BOB HALL: David Bedford and Brendan Foster have been Heath champions
AS is well-known, it was by an Act of Parliament in 1871 that responsibility for Hampstead Heath was given to the Metropolitan Board of Works. It was required to keep the Heath open unenclosed unbuilt upon… and at all times to preserve it as an open spac
AS is well-known, it was by an Act of Parliament in 1871 that responsibility for Hampstead Heath was given to the Metropolitan Board of Works. It was required to "keep the Heath open unenclosed unbuilt upon... and at all times to preserve it as an open space... and at all times to preserve as far as may be the natural aspect of the Heath... and to drain level and improve the Heath so far only as may be requisite with a view to its use for the purposes of health and unrestricted exercise and recreation".
These words accordingly set out the primary obligations of the City, which is now the body responsible for the Heath.
The Heath has a long connection with sport generally, and in particular cross country running, which is an excellent example of the use of the Heath for the purposes of health and unrestricted exercise and recreation.
There has been organised cross country running on the Heath for a long time. The local club based on the Heath is Highgate Harriers. It was founded in 1879, and - as the club says on its website - "club members, past and present, have enjoyed running over the beautiful surroundings of the Heath ever since".
As a competitive sport, cross country running began in the early 19th century in England, with the Crick Run held at Rugby School in 1837. The first English National Cross Country Championship was held in 1876. The sport became international at the end of the 19th century when, in 1898, a competition was held between England and France.
In 1912, it became an Olympic event - although for some reason it was subsequently dropped. This is a little difficult to understand when some of the present Olympic disciplines are considered. Why not include cross country running? It is a sport of cunning and guile as well as physical endurance. It is both an individual and a team sport. And the famous run by Pheiddipides from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC, which is commemorated by the modern marathon, was not on roads and carefully prepared tracks, but across country.
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Major regional and national cross country competitions have been held regularly on the Heath since 1957. At such an event in 1973, David Bedford (now Race Director of the London Marathon) won the National Championship for Senior Men. In 1977 (again on the Heath), it was the turn of Brendan Foster. These competitions generally offer great opportunity for young runners, with age-related events, in both sexes, for the under 13, under 15 and under 17 age groups - as well as the Junior and Senior Women's and Men's events.
The South of England Athletic Association held its 2008 Team and Individual Cross Country Championships at the Heath on January 26. It was bitterly cold, but the performances were exhilarating and the passion for the teams to do well, all-consuming.
The Heath again has the privilege of hosting the English National Cross Country Championships next year, on February 21. The body responsible for promoting these championships, the English Cross Country Association (ECCA), was established in 1992 following the amalgamation of the, until then, long-standing and separate organisations running the sport for men and women.
The ECCA has responsibility for organising and managing all English national cross country championships, the selection of athletes to represent England in cross country competition and the promotion and development of cross country.
The championships next February will be a great day. It is truly thrilling to see hundreds of runners surging from the start line by the Lido going past the bandstand and up and over the horizon of Parliament Hill and out of sight on the start of their way round the challenging course.
Now responsible for the Heath, the City of London is very glad to support all these events. It prepares the course and all associated arrangements in full consultation with the body organising the competition. We always in particular have a major concern for the recovery of the ground after the event, and practical steps (such as minor course adjustments to protect vulnerable trees' root spreads from damage) are taken as necessary.
Do make a note of the date of the National Championships - Saturday 21 February 2009. Whatever the weather, the reward is to see the Heath being used for one of its primary purposes - of "health and unrestricted exercise and recreation".
Bob Hall is Chairman of the Hampstead Heath