An almost epic battle on the damp meadows of the Sidcup borders for the prizes in final cross country of the season.
Like many of the open spaces that the League has ended up at over the years, this was formerly home to the wealthy of Georgian and Victorian England. Foots Cray Meadows are the grounds of a pair of former country houses. On the north western edge was Foots Cray Place – a Palladian mansion built in 1754. It remained in private ownership until 1946 when Kent County Council bought it for use as a museum. It was demolished following a serious fire three years later – its location is obvious from terraced areas high up on the north-western side of the meadows.
On the south eastern side was North Cray Place which dated back to at least the mid-18th century, but was hit by a WW2 bomb and demolished in 1961 to make way for housing.
Presumably the River Cray formed the boundary between the two – it was partially dammed to create a small lake – the plans for the landscaping, including the splendid five arch bridge, are attributed to Capability Brown.
The course was much easier than all but one of the cross country venues that I have raced this season. Like the first, Stanhope Farm in Wilmington, it is a venue I know quite well – we used to come quite often when the children were younger – there is a pleasant mile and a half circuit along the banks of the very clear Cray with a children’s playground strategically placed at the mid-point.
The organisers eschewed the option of a water feature forming part of the course – there is a wide ford which is ankle deep in summer but would have been up to knee height for most (a bit higher for me) in February.
The course zig zags around the western side of the Cray passing the five arch bridge on quite uneven ground, it is clearly mole paradise beneath the lush grass, before eventually climbing up to the terraces of Foots Cray Place, then descending along a track back to close to the start for another meandering loop.
For reasons I never really understand, the final fixture of the year always seems to see fewer runners than the others, particularly in the slower, older categories – like me. It was a bit of a struggle from the start, the opening metres were a quagmire – I wished that I had worn longer spikes as I nearly hit the deck after ungainly avoidance of Talpa europaea deposits – but it dried out a little later, and I decided my spike length choice was probably correct. After about a mile, there was a turn and I could seen very few runners behind me and the finest of Kentish youth stretching out in a long line in front of me. After this point I passed no one and no one passed me and the race became an oddly solitary affair.
On the route back down through the woods seemed to be a mixture of gravel and hardcore with a thin veneer of mud – it was treacherous with spikes and I had to pick a careful path along the edge of the path to get some grip. The two runners in front of me from Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells that I had been inching towards pulled away from me taking a good 50 metres out of me on the shallow descent.
On the second lap the runners behind me seemed to struggle more than I did, my glances behind saw the distance increasing considerably. In front of me, the gap was narrowing a little, but if I was to improve my position I would have needed to pass and take out at least 50 metres from the runners in front to make up for the time I would lose in the woods. I made a bit of a push and got the gap down to 20 metres at one point, but never got closer. The last few metres back through the quagmire were very reminiscent of Michael Rosen’s wonderful children’s book -‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’
Thick oozy mud.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve got to go through it!
I stayed upright, although nearly nearly stacked it in the funnel – I was rather generously awarded a 5.7 for my efforts by the officials there, one of the best of the afternoon – worth waiting for apparently! I was 109th out of around 120 and sadly for Beckenham, our 4th scorer, ‘helping’ us to 10th out of 11.
Overall in the League, the club was 11th out of the 11 teams who had four finishers in all 4 fixtures – not surprising really, we are a relatively small club without a youth section and relativley little interest in cross country. Using the same logic in terms of age group placings, based on turning up to all four events, I can proudly announce that I was top ranked MV55 runner in the League. There were only two of us that did all four races mind – myself and another Beckenham runner, Andy Small.
Finally, two sets of apologies – firstly, most of the photos are from a visit to the Meadows a week ago when the sun was out unlike yesterday’s drizzle; and secondly, I am sorry if you stumbled across this by mistake thinking that this was a piece on the David Lean WW2 epic, ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ – I hope you eventually find what you want.