A misty morning lured people into wearing more clothes than were needed as the sun broke through around 9am, but on the upside the sense of giddiness that engendered meant that people wandered up and talked to me before and after the run, and then on the streets of Clitheroe. Based on today, I may have found England’s friendliest town.
There are a few car parks around the area, but I didn’t have the right change, and the streets to the South of the park offer free parking in any case, so I just parked a few roads away and wandered to the castle grounds. The toilets in the park were open, and just down the small hill from the start.
Pre and post run happens at the bandstand, with the short path that leads there used as the finish funnel, steering everyone off the path.
The course is 5 anti-clockwise laps, heading downhill at the start, taking a left turn to run down the side of the park before wiggling through some sharp turns and a couple of short uphill sections before a slightly longer grind uphill past the castle.
It’s a reasonably tough run, fairly described as undulating, given the twists and turns and repeated (and repeated again) uphill sections, plus a slightly damp course making caution wise on those turns. Unlike the last time I ran a course with so many laps, I managed not to overthink the laps I’d done and found counting straightforward (last time, I worked out I’d pass a particular tree 6 times, this time was the second, but I’d only finished one lap, and went from there in confusing myself a little).
After the run I wandered up the hill to the castle, which has a short walk round part of the old walls, with great views of the town and countryside beyond. I wandered back down and into town, where several residents shared their excitement at how lovely a day it was, and how they’d worn far too many clothes for the conditions. Tesco is nearby for food and a sit in the sun, and in general I was filled with the joy of a warm Spring day. I only hope that if you go, you have a similar experience, because I can’t emphasise enough how genuinely I mean that this felt unusually friendly for an English town.
With a fell race locally in the afternoon, attendance was down on the usual – the week before was relatively busy, with 114, and on this Saturday we had 51 finishers. That meant relatively few people were lapped and there was little pressure on the narrower sections of the course, though I’m sure it’s no problem even with another 50+ people.
A testing run/walk in a friendly town with plenty of foliage to enjoy as you go round; if you’re anywhere near, take it in on a Saturday. A surprisingly warm one, if you can.
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.
I headed to Clare Castle because of the name – there are only a limited number of parkruns including the word “Castle” and because I thought it was a little closer than it was. I had allowed enough time, but was still a little surprised to have got all the way to Suffolk – I don’t know what I’d expected, but it wasn’t a “Welcome to our county” sign.
It is possible to park in town for free, but I used the car park right next to the start and finish, which is £1/hour, max. £5. There is one toilet right next to the start, and some more further round the park.
There isn’t much left of the castle, but what is there is immediately obvious and overlooks the start and finish and the car park. The route doesn’t head up that hill, and is pretty flat, in fact. It may not be the easiest, with a 180 turn at the end of the out and back section (covered 3 times), some grass and a few turns, but it isn’t as tough as you might expect from a castle grounds, which tend to have hills available.
A local triathlon club had “taken over” the event, covering the volunteer positions, and every marhsal provided great energy and encouragement as we headed round. With 3 laps, we got to see all of them a lot, though none as often as the ones above, who cheered everyone they could on at both the start and end of the out-and back-section.
Afterwards I had time left in the car park to wander into town and pick up some food while having a little wander around the streets, and that even after walking up the path to the castle keep and taking a few photos of the views. It’s all very pretty, at least on a warmish Spring day where being up high doesn’t bring risk of exposure.
As for the event, parking is easy and cheap, the facilities are nearby and straightforward to access, and the course is flat enough to allow you to complete it at your own pace without too much worry – and with multiple laps, if you want to just do part of it and then disappear, that would work just fine, too.
The site this event runs round is well-maintained thanks to the owners and some grants, and hosts camping, fishing and anything else I might have missed. It’s an oasis of nature and water, just off a busy road and next to a railway line (which briefly interrupted the pre-run briefing, though they carried on bravely throughout).
The route has plenty of potential to be muddy and relatively difficult despite its flatness, but it is also run on wide, clear paths and with gentle turns, often with a view over a lake, so it’s pretty and straightforward. It does also cross a couple of access roads into the site, but those are well-marshalled. Occasionally you might have to pause to let someone in, but no biggie (and it didn’t happen to me).
There’s a large car park, serving Arlesey station, just over the road from the site, with a few more minutes needed to walk to the start line. I chose to park the other side of the course, next to a local park, and walked down and along the main road to get there, which was a little further. On the way back I took a slight short-cut, walking past Champneys and cutting across the field. It was good to see other people, clearly locals, walking that way too – and lovely to have an event that close to your house.
This was one of the first non-muddy days of the year, thanks to some dry weather, which almost certainly made the course easier than it had been. That still brought its own challenges, with recent churned up mud, now dried, making for some ruts to avoid, but the footing was secure all round, and it is as flat as a flat thing. Though, as ever, I quickly compared it to the Dutch parkruns I ran, the first few of which varied from 1 to 3m of elevation and, yes, this one had more, at 8m.
There are a few other paths to explore if you have time and on a sunny day it’s a lovely place to be. I was near enough not to need any other facilities, but apparently they are available at the main entrance – see the course page for full info.
On the last day of the unseasonal, if welcome, warm weather in March, I was headed South and took the chance to stop at Bolsover Castle, which is very close to the M1. It’s an English Heritage site, free to members, £12.60/11.30/7.60. There’s a free car park in front, which is also very convenient for the Wetherspoons pub. The latter may explain why on a quiet day the car park was full, but at any rate there is an overflow car park by the side of the castle, just continue along the road past the castle entrance and take a sharp right.
The castle as we see it, dominating the skyline as you approach, was built by the Cavendish family in the 17th century on the site of an older medieval fortress. It had plenty of bedrooms, but was meant more for entertaining than as a place to live, with the administration of the estate (essentially all the eye can see, and the Cavendish family owned several of the other ‘great houses’ in the area) carried out from elsewhere. Most famously, William Cavendish spent £14,000 (his entire yearly income) to entertain the King and Queen when they visited in 1630.
There is plenty to see. The views over the valley are spectacular in themselves, the old long buildings are fascinating, the gardens kept simple but smelling lovely and the Little Castle with partial reconstructions of the ornate insides. There’s also an exhibition and second-hand bookshop in the first buildings you find, which contain the parade ground. William Cavendish is known as the English father of dressage, believing strongly that there was no need to brutalise a horse to make it behave, and proving so. Apparently his manuals of horsemanship are still relevant, which is quite something.
The Little Castle was holds rooms for entertaining and Cavendish’s bedroom, with upper floors closed for renovation. More entertaining happened in the long building to the side of the Little Castle, but the cost of maintaining such a large site meant a later owner took the roof off it and let it fester. As a result it looks older though it actually isn’t. The paintings above the wood panels, seen above, are described as closer to fine art than just decoration. There are plenty of staircases and small rooms off to one side (originally privies, but now clean and tidy!) to check out, but the art is the highlight, and so the video below is recommended to give you an insight.
You’re never far from a great view of the countryside. The model village down the hill (not a small one, a real one laid out in a ‘model’ of good living) is clear because of the square layout – it was known as New Bolsover, which is now the name of the road on which it sits.
I wandered round Bolsover, a nice enough town, with a pretty church and footpaths heading off down the hill if you want to explore. If you fancy a pint I’d recommend The Blue Bell, on High Street, based purely on the views – it has a beer garden perched right on the edge of the hill, so you can sit and enjoy the view. With a long drive ahead, I managed to resist temptation, though it was strong, and instead found an all-day breakfast for a fiver at a cafe in town which also did excellent cakes.
Visiting the Giant’s Causeway, and parking near it, is free for National Trust members, or £5 per car if you’re not a member and don’t want to go to the visitors’ centre. That parking charge gets progressively cheaper the more people you take in your car, but if it’s just you, you fancy the walk and want to do it for free, then Dunseverick, around 8km away, is a good option. The coastal walk isn’t too strenuous – it’s only when you get to the Causeway that you have a large drop, around 100m to the coast – and the views are spectacular.
The car park in Dunseverick, marked as “Dunseverick Castle car park“, is free but popular and not huge. There are a couple of lay-bys, too. One is right next to the castle car park, the other a little further down Causeway Road to the East (away from the Causeway). The castle is an atmospheric small ruin that you can see on your walk to the coastal path.
The coastal path is easy to find, and not far from the car park, and you just follow it. After just over 7km, having expected an 8km walk, you’ll be pleased to find you are already at a sign offering a way down to the Causeway. Here’s your decision – do you take the steepish (but well maintained) steps down, or continue along the path to follow a much gentler, significantly longer route round the back. In the photo above, the steps are close on the right, while the coastal path continues around the headland you can see. The causeway is visible, sticking out into the sea, and the easier path comes at it from behind.
I chose the stairs, which then took me onto the path you can see above, and then walked to the causeway. It’s a lovely way to arrive, though the other way lets you see the columns from a distance as you approach. I was lucky, in that this was during the first summer of the pandemic so it was quiet however you came at it, but at busier times going down the steps should allow a more peaceful approach. You can’t avoid finding people on the causeway, though.
The views of the Causeway itself are well worth the walk, even if the actual site itself is not enormous. It is atmospheric, though, and as it stretches away into the sea it is easy to imagine it once stretched for miles. The stones are fairly easy to scramble up if you want to walk out to the edge, or near it. There is a tougher scramble when you first get to the Causeway, if you approach from the steps side, but you can just walk round the other side.
I chose to take the steps down and then the longer route on the way back, to give the chance to take in different views as much to save my legs from the climb. There is a bench at the top of the steps that allows recuperation but I just didn’t take it on.
It’s a good walk back, with similar views, only reversed, and just as gorgeous in even half-decent weather. The whole thing was 16.15km, and took me about 3 and a quarter hours. I was glad of a sit-down at the end. I did, though, have time to stop at The Dark Hedges, which is a very quick sight to see and makes for great photos. They were used in Game of Thrones which I haven’t seen, but I still enjoyed my quick visit. As you may guess from the photos, you can’t drive along this bit of the road, but parking is not far away from either end.
There are lots of beautiful natural sights/sites in Ireland, but these are two of the finest in Northern Ireland, and you can visit them at minimal cost.
On a warmish sunny day, in between a couple of storms, Felixstowe was a lovely place to be. Around a third of the UK’s parkruns were cancelled for stormy conditions or the after effects of same, so as soon as Felixstowe said their course was fine, I headed down to the seaside.
The webpage suggests gathering on the grass in front of the Leisure Centre, but I chose to stand on the beach, and many others were clustered on the promenade, catching up and counting our good luck in finding a run that was definitely going ahead, and without too much wind compared to the night before, though it was still there.
The route is very straightforward. I missed the first part of the briefing, blown away on the wind, but he may have announced that we were doing it in reverse, as the official site says the opposite, but we lined up facing the pier and headed NE past it and on to a turnaround, then back past the start and to a turnaround over a km from the finish. It’s not a course you can go wrong on, unless you try and run on the beach and get carried away, but the regular groynes would make that a hurdle course rather than a lovely run on the sand.
We had the wind behind us for the first section, which gave genuine assistance, but meant that we then had it in our faces for twice as far as we went back on our tracks, past the start/finish and on to the second 180 degree turn. I managed to catch a group ahead of me, with the intention of drafting for a bit, but ended up going past and allowing them a brief respite from the wind. Reaching the last section is always good, but on this windy day there was the extra incentive of knowing the wind would be behind us again.
Aside from the wind, the only other things to cope with were a slightly narrower section near the start, with beach huts taking up some of the promenade, but given that no one was yet coming back on the other side, there was plenty of room. Stones had blown over the course at the second turnaround, which slowed us down, but otherwise this is a flat and fast course, depending on conditions, on a good surface.
It looks pretty good in the sun, too. There are plenty of attractions for afterwards, and parking is easy. There’s a paid car park right by the start, or the roads behind the front are free to park in. They are immediately up a hill, but it’s a short but hilly walk to the start.
My original plan was to struggle up the hills at Whinlatter Forest, but they have to cancel when there are high winds. Luckily, that meant I could walk to my (temporary) local run at Rothay Park, in the North of Ambleside. It’s very easy to find – Ambleside’s not that big, and the church is a good landmark. There’s plenty of car parkland free parking for a few by the river.
This is a lovely run round the town park and a field next to the football club. Three laps, a little bit of up and down, some mud (but nothing this weekend that needed special shoes), parking and toilets nearby.
The paths are pretty narrow in places. Room enough for the 92 of us there were, but it does mean there are a couple of stretches where you either can’t or shouldn’t overtake, as people come back the other way. The path to the field next to the football club is also the path back from the field, for instance, and so are busy in both directions. I say “shouldn’t” not to say you must not if there’s space, but because one of the leaders only looked straight at me as he stepped out in front of me to overtake a back marker. I was happy to move aside, but probably shouldn’t have had to. But no biggie.
It was a windy day, which didn’t affect this course too much, though it did hit us as we turned into the field, which is also the soggiest part, needing a little care. A little frost would toughen this part of the course up, otherwise it’s only going to be muddier in the next few weeks. You wouldn’t feel daft running this course in trail shoes during the winter, and many people did exactly that.
I’ve taken photos on a sunny day, though Saturday was a little drizzly. It was still perfectly good weather for a run, though, and there are plenty of trees and hills around to break the weather up a little.
It’s a lovely event in a gorgeous small town, with very friendly and welcoming volunteers. I was running a milestone event, but quietly – all those months conspicuously not getting to the milestone during the pandemic closure meant that I was not really feeling it. A friend had tipped off the run director, but with many other things to think about, he got the name a little wrong at the start, and I only realised he meant me when he said “ah, must have gone to Whinlatter”. Too late by then, but I did say hello at the end and we had a laugh about it. That worked out ideally, really – no fuss made, but it also wasn’t a total surprise so no-one was offended that I hadn’t mentioned it to them. A couple of others also ran milestones and they hadn’t had a shout-out, so I was happily tucked into a sub-group, enjoying a lovely run without distraction.
The town really is set in a lovely location, especially when the sun is out. A few views below.
At this time of year, and following rain, this is a lovely but very muddy parkrun. After I’d parked where the event webpage suggested, near the Golden Apples day nursery in Homefield Road (they call it Dizzy Duck’s on the page, presumably they’ve changed name), I peeked into the field and immediately changed into trail shoes.
The route is run entirely round fields, so although it’s flat, it’ll only be quick when they’re firm underfoot. This was not that day, with particularly wet areas behind the football goals and at the entrance. With footwear on that could handle it, it was fun slogging round the 3 laps. By the end we were all experts on the wet and dry-est areas.
Any first-timers at the course received a lovely welcome from the run director, who talked us through the route and gleefully sympathised at the mud in prospect. Anyone who’d parked in Homefield Road had already walked across the fields, and almost certainly stepped in a hole a little deeper than they’d expected, and so was prepared for wet feet. This isn’t the largest event, though, and I got a definite sense that locals from the surrounding houses contributed plenty of participants, which made for a great community feeling that I was welcomed into.
As you can see from the above, there’s a puddle by the football pitch, right where you’d be running on a hard-surface day, to run the shortest route. The advice to avoid going too close to the pitches was spot on, but as you can see, that didn’t mean we weren’t muddy. All the volunteers were cheery and encouraging, despite standing in the rain on a cool day, which really helped. For me, particularly on lap 2, when the thought of another lap picking through the boggy bits was not motivating. A well done from a nice face or three was, though.
The whole event lifted my, and I’m sure pretty much everyone involved’s, spirits on a wet day when thoughts might otherwise have been on how early into the year it was, and how much more of this weather there might be to come. Instead we could hang out with kindred spirits, with veterans of hundreds of parkruns finishing along with those completing their first. Don’t be put off by the thought of slogging round fields multiple times, this is a great community event with a warm welcome.
On a cold winter’s morning (-3), in a car bound for Germany, I met up with some park runners. We were all too happy to sleep, so we joined in to run round a lake in Lower Saxony (original lyrics: Kenny Rogers).
I had worried about this journey on and off ever since deciding to make it – for a Christmas Day parkrun it was either this or back to the UK, once The Netherlands closed most activities from the 19th December. But I had to keep an eye on restrictions, and it is easy to get lost in the spiral of different sites, different federal restrictions, and then to discover new things. For instance, most cities in Germany have Green Zones, into which you may not drive without a vehicle that both doesn’t pollute too much, and carries a sticker to say so. I checked that trips under 24 hours didn’t require anything other than proof of vaccination, and was pretty sure that the parkrun was just outside the 6 districts which make up the Green Zone (it is, though the border between Alter, which is not Green, and Westerbury, which is, is somewhere in the Rubbenbruchsee recreation area, so if you drive there from the East, you may need to pick your route). And I left time, unused, in case I was stopped by someone checking what I was up to.
I stayed only just in The Netherlands and so drove through the dark for just 45 minutes or so before getting to The Rubbenbruchsee and parking outside the cafe, which is marked on their course page. My British car stuck out like a sore thumb enough that one or two people mentioned it, but no one had bothered me on the road.
I was there early enough to be the first participant to rock up, having the attention of the run director as she setup the flag and start area, but we were soon joined by (English) volunteers and (English) runners, and eventually by some German ones, too. It’s always nice, if not always the case, when a parkrun outside England isn’t dominated by the English.
As well as parking, there are public toilets just by the car park, within sight of the start area. The cafe is used to store equipment, and was open before the start, and ready for refreshments afterwards (though not everyone found a seat inside, so had hot drinks in the cold air).
I had checked the route, so knew more or less what to do, but was talked through it, along with the important note that there are no signs out on the course. It is straightforward: head along the path, keeping the lake on your right, till you can’t go further, then turn left to run an out and back (turning at the end of the path), then continue on the far side of the lake. The one easy mistake to make would be to miss out a left turn round a slightly longer section, continuing by the lake instead (just next to the lap 2 marker in the course map above), but I had someone to follow and everyone else knew what to do.
It’s a gorgeous run, bordered by tall, thin trees all the way round, and with a great view of the low sun through the trees towards the end. I noticed it at 4.3km, but that may just be the point when I remembered to look up. The forecast had been for ideal cancellation conditions – 9° and rain the day before, then slipping well below 0° overnight with possible snow on top. As it turned out, there was no rain so it was just cold with nothing to slip over on. The course would hold up to most conditions in any case, with hard-packed trails rather than tarmac and the covering of those trees to keep rain and sun off to some extent.
The course is quick; mostly flat, and with simple twists and turns through forested paths to keep you interested. There’s always something to see if you want distraction, whether knotted trees to the side, other runners passing with a nod or the lake opening up in the gaps.
I was very cold, but very pleased to have got to this run, which made my ninth parkrun in Germany. That gives me at least 9 different parkruns in each of 9 different countries, which is a nice marker to offset the disappointment at missing out, for now, on the last few Dutch runs. Leaving others to their Christmases, I wandered the other way round most of the course in the sun, just about warm enough but also craving the warmth of the car by the end. It does look absolutely lovely in the sun, though, as I hope you can see.
My photos are mostly empty of people, but there were plenty of people out for a Christmas morning walk or run, with each only nodding or giving a quick “morgen”, which suited my general lack (albeit happy) of Christmas feeling.
Another glorious parkrun to recommend, and Merry Christmas!