A morning run from the London suburb of Egham through Runnymede on the anniversary of D-Day brought us to the very foundations of democracy. Only London can reveal such deep history in such a serendipitous manner. Like a similar morning run in Rome, these historic sights are best explored in the peaceful and glorious hours at sunrise.
Soon after the residential streets of Egham were behind us, the warming morning light was filtering through the leaves of the woods overlooking the bright green fields of Runnymede. Coincidentally, it was the 75th anniversary of D-Day where the US joined the UK in the fight for freedom and importantly democracy on the blood-soaked beaches of Normandy.
The Air Forces memorial, while closed, was the first stop up a short lung-busting hill to commemorate the men and women who died during the second world war, many of these occurring during the the mass invasion of Germany-occupied France 75 years earlier.
Next, what looked like a concrete bunker or council services shed turned out to be the writ on the water monument showcasing clause 39 of the Magna Carta.
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.
The quote was neatly revealed with the words inscribed on a ring of iron which was reflected on surface of a small pond in the centre of this open-air monument in the middle of a vacant field in this increasingly interesting morning run through Runnymede.
Next stop was the Magna Carta memorial. It was in Runnymede (historically known as a ‘meeting in the meadows’) more than 800 years ago that the Magna Carta (Great Charter of Liberties) was signed between King John and his rebel barons. While this document and subsequent releases had little immediate impact, its legacy is that it signalled a turning point in providing freedom and justice for the common person ho previously were subject to tyrannical rule of monarchs.
This memorial, commissioned by the American Bar Association, recognised the influence of the Magna Carta on American democracy. The English pilgrims who sailed to the new world on the Mayflower supposedly took a copy of the Magna Carta onboard. This formed the foundations or the American constitution with the founding fathers basing much of the US laws on the essence of the Magna Carta.
This morning run, designed to blow out some jet lag cobwebs, was turning into quite an intense historical lesson on the foundations of law and democracy! We were interrupted in our history lesson by a local gardener who was needing to spray the grounds to eradicate a parasitic caterpillar. Seems these caterpillars were not part of the Magna Carta’s scope on equal justice.
So onwards, and a mere 500m later were scaling a set of pebble granite stairs to a memorial to John F. Kennedy. After his assassination in Dallas in 1963, the land surrounding the memorial was gifted to the United States. The only parcel of land officially owned by the US. The Queen and Jacqueline Kennedy unveiled this memorial in 1965 inscribed with his innaugral presidential address.
“Let every Nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty”.
We were soon running along the Thames as it wound its way back to Egham. The entire run in Runnymede possible on National Trust trails. These trails wind their way right across Great Britan and form and endless network of trails to run or walk along. Talk about freedom! The trails of Runnymede were full of bounding bunnies, cantering deer and some sleepy cows munching in the meadows.
If you are in the vicinity of Windsor and want to get some fresh air with a touch of history, a run or a walk through Runnymede is full of sights. At less than 5km in total distance (it’s basically a Parkrun!) you’ll barely have time to work up a sweat before coming across another memorial. Best of all, you’ll likely have the place to yourself to explore and appreciate the efforts to obtain liberty and freedom you’ll definitely enjoy on this run.