Friday, 24 June 2011

Luton, UK, 2 Parks Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 4.75 km (3 miles)

For more running routes, see the Route List!

When I flew into Luton, the woman at the Immigration queue asked why I would ever choose Luton itself as my final destination. As she stamped my passport, she shook her head in pity. But it was a work-trip, and Luton was indeed my home-away-from-home for a few days.

Beautiful downtown Luton
Yes, Luton is not a tourist hot-spot: it's a gritty old industrial town whose main industries (hat- and car-making) have long ago crumbled away, although Vauxhall still makes trucks there. The streets are lined with run-down working-class row-houses, boarded-up shops and "To Let" signs hanging out everywhere. And despite the lack of jobs, migrants are pouring in as if the town were the new beacon of hope and wonder for the world.

Many of Luton's wounds are self-inflicted. A gigantic mall was built right in the heart of town in the 1960s, which killed off the other businesses in the town center. And around the mall, boring, sterile parking-houses sprung up, blighting the surrounding neighborhoods.

But the town center is where most hotels are located, so if you find yourself in Luton, as I did, you'll start your running routes from there. Here's a route that I figured out by looking at Google Maps and finding where the nearest parks of useful size were located. I noticed that Wardown Park and People's Park were both within a short run of the center, good for a morning's jog.

So, if you're ready to see a bit more of Luton, let's go...

We'll start out in the square in front of the Luton Council building, with its tall grey tower. The council hall stands in the very heart of town, where George Street meets Manchester Street. Facing the tower, take Manchester Street, which veers off to the right side.

You'll run to the plaza at the mall entrance, where you turn right, going between the new Galaxy Cinema and the library, on Bridge Street. In just a few blocks, the street ends, where you turn left on Guildford Street, going under the railroad trestle (you have to stay on the right side of the street).

Frederick Street, on the way to People's Park (Google StreetView)
When you come out from under the railroad bridge, keep going straight uphill on Old Bedford Road, past the boarded-up recreation center. You'll pass the English Rose pub on the right, and then you can take the first real street after that to the right, Frederick Street (not the lonely little alleyway, Mussons Path, that comes first).

Frederick Street is an old-fashioned working-class English neighborhood of tiny row-houses, full of resilient, no-nonsense people. The street ends at our first park, People's Park. The park is basically a big lawn with a wooded hill at the back. Head straight across the lawn, running uphill, northwards along the path next to the apartments on the left.

Head straight up that path to the hilltop
You will soon be in a beautiful woods on the hilltop. Running straight ahead, the path ends by running into another path, where you turn left and run westwards, downhill into the other giant lawn of People's Park.

The hilltop trail in People's Park
Old Bedford Road goes by on the far side of the lawn. Just cross the street and you'll be in the next park, Wardown Park. Wardown is a much more interesting park, full of everything that any decent park should have: a long, willow-lined pond with an island and lots of swans and ducks, crossed by an old suspension bridge; a nice playground, tennis courts, playing fields, an interesting old mansion-museum, a formal garden and almost every type of tree imaginable, including redwoods.

Wardown Park pond from the suspension bridge
Wardown Park is a long strip of green, stretching north-south, wedged between Old Bedford Road and New Bedford Road. Turn right at the playground and run towards the tennis courts and the mansion, now a museum, or stay along the pond if you prefer. You are now running north. Take a look at the mansion, with its detailed chimneys and the cedars and redwoods surrounding it. Then run past the little parking lot, through the wooden gate into the cricket oval at the north end of the park.

Wardown Park landscape
You can run a lap around the outside of the oval and come back through the wooden gate again. You are now on the return route, going south. This time, stay on the other side of the pond (the west side) and run until the path leaves the south end of the park, along New Bedford Road.

This street is often clogged with cars in the rush hour. A water-filled ditch lines the left side of the street: this is actually the River Lea, which originates here in Luton, and flows on out to the Docklands in London.

Now you just keep running straight along New Bedford Road, and you will soon run under the railroad again and then pass the Galaxy Cinema on your left as the street becomes Manchester Street, taking you straight back to the council building again.

NOTE: I also did a great 2-hour run one evening out to Luton Hoo, an old manor house and estate southeast of town, now turned into a 5-star golfing resort (with room prices up to 900 pounds a night).
Side view of the Hoo with formal gardens
I can't write up a route description in good conscience, though, because it's too hard to get to from the center. I followed Park Street eastwards, under the Airport Way expressway, only to find the road was blocked off by massive iron gates. I was lucky, and a car opened the gates just when I got there and I just ran in behind him. I guess I was technically trespassing, but this is the kind of thing I do when a challenge gets in the way of a great run. When I later tried to get back out the same gate, there was no traffic at all, so I had to head north through the bush and finally found an exit at the Sea Cadets' clubhouse, taking an extra 45 minutes. The right way into the estate is to run way out London Road and turn-in at the main entrance. The Luton Hoo estate is stunning, though, with rolling countryside, woods, fields, mill-ponds, the palace-like house and with gardens designed by Capability Brown. What a great spot to run!
Mill ponds on the River Lea on the Luton Hoo estate

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