman city in Britain after Londinium - Verulamium Park, after which the park takes its name. Evidence of the Roman city can still be found today, including the still standing city walls, many museums, the theatre, and a hypocaust.

Verulamium Park overlooking St Albans

Much of the excavated Roman infrastructure lies in and around Verulamium Park after excavations after the city bought the land in the 1930s. The park also houses a large ornamental lake, which was constructed during the after the war in an effort by the local council to kick-start the local economy.

The ornamental lake at Verulamium Park with burst banks

The course

In order to help runners spread out more, the current course is three and a half laps of the fields surrounding the hypocaust, all on grass, and includes its fair share of elevation accumulated over the multiple laps.

Free parking is available in the Westminster Lodge car park for stays of up to 2 hours, although you do still need to buy a ticket. Charges apply for stays of more than 2 hours. Public toilets are available at the running track, and a cafe is available after the run at the Inn on the Park cafe, although this wasn't open today for obvious reasons.

The run

I should have read between the lines when the event team posted on Christmas Eve that the grass course has become muddy enough that they're going to look at some adjustments for their next outing in the new year, but I assumed that my light trail shoes were going to be enough for today's run - wrong! The grass field was completely saturated from the rain over the past day or so, and interestingly, while one would typically expect water to roll off hills, the inclines seemed to be the most muddy parts of the course!

I had arrived early, and was amongst the first people in the car park, but the event team was already mostly set up - obviously Santa woke them up early today! As I warmed up, I realised just how muddy today was going to become, and regretted not bringing my more heavy duty trail shoes with me.

As I slipped and slid my way around the course, one chap asked whether it was one lap to go after the first full lap, obviously feeling like we had run a lot further than we had, just as I did, but alas, there were two full laps left, which was confirmed as the first place reindeer passed us on his final lap, before I was shocked to see a buggy runner powering through the mud and up the hill!

I just about managed to stay on both feet for the remainder of the run, before exchanging pleasantries with some of the course regulars who pointed out that the "normal" course around the lake was actually flooded today following the recent rainfall.

The path round the lake several feet under water

Thank you to all of the very festive volunteers and runners this week, it was a great start to Christmas day!

After the run

Following the run, I explored the various Roman remains although access was limited to the theatre, the museum, and the hypocaust due to it being Christmas Day.

The building protecting the hypocaust

A number of remains were accessible however, including St Germain's Block - part of a Roman wall, which later formed part of the enclosure of a church before the church was removed, which is the prominent feature as you enter the park.

St Germain's Block

Near to the entrance of the park (from Westminster Lodge car park) lies the foundations of London Gate - the main gatehouse used for people and goods travelling to and from London along Watling Street.

Foundations of London Gate

Following the path south-west from London Gate lies a long stretch of intact wall, adjacent to a defensive ditch as would have been present in Roman times.

At the south-western-most end of the wall lies the remains of a defensive tower which would have been part of the wall, although little of the tower now remains.

Remains of a defensive tower

In the opposite direction (north-east), Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which claims to be one of the oldest pubs in England, can be found.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks

St Albans Cathedral is near to the pub, which lays claim to the largest cathedral in the UK.

The main door to St Albans cathedral

Being Christmas, there were many people visiting the cathedral, and while it reportedly houses some wonderful artwork, I decided that I wouldn't explore inside, both to avoid disturbing the religious activities, but also because I was conscious of the mud I was still wearing.

The cathedral bell tower

At the front of the cathedral lies Abbey Gate - now part of St Albans school, but originally one of the main entry points into the Roman town.

Exterior face of Abbey Gate

Although the gate house is now part of the school, and therefore inaccessible to the public, it would originally have been accessed from its interior face.

Interior face of Abbey Gate

Whilst pleasant to look at, a look upwards while passing through the gate house will reveal a series of murder holes to offer a reminder of its true purpose.

Murder holes in the ceiling of Abbey Gate

Links: Run report | Results | Strava

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