Colin Glen parkrun, NI

Colin Glen parkrun route. Start/finish at bottom right. Twice round the lake on the left.

I headed to Colin Glen because of the description on their site: “This is a hilly parkrun and will be a great challenge.” It sure is, albeit not especially slow because you get so much downhill in a row. The run director wandered over to find newbies and was happy to tell me it was uphill for 2k, downhill after you’ve run round the lake – so you work from the start, but are rewarded at the end. It would be hard not to run a positive split, and even a royal flush (each mile quicker than the last) just due to the nature of the course, and I certainly did both.

A rough idea of the elevation. There’s a bit of down in the long uphill, and this makes it look like you end higher than you start, which you don’t. But it certainly shows the looong climb. c. 65m of elevation in total.
Setting off at the start, surrounded by trees.

The other part of the course description is slightly misleading – it refers to two laps, but in fact there’s a long run uphill/flat to the lake, then twice round it (and it is quite small), then a long flat/downhill run back to the finish.

The car park. Those empty spaces are in front of the entrance – presumably it’s a new entrance.

The park is in between Belfast and Lisburn, and far enough from the centre of either to attract lower numbers than other runs. They’ve had over 200, which must have been quite a crowd up and down the paths, but for now attendance is between 50 and 100. There’s an ample car park for those numbers near the start, right next to the church. The start is marked as being a few hundred metres into the park, but everyone meets in the car park. If you can park on the left as you drive in, you’ll find getting out a little easier, with spaces on the right a bit tighter for space.

Entrance to the park/trail.

The course is straightforward, navigationally, and there are permanent yellow arrows on the ground should you want to follow it on your own. Right at the first fork, over two bridges then left over the last one, uphill just a bit more and then onto a flat section leading to the lake.

Tree-lined paths, heading uphill.
Arrows on the ground at every junction (because you run it in both directions, there are arrows in both directions at that first fork – just follow the ones leading right on your way down the hill).
Flat! On the way to the lake.
Entrance to the lake. I included this just to reassure you that you do *not* have to run up the hill on the right. Maybe come back and do it afterwards? (I did not.) Left after the bridge, to run round the lake.
The lake. Round twice.

On this damp day, the surface felt a little slippery. I didn’t slip, and it didn’t feel dangerous, even on the sharper downhill sections, so perhaps just a bit of tree sap making the surface feel a bit odd. It’s mostly tarmac, with a few shingly bits and the occasional sheen of mud over the top.

The finish line. Back past the start and on a few hundred metres to the car park entrance.

Scanning and chat happens in front of the cafe, which was open, if not the centrepiece of post-parkrun socialising right now. They also had a higher than average number of young marshals, which was nice – they’d justify having a few child-sized hi-viz vests, though they look pretty cute when they work almost as overcoats.

Another pretty and welcoming Northern Irish parkrun.

Results from Colin Glen parkrun, event 212, 31/7/21.

Castlewellan parkrun, NI

Castlewellan is a small market town with a beautiful forest park, about 45 minutes South of Belfast. It’s just a few miles from the coast, which made for a cool breeze on a warm day. The parkrun is in the Forest Park, almost completely shaded as it runs through a tree-lined path around a lake, with an extra out and back to add a kilometre.

Castlewellan parkrun route. Start and finish on the right, out and back at bottom left.

There’s masses of parking in the park, though if you’re only coming for the run, the £5 cost might seem a bit stiff. Park in town and walk up one of the paths into the park, it’s only a kilometre or so. Or camp in the campsite next to the lake and fall onto the course in the morning.

Main entrance up Castle Avenue. There’s another road, the exit for cars, just off Bann Road, behind Fresh Foods, which will also bring you to the lake.

The park is glorious. A nice 4k or so loop round the lake itself, paths to explore off to one side, and then a whole other area with multiple hilly routes to test you, running round and up/down Slievenaslat – you can see the start of the contour lines above the top right of the lake, above.

The start, seen from somewhere in the middle.
A slightly motion-blurred shot.

It’s a gorgeous run. It was entirely warm and mostly sunny on this lovely day, but even in grim weather you’ll have the constant distraction of great scenery. On a cooler day I might have wandered up the hill for the views, but was content to wander back, via the fields. I hadn’t originally planned to stay in Castlewellan, but my original accommodation cancelled while I was a few hours from the ferry, so booked in a rush. Having a parkrun on my doorstep was a bonus, never mind this whole area to explore. Obviously I recommend it.

Clearer views of the lake on the way back, after the out and back.

The out and back is the toughest section. There’s the greatest chance of mild congestion as runners are on both sides of the path. And more importantly, it’s uphill all the way out. Yes, that does mean it’s downhill all the way back to the lake, but – uphill all the way. Gently so, but still. Phew.

Another break in the trees.
Gathered at the finish.
Why leave the view?

Northern Ireland is not short of great scenery, but there’s quite a concentration in this Forest Park. Worth a visit on any day, but come along at 9:30 on a Saturday and you can parkrun, too. Lovely.

If you want to see shots from all round the run, this video from 10th July 2021 takes in the whole thing.

Results from Castlewellan parkrun, event 131. 138 finishers.

Larne parkrun, NI

Larne parkrun route. Out, 2 anticlockwise loops, back. Start by the Sea Cadets base (and currently in their car park, to allow distancing), next to the Drains Bay car park.

On the day Northern Ireland set a record for its highest recorded temperature, a run by the sea turned out to be a great idea. With a breeze and glorious views (which I noticed mostly while walking round after the event), this was a gorgeous run as the day warmed up around us.

The start and finish are currently in the car park, to the left. Just to the right of the second marshal are two signs, which mark the usual start point. Note that the map on their page suggests it starts in the park, which is not the case.
Looking the other way (South) from the finish line.

I hopped off the midnight ferry from Cairnryan at 2am, drove to the car park and then waited. At this time of year I only had a couple of hours of darkness, and those with the sky changing colour, to sleep before daylight came, so sleep was fitful. Dawn, though, was gorgeous, with the sea shushing against rocks as an atmospheric backdrop.

Facilities. Drains Bay car park is ample for the current size, leaving space for other activities such as the charity walk that set off this morning. There’s also parking for a food truck and a gelato truck that I only just resisted. The toilets there should be open from 9, but were opened before 8 this morning. There’s another car park on the water side just opposite the park’s gate, which is about 600m (the length of the out and back section) from the start and finish.

I was disappointed to see the whole distance only equated to 40m of elevation climbed, as it felt like it was rarely flat. The first out section is, but after that there’s fairly constant gentle ups and downs, with one long downhill section to complete the lap of the park. A pretty tough course, I thought, though I did complete each mile more quickly than the last, so I guess it’s not so lumpy as to completely knock the stuffing out.

After the first major climb, remember to look left for a view over the sea (I missed it till I walked round).

There’s plenty to see, most of which I missed in the general blur of trying to get round, even though it’s two laps round the country park. A trampolining area, campsite, cafe, fitness equipment and a mini railway. None were in use as I went round, though the park was getting busier after 10:30 as I walked round later.

The course was well marshalled and signed, with a few large signs put in place where there aren’t marshals. On the course map, above, you can see a small loop at the bottom left. At that junction you just turn right each time, so runners don’t cross each other to make the loop. All that said, there are also permanent arrows on poles, as shown in the picture below. There are probably other kilometre markers, too, though I only spotted the 1k – and that on my walk, not while running.

A few pictures of hills. Or gentle inclines to attack, perhaps, if you’re fitter than I am.

A few more tight turns on the route. On the first, you cross the road, keep the railings on your left and sharp right at the bottom. In the middle, pass the bench on your left, then right and left to not hit the fence. And finally, a cruel uphill with railings on the side, where normally you’d cut across the grass, but here follow the path round an S-bend.

There are other sections of the park, which aren’t covered by the run, and if you’ve time I recommend a walk to the far end (compared to the run start) to see the maze, flower garden and time garden – it must have been a long time since I’ve used a sundial as I was amazed at how accurate they were.

Larne – seaside location, scenic, coolish on a warm day and a testing place for a parkrun gallop!

Results from Larne parkrun, event no. 322, 17th July 2021.

Orangefield parkrun

Orangefield parkrun route. 3+ laps – start on the left, finish, fourth time round, near top right.

Orangefield park is in the South East of Belfast. It’s near several other parkruns, so were you to go and suffer a cancellation, you’d have a fair shout of making it to Ormeau or Stormont. The park merges into Greenfield park, which might cause consternation if you were to, say, glance up, sure you were in the right place, and see the name of a different park. There’s a toilet (20p) at the entrance, though it was out of order this morning.

Start near this bin, just to the right of the park entrance (which is at the top of the picture).

Belfast is a very easy city to drive through – big enough to have everything, but not so big as to be full of traffic – so although I was staying 20 miles away on the other side, my journey took just half an hour. I parked just over the road, by Dixon playing fields, which at the moment seems to have enough space for those who travel to the run as well as those who use the fields later. Plenty of people jogged off into surrounding streets afterwards, suggesting local participation is strong.

A wide path, an easy right turn.

I was there before 9, which is too early (9:30 start in NI. I hadn’t forgotten.) No one was around, and I had just a moment of wondering whether I was, in fact, in the wrong park. But no, it just doesn’t take that much setting up, and they weren’t so worried that they needed to be there before 9. The course is 3 and a bit laps, under a mile for each lap and about 6-700m still to go once you finish the third lap.

Round the corner, left turn over the bridge – four times.

For a short course, there are plenty of ups and downs, twists in the route and even a short section through wood, with mud underfoot. They’ve done a great job in making a straightforward course interesting. I was sufficiently discombobulated to wander off from the finish down a road that took me as far from the start as I had been all morning. I retraced my steps, rather than explore the main roads I found. That delay is why none of my pictures have runners in. By the time I had got back to the car, got my camera out and got back over the road, the tail walkers were way ahead of me, and had cleared the arrows from the course.

Kingfisher bridge. Not crossed on the route: straight on past it for 3 laps, turn right on the last.
The junction beside Kingfisher bridge. The wood may not be there when you go, but you’re heading straight on for laps 1-3, right to the finish on lap 4.

As last week, I enjoyed the run and being in a group doing the run, but not quite as much as I enjoyed finishing. But given that rain had been forecast, as it had all week, and had held off, likewise, it was mostly a pleasure to run in the warm air.

The finish, actual line already taken down. I expected the sign to be something motivational, so “DUMP WOOD!” didn’t quite hit the mark.

The first-timers’ briefing was fairly well attended, and my guess that some were tourists from GB was borne out in the results, as a couple of fellow well-travelled runners were in the group, one of whom was finishing her 250th different event after a long, long wait. It’s a good spot to choose; there are some more central, or more obviously scenic runs in the capital, so the numbers here aren’t too high, and it’s a good, testing run without any horrendous hills.

A few people picknicked in the grass by the cars after the event, which was probably just an impromptu use of a brief sunny period, but it was a decent substitute for a larger cafe gathering. Come to Belfast. Pick a parkrun!

Results from Orangefield parkrun no. 86, 3rd July 2021.

Limavady parkrun

Unencumbered by having some landowner permissions dependent on the full lifting of restrictions, parkrun was able to return in Northern Ireland on June 26th – unlike England, Scotland and Wales. I’d already booked a trip, but was only in Northumberland till the Friday before, allowing me to hop on a ferry from Cairnryan and head over.

I picked a small event, both to avoid any over-excitement and to make sure I wasn’t a part of a tourist invasion – though that didn’t happen on this first weekend. Limavady is a small town in County Londonderry, with the run taking place in a long, thin park in the middle of town. It’s not quite a mile round, so to get the 5k it’s three laps then a little bit extra (more than you might want, if flagging) to the finish.

Limavady parkrun route. Start at bottom left.

Outside of a pandemic, they use the leisure centre for changing etc., from where it’s a short walk to the start. They had suggested using the closer car park in the hospital, but it really isn’t far from the centre and I just parked there.

There was a general feeling at the start of relief as much as joy at being back, with people slightly amazed that it had been 66 weeks since the last event – many had expected to be paused for just a few weeks. Overall, although I felt a warm glow as I finally got to the finish, it felt more like the “oh yes, that’s parkrun” feeling I’ve had when overseas, in which case that acts as proof that it’s really no different in a foreign country. I suppose I’d explain that feeling as showing that it felt no different, and very familiar, even after a year out.

A little burst of excitement at seeing familiar signs. Yes, it is really happening!

The paths, as you can see, are fairly narrow, though no problem with under 100 people (59 on this day). Anyone who has started too far back can use the grass to avoid getting stuck. There’s a tight turn at the far end, round a loop then back onto the same path, so for a very short period, runners/walkers are going in both directions. It’s not flat – the first straight is slightly downhill, there’s a short and sharper uphill after the turn, and a little more uphill to come at the end of the lap.

The event director keeping it short, as per guidelines.

Although I’ve had to resign myself that being slower that a couple of years ago is now a feature, not a bug, I managed not to be lapped, and this was the fastest I’ve run in a long, long time. Proof that just being around others wakes up my competitive side. There were a few spectators watching from the side of the park – a lapped course makes that relatively easy. In fact, if you were particularly keen, the park is narrow enough that you could go from side to side for each lap, and support someone multiple times if you really wanted to gee them along.

From behind the finish line.

It was perfect weather for running – cool but bright – and just a joy to be back. I wasn’t sure if I’d get the bug for parkrun every Saturday again, but it came back pretty quickly. More to do with the pleasure of finishing than the uncertainty of “how much will this hurt?” at the start, for me, but definitely still there.

The finish line; a couple of trees just off the course.

Results from Limavady parkrun, event 255, 26/6/21.

Belsay Hall (with Castle and Gardens) and Prudhoe Castle

Based in Whitley Bay for a night, before returning to Hadrian’s Wall (which for location purposes means the relatively well-preserved section in the middle of the country), I visited a couple of local-ish English Heritage sites.

Belsay Hall, from the front – the Greek effect is deliberate, and continuous.

Covid restrictions mean that some of the inside areas are out of bounds, though this is a site in flux in any case. The covenant that passed the property to English Heritage stipulated no attempt to recreate rooms, but just allow the space to tell the story. It’s an approach that fits with English Heritage’s approach – there is quite a difference in feel between the well preserved but rather static Roman sites at Corbridge and Chesters and the still-excavated Vindolanda – and leaves the Hall stark, but beautiful. Also, in 2020 they are in year 2 of a 5-year project to restore the gardens and add more explanatory text to rooms, so there are several reasons for the place being light on text: you aren’t allowed everywhere, not all rooms are finished, and the place is being actively restored.

That still leaves dramatic buildings, and beautiful gardens. There are sculpted gardens near the house, being restored on a long-term plan, and slightly wilder, big on trees and rocks (think small cliffs, rather than a rock garden – this is the ‘quarry garden’), areas further on. There is a one-way system in place which works well. One family ahead of me came the wrong way, to a loud, questioning “I didn’t think that was the exit?” from the young girl who was part of the group, going the right way, ahead of me. They stopped to satisfy her curiosity, and therefore got to see whatever amusing lapse of judgement caused the crash of metal poles by the infringing family.

But little real harm done. With the current one-way system, you can see the house at the beginning or end of your visit, and I went straight in. It doesn’t take long, unless you’re really using your imagination, to wander through the ground floor and cellars. It is some house, with a view over the estate, with sheep still nibbling in fields that are out of bounds.

After your first walk through the gardens, you come to the 14th-century castle. It was a castle for a while, then converted to a grand house from 1614, before that, too, was not enough for Charles Monck, who had the large Hall built between 1810 and 1817. The castle is grand but for now is an easy visit, with more interpretation to be added, and only the ground floor open.

Most people, it seems, come to this popular site for the gardens, and you are taken back into them by the route once you leave the castle. There is room for kids to explore, and gnomes tucked away for them to find, if they need extra distraction.

I was in sight (through a gateway) of returning to the hall when I wandered down a side-path out of curiosity. I was glad I had, as it takes visitors to Crag Wood walk. Don’t be put off by the sign by the lake that warns that the full walk may take up to two hours – it certainly could, but only if you move gently, and stop at every bench. Treating it as a slightly more rigorous bit of exercise than wandering in the gardens, and not stopping, I did the ‘long walk’ (there’s a cut-off to the short one, half the distance at most) in about 15 minutes. It is under a mile, and even the warning that it is strenuous refers only to a long gentle climb and descent, rather than any dramatic scrambling. The view of the house from the path that takes you to the walk is its most-photographed, through lush and beautiful rhododendrons. Or so I read – it being October, it was a grand view, but shorn of flowers.

From there I headed South to Prudhoe Castle, in a dominant position to guard a crossing over the River Tyne. Getting to the castle is straightforward, but you have the chance to cross the Ovingham bridge, which is single-carriageway. It’s worth a look at the photo here on geographic.org.uk. There are some wider sections, though I wouldn’t have fancied pulling over and waiting for someone to do the same, so was glad to read on wikipedia that that isn’t generally the way it is done – people wait at either end, using “unwritten rules that usually function well”. It could never work in the South, where attempting to dominate is ingrained in people’s sense of entitlement.

There’s just a small car park for the castle, suggesting visitor numbers are fairly low, even without the booking and limited numbers required by a pandemic. There is an exhibition in the house inside the walls, though currently only the ground floor is open. That is enough to give context: most significantly, though it defied most invaders, this is the only Northumberland castle to resist the Scots. It has long been ruined (reported as such in 1776), but in a scenic, admired, fashion, rather than a sad one.

A marathon race. Most appear to be cheating.

The explanatory panels talk you through the history, from the Norman motte and bailey castle of the 12th century, through fighting for the crown and then, thanks to Henry Percy, against it in 1403. You can see evidence of the curtain wall sagging where it was built over the wooden fort (which then rotted under the ground) and of different buildings in the courtyard. For a while there were lavish gardens, later excavated such that they now show the medieval foundations. The exhibition has some great photos from the non-war residential years – a conservatory looks scenic, if odd, sticking out from a castle.

There is also a nice circular walk around the outside of the castle, which allows you to clamber down to the ruined mill house if you fancy. And I did. In fact, I did the circular walk twice. Although the entrance is very clearly up the cobbled path through the gatehouse, I spotted a “way in” sign on the door to my left as I walked up, and thought it might be some interesting route for one-way purposes. As indeed it is, but only so that the walk is one-way, not as a way into the castle. I realised my mistake as I wandered round the back of the castle, now several metres above me, but it wasn’t all that far to walk round. And no one saw, so it didn’t really happen.

Exploring Cornwall – with free parking

To start without controversy, Cornwall is stunning. It is also very popular, but often large parts of the really pretty bits are inaccessible, making useful land valuable. Parking is, then, a scarce resource, rationed by price – it’s possible to feel as though Cornwall is full, or that you have to pay wherever you go. In fact, it isn’t the case everywhere. Below are three spots with free parking and gorgeous scenery. You can walk much, or much less, further than I did, but I’ve included my routes for context. All these sites are best checked on an online map first for a route; and beware the little lanes that lead to them, especially Luxulyan and Penare.

Henderson National Trust car park

Henderson car park is in the middle, top.

This is a small car park, with sharply downhill access to the coastal path. Walk toward Talland, and there’s a lovely cafe (down another sharply downhill stretch), The Smuggler’s Rest, for hot food, cake, pop and beer. It was a gorgeous day when we visited, so we sat with cake first, then moved on to beer. Frankly, I just didn’t really want to climb the hill back up to the car, though we ended walking some distance towards Looe (just off the map to the East) afterwards, so I got into my stride.

Luxulyan

Luxulyan

Luxulyan is a village near The Eden Project (itself near St Austell). A drive down winding lanes seems unpromising until, all of a sudden, there is the small car park. Trails lead off into the woods, and there’s a relatively straightforward loop by the river. Very quickly, you come to the Treffry Viaduct. It used to serve two purposes, with water flowing under the top to power the water wheel, which let the tramway move up the valley. All this to link mines in mid Cornwall with the coast – now, surrounded by trees, tracks long gone, it is incongruous.

Penare/Hemmick Beach

Hemmick Beach, accessed via a few-hundred metre walk from Penare car park.

A little SouthEast of Boswinger, this is another car park accessed by little lanes, which I found a little nerve-wracking, though we passed the few cars with no trouble. Given that we came through the school run earlier on the journey, and they were well-practised at leaving space and politely letting people through, it might be more trouble with slow-moving tourist traffic than quicker locals. There’s a lovely, fairly strenuous, walk round the point to The Dodman. Near there is a large cross, erected by the religious. I couldn’t really see why it was there until I looked at the shadow and realised that it’s a big plus.

The beach is gorgeous and reached down a fairly sharp downhill walk. It’s only a few hundred metres from the car park, but not a straightforward wander.

Karpendonkse Plas parkrun, Eindhoven

Karpendonkse Plas parkrun route
Karpendonkse Plas parkrun route. Start near bottom left, next to the lake, and move away from it.

Karpendonkse Plas is a lake in the NE of Eindhoven, next to the Technische Universiteit. If coming from town, you could walk through the campus, or there’s a path to the North of it that follows the river. There is plenty of parking right next to the start.

The lake in sunshine
Karpendonkse Plas.

I stayed in Helmond, where there’s a cheap and quirky backpackers, which meant a quick hop on the train (buy your tickets online to save a euro off the price, making it €3.40 each way). I caught the 7:45, but as the journey is only 10 minutes or so, and the lake a couple of kms away, a later one would have done just fine.

There is a fabulous sports complex near the route, but it isn’t open before the event. I didn’t know that, but had used the toilets at the station in any case (€0.70). It is open afterwards, allowing you to wander past the athletes of Eindhoven Atletiek, running and jumping, if you head for a drink. The running club there – 1,500 members strong, and the original club of Sifan Hussan, among others – is supportive of the event, with members in the core volunteer team, but they haven’t yet flooded it with numbers. I am sure some will build it into their routine; a group were running round the playground to warm up, then using the lake, and they’d be ideal. That said, the parkrun is already getting good numbers, after local publicity including a TV spot, with 160 at the first and 78 today.

Finish line
Finish line, from the other side.

The route is straightforward. Starting at the SE corner, by the lake, two laps of the field clockwise (keep the field on your right), which then goes straight into two laps of the lake, anticlockwise (keep the lake on your left). Technically, 1.9x laps of the lake, given that the lap starts back at that SE corner, and for the finish you turn right at the NE corner, galloping across the field to finish between a hedge-feature. (I don’t have a better description – see pictures for a couple of hedge features.)

Finish line
Finish line, between hedges (and, yes, a small hill created there, too).

Path heading off round the lake, surrounded by trees
The start line. Start by heading right, on the path to the right. The two laps of the lake are straight on here.

The course is almost completely flat, with changing but always good surfaces. If it’s not tarmac, it’s hard-packed mud with shingle, or brick pavement. One of the team said they were asked about a winter course, but this place has never flooded yet, so they are confident that they’ll just, as the running club has, keep running round the lake. There were a few puddles on the path, which the same person had never seen before, but they weren’t big enough to be any serious impediment. I barely even got my shoes wet.

The first two laps of the field took me to about 1.2km, so each lap of the lake is about 1.9km. We had glorious sunshine on a cold day, which makes a difference to the photos. Fewer tourists than last week, 24 first-timers and a group of ‘unknowns’ who wanted the run, but not to scan, so there’s plenty of local interest.

I shared stories with the group – mostly volunteers – in the sports hall afterwards. You never know who you’ll end up talking to; the lady who initially spoke to me in fluent Dutch turned out to be a former double Eindhoven marathon-winner, Heather MacDuff. After thinking marathons sounded daft when London started, she discovered she was pretty good at running – going from a decent 2:55 winning time in 1986, to 2:34 in 1988 – but had no luck with selection for most major competitions, always running much better times when it wasn’t so necessary. Still, her times made mine seem very modest, but she was magnificently modest about it, and just as interested in talking about parkrun.

A gaggle of birds
A gaggle of birds. More or less on the course, now it’s clear.

I didn’t talk to the other volunteers as much, but it’s clear they are all interested in running, while being very keen to support the walkers. A large group accompanied the tail-walker (Sluitloper), having a merry time, and the first person I talked to asked “Are you here to walk?” as his way of asking if I was aiming to participate, which was a great way to phrase it.

The field you run round
The field. I don’t want to go on about it, but look at those hedgey, hilly things.

Results from Karpendonkse Plas parkrun, event 2, 7/3/20.

Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht

Bonnefantenmuseum, a brick edifice
Bonnefantenmuseum.

The Bonnefantenmuseum is on Avenue Ceramique, near the John F Kennedybrug (bridge). They have a permanent collection of Old Masters, with modern exhibits changing periodically. For me, these comprised The Absence of Mark Manders, Jan Hendrix: Terra Firme and a couple of pieces by Grayson Perry in the main entrance (though these may be more permanent). One gallery – to show Scenes from the Anthropocene, very soon – was closed, though I still easily passed a couple of hours there.

Entry is 14 Euros for adults, or 16 if you offer to pay the suggested extra donation. There are two, large, floors to look round, and a smaller third. I headed straight for The Old Masters on the first floor, in that that’s where I found myself after walking up stairs.

Denijs Van Afsloot, Winter Landscape with Skaters
Denijs Van Afsloot, Winter Landscape with Skaters, 1615-1620.

It was initially a surprise, given that it is now 2020, to spot the plaques under several artworks, to the effect that they were stolen during the Second World War, and haven’t yet been reunited with owners, or their heirs.

Plaque under some pictures: After the Second World War, this art object has been reclaimed from Germany and is currently under the governance of the State of the Netherlands, and is pending for restitution to the rightful owners of their heirs.
Reclaimed from Germany.

The paintings are varied and beautiful. Some of the faces seemed a little odd to me, though.

I headed up the stairs to check that Mark Manders was not there, and found it as advertised. His work is designed as a self-portrait, in building form. I’m not well enough educated to have followed it, but I found it interesting, as it spread from large to small exhibits, with the repeating motif of a head with a block vertically shoved in it.

The museum encourage new artists, as evidenced by this installation, also on the second floor. It isn’t as effective without the noises.

Jan Hendrix is, like Mark Manders, a Dutch Artist. He has lived in Mexico since 1978, with his work shown here, focussing on the country’s fauna. The large tapestries were rich and it was tricky to resist the temptation to touch them (though I managed it).

Black and white tapestry, of plants growing
Jan Hendrix, Tapestry.

Artwork on the walls and in display cabinets
One room of the Hendrix exhibition. It includes some of his collaboration with Seamus Heaney.

Hendrix is friends with Seamus Heaney, and they have collaborated on some lavish-looking books, with the artwork supporting poetry and displayed here.

Finally in the museum, I wandered into Stanley Donwood’s The Optical Glade, and happily took advantage of the beanbags on the floor, which gave me a view of the roof. A group of children changed the atmosphere, from quiet and reflective to boisterous and lively, as they came in and did the same. The blurb informs you that the soundtrack was created by Thom Yorke, from sounds recorded in a forest. It’s very peaceful, and slightly trippy.

Black and white lines meet in the ceiling
Ceiling of The Optical Glade.

I enjoyed my visit, and recommend the museum thoroughly. If all the galleries are open, it might take another hour, but it isn’t totally exhausting to walk through it all, though I’m sure it would reward repeated visits.

On a sunny day, the river looked beautiful, and the streets of Maastricht were winding and welcoming.

Tapijn parkrun, Maastricht

Tapijn parkrun route
Tapijn parkrun route. 1 small loop, 3 large.

Feb 29th 2020, and 6 parkruns launched in The Netherlands, the first in the country. 68 people attended Tapijn, while 228 were at Rotterdam’s first, and though most at the latter were Dutch, having six available to spread out visitors was a very good idea (Others: Goffert 60, Karpendonkse Plas 160, Maxima 206, Stadspark 91). I had picked Maastricht on the grounds that the far South of the country would be likely to be quiet, though it also felt like I was making a gentle political point. Meanwhile, back in the UK, a far greater one was being made to great howls of irrelevance, nastiness and stupidity (“they don’t like it up them,” “since when has it not been acceptable to shout at staff?” “they can’t call her racist, so they do this.” “look at him, crying”).

Tapijn parkrun is in Maastricht, easily reached from anywhere in the town’s centre, and a pleasant run or walk through a park which has several animal statues to find after the event.

I had walked to the start, next to the EDLAB building of the University, and the Tapijn Brasserie, the day before, but it is easy to spot if you’re heading there nearer to the start time. The brasserie has a tower which you can see over other buildings, just visible in one of the pictures below.

There is parking very nearby, that you pay for – I heard one participant talking about checking on her payment status while going round, so you can clearly pay online. Most of the run site is an old military barracks etc., and one Brit had come back to his old haunts. He had parked a mile or so away, to the South, knowing there was free parking there, so that’s an option, too, if you drive. It’s about 3 hours drive from Calais, 2:45 from Dunkirk, 2:15 from Hoek, 2:00 from Rotterdam.

The start is just a little further along to the West than the spot shown in the photos, but you can’t miss it. The run is anti-clockwise, with a small loop first, then three large ones. For the small one, starting on the bottom of the route map, above, head East, then take the first left, head to the end (ignoring the fork to the right, which is part of the larger loop), round and back to the start. For the larger loop, ignore that first left, to the end, left, left again past the bird cage. Then back to where you were, but this time right and over a bridge, a sharp right-turn to a short out-and-back section, then past the cage with a “creepy giraffe” in, bear right round the back of that, out of the park onto a pavement beside an access road, then left to head back in. You take the left fork on the path, going the opposite way along here compared to the short lap, then right (at the bridge) to the finish or end of lap.

Some – many – pictures to take you through the route, here.

It’s very simple on the day, well-marked and with marshals at crucial points.

The park is used by cyclists, walkers and people heading to the centre of Maastricht, but was pretty quiet at 9. With a bigger field they might have to make sure we all keep off the cycle lane before we set off, but we all moved out of the way for the one cyclist who came along during the briefing (they did one in English and a separate one in Dutch). One slightly bemused local got off his bike to wonder what was going on, and seemed happy enough to watch us till he realised there was still space for him to head through.

A sculpture of a giraffe, being mourned by a girl
The giraffe, described as creepy in the briefing. I didn’t see it through the cage in any case. It is a paean to lost species, I was told.

The brasserie should be on to a good thing, and has agreed to open early, from 9:30, to offer an obvious place for everyone to meet afterwards. The food looked good (this is not a complaint about its taste; I didn’t eat any), and the fresh orange juice was delicious. Of the 68 who participated, 27 were newcomers to parkrun, and most, if not all, must be locals. A group of 20 or more runners came through the park at around 10am, so there are further locals to hear the word and join in. Meanwhile, we sat and chatted for a good while, comparing travel notes, before heading off to different parts of the city.

Maastricht itself is a lovely city, of cobbled streets and tall townhouses. It’s also near Drielandenpunt, a point where Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany all meet, with a tower and labyrinth to let you enjoy the experience. It’s drivable from the England-France ferries, or the ones direct to The Netherlands. I recommend Stena Line’s Rail & Sail, which includes rail travel to any point you like on the NS network. £55 from anywhere in the Greater Anglia region.

As a side note, if you plan to be in The Netherlands for a while, it’s worth knowing that their own banking and transport systems are well integrated, such that as a visitor you can get stuck, without a Dutch debit or OV (transport) card. Buy train tickets through the NS app, and have euros for supermarkets (cards are generally fine in shops and restaurants).

Results from Tapijn parkrun, event 1, 29/2/20.

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