Melbourne-Warrnambool, via the Great Ocean road, 12 Apostles and Bay of Islands

Last time I was in Melbourne I got busy in the city alone. This time, inspired once again by Seat 61,  I took a trip by train and bus out to Warrnambool. The site suggests doing this trip as a replacement for a day tour from Melbourne, and so connecting with a direct train from Warrnambool to Melbourne in the evening.

I decided instead to stay for a couple of nights, to have a look around and run the parkrun. It also saved me a 3+ hour train ride at the end of a train/two buses ride.

The trip involves getting the 9.10 train to Geelong, then changing to a bus to Apollo Bay, and another bus from there to Warrnambool, in time to get the 5.30 train back. The full-distance train takes just over 3 hours. Arriving at Geelong, though, we were informed that the bus along the Great Ocean road to Apollo bay was getting held up by holiday traffic, so those of us needing to connect would be taken by an inland route instead. Which is a pity, missing a large chunk of the route, but unavoidable. That first bus was half full, but most of those people weren’t on the connecting bus, so either they got confused, or they were just in a hurry to get to Apollo Bay.

Apollo Bay
Apollo Bay, in the rain. Beach not pictured. Busy avoiding the rain.

The weather was pretty filthy – we got the rain that was later to hit Melbourne and rain off the cricket. As a result of taking the inland bus we had longer in Apollo Bay, an hour rather than half, but it wasn’t great. Tourists sheltering under cover and mobbing the shops rather than being able to enjoy the beach. It made for a quiet day for the lifeguards, at least, who could just watch a few intrepid surfers.

12 Apostles
12 Apostles, and tourists on the lower walkway.

The next bus should have four stops, but had to ditch two of them. We still got 25 minutes at the 12 Apostles (a ‘geologically significant marine park’), though, as the headline visit. Although the walkways were a vision of tourist hell, it was still possible to walk (briskly) the length of the walkway out to each viewpoint and snap a few pictures.

12 Apostles
12 Apostles.

Efficient tourism in action.

12 Apostles
12 Apostles.

People not pictured. But believe me, they were all around. The end viewpoint is a small, circular one, full of people. People round the edges, and people on the raised platform in the middle. I didn’t linger.

Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands – less populous than 12 Apostles, no less lovely.

We skipped Loch Ard gorge and London Bridge – the driver would have paused at the latter, but had nowhere to stop the bus. But you can see the bridge (a rock with a tunnel through the middle, very regular, just like a bridge) from the road. And then on to the Bay of Islands, which was quieter, and very lovely.

Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands.

All in all, it was worth the journey. 6 people on the bus, I think. We stopped to pick up a passenger just once, at Port Campbell, and I knew him – Silvestre, with whom I’d roomed and walked in Bicheno, Tasmania. We caught up, and then I left him to catch the train while I strolled through Warrnambool, which is a pretty town; plenty of beaches, and some decent walks between a few lookout points. If you hire a bike/go for a long run, you can get to an extinct volcano, further west, too.

Sunset in Warrnambool
Sunset in Warrnambool, Lake Pertobe.
Sunset in Warrnambool over the lake
Sunset in Warrnambool over the lake.
Info panel about Maremma sheepdogs, which protect Little Penguins in Warrnambool
Maremma sheepdogs protect Little Penguins on Middle Island, Warrnambool.

Isn’t that fantastic? Little Penguins were nearly wiped out by foxes and other predators, then someone had the bright idea of using Maremma dogs. In the first trial, the dogs swam back from the island, but were otherwise successful. Now they live alongside their penguins for a few days at a time, and there are many more penguins.

Merri Island and Middle Island
Merri island (front), Middle island (where the penguins live, behind).
Thunder Point view
Thunder point, seen without rain (unlike on my post-parkrun run).
View down to Lake Pertobe
View down to Lake Pertobe. Bridge in the middle is on the parkrun route. I read a book not far from here, on a bench, joined by an old lady with one finger to her ear ‘I’m just approaching the bench now, so you can join me here’. Company, I thought, and soon to be more. But there was no more; instead, she had several more conversations with her finger to her ear. Halfway through, she lost the narrative thread, needing more stimulation to come up with ideas. I think she started out as some kind of kindly old lady meeting a friend, then became a secret agent, had a lapse into saying ‘yes…yes’ a lot, not much excitement there. When I left she almost certainly slipped right into describing my movements, suspicious or otherwise; much better.
Lake Colac
Lake Colac, seen from the train. Enormous lake, but it has run dry twice in recent years.
Fields of corn
Fields of corn, from the train.
V/line tickets
V/line tickets. Top, paid-for, train and buses. Bottom – couldn’t book this one online, but travelling on NYE meant the 5.28pm train to Melbourne was free. So I reserved a spot on that one, thanks very much.

Melbourne and the MCG, Boxing Day test days 1 & 2 (and 3)

Narrow view of cricket, back of a covered stand
View from gate 1, MCG – better in person than it looks.

In a day or two I may look back on these words and shake my head sadly, but for now the cricket is full of possibility. Finally England look rock-solid, thanks to Alastair Cook not just scoring a few runs, but marching to a century. Australia’s first strike bowler out injured, his replacement, Bird, looking accurate and testing, but not so quick, and Cummins suffering an illness that robbed him of 5mph. Today, for the first time, the scoreboard did not contain one of ‘match fastest balls’ or ‘fastest bowlers in this match’, that information deemed unimportant while two of Australia’s bowlers were missing and Broad, whisper it, had hit 89mph anyway.

I arrived in Melbourne on Christmas Eve and rode the train out to Coburg, where my AirBnB room is. Coburg seems a nice suburb, a mix of nations, houses squashed in in places, but rows of neat lawns linked by concrete pavements, with a path along Merri Creek behind the houses to give a bike route into the city. My host showed me round, then disappeared. He has only lived here a couple of months, and has already converted the lounge into a bedroom. I picked him for a gamer, up late to enjoy more competition from more populous countries in different timezones, aiming to rent out rooms so as to supplement work. In fact, given that he didn’t surface till 4pm, I wonder if he is aiming not to work at all, though it is Christmas and even the Aussies get a day or two off.

At any rate, a tram ride on the no.1 took me into the city and despite walking the wrong way from the central station at first, I was in the ground before the first ball was bowled. Not quite the same spine-tingling feeling as I’d had in 2013, partly because I’d had to rush a bit, only soaking up any atmosphere at the end of my walk as I finally joined the throngs of people heading in, and partly because I only had a general admission ticket, and didn’t bother heading up to the 4th level, immediately finding a standing spot behind seats on level 1 which I figured would be the best view I was likely to get.

As ever, the Guardian do a good job of summing up the atmosphere. I suspect many haven’t noticed, but with a rolling crew of Vic Marks, Selvey and Gideon Haigh giving the many others involved something to aspire to, I reckon their coverage is the best. Certainly the beeb and Times have spotted their over by over coverage and done a Sky on it (that is, taken the concept and yet not managed to do it as well as the original despite greater resources). At any rate, I enjoyed a variation on the classic ‘watch on telly with radio commentary’ (not so doable now the TV has a satellite delay, though I haven’t tested it here, where cricket can still be popular among kids because it is on free-to-air TV), with ‘watch in the ground, read the over-by-over’.

Day one was slow. Not actually ‘boring’, as the half-English, half-Australian lady called it, very disparaging of Warner finally slowing down as he neared his century; “I get that it’s good for his stats’. It seemed very unfair, but he scored so quickly early on, that his slowing later may have looked super slow. The greatest moment, for the noise it generated and the pure theatre, came when England, with Tom Curran’s regular slower ball to confuse, set Warner up nicely to spoon one in the air with a wall of fielders in front and he duly did on 99, caught by Broad. Cue a huge noise from the England fans, who were still singing as the replay showed a possible no-ball. Now the noise swung as the Aussies drowned out the England fans. The noise! My goodness. Brilliant.

Warner was out soon afterwards, his innings looking better and better as England totally slowed Australia’s scoring. They’ve not always had two batsmen motoring at the crease, and that’s almost been their secret – Bancroft was way out of form, barely contributing runs, but England still had to bowl to him, and meanwhile Warner will always score, so just hang in there and if nothing else, tire out the bowlers. Several of their partnerships have been, or have started, in similar one-sided fashion.

It was slow, though, and I wandered outside for lunch, not returning immediately. Four lads were playing a boisterous game on the green sward right outside the MCG, and I was impressed that they were happy to let 5 other lads join in after they’d first walked by to eat, then come back. You might expect some rutting heads, or inter-group competitiveness, but they passed the bat round happily. Meanwhile a family had joined to my right, their boys hovering on the side, and soon a couple of the lads waved them into proper fielding positions, in the thick of it. With the next wicket, the eldest was given the bat, the bowler’s mark was moved forward, and his brother was given the ball. Fielders crowded round, so it was competitive, even intimidating, but they’d included the boys so effortlessly and so simply that it was a beautiful thing. Other youngsters were included, too, the bat moving round the group quickly. Lunch ended inside the stadium and everyone moved off. The parting shot reached my ears, fading on the wind as they left, “yeah, but the real game’s out here, right mate?”

Pick-up game outside the MCG
Everyone welcome to the game outside the MCG.

With Australia well set at the end of the day, I patted myself on the back at my good judgment in only having tickets for the first two days. Dare we hope to get Australia out for 350? Well, it’s possible. It seemed more likely that we’d all watch Australia bat, then put England in, we’d hope again and they’d lose at least one wicket too many.

View from a seat
View from a seat, block M7, gate 4, row Y. Shaded till 1ish.

I didn’t rush, though, and a huge roar greeted me as I, um, got my bags checked to go in. “Smith out bowled”, said the bloke from St Albans cricket club behind me “I hate you” – this to his mate, who perhaps had insisted on slightly too lavish a breakfast. I’ve hoped before, though, and now the scene was set for the Marshes to do the damage instead, with Ali bowling and leaking runs. The Australian crowd booed, the English hmmed in anticipation as Ali was swapped for Broad, and it started to happen. Three Australian batters pulled the ball onto their stumps, finally the luck that England needed. Crucially, Cummins looked comfortable but for once didn’t have a mainstream batsman for comfort, and Broad and Anderson were on to give nothing away. I had a seat today, and watched from there up until lunch. Broad appealed loudly for LBW against Marsh, and it wasn’t given. But something seemed different – normally he looks confident, but with an air of bullying ‘come on, give it to me’. This time his face was much more ‘but, but – that was out!’. They reviewed it, and sure enough, it was plumb. Never mind hearing the noise when Warner was repealed, I was in the ground when Broad got a review right.

314-6, and the OBO commented ‘What England would give for another before lunch’. They got two, Paine out despite looking totally comfortable, and lunch-watchman Bird out despite killing time with a review. One more and they could have extended play, but it didn’t matter – ill Cummins was next out, and with Lyon and Hazlewood at the crease, for a change the tail wasn’t wagging, and it just felt like a matter of time till the last wicket fell. And it was.

Back in the stands. The T-shirt in front of me said ‘Ashes tour, England v Australia’. Lovely. The phone cannot do it justice – the whole thing is in colour to the naked eye.

The sun had crept over my position during lunch, so I made the most of sitting down, watching it creep toward me, then stood up. I ended up next to a Southerner, here for just a week to fulfil a lifelong dream to see this match. He had also been sat in a sunny seat early on, surrounded by Aussies. When Smith chopped on he announced ‘see, no problem with our fast bowlers – he’s been beaten for pace!’. He liked the joke; I heard it three times. He was in for four days no matter what, but we enjoyed the opening part of the innings, hoping for a 50 partnership but not getting it, Stoneman out after a solid beginning. Something seemed different with Cook, though – he looked comfortable. Lack of pace in the attack? Helped by there finally being a sense that if they see off one bowler (Hazlewood) it will get easier? Or just the result of practice? It is a very odd thing that when things are bad (like England losing 3-0) everything can be painted in a bad light. I’d read in the week that Cook had spent hours and hours in the net since the last test, and how that showed he was short on confidence.

View over the MCG from the fourth tier
View over the MCG from the fourth tier.

Normally, you’d just point to it showing his level of desire. And that looks more like the outcome – he has hit a groove. It felt different, and the Barmy Army started up. Their song is a dirge, really, but starts well – ‘We are the army, the Barmy Army’, which you can sing at different speeds to good effect. As more people join in, the noise of that builds. Then the rest of the tune throws it away a bit. And they’re not ‘men-al’ at all. But still, the noise was magnificent, as first 50, then 70, then 100 people sang, England fans making their way to the group to join in, raise arms and sing as Cook moved towards his fifty.

Australians, meanwhile, were drinking, and hiding the beer cups, to build beer snakes. A few popped up later on in the day, to great cheers and laughter. Apparently it is a police matter, and the men in black appeared to take down pesky snakes. Frankly, the police did themselves no favours throwing people out; presumably for ‘disorderly conduct’, though I would like to see a lawyer challenges any justification, it seems tenuous to me. A snake of cups might be mildly distracting, but the crowd loves it, they make a noise, they link up chains of cups and that’s it. The ones at the Gabba got much bigger, and were mostly allowed to peter out. By all means stop it getting out of hand and spreading where people don’t want it, but the sight of police officers pushing people around, removing whoever they’d decided was the ringleader (snake builder?) just looked pathetic at best, and bullying at worst. After a while the stewards dealt with them, which was at least more in keeping with the level of offence. Meanwhile I had a small group of Aussies behind me who had the Aussie foghorn voice. There are usually a few of these, with tremendous volume. This lot moved from singing ‘AAAA-LAAAA-STAAAAAAIIIIIR’ to a great long sledge, “A-LAAAA-STAIR!!! YOU’RE THE ONLY CAPTAIN IN HISTORY TO HAVE STAYED IN THE TEAM WHILE THEIR MATE HAS TAKEN OVER! IF YOU WERE AUSTRALIAN YOU’D BE PLAYING IN THE BIG BASH!”. Which was pretty amusing, partly for being so convoluted, partly for the confidence involved in building for so long at that volume to such a specific punchline.

As the day ended, it was all about the landmarks. A lad next to me, only partly watching, reckoned Root would get his 50 and Cook end on 99. I thought the latter generous – Cook was only in the 80s, he’d just knuckle down and aim to be there tomorrow. But the lad nearly got it right. Cook pushed a single from the first ball with four overs to go, waved away a second run and left Root with all five to finish it off. He didn’t. But come the final over, Smith came on to bowl himself, with Cook on 93. Yeah, fair enough, tempt him, but also, probably, tie him down, unwilling to risk anything against a lesser bowler. Yet the first ball was a juicy full-toss, smacked to the boundary, and Cook was on 97. A clip to leg and they hustled, getting 2. Surely! Surely he’d get 100, and an awful lot of people would have to eat their words…and yes, Cook made it to 104, that last over ended up as a gift.

Plenty of room for it all to go wrong, but for now, the Australians don’t look indomitable, their use of the review system is not the best, and England have had an honest-to-goodness properly good day – excepting any ‘score 100 off 100 balls and lose no wickets’ pure fantasies, all pretty much as good as anyone could have hoped for.


I was staying in Melbourne on Thursday, but hadn’t planned to go to the cricket. Given the situation, I figured I ought to, finally feeling some confidence in the team. The MCG is so big that other than perhaps the first day, you can pretty much just turn up and buy a ticket. Doing so also avoids the handling fees, which I had also done with a theatre ticket the evening before (Book of Mormon, later in January, woo hoo!). Another general admission ticket for $30 AUD and I was in, standing on level 1 for a while before finding a seat up on level 4.

It was fairly cloudy all day, with a burst of sun in the morning and afternoon, and rain for my walk home. A fabulous day’s cricket, starting to swing Australia’s way as Root gave his wicket away, furious with himself, throwing his gloves to the floor behind the boundary and leaving them there as he stomped off. When Malan was out – though not, had he only reviewed it – it was in the balance, and 20 odd runs from Bairstow and skittish Ali weren’t really enough. Ali at least got a few runs, but was in a hurry – one reporter commented ‘I hope he at least caught his train’. He was shown how to do it by Woakes, who struggled, scoring singles with Cook, but they laid the foundations, hitting a partnership of 50. And that wasn’t the whole point, as their work in using up overs had aged the ball and tired the bowlers, which meant that after Curran came in for only a short innings, Broad could ride a roughing up by the quick bowlers before taking us back to 2010-11, scoring first a useful 20, then going on and putting on a 100 partnership with Cook. For a while, they batted and took runs at will – apparently they’ve never batted together before, but they formed a good partnership, calling and running well together. They’ve known each for long enough for that to work, I suppose.

I thought Cook scoring a century yesterday was satisfying and memorable, but English and Australian alike stood to applaud the 200 when he got there. Magnificent.

Even Broad’s dismissal was entertaining. Khawaja took a decent catch on the dive, rolling over it to cast some doubt, so Broad reviewed the decision. Replay after replay followed, and it was never going to be totally clear. Broad put his helmet back on, in case any of the Aussies weren’t going to boo him off and get him worked up – he said it was hard to overturn a ‘soft decision once given’ when interviewed, but it looked out to me and the Aussie next to me*.

But still, the Barmy Army stayed in full voice, hardly stopping singing, and it was magnificent. By the end of the day, with fewer England boundaries to cheer, they adopted Jackson Bird. As he whirled his arms, warming up, they gave a big wooooooaaaaaa, with ahhhhhh following the full action. He carried on warming up, then stopped one mid-action, to huge applause. When he bowled, to Anderson, I think he’d have got a huge cheer had he got him out. And during the final over, the song was ‘We love you Jackson, we do’, followed by ‘We love you Nathan, we do’. Just great.

Score board showing Cook's score of 244*
Change the record books – Alastair Cook has the highest score ever at the MCG.

* with hindsight, he wasn’t though. That ball is dropped.

TV shows Khawaja dropping the ball.
TV shows Khawaja dropping the ball.

Studley parkrun, Melbourne

Studley parkrun route
Studley parkrun route.

I travelled yesterday. A scoot to the airport from Bicheno, ticking the trip meter over the 2,000km marker on the way, then a flight to Melbourne. Again I was in the emergency aisle seat; I think that Jetstar just like me. As a result I was first off the plane and could hear the incredulity from the ground staff as the plane completed a round trip. “Oh” said Brad, cabin staff-in-charge, looking outside after we’d taxied to the terminal, “It’s whatserface who saw us off!”. “My” said whatserface, “that was quick! How many hours was that!”. 50 minutes to Hobart, 50 minutes back, barely time to even miss the crew.

I am in Melbourne, in the suburb of Coburg at an AirBnB. I picked Coburg because there’s a parkrun there which is running on Christmas day. However, it’s also running as part of a double on New Year’s Day, so I jogged down to Studley parkrun today instead. By sheer good luck, the route there from here is, or can be, scenic: mostly along the Merri Creek route then into Yarra Bend park. I cut the corners a bit, cutting across a few roads, but for a longer run, following Merri Creek would get you there.

People gathered in the sun, by tall trees, for the briefing
Studley parkrun briefing.
Sign says Merri Creek Trail
Merri Creek sign. Yes, it seemed amusing on Christmas morning.

Melbourne has some lovely open spaces in its outer suburbs, I ran past chittering birds, a velodrome, several cricket pitches and a running track that seemed to be open for anyone to use. A few people were doing just that as I ran back, impressive effort for Christmas morning.

Suspension bridge with red pedestrian barriers
Kanes Bridge, a suspension bridge, run over after 1k (other way) and 4.7 or so (this way). Wobbles a bit.

The run got a decent turnout, 160, including several Brits there for the cricket – no quips made. No need. There are toilets near the start if you need them. And a barbecue at the finish area, which got good use today. Every other public barbecue I spotted on my way back was being setup ready for a Christmas meal – get in early if you want to follow suit!

View of a brown river from the bridge
View from Kanes bridge.

The route takes in a 1km loop, bottom right of the route map, up first to thin the crowd out a bit before the charge over the bridge, then it’s an out and back. Plenty of uneven terrain, tree roots and the like, to keep it interesting, and a couple of testing hills. I wasn’t pushing too hard, but tagged along with a group of local runners who were clearly running within themselves, which made it a nice progressive effort, accelerating towards the finish. We were a group of 4, only 3 at the end, and the one dropped wasn’t me, though I ended the run pretty much flat out while the other two jogged in. And we weren’t especially quick overall (22:00 for me). None of them checked in, so there are several unknowns in the results – not wanting to put their names to the time.

I did, of course. And then enjoyed some of the breakfast provided by Old Xaverians, who have been running and eating here on Christmas Day since the 1970s and now combine it with parkrun, which is excellent.

Sausage, bacon and egg for breakfast
Breakfast. There was fruit, cake and drinks as well. Had I not found a supermarket last night, I might have stocked up to save me going hungry/getting bored of tuna and pasta.
A volunteer stands beyond the finish line, which is marked by cones and parkrun flags
Studley parkrun finish.
Elevation map of Studley parkrun
Studley parkrun elevation. Nothing massive, but the climb near the end (which you run down on the way out, just after crossing the bridge, 1km in) is enough to give pause.

It’s a lovely run. It is still mostly an out and back, in Aussie style, but the loop, surroundings and changing underfoot conditions keep it interesting and a decent challenge. The conditions would change a bit, possibly even be a little easier, with a bit of rain – it was hard-packed mud today, so no relief if you got foot placing wrong in a rut or tree root.

A pillar stands on the grass
Pillar of Yarra Bend asylum. This is all that’s left of the asylum, placed here because it was more or less enclosed by water. Conditions were not good.

The run back was good, too, with plenty of locals out exercising to start their Christmas Day. Easy when it’s 20 degrees and sunny.

Results from Studley parkrun, event 98, 25/12/17.

Railton parkrun, Tasmania

Railton/Tasmanian trail route.
Railton/Tasmanian trail route. Watch for horses, walkers, snakes, they said. None of that.

From Penguin, North coast of Tasmania, where I stayed last night, to Railton. It’s a trip of about 42 minutes – which in Tasmania, means it will take you 42 minutes, maybe a little less. After two weeks driving here, I’m still not used to the idea that I pull up at an intersection and find no traffic coming.

I was still there plenty early, though, unable to shake the ‘just in case’ margin for error I was leaving, though I’ve probably started shaving it such that it won’t be enough if/when I travel distances to parkrun back in the UK.

The course isn’t a pure out and back. It’s more complicated to describe than run. But still – start at the green dot, run all the way to the bottom. Turn around, come back up, turn left and do the loop clockwise, twice. Second time you come out, go back to the bottom, turn around and go all the way back to the beginning.

The turn’s tight and the gap small, and needs the marshal who is stood there, and there’s one clearing in the reserve which also benefitted from having a marshal there, but otherwise it’s well signed. Though one or two of them aren’t visible till you get there, and I could tell, as I gained on the bloke ahead, that he hadn’t run it before as he reacted to a left-arrow.

Turned out he’d receed the course, too. He had his whole family with him, and perhaps they were staying nearby. I suspect he, like me, had spotted the relatively slow times and low numbers – the volunteers reckon this one will remain primarily a run for tourists, even if mostly those from within Tasmania – and wondered if he might get a first finish. Sadly for him, I was ahead of him last week at Launceston, and repeated the trick again today. He’ll be glad when I don’t show up wherever he is next Saturday, though knowing his luck, he’s headed for Melbourne for Christmas.

Runners just after the start.
Just after the start – I’m not at the back, but not the front, either.

That hadn’t felt so likely at the beginning, as I chatted with volunteers (also tourists) and didn’t warm up. As I set off, though passing optimistic youngsters, I was concentrating on the stony ground underfoot, and not worrying about the people ahead of me.

Pre-run briefing
Briefing. There were actually 29 completing the event, just not in this picture.
Me with two other tourists
Three visitors from the UK – though the other bloke is originally from Tasmania.
Finish line
The finish also looks sparse, but scanning is elsewhere (just up the road, turn left out of the park).

They weren’t getting away, though, and I got into my running and set about tracking them down as we ran through the woods, on the Tasmanian trail.

Arrows on a tree
Didn’t spot these at all during the run. Marshals were in place, I think, here.

This was a parkrun to mark for all sorts of reasons. My last full day in Tasmania, and so, for now, my last parkrun in Tasmania – I’ve done 3 of the 6, but they’re planning to open up at least another 5 in the new year, so nothing significant about my numbers there. But today was my 10th parkrun anniversary, having started at Banstead Woods on 22/12/2017. It was also as near as I could get to my own (birth) anniversary, which was the day before. And as a result of that, I was running in a new age category, 45-49 (holy cow).

Out in front.
Out in front.

All of which made me extra pleased when I realised that the front two, then one, were coming back to me and that I was going to pass the shuffly-styled runner in front of me on the loop (though according to Strava, he ran that loop quicker than anyone else ever has) and take 1st place. It was probably the best chance I had of finishing first in Australia, so even though position is hardly the point of parkrun, I’m super pleased. When I finished first for the first time (Swindon, on a rainy day – slowest first finisher time ever, then) I reasoned that for ever more, my best position on my parkrun history would appear as first, and now the same is true of my Australia parkrun history.

Running down the trail
Running down the trail.

I sat in the cafe afterwards – across the (massive, but quiet) main road through town, diagonally across from the barcode scanning point – talking to the event director and her husband (Leanne and Leigh Evans), who are Launceston regulars, parkrun tourists and all round good eggs. They introduced me to the Peel club, which they are members of, having run a parkrun in every Australian state. With vague plans to head to Canberra (incorporating a Saturday) on my way back from Sydney in January, I think I only need visit the Northern Territories to join them, so they may unwittingly (in the sense that they will not have realised how close I am) have made that a ‘thing’ for me, too. Watch this space (but be patient, obviously).

Tasmanian trail
Tasmanian trail.

Launceston parkrun, Tasmania

My 5th Australian parkrun of the trip, and 16th overall, and… not an out and back! Or at least, not a simple out and back, as it has a loop in it. You still run out on the same km as you run back in on.

Launceston parkrun route
Launceston parkrun route.

Another lovely parkrun. The day started cloudy, completely cloudy, but by the time we were running, a little after 9, sun was poking through.

Launceston station (disused)
Launceston station (from when Tasmania had railways), on the way to the start.
Launceston parkrun start line
Start line. The briefing is behind me, by the Univ of Tasmania stadium, hence no one here at 8.45.

The run director was new but did a lovely job, and for once was rewarded by those who were due to do their 50th today almost all being there, to stand out front and have a photo taken. Reading out a list of names of people who are on 49 runs and might be here must be unrewarding. And there were also some visitors from Brisbane/Cairns, who seemed a little cold.

The run is pretty flat, starting right next to the river Esk, before turning left (and dropping down a couple of metres) for a loop round Heritage forest before heading back the same way. The surface isn’t tarmac, there is a grassy verge in a lot of places if you want to run on that, but otherwise it’s a decent loose stone firm path. Pretty quick, in other words. As is usual for me in Australia, the front was out of sight – front two, this time – and third was a long way ahead, too, while I worked my way through to loosely hold on to the few ahead of me.

Launceston parkrun finish
Launceston parkrun finish (yes, also the start).

Scanning happens back at the stadium, smiling happy people taking care of it from a booth. Another perfect excuse to get up on a Saturday morning.

I ran in my 250 shirt, nice and anonymous before and after the run until cooling down, going a slightly longer way through town. “Parkrunner”, I heard a man comment to his wife. He was right, but why was someone who knew enough about parkrun to spot a parkrunner by the number on their back (250s are rare here, so many people don’t recognise them) walking through the centre of town at 9.40 on a Saturday morning?

He missed out. I did not.

Scanning barcodes at the University of Tasmania stadium
Scanning barcodes at the University of Tasmania stadium. Great stadium by British university standards, and pro 20-20 games are played here. US universities wouldn’t think so much of it.

Hobart parkrun, Risdon Brook park, Tasmania, Australia

Saturday, a new parkrun, and another new time – they start at 9am in Tasmania, just like England and Wales. I started my Tasmania trip in Hobart, so figured I’d stay there and run Hobart parkrun first up. Until I walked across it and got the willies, I was going to run the 11km or so to the start and perhaps run back. But there’s a perfectly good bus service, leaving at 7.54 from Hobart, that will get you to the bottom of the hill outside the park in 20 odd minutes for $3.30. I sat, conspicuous in my 250 parkrun t-shirt and with my bag, and was spotted by the one other runner, Adrian, who was catching the bus. Perfect, as I now had a guide so didn’t have to think about where to get off, not that it is difficult.

I had my bag, incidentally, because I picked up a bargain in Hobart. I booked two nights in one hostel, then noticed Jetstar had sent a $25 off accommodation code. Surely that couldn’t work in a hostel? Well, yes it could, so I had one night booked in a different hostel for $3. I didn’t believe it would really work, but it did, and changing location felt daft, but was really not trouble.

To the run. Once off the bus, it’s a wander up a fairly steep hill, which gives you the idea that this will not be a flat course. It is still a 2.5k out and back, like most of the other Australian parkruns I have done, but with some turns, climbs and descents. They aren’t really shown by the course profile:

Hobart parkrun profile
Hobart parkrun profile (the blue line is my pace, ignore that). Quite a climb in the middle, even if not that high.

The day before, I had run out of the hostel and turned right, towards Mount Wellington, expecting to find some beautiful scenery. And I did. Plus a climb. I only ran for around 45 mins, but boy, my legs were heavy after this one:

Knocklofty reserve
Knocklofty reserve – now that’s a climb.

At least you can see I ran uphill. The first mile was over 10 minutes, second only to an uphill mile at altitude in Ethiopia. Then I was into Knocklofty reserve, and followed signs taking me round the summit loop. Fabulous views.

Knocklofty views
Knocklofty views.
View down over Hobart – this isn’t the summit.
View down over Hobart – this isn’t the summit.
Narrow track
One side of the summit loop, the down side for me, is a narrow track that loops through the trees with some hairpin bends.

Enough about Friday’s run, this is the view that greeted me once up the first hill, walking to parkrun. The meeting point is in a hut away to the right, the start just below the lip of the hill, below. The start, and first km plus, is pretty flat with just a few turns.

Hobart parkrun, Risdon Brook park.
Hobart parkrun, Risdon Brook park.

People were interested in my 250 shirt – it is a rarity in Australia, and Adrian didn’t remember having seen one in Hobart before, so I had some minor celebrity. The run was tough, though my initial thought that I would take it easy was removed by the usual competitive instinct, plus the fact that Buzz, who Adrian had pointed out as a potential marker for me, was just ahead. I managed to pass him and keep him behind me, even as he pushed on towards the finish. Plenty of people ahead, mind, and running just over 20 minutes (20:04) was 5 seconds more than I would have liked. Lovely parkrun, and chatting to visitors from Adelaide, and the run director from Kent, in the cafe afterwards made for a sociable morning. I even got a lift back into Hobart.

Hobart waterfront, where I sat, later.
Hobart waterfront, where I sat, later.

Because it was a fabulous place, and I worked hard to get up there, below is a picture from the summit on Knocklofty reserve. On the way down, I saw signs to ‘Frog ponds’. I wondered what they might be, so ran over. With hindsight, and you’re probably there already, it’s fairly obvious what a frog pond would be, and there was more than one – take them in, for the noise, if you’re in the area.

View down over Hobart – this isn’t the summit.
View down over Hobart.

Hobart – a day walking (and sleeping)

Say what you like about getting to a place early, and it is a pain to be up in the middle of the night (even if you are more sensible than me, and don’t attempt to sleep lying on the floor in a cool terminal), but arriving at 7am gives you the chance to walk miles in a new place, have a good couple of hours sleep in the middle of the day, explore a little more, run and still be in bed well before 10pm.

Grassy field near Hobart airport
Hobart airport is relatively easy to walk off. No pavements, but plenty of grass to stroll over. Just stay off the helipad.
Grass in Tasmania
Loud croaking came from this grass (cause not pictured).
Tasman Bridge
The Tasman Bridge, after I’d walked across and was feeling much better about the whole thing.

Heights are not my favourite. Wobbly bridges are not my favourite (wobble may be more in my imagination than anything else). But if I was to complete my journey, I either had to pay for another bus ticket, or walk over the Tasman bridge. Signs warn that it’s a high-wind area, and there’s a traffic light system for pedestrians as well as cars. All green today. No pictures from the middle of the bridge, though, because I was too nervy to get the phone out. I did turn and check for bikes several times, but have long-since practiced the ‘see without looking’ technique that let me turn, pointing my eyes through the railings and over the water, without taking anything in.

I spotted a plaque when just a few minutes into walking over the bridge. Reading that it commemorated the Tasman bridge disaster, and those who lost their lives, did not help me much. Nor did the ‘are you in crisis?’ signs and telephones for the Samaritans-equivalent. Not that I wanted to jump, but I was aware that my facial expression, and inability to turn round without holding the railings, might all add up to an embarrassing ‘what the heck is that bloke doing? Let’s go help’ incident.

Nothing happened, and soon I was passing the botanical gardens.

I never promised you a university rose garden. But here it is anyway.

University Rose Garden
University Rose Garden.

After a sleep in the afternoon, which was deep and restful but didn’t clear my overwhelming tiredness (and the over-emotional thoughts and potential bad decision making that comes with it – there is, incidentally, no further story here; I just needed a good night’s sleep to recover and feel great about life again, and knew that, so mostly just ignored darker thoughts) I explored the waterfront a little.

It is still incongruous to see a Christmas tree in sunshine, even if it wasn’t a boiling hot day.

Hobart Christmas Tree
Hobart Christmas Tree.

In part because of the temperature (cool and slightly drizzly so far, known for being cooler than the rest of Australia), Tasmania so far feels more English than the mainland. That feeling is helped by coming across funny little clubs, like this one – lapidary. It may be thriving, but was very quiet as I walked past.

You may also get the idea from that photo that there are hills. I ran in the evening, up and down hills, ending up on the beach at Sandy bay, with sun poking through after a drizzly start.




Small building on sloping street
Not readable now I’ve squashed the photo for bad internet, this is the Lapidary club of Tasmania (working and finishing stone).

Staying in the middle of nowhere with airbnb

MacDonald park – far away.
MacDonald park – far away.

I stayed in MacDonald park, Adelaide, marked in red on the map. It’s a fair way out of the city, as you can see. 4km in a straight line from Broadmeadows station, if you were to be naughty enough to walk over the freeway. It’s not actually that far from the nearest town (Angle Vale, 4km), or the nearest bigger town (Elizabeth, 10km), but I’m always trying to walk everywhere, so I felt a little remote. My hosts would happily have given me a lift to anywhere, though, so that passed. In the meantime, there was so much to enjoy.

If you haven’t used AirBnB and would like to, this link will give you £25 credit (subject to spending just over 2x that):

Walking to Angle Vale, Adelaide hills away to the East.
Walking to Angle Vale, Adelaide hills away to the East.

Although my hosts had been there 15 years and saw the place as having stayed still, there are a few empty lots where they are – they are 2 acre lots, so pretty large – and some new houses being built where people have grabbed a lot.

Natural drawing pin, ouch
Plenty of these stuck in my trainers after a walk. Natural, but built like a drawing pin, you don’t want to tread on them in bare feet.
Long straight road
Long road to anywhere. Large plots to live in by the side.
Tinsel on gates
Spot the tinsel on the gates – Christmas in Australia.

Along with their many other jobs, my AirBnB hosts have also bred dogs, which left them with Harriet, the softest labrador you could ever meet.

Harriet, the labrador
Harriet, making friends. It doesn’t take much before she rolls over for a scratch.

And I have a few pictures of the garden, to give you an idea of the relative luxury I stayed in.


Adelaide Oval, 2nd test, days 1-3, Dec 2017

On my second night in MacDonald Park, I was joined by three English travellers, Jim, Ian and Irene, who were also here for the cricket. All are from the North, like most of the English people I’ve met here. And they had a car, so I had friends to ride in and out of Adelaide with, at least until the evening of the 3rd night, when they moved on. I missed them – not just for the lift, but also the camaraderie, and hearing stories from Ian (with the other two being a couple, we tended to end up walking and sitting together) of life in Cheshire. I told him a friend played cricket for Surrey seniors and he told me a story or two. He also spent the next day in a polo shirt which let me know (he hadn’t mentioned it) that Cheshire Seniors were champions in 2011, 12 and 16.

Bright sun shining through clouds, reflected on the Torrens river
Day 3, river Torrens in sun at last. It was cold till now, especially in the stadium.
River Torrens
The best bit of Adelaide city, by the river.

Adelaide is a pleasant, boutique city, albeit one which wears it’s homelessness and few drunken, troubled locals in plain sight. The Oval, too, is quite a ground; despite redevelopment, it isn’t the concrete basin that the Gabba appears to some (though that is also a very functional, pleasant ground to be in, if not to look at). They have preserved the original scoreboard and made a feature of the stands, which undulate. For just $99, you can take a tour up to the top and walk along the undulations to see come cricket. Seems excessive to me, but there is a steady stream of people heading there. For the opening day, with Adelaide society picnicking outside and walking around, well dressed, they used the space for singers (sadly I can’t remember what they sang), which was magnificent. Add in the anthems and it was quite a show.

Night view under lights
Night view under lights – I’d moved a few sections to my right to join my housemates..
A man in a hat ahead of me, a low view of the pitch ahead of him
Undulating stand roofs in the Oval. Lancastrian ahead. View restrictor to the right.

I was sat in a $56 dollar ‘restricted view’ seat. It was fabulous. It was right by the pitch entrance for the ground staff and TV commentators, with the view restricted only by a metal bar which blocked the boundary to my right if I slouched. KP, Warne, Slater, Nicholas all waited nearby before heading on to the pitch, while Mr Cricket was unbothered by autograph hunters as he did his bit, and Gillespie came to sit in the crowd on the other side of the entrance, seeing very little for 10 minutes while he signed whatever people brought him. On day 1, right behind me was sat a narrowly post-pubescent Aussie teen, with voice cracking at times of excitement, and a determination to ask questions of the passing commentators. We were interrupted a couple of times for rain, waiting some time for our area to move under cover, and passed the time of day. On day 2, I moved down three rows… and so did he. By now we were friends, so I got the full benefit. He is a Man U fan, too, so that keeps my perfect record of finding one in every country. My housemates are Man City fans, so much more pessimistic, “if there were cups for cock-ups…”.

View of the stands, as Kevin Pietersen waits to come out onto the pitch to talk
KP waits. I heard some of his commentary on day 4. I really did. Very very much heard it.
Outside view of the stadium from across the road
Not pictured – general sense of excitement before everything happens.

On day 3, by which time it seemed to be heading to a quick and inevitable England defeat, I was up in the large stand which is a pretty good view for $30. My housemates had paid more, it seemed, for a worse view further up; I’m not sure how that works. On day 3 they had $125 tickets, also up on level 5, though I assume they were at least towards the front of it. I’d just say that unless you’re in the double-letter seats (row UU, say, rather than row K, where I was), the view is good, you can see the screens and mostly make out the announcements.

For England, it was a frustrating test. Australia built a foundation without really looking certain to pass, say, 350, until it became clear England were never going to take a cluster of wickets – they fell regularly, but always singularly, so everyone got runs. Lots of bat-passing, though I did read a comment from Vaughan, that they were bowling ‘prettily’, which means the ball isn’t pitched up, so beats the bat but without really testing the batsman. When England batted they started quickly – if nothing else, it is already clear Stoneman brings runs where Carberry brought crease-occupation – and everyone looked comfortable, until they got out. It really is remarkable how every Australian quick bowler sneaks just up to or over 90mph on the technology (144.8) when that used to be regarded as rare. Maybe the pitch is stodgy, but none of England’s front line bowlers looked immediately discomfited by pace, and pulled the ball down, looking casual from the side. They even disturbed Lyon’s rhythm early on.

Adelaide Oval, seen from over the river Torrens
Adelaide Oval.

All of which sounds like a success, but it wasn’t, not at all, until Overton showed that yes, he can bat, and that might be enormously important – rather than England being 7 batsmen and then bam, the innings is over, now they may have 9 possible scorers with Broad a wildcard. These are all the positives, though, with the reality being that Australia made 442-8 declared, England 227 all out (though it might have been 150) and despite Australia not enforcing the follow-on and adding only 138, only one result is likely.

View of the pitch from high in the Adelaide Oval
View from higher up.

Day-night tests are interesting. If the over-rate were kept to, there would only be an hour and a half or less in actual darkness here, with play due to end at 9, but everyone bowls slower than that, so 9.30 is likely. Because of rain delays we had extra extra play on day 1, with 10.10 the close, which is pretty late.We then dashed over the footbridge to make the 10.26 bus replacement to get to the car. It is perfectly possible on a good day, though, to head out during the dinner break (after 6) and wander along the Torrens in the sunshine. Day 3 and my friends were heading for McLarenVale in the evening, so we headed there in the car beforehand (I went along for the ride) before deciding to just park outside the ground. Are there any test grounds in England where you can park right outside for $20 (£12ish)? It felt pretty good, despite the steward’s vague parking instructions causing a minor domestic while Ian and I stayed quiet in the back.

An admission. By midway through day 3, despite being cheered up by Woakes and Overton, I figured I had seen how this match was going. I headed down to level 1 and watched, standing, from down there while England’s innings was polished off quickly. Broad and Anderson were obviously bowling well, but one wicket wasn’t enough return, and I headed off at 8, hopping on a bus with a cheery but small Australian crowd. Khawaja was nearly out first ball – the knowledgeable Aussie stood next to me, from whom I learned a few things, admiringly called Anderson’s delivery ‘a jaffa’ as it passed just outside the line of off stump, passing between bat and body – but batted well after that and I figured I’d be home before my kind hosts convinced themselves to stay up late and wait for a call for a lift. Remove the doubt, I figured – they are so generous, that when they wrote to me to say they’d bend over backwards to make my stay enjoyable, they meant it. And so I missed three England wickets and a testing session. I also decided to watch day 4 on TV, rather than head back into the city, and that might have been the day with most success for England. Not that there has been a really duff day, even for the most rabid England fan. If they can keep their heads up, they may stay competitive till the end.

Gold fountain outside the Oval
Park outside the Oval.

Scorecard from 2nd Test 2017, Australia vs England.

Adelaide – a travelling mini adventure

In the rain, I flew to Adelaide on the Wednesday (29th Nov) after the Gabba test. I was wet more or less through, and grateful for the pilot announcing that the weather in Adelaide was hot – 35 degrees or so. And we all enjoyed the cabin crew announcing, as we landed ‘if you’re home, welcome back, and if you’re here for the cricket, hope you enjoy the Aussie win’.

Less enjoyable was the queue at the gate to get cabin luggage weighed. Tigerair have a 7kg limit, and I knew I was over it. Luckily, I’d already paid the extra to go up to 12kg, so my 10.2 was just pleasing. Down from the 11.5 before my Singapore flight, surely I can get down to 7 by the time I fly to NZ? If not, there are some clothes which may not make the trip. The rumour in the queue from frequent flyers is that Tigerair actually give you 3kg grace, which I suppose allows for the ‘right, watch me while I wear everything I can’ factor and seems sensible, but I didn’t hear that from a member of staff.

On the plane the tall man next to me had his laptop out and I glanced across – cricket stats, word open on an article, Guardian website… hmm, clearly a journalist, possibly an OBOer? I kept sneaking a look as he worked, then eventually realised that it would tell me his name when he opened the case after takeoff. Not only was he an OBOer, but he was the OBOer I’d written to and from whom I’d got my first mention on the coverage. I introduced myself when he returned (from writing a piece with Geoff Lemon, it turned out) and wasn’t working any more chatted at the end and swapped numbers, though it’s unlikely I’ll get to the pub in Adelaide, for reasons that will become clear.

I landed at 5pm and the sky was cloudy. Walking out of the airport, the air-conditioning holds on to you for a while, such that I was just thinking ‘so where’s this temp…’ when it finally hit me, half way across the concourse. No sun, early evening, a big dry heat, cor, that’s different. I found my Adelaide metrocard still had a balance, rode the bus to the city centre, wandered to the railway station, found the rail replacement service (don’t worry if you’re coming to Adelaide later and heading North – work finished on the 5th December) and hopped off at Elizabeth.

Now. I’d looked on the map when booking an AirBnB, and spotted several stations nearish. A bit of a walk, but I can walk or run a distance, and a combination of run and train would give me a choice of parkruns. I also checked for local buses and figured Elizabeth was a good choice – the 900 bus would take me to the end of a long road, and I could walk the rest.

My route – walking at first, then jogging.
My route – walking at first, then jogging.

I realised my mistake immediately. Yes, there’s a bus, but it is one a day, and that’s in the morning (with another one doing the return, guess it’s based around a school/working day). It was around 7 by now, and I didn’t really fancy waiting 12 hours. Google maps had told me the timing – yes, sure, hop on the train in the evening, then the bus in the morning – but I’d only looked at the route, planning my walk.

Other stations were nearer, but I also wasn’t going to wait for the occasional train – they go every half hour till 8, but I hadn’t checked that then. So, off on a walk, then. I did check the Uber app – downloaded but not yet used – but figured I would go till the fare was under $10.

As you can see from the map, there are a couple of stations further North, Womma and Broadmeadows. The latter is the best, from there I could have intersected with the route I took and cut it down to 4km. Further North is another station which goes over the freeway North of MacDonald Park.

“We call that 10k”

I didn’t take any of those. A beautiful sunset hit as I took the first left turn. By the time I was halfway along the long Womma Road, it was getting dark. As dogs barked and I ran out of pavement, I wondered about snakes. It was at roughly this time that I started jogging, glad to know and motivated by the weight of my bag. Finally, I reached the roundabout, spotting a sign that said ‘No pedestrians or cyclists beyond this point’. A bit shaken by now, I turned onto the Stuart o’Grady bikeway which presented itself to my right. And that’s why I get to the roundabout and then head along, back on myself. It was pleasant, though, with dim blue lights just above head height (to assure you you’re on the tarmac, without distracting drivers on the freeway), a lovely tarmac surface and no more worries about snakes. Any minute now, I thought, there’ll be a bridge. Or an underpass.

There wasn’t, though. That’s why I take a sudden left – there was a clear gap in the fence, and the freeway wasn’t that busy. I crossed in the dark, figuring I’d climb a fence if I had to, but there’s a hole in the fence. I reached my hosts at 9.15, just as they were starting to worry. Luckily, I have found the most hospitable AirBnB in South Australia. They had waited till about 8, then decided they had better eat without me, but food was waiting. I settled in to a reclining chair as Penny started one of several stories of her and Brian’s life. I was sweaty, but they didn’t mind, and I was so pleased to be in and fed that I relaxed into conversation. They were suitably impressed with my walk – Google says 8.9km from Elizabeth, but ‘we call that 10k’, and I probably did a bit more than that.

Spencer St, MacDonald park
Spencer St, MacDonald park.
Harriet, the friendly dog
Harriet. She doesn’t bark, but she doesn’t mind attention.

They are a fascinating pair. Both ‘£10 Poms’ who came over when migration was at a high point, and have been here ever since, married for 40 years. They currently run the Adelaide Pigeon club, but have also run a couple of plant nurseries, which started when they visited one to stock the shop they’d just rented and ended up buying it, a post round each (which here seems like an individual franchise, in which you sort and deliver everything for your area), a couple of land-trains for rent, along with successful pigeon breeding and 15 years as a seamstress. They have some stories. And if you stay here, you will hear them all.

I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, but it didn’t matter. Nothing I had to do, so I did little more than run or walk to the nearest town, Angle Vale over the next couple of days.

Adelaide Pigeon Club
AirBnB at the Adelaide Pigeon Club.
Small hills
Low hills away to the East.
Long straight road
En route to Angle Vale – wander a couple of kms down here and you’ll reach another junction.

The next day dawned warm and sunny, but the weather soon turned; rain in the afternoon settled in, and everything cooled right down and clouded over, becoming just like an ordinary English summer, right in time for the cricket.

Rain falls
The weather, turning.
Bantams, chooks, chickens. And a rooster for the morning.
Gumball trees
5 gumball trees in one, Penny tells me.
Not the pigeon loft, which is larger – these are white doves.

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