Kagerzoom parkrun, NL

Kagerzoom parkrun route map, from a GPS trace.
Kagerzoom parkrun route. Two laps, the larger loop first, all clockwise.

The first parkrun in December and I visited my current local, Kagerzoom, near Leiden. It’s named for the golf club around which you run – it is entirely contained within the smaller loop, above, so not the biggest course around, though it has a swanky driving range.

December 5th is gift-giving day for Sinterklaas in The Netherlands and so that had to be the theme for the day, with the run director in the outfit and hats chalked at start and finish.

It was a cold, grey day, if dry, and I’d done something to my knee that made walking difficult, but after a couple of days mostly on the couch, I was at least able to jog round. Concentrating on that meant I could pay a bit more attention to my surroundings than I sometimes do, and I took in the golf course on the inside of the loop, water stretching away on one side of the course and a large windmill at the junction of the two laps (straight on the first time, right turn the second).

This was a slightly more undulating course than the others I’ve done in The Netherlands – that still only adds up to a total of 5m elevation from the GPS, but there were a couple of distinct inclines to keep it interesting. It’s a good course to run fast, though, with a wide path that’s solid all round, and just a few puddles from recent rain.

Before today, Kagerzoom had only once had more than 40 runners since their first event’s record attendance of 65, but today there were 52, perhaps buoyed by promises of chocolate in the cafe afterwards.

View of the finish line from the course, with the parkrun 'feather' flag flying above it and volunteers waiting for finishers.
The finish line. The grass looks boggy, but it’s not from runners – we stick to the paths.
Dutch watch out for runners sign, early on in the loop, with a canal and green grass behind the paved path, and tall spindly trees dotting the golf course.
Watch out for runners
View of the finish line, with grass bordering the park and puddles settling by the side from rain in the week.
Run in to the finish.

The event was easy to find, and I parked just outside the golf course. I saw the “Near de parkrun” sign, but at a glance thought it was saying ‘not for parkrun’ and meant not to park there. It didn’t, and I could have passed through the gate and parked right by the start, but other parking places are also close. There are several other businesses on the site, along with just a few houses, some looking slightly out of place on a mostly business area (though there are some bigger ones by the water looked pretty nice). But depending on opening times, you might be able to go for a haircut, some trampolining or, er, monkeying around at Monkey Town, the indoor playground.

I settled for a walk/limp around the local streets and then my easy journey back ‘home’. The park is well-used by other runners and walkers, so there were plenty more people to say hello to before I wiggled my car through the narrow streets and back to the dunes of Noordwijkerhout.

The start line; the finish is round the corner
"Naar de parkrun" sign: "To the parkrun" on a metal fence, with a parking area beyond, just next to the start/finish.
To the parkrun. There’s parking here, but also before this point.
The North side of the course, a paved path with grass on one side and tall reeds on the other, where the water stretches away. The windmill is in the distance.
North side of the course.

Results from Kagerzoom parkrun event 18, 4/12/21.

Kralingse Bos parkrun, NL

Kralingse Bos parkrun route. One anticlockwise loop, with a short section repeated at start and finish.

Rotterdam has a famous marathon, was the site of unrest the night before but dawned peaceful and dry. I rolled up around a quarter to nine to find the course laid out and volunteers chatting before the start. I parked in the street to the South of the start, Plaszoom, as that was slightly easier to reach than the car park by the restaurant, De Schone Lei. That restaurant is on the route, and you pass it on the way out and back, though I didn’t notice it till the way back. The Plaszoom is marked by a couple of windmills, for an early morning distinctive Dutch feeling.

Ready for the start.

The pre-run briefing was in Dutch. Three of us there were English speaking, but hadn’t made ourselves known, and could follow along well enough in any case. I even caught on to the “give way to cyclists” that was added in a postscript – this is thinking particularly of the spot where the route comes back onto the lakeside, as it crosses a bike path (and bear in mind that here those aren’t narrow afterthoughts, but two-lane bike freeways).

The start is straight, and then there are a couple of tight-ish turns to get over the bridge, as shown below. There are no signs here on the way back, so just remember to make the turn right after the bridge, rather than run down the cycle path (though I’m sure you can still finish if you go that way).

Right, over the bridge, and left. Repeat in reverse on the way back.

The lake is 5k all around, but the parkrun decided they couldn’t use that route because there are a few crossings. Instead, it heads into the forest for around half the route, before heading down towards the lake and making a left turn to follow the lakeside path all the way back to the finish.

Leaves everywhere in the forest.
Z marks the spot for the finish (the start is just a little further up the path).

With Autumn turning the leaves many shades of orange and yellow, running through the forest is a delight. There is just one marshal out on course, by the lake (and that bike path crossing), so the rest is done by signs. There are just enough of those, with the course otherwise relying on you following your nose. If there’s no sign to say turn, then keep heading in your direction till the next sign. It worked for me, and I’m far from the best at following routes.

A view over the lake.
Gathered at the finish for a barcode scan and chat.
The run director chats with the timer.

After the briefing we moved along to the start with no delay. That shows a certain relaxed approach from the run director, as he didn’t have a timer at that point – as we got to the start, the timer rode up, hopped off his bike and was ready within seconds, which amused everyone. A just-in-time timer!

Just after the bridge, following the lake round to the restaurant.
The route comes through this junction in both directions. On the way out, turn right to head for the forest. On the way back you’ll comes from the left and head toward the camera.
The view when you first turn into the woods.

According to my GPS this had *double* the elevation of last week’s run in Amsterdam. That still only amounted to 2m, and I was never conscious of going uphill. Blah, blah, Netherlands flat, etc.

Non-parkrun runners in the woods.
Tall trees, leaves abound.

There were plenty of other people exercising in the woods, so I was conscious of the need only to try and follow the people actually in the event. As it happened, that soon became irrelevant, as I latched briefly onto a group, ran past them and then lost sight of the runner ahead, despite thinking that now I might work on getting closer to him (he ended up over two minutes ahead of me). I just had to trust that I was on the right route, but the general “proceed until told to change direction” principle worked well.

Half the course is like this, through the forest.
Heading back to the finish, along the lake – ignore the boardwalk to the right.

I’ve run in a few countries while parkrun was new, and found it relatively untroubled by the faster local runners. That is not the case here, with each run I’ve been at having a few quicker runners at the front. Today, two runners completing their first parkruns set the 4th and 6th quickest times yet seen here, and it was great to see them yomping off into the distance. I was also pleased that it wasn’t a course with laps, so I wouldn’t be lapped!

Close to the start and finish, with a distinctive restaurant building to go past.
Back over the bridge, turn to take the right-hand path.

After the event they head for “De Nachtegaal” for coffee etc. I didn’t take a camera on the run, though, so went for a wander to get some pictures instead. Anyone fitter than me and wanting a cool-down run is spoiled for choice – experience the woods again? Head all the way round the lake? Explore a bit more of Rotterdam? There is loads to see, and Kralingen Lake is a great start.

Results from Kralingse Bos parkrun, event 19, 20/11/21.

Amsterdamse Bos parkrun, NL

Turfed out of my accommodation early because of a fire (minor, almost sorted out before I had to leave), I was wide awake for Amsterdam. I suspect the loveliness of the Autumn leaves on huge trees would have sorted out bleary eyes in any case, but I took them in in all their glory.

Looking out over the Bosnian – rowing lake – early in the morning.
Amsterdamse Bos parkrun route. One lap, head out, round, then back along the same km or so, plus a little further to the finish.

Parking is apparently free on a Saturday, and is available in the top right of the route map above, next to the rowing lake. You still have to take a ticket, (which meant undoing a seat belt for me in my right-hand drive car) but then the barrier just opened at the end. Some of the car parks further down have a couple of hours free parking, and I would have been inside that, but given the pay stations were all closed up, I am sure I could have stayed longer.

Briefing, behind De Boswinkel building at the top of the park. The wooden horse is distinctive.
Ready to start, a little further down the path from the briefing.

The run director started talking in Dutch, but was just asking the Dutch speakers present whether she could do the rest in English, rather than both languages, so all the international crowd were well catered for. In fact, I didn’t hear anyone involved with the event speaking in Dutch, and many were English, as were the participants. That meant people happily addressed each other in English without checking, and that just worked – I was even asked “are those your kids?” by a lady whose son was playing football with them, and enjoyed the double-assumption.

An early part of the course, with mist on the lake off to the left, and puddles on the course.
Heading through the woods on the large loop.

The morning had been rainy, but that cleared towards 9:00 leaving mist over the water and puddles on the course. A few longer steps or leaps took most of us over the puddles, but there may have been a few damp feet by the end. That’s all you’d get, though, as it’s a solid surface all round, and just the occasional bike to watch for and avoid; no mud.

There’s also barely any elevation, which I’m sure I’ll write on every Dutch parkrun. This one did feel as though it had a couple of different inclines, and it is distinctly uphill towards the finish, but all of that barely registered on the GPS record of the route: it’s been true of everywhere so far, as I ended up walking 25,000 steps in the day, and only just hit the watch’s target of going up the equivalent of 10 flights of stairs. And most of those were probably done on actual flights of stairs, rather than outside on hills.

Mist over the lake as the sun starts to poke through.
A local filmcrew recorded the day for TV, which may bring in more Dutch participants.

It’s a lovely area, and a lovely run. I’d hope that all those tall trees would given some serious shade in the summer, and today they were a dramatic backdrop. Attendance varies, somewhere under 100 for now and 70 today, after a mammoth 257 at the first event back in 2020 (after which they had a very long gap before no.2, which was on 28/8/21).

The course page says that the toilets in the Cafe Bosbaan aren’t available till 9, and those in the Boswinkel not till 10, but there didn’t seem to be an agitated crowd at the start, so they’d either come from nearby, or there are other options to find.

Swap sides on the main boulevard (left to right as seen here, from right to left as you do it) for the finish.
Looking down the start/finish boulevard.
De Boswinkel building behind the finish funnel.

Afterwards a very international crowd stood around chatting, while I smiled at those kids playing and was thought to be their father, and the sun poked out to warm the day up a little. Lovely run, on a lovely day, and simple enough to get to – the park is accessible via public transport from the city and may well be walkable, especially if you stay S-SW of the Rijksmuseum.

Results from Amsterdamse Bos parkrun, event 13, 13/11/2021.

Schoterbos parkrun, NL

Schoterbos parkrun route – currently 4 laps round the park, anticlockwise.

Schoterbos is in North Haarlem. The course is a very natural, hard-to-get-lost, loop round the edge of the park, on a 1300m route marked for running. That isn’t the original course, which takes in the middle of the park as well as the outside, to make a two-lapper, but there are extensive renovations going on at the moment in the park which necessitate the simpler course.

There’s free parking at the tennis club to the South, which is also used to store the equipment, and for coffee etc. after the event. Spotting me poking around, a gentleman came out of the club to see if he could help, and was very welcoming, pointing me to the toilets in the tennis club, and explaining that there’s currently no cut-through from the club to the park, so I should go round the edge (which is only a few hundred metres). I parked in the street outside, which was about as easy as it could be – not always the case in The Netherlands, with some towns full of paid-parking. It helps that this is a little distance from the centre.

The start, on Noorderhoutpad.

Other than the occasional walker, there is barely an impediment on the course, certainly no hill or even a bump. I ran this, walked into town and back and still had barely covered any vertical distance. While I was in Northern Ireland, I kept being surprised by courses that felt hilly and yet only have 20m or so of ascent. This course had 1m, and that shows the difference between a flat course and one that is a ‘bit hilly’ – 20m isn’t much, but 1m is as near to nothing as you are going to get.

The start.

It’s tarmacced all the way round except for a chicane in the middle, caused by the renovations. They put the world’s most energetic marshal there to give everyone a lift. He’s also a prolific plogger (picking up litter on the go), @wayeoflife on Instagram/Facebook – have a look to get an idea of some of the energy he transmits.

Blurry picture, but here’s the chicane and big energy from the marshal, who switched seamlessly from the two ahead to me without drawing breath.
Tailwalker pausing to cheer everyone else on.

This was event 11, having started in August 2021, and it’s a very slick event. Even with only 32 finishers, we had a new course record at the front, followed in by Dutch, South African, Australian and British runners.

Go past three times, then into the finish – so technically, given you start further ahead, it’s a 3.9 lapper.

Despite missing out on the sights of the middle of the park, with other people exercising, lakes and more trees, it’s a pretty enough route, with plenty of tall trees looming over the side of the path.

Noorderhoutpad, and cycling infrastructure.
Looking into the park, past the finish.
A Dutch scene, with bikes and people at the finish.
Hitch the bin to the bike and the event is done.

Afterwards I sat in the tennis club with fellow runners for a couple of hours, and a group of us headed into town to eat, which gave me my first experience of having my vaccination certificate scanned – very simply, now they recognise British ones, and I just called it up on the NHS app and people used their phones to scan it in.

It’s a little further into town than we’d thought, a good couple of miles to the heart of Haarlem. Not that we particularly noticed, chatting about everything and anything, but one of our number was on a tight timescale and had to miss lunch. Apart from that, everything was spot on: the event was easy to find, the place welcoming and the town very pretty.

Results from Schoterbos parkrun event 11, 6/11/21.

Houghton Hall parkrun, England

Houghton Hall parkrun route. 3 laps, only the first include the small loop at top right.

On a wet, wet, wet day, I was in Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire. Unlike the volunteers, I could at least shelter in the car till it was nearly time to start, and we all caught a break as it stopped raining for 20 minutes or so, just before 9am.

The route heads round past the visitors’ centre, away from the camera here.

Despite the weather, I enjoyed my run around, and was happy to be doing laps of the park. Those laps vary a little, with the first a longer one, taking in a wooded section at the top right of the map. After that, we headed round the main loop a couple of times, avoiding some puddles and splashing through others.

I missed all the hay bales on the way round, but they’re not hidden.

I blame those puddles, and my focus on planning a route round them for the fact that I missed the inside of the park entirely. There is more there than I appreciated at the time, with a large grassy area spotted with hay bales at this part of Autumn.

A view I completely failed to take in during the event.

The route heads out of the main part of the park for a short downhill section. It’s worthy of note mainly for the narrow gates on the way out and then again on the way in, which are described as an impediment, but have a gap big enough to tempt you into racing through them. A tempter! They definitely don’t need much of a shuffle for most of us, but if you get it wrong you’ll be brought up short by the metal. A nice piece of jeopardy on the route.

The narrow gates.
More narrow gates to head back into the park.
Not on the route, but a particularly verdant view.

A pretty park, a well-organised event, and all the facilities are available right by the start/finish.

Results from Houghton Hall parkrun, event 129, 30/10/21.

Harleston Magpies parkrun, Suffolk

Harleston Magpies parkrun route. 3 laps, running round the edge of two fields. Except! In each field you cut in and run back toward the corner from which you came, then turn away, and finish a triangle, back where you made the first turn, to complete running round the field. It is *much* easier to do than to explain.
Bemused faces (not pictured) as the route is explained.

A mile or so South of the Suffolk town of Harleston is a hockey club, from which this parkrun takes its name. Since parkrun spread widely, and calling the runs after the town became problematic (taxi to London, please!), they updated their naming convention such that we will see more and more of these eclectic names. (Take a bow, Dallas Burston Polo Club parkrun.)

Wondering whether I should park elsewhere to make sure there was space, and that there was no need to test the instruction to park not in the club car park, but on the grass behind the club house, I looked at walking from town, and found a couple of lay-bys to the North of the club, next to the water, which looked like a decent compromise between parking right at the event, and walking down pavement-less roads to the place. In the end, I was there so early I just parked in the field, and for the numbers attending at the moment (66 this week), that’s unlikely to cause any problems.

The clubhouse has refreshments after the event, and probably facilities beforehand, too, though I didn’t check – frankly, given England’s current “hey, let’s ignore the queues outside A&E, the fact it’s only early Autumn by any sensible measure and just pile into places without masks” madness, I preferred to keep away from crowded spaces, even if they’re only full of lovely runners.

Me, making a turn at a corner of one of the mid-field triangles.

The ground was pretty firm underfoot this morning, but being grass throughout it’s never going to be especially quick, despite being fairly flat. As you’ll see from some of the photos, the route is already getting quite nicely (I hope that’s the club’s view, too) marked even though this is only week 5, but at some point that will probably be a little muddy, too.

The start of the second field; this marshal can cheer people on as they turn into the field, as they make their turn on the triangle, and again as they leave the field.

I went to this event partly because it was a new event, and partly because of the unusual name, but it was enjoyable. Everyone involved seemed very keen to see it succeed, and there was a general air of excitement, suggesting new runners and a community being formed. I overheard a couple of hockey players talking about it, and they obviously didn’t know much about it – there’s an obvious possible cross-over if any of them can fit in some pure cardiovascular activity on a Saturday morning, though the event will happily go on around them.

Leaving the second field. That marshal could do with a turntable. That bump ahead is the big hill of the course.
Running past the hockey pitches, on and out of the second field. This small stretch of uneven ground is as tough as the footing gets.

With such an open course, you’re going to be subject to whatever the weather throws at you – this was a cool October morning but with nothing else we were free to get on with getting round as well as we could.

Far corner, second field, and an enthusiastic marshal.
You can see the ground marked where we head down to run the triangle.

The turns within the fields were often just a little bit further round than I expected – turning a right-angle is apparently easy for me, but going a bit further is something I apparently forget to do – so it helps to keep your wits about you, or have someone to follow. You can see from the width of the lighter colour on the field that people have not picked one line and stuck to it. It doesn’t matter, so long as you head for the sign and turn round it, you’ll cover at least 5k, but if you’re pushing for a time you’ll want to pay attention and keep straighter lines than I managed.

In to the finish (or round again for another lap).
The parkrun flag marks the entrance to the club.

I hope club and parkrun have a long and happy association.

Results from Harleston Magpies parkrun, event 5 23/10/21.

Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun

Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Start in the middle, head out to sea and turn right, then it’s two laps, and finish where you started. Don’t miss the finish if you’ve run nearer the sea for firmer ground (you end up a little way from the signs).

There are several parkruns entirely on beaches, but not loads, so I decided not to miss my chance to fit another in. This is a fairly new parkrun, in that this was only the 18th event, but it started before everything closed down in 2020, so it is a year and a half old.

‘Caution Runners’ sign at the top left of the course, near the boating lake.

There is a car park right next to the start, and there are also toilets there. The car parks along the sea front are all quite expensive, though, so for cheaper paid parking, park in town or on the sea front itself. In town, it’s £1 an hour, on the road at the front, £4 for 3 hours. Alternatively, a little further North, there’s free parking. I parked in Salisbury Road, from where it’s about half a mile to the start, and there are more toilets on the sea front at the end of the road. Parking by the sea is free here, too.

The start is further in to the beach, to the left of this picture, but you can’t miss it – the Beach Hut on the right is on the map.

As well as being a run entirely on sand, which I thought might be kinder to my knee (it was not), this is a relatively small one in attendance – we had 39, which is fairly typical at this point in its life. The record is 160, from the first event, but they’ve only three subsequent times had more than half that.

Early on, having turned towards the sea.

It’s useful to listen to the first-timers’ briefing if you’ve not been before, as there are a few important instructions. First of all, don’t run in front of anyone fishing – it might be annoying, and they might be casting. Keep on the sand, and don’t run on the dunes once on the town-side part of the course. There are plenty of ‘keep left’ signs on spades, which was a nice touch, and a couple of marshals patrolling to keep us honest.

Keep left sign on a spade.

All of this means that there are only a couple of places with firm footing. There’s an area which has enough grass in the sand, up towards the boating lake. And you get the chance to run nearer the sea once you turn at that end – though the temptation to stay there, in front of fishers, must need a bit of controlling. We were told there were lots of fishers, but that turned out to be just the one, who seemed unbothered by our presence.

Other than that, it’s soft sand, then soft sand with some pebbles, and an occasional tiny incline that feels, thanks to the soft sand I must remember to mention, like a big hill. It is very tough. I have run Woolacombe Dunes, famously hard thanks to having an actual hill up a dune, but was significantly quicker there (over 8 minutes). I am, admittedly, a different runner now, with only one good knee, but gosh, this was hard. The Dunes run has a lovely downhill bit. This one, flat. With soft, soft sand.

Still, don’t use my times as a guide. Expect to be a minute or so per kilometre slower than a fast course – it was more than that for me.

Some slightly harder, but still soft, sand near the sea.

It is absolutely lovely, though. The conditions will vary wildly with the seasons, and even from week to week. We had some crazy clouds, and a bit of a headwind for the South-bound section, but it was pretty good. A cold start, but this is an ideal way to warm up, and running (or struggling) through (I use the word advisedly, and not “on”) the sand with the sound of the sea rushing in to shore is a glorious thing.

Run towards the sea.
A view of the wind farm over the dunes.
The lovely finish. At times it really felt like it wouldn’t, but it does end. After 5k, in fact.

Other than the run the Venetian waterways, right next to the course, were renovated in 2019 and look great. There are hotels all along the front, and also several cafes, which combined to torment us with the smell of breakfast on the entire route. The Beach Cafe itself opens at 10, though looked open when we finished, so may have clued in to the fact that some customers are appearing from the beach at 9:30. I managed to resist, walked back along the front past people setting up for the Fire on the Water festival, and drove along the sea front to soak up a little more sea air.

Results from Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun, event 18, 16/10/21.

Bressay parkrun, Shetland

Bressay parkrun route. Start at the top, run all the way to the bottom, then back up to the finish – c.2 miles out, 1 mile back.

Bressay (pron. “Bressy”) is an island to the East of the Shetland mainland, just a few minutes on a ferry (officially 10, which is possible if you include mooring time and the ferry is full of cars you have to wait for before you stroll off, but no matter – it’s a short trip). It’s a scenic part of the world, even on a drizzly day such as we had.

Looking back at the ferry on the stroll to the start.

The ferry is £6 return, payable on the way out only (cash or card). Locals and long-stayers can currently get a ferry card for cheaper travel. The ferry itself is easy to find, right on the waterfront in Lerwick – you can see the route on the map above. I walked past it by accident the day before while strolling round town after I’d got off the larger ferry from Kirkwall (Orkney) which docks further to the North of town. The event team meet the ferry to point everyone in the right direction and greet volunteers, though it’s fairly straightforward to follow people on the short walk to the hotel and round to the side where the parkrun flag flies, above the painted start line.

The start line, painted, next to the Maryfield House hotel.

Although fairly remote, as the North-most parkrun in the UK (Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia have more northerly ones) this is a destination event for parkrunners, so I wasn’t totally surprised to not be the person there with the most completed parkruns, even in a field of just 46. It was a little more of a surprise that I actually knew the person who had run more, though it took me several glances to realise. We’ve not been in the same place since a trip to Poland in 2013, so I let myself off, even though I’d said good morning to her on the way to the ferry and then smiled when she let the event team know she was from Bushy. Two big clues, but it was something in the way she walked to the start that reminded me – wait – Gdansk and Gdynia?!

There were a few other tourists, including a couple from Alaska who I assumed were in Shetland for work – there’s a lot of well-paid jobs here in oil and gas. Others, including my friend, had run the Loch Ness marathon the weekend before and could enjoy a more relaxed weekend this time round.

The course is a long out and then shorter back, as you go past the finish line after just under a mile, head further on down the road before a right turn, turn around a cone and back to the finish at Speldiburn cafe. A quick left-turn into the cafe car park and you’re over the painted finish line and can go for drinks and breakfast baps next door. It’s pretty much the perfect setup.

The mail shop. A right turn to follow the course. The low wall held our bags. The finish is to the left after the low wall (but is almost straight on from the road on the right when you actually run/walk it). Credit: Google maps.

There’s no bag-moving service, so those in the know, and those of us who always travel with a running bag just in case, set off with our bags on our backs, then cast them aside at the mail shop, which marks the corner before the finish. A helpful marshal was there to take them from us and arrange them nicely on the wall. That helped me greatly. For one, I didn’t want to run with my bag the whole way. For two, I had offered to scan barcodes once I’d finished, so being able to collect my bag for the last 200m without having to find wherever I’d dropped it was super efficient. I have run and scanned before, but it always feels like a bit of an indulgence, and not necessarily that helpful unless you know you’ll finish first, as someone else has to be there to scan at least till you get there (and realistically, why would they then stop?). Now I’m several minutes slower than I was, even more so, but they were still looking for people at 7pm on Friday and wanted two scanners, so I figured offering would help make sure the event went ahead and my lack of pace wouldn’t be too awful – a look at previous events suggested I ought to be fairly well in the first half of finishers. It worked out, at any rate – and I’d happily have dropped out had a third person offered. As it was, I was able to finish, scan several of the people behind me and get to chat to several of them after they’d finished, as well as some of the other volunteers.

Left turn into the finish.

The route itself is undulating. They did warn us of a hill, and there is one, but it’s short and mean rather than a huge obstacle. The start is downhill, which is always exciting, and then it’s a case of up, flatten, down, up, up, flatten, and so on – a classic example of a course that rarely lets you go. That hill is towards the end of the long out, so reappears into the final mile, to test you, and there’s a little more uphill heading towards the finish itself to keep everyone breathing heavily.

As for returning, it’s possible to finish and walk/run the mile back to get on the 10:30 ferry, but I joined the crowd in the cafe. Table service at the moment makes it very simple, and you don’t even have to keep an eye on the clock with the 11:30 ferry in mind: there was a general movement at 11:00, some finishing of drinks and conversations, and a fairly leisurely walk up Gunnista road (not on the course) and left to make it to the ferry without rush.

Happy gang of volunteers.

All parkruns are great, and each have something to recommend them, but there’s a lot in the combination of hopping on a ferry, running somewhere remote with scenic views, and most of the participants being able to fit in the cafe, a cafe right on the finish line, to make this a really special one. Book your ferry!

Results from Bressay parkrun, event 120, 9/10/21.

Skara Brae Neolithic Settlement, Orkney

Orkney countryside.

After a weekend of windy weather, Monday was sunny and relatively still. The ideal day for a walk through the island.

A bunker by the roadside on a quiet road.
Skara Brae is just the other side of this loch – the visible building is Skaill House.
A highland cow looking monolithic in greeting.

Orkneys buses cover much of the island, but for places that aren’t ferry ports, are only intermittent. It’s possible to get a bus to Skara Brae, but direct ones from Stromness go rarely enough that it seemed easier to walk – it’s 7 or 8 miles, depending where in Stromness you start from. I booked my ticket ahead of time to make sure the fairly tight capacity limits weren’t reached by the time I got there, though on an October Monday that wasn’t really an issue. It’s £9 for adults, or £4.50 if, like me, you are in the first year of an English Heritage membership (if you’re a renewed member, it’s free).

Orkney has plenty of Neolithic sites, and Skara Brae may be the highlight; a settlement of ten houses. It was discovered by chance in 1850, when a severe storm took the earth from a large knoll, to show the outline of the village. It was partly excavated, then abandoned before it was returned to in order to protect it from the sea and people raiding for artefacts. Now, there’s a museum, the site itself (and a display room next to it, currently closed) and Skaill House.

The museum is in the visitor centre, and just has a few rooms to introduce the site. The artefacts found, at least those of whalebone, are in incredible condition, given the settlement was occupied between approx 3200 and 2200BC.

Just outside the centre is a re-creation of the best-preserved house, to give an idea of how each would have looked when intact. They were all built to the same template, so if you’ve seen this one, you’ve seen them all.

Re-created house at Skara Brae. By the wall is a dresser on the right, box bed in the middle.

From there it’s a short walk to the site. Beside it are dated blocks to give you an idea of just how far back in time you are going – beyond the Romans, past the construction of the pyramids, to this collection of houses.

It’s a place to wonder at, rather than spend ages. It isn’t a large site, but on a good day it’s astonishing enough to just stand and stare, imagining a bustling community living here.

Undulating Skara Brae.
Houses linked by passageways.
A house, with dresser and remains of bed and fireplace.

From the site itself, another short walk takes you to Skaill House, for a chance to see how rich people lived not very long ago.

Skaill House.

The house has been there, gradually expanded, since 1620. It strikes a slightly discordant note with the ancient marvel that is the settlement, but it’s presented nicely and, I suppose, does the job of returning you to more recent times. There is some personal history of the owners, which I found mostly uninteresting – great for them, of course, but not for me – other than that of the last person to live there full-time, who retreated to mostly live in one room as the house grew mouldy around her. She died in 1991 and left it to Malcolm Macrae, who had it restored so as to be on display, host weddings and hold a couple of rental flats for holiday-makers.

I was lucky enough to be just behind a charming double-act, who entered each room with “nice room”, and then gave the call-back “lovely room!” As we finished and headed for the gift shop, he agreed that yes, he would like ice-cream. “Vanilla?” “Yes, of course”. Quite. I had the chocolate, which was excellent.

Display on the discovery of Skara Brae in Skaill House.

Visible from the site, and a short walk down the road (or through a metal gate on the left of the site – I snuck back in this way, ticket to hand in case I was challenged) is a great beach. On a sunny day like today, it is a great place for lunch, and not itself a long walk even if you walk the whole length.

Just above the wall, a rabbit – standing still and hoping I’ll go away.
Panoramic view of the Bay of Skaill.

The way back was harder than the way there – purely because I got more tired, and walking along the side of the road needed a little bit of attention, which was ebbing. I also chose not to take the slightly shorter route, down Hillside Road, as it was slippery and uphill on the way there, and I didn’t fancy sliding down it on the way back. That left me on the main road: the roads aren’t busy, the walk is fine, but after a couple of hours of checking behind me every time a car came towards me, in case a car coming the other way meant I needed to move off the road, I was tired. If you can get the bus one way, I would recommend it.

The only rain of the day came in horizontally for a brief period, being replaced by more sunshine and a rainbow, which topped off a glorious day.

Rainbow under changing skies.
The route undulates to reveal different views. Here, the Loch of Stenness.
Curious cows, suggesting they don’t get many visitors.

Orkney Wireless Museum

Next to the ferry terminals, on Junction Road, is a small museum of radio and its use in the war. When I went, it was offering free entry, though they seemed uncertain whether that would continue – some summers, the entry fee provides enough income to cover the insurance on what is low-cost volunteer effort.

Radios and valves.

The space is crammed with radios and related paraphernalia. Components, posters, even an empty old display unit for batteries. They must have done a roaring trade back in the day.

Cinema advertising.

There’s an obvious route through, past the radio section and into the war one, though you get a quick view of everything from the door – it’s that diddy. Captions are plentiful and I thought the whole thing charming, though the attendant was quick to add that many people found it chaotic. Charming and chaotic, perhaps.

Valve porn
Old radios

I know next to nothing about radios, am not especially interested and entered in slight trepidation that I might be assumed to be a ham-nut and subjected to more detail than I could cope with. But that was not the tone at all – enter and enjoy it in whatever capacity you can. For me, those old radios, with intricate wooden cases, were a highlight, as was the spy radio from the war (though you’d think I’d have taken a photo of the latter, and I did not).

WW2 mobile radio.
WW2 radio stuff

It’s a lovely museum, a short walk from the centre of Kirkwall and cheap to boot.

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