There are over 27,000 public parks and green spaces across the UK and research done by the Heritage Lottery Fund found that over 57 per cent of people in the UK regularly use a park, that’s over 37 million people! It might be a huge parks with lots of amenities or a small neighbourhood green spaces but as a nation, we love them and use them.
Unsurprisingly, people who live in urban areas use parks more than those who live in rural areas. Over 90 per cent of those with children under five use their park at least once a month. This fits with my park use. As an adult, I didn’t really go to parks at all until I had small children to occupy. Parks with play areas, ducks and paths suitable for buggies and trikes became a godsend. It wasn’t until parkrun set up that I really began to use and appreciate my nearest park – Williamson Park. Now I love running there and lead my 261 Fearless Club Lancaster women’s running group in Ryeland’s Park on the other side of town. Suddenly I’m spending a lot of time in parks!
Williamson Park is right near my sons’ school and if I’m persuaded into giving them a lift, I try to stop off for a run. I love running here and so does the dog. The park was given to the people of Lancaster in 1881 by the Williamson family. It was originally open moorland with disused quarries. James Williamson Senior began the work to turn it into a recreational area in the 1860s. During the cotton famine of 1852-1865, unemployed cotton spinners were given work laying out the gravel paths across the moorland. He died before this was finished but his son Lord Asthon (James Williamson Junior) saw that it was completed.
At the centre of the park and a highlight on the skyline of Lancaster, is the stunning Ashton Memorial, built as a folly in 1908 by Lord Ashton, in memory of his second wife. It really is a remarkable building. Apparently it’s known as ‘the Taj Mahal of the North’! Inside, there’s a beautiful interior ( I can see why people choose the location for their wedding) and you can climb the steps up to the balconies for incredible views of Morecambe Bay and across to the Lake District. Outside there are dozens of granite steps which make a great workout when you run up and down them.
The park is on a hill which makes it a very challenging park to run in. There is so much variety within its 54 acres. Wide, open tarmac paths with views across Lancaster and beyond and smaller paths and muddy trails though woodland. There are lots of little nooks and crannies with gazebos, ponds, sculptures and bird observations points.
It’s such a wonderful mix and this means that running here is never boring. When I’m there with the dog in the morning I always meet lots of other really friendly dog walkers. In non-lockdown times there’s a cafe, two great children’s play areas, a butterfly house and a mini-zoo. The local theatre do incredible outdoor performances in the park; I’ll never forget coming to see The Hobbit. Oh and there’s parkrun every Saturday too (hopefully back soon!).
I usually do a couple of loops of the park, making sure I take in all my favourite spots and a mix of terrain. It means running up a few hills twice but that just adds to the fun. It makes a nice change from the muddy fields and country lanes that I usually run on.
I know that parks don’t magically maintain themselves. The council are responsible but recognition must be given to the Friends of the Park, a charity set up to help manage and look after the park. My mum and step dad are active members and I know how much time and effort volunteers give to raise funds and carry out work to keep the park looking beautiful. One highlight for me is running through the Friend’s Garden which always looks stunning and has such a variety of interesting plants.
By exploring the park, finding out about its history and how it’s looked after just makes running there even better for me. I’d encourage you to do the same for your local park too. There’s an interesting House of Commons Public Parks Report where I got the stats for this post. Do have a read if you are interested in learning why parks matter to people, the challenges parks face and how we can make sure parks have a sustainable future. I’d love to know if you run in your local park and what you particularly enjoy.