This 3 and a half lap run round the lovely gardens of Cliffe Castle was described as 90% downhill – which sounds great, till you realise what that means for the other 10%. It’s worth mentioning early on, then, that there is a pretty steep uphill in which, other than a very short rise at the left turn (top right of the map) and an uphill finish, you make up all the ground you have gained.
It isn’t unfair, mind – it starts shallow, gets steep for a while, then levels off (with a couple of trip hazards), goes down for a while before a 180 degree turn to the last, leg-sapping but less steep rise back towards the castle.
Cliffe Castle is an 1880s building with a free museum inside and free parking outside – not for loads of cars, but the roads nearby are fine, too. It’s open 11-4 on Saturdays and Sundays, 10-4 other days except Monday. That was just a little late for me, even after a chat at the end and a further wander round the grounds to enjoy the sunshine.
The downhill running starts right at the beginning, with a gallop along a wide tarmacced path, swooping round to the left before a slight uphill at a sharpish left turn, well-marshalled, and onto a gravelly path. The surfaces are good pretty much throughout, with just those trip hazards waiting for tired legs on the uphill section.
The course narrows at the uphill section, though there are still places to pass on most of it if you need to. I was busy concentrating on breathing, and on moving my legs just fast enough to still consider it a run, though it was pretty marginal. It’s hard work (though friends ran Church Mead parkrun in Amersham on the same day, and that has 3x the elevation gain).
The fact that the whole place is on a hill does make for great views over the valley, though I confess to looking at them much more after the event than during.
After the climb there’s a short tunnel under the house before a right turn to run round grassy areas at the top of the course, heading downhill again and with a couple of sharp but fast turns.
After three laps, you finally pass the start again, head down the hill and make a slightly sharper left to head towards the fountain and pond in the middle of the park – the fountains start at 9:30 – before a climb up to the finish. That isn’t steep, but felt it to my tired legs. There is a lovely grassed area right at the finish, perfect to collapse on to for a break. I accepted the opportunity gratefully, chatting to the people who finished nearest me.
So long as you know the hills are there, it isn’t perhaps quite as bad as I might have made out, and you can certainly make up time on the downhills, but this is a good challenge. It’s also a lovely park to see, there’s the museum to visit and the Leeds-Liverpool canal is not far away if you want to take a longer walk.