This was a first for me: a parkrun that crosses a national boundary. OK, so the UN might not regard the Bristol Channel as an international frontier, and nobody was going to be checking my passport along the way (just as well, since the queue would scupper all hope of a fast time). But, for people on both sides of the Anglo-Welsh border, this is very definitely a dividing line between two distinct and proud nations. And never more so than during the Six Nations rugby.
So, as team Cymru headed to Twickenham to face its old foe, I joined a field of 333 in an underpass next to the Severn Bridge in Chepstow for this week’s run. It’s a unique route out-and-back on the bridge itself, turning around halfway over the water having trotted across the River Wye into English territory then headed out over the Bristol Channel.
That geographical quirk alone would make it stand out, but in reality the border crossing is just the start of what makes this one special. The bridge itself is a magnificent structure, one of those imposing 1960s suspension bridges that sprang up with the growth of Britain’s motorways. The route takes in some commanding views up and down the Wye, across the Beachley peninsula and out over the open waters where the River Severn broadens into its estuary. Technically, the run takes in three bridges and, as is so often the case where heavy industry is concerned, one of them has a direct link back home to northeast England after the Wye Bridge was constructed by Darlington’s Cleveland Bridge company.
As for the run, it could hardly be simpler. It all starts on the footpath alongside the M48 as it moves onto the Wye Bridge. From there, it’s a flat run for about 750m, followed by a steady incline as the next 1,500m takes you to the summit of the bridge. At the top, turn around and enjoy a similarly steady descent back into Wales. Go past the start point and down into the underpass to finish. If you’re not distracted by the views (weather permitting), or else disconcerted by a sea fret, there’s PB potential here for runners canny enough to pace their effort up the hill. Certainly, it was my best time of the year to date, helped by an unexpected spurt of energy on the final sprint.
That finish is also noteworthy. Subways are not generally regarded as pleasant places to hang out, and a footpath slipping under Chepstow’s motorway junction wouldn’t normally be appealing. However, parkrun has made a mark here, too, with some colourful street art transforming the drab surroundings into a great advert for the run. In addition, that reverb adds some real oomph to shouts of encouragement for the final few metres.
Practical stuff: parking is best at the nearby Thornwell Football Club (about a five-minute walk to the meeting point). Pre-event toilets are some distance away, either in Chepstow town centre (handy if you’re coming by train or bus), or at the motorway services on the English side of the water in Aust. It’s all proper pavement-pounding stuff, so no need for trail shoes here. Also, no scope for dogs, due to the relatively narrow roadside path and the two-way traffic on the bridge.
A few miles up the road from Chepstow, Tintern has been attracting visitors since Wordsworth’s time. The ruined abbey is still the star attraction, but the Kingstone Brewery was the target for a post-run tipple this week. Brewing in Tintern since 2007, the emphasis is on keeping it simple: spring water, traditional ingredients and a small range of classic styles. But that doesn’t mean predictable. Keep an eye out for the 1503 Tudor Ale, loosely based on Richard Arnold’s account of the first recorded attempt to flavour a beer with hops. The end result may not be 100% authentic, but with the Tudor era already steeped in legend, let’s focus on the rich treacly taste rather than quibble over historical accuracy. While the brewery is a short trip from the parkrun, you’ll also often find Kingstone beers on tap at the Three Tuns in Chepstow itself.
First visit: Feb. 2024; PB 25:25
Thanks for reading. For more Pints & Parkruns, check out the website