Colney Lane parkrun, Norfolk. England

Colney Lane parkrun route
Colney Lane parkrun route.

In the grounds of UEA (University of East Anglia), this is a run round some fields, but much more than that. Some runs with that description are a bit dull, this one is not, with plenty of variety. I ran it in road shoes, which was fine – some will tell you you ‘need’ trails, but not this time. The surface is all on fields, and a couple of sharp turns that might need a bit of navigation on a wet day, but otherwise it’s a good surface. Probably the playing fields have decent drainage.

Finding the place is simple enough, and parking is free – the event team put up a couple of arrows to the car park, and cover the payment machines with “free to parkrunners, 8-10.30” to reassure you in the face of many, many signs warning that the place is for permit holders only. Works for me. Lots of bikes, and foot traffic into the grounds, show that many people aren’t driving there in any case. You might feel you’re in the middle of nowhere, but there are facilities at the start (yes, toilets, to be precise, and also a place to leave your kit, and free hot drinks at the end – donations online via the course site welcomed).

The course page suggests you do a short loop first, then two laps. You can see the laps above; the loop is just the squiggle at top left, so not a full on loop. I wasn’t feeling quite in the mood, first thing, but still set off at a reasonable pace, and then found many reasons (also known as ‘people ahead of me’) to keep making some effort, so sped up in the middle of the thing. It is obviously, given undulations and soft terrain, not the fastest course around, but it’s not super-testing, and I was pleased with my run. There are plenty of things to see – playing fields on one side, a lake, wooded areas – to keep your mind occupied, and just checking where your feet are going (not that I’m suggesting this is in any way a dangerous course) is diverting.

Sizewell parkrun, England

Sizewell parkrun route
Sizewell parkrun route.

Sizewell is a lovely location for a parkrun, right on the East Coast of Britain, among the rural towns and villages of Suffolk. It is also, as you can’t miss from the map above, a nuclear power station. Someone is almost bound to mention it to you in some joke form, though there weren’t any in the pre-run briefing.

View from Snape bridge
View from Snape bridge.

I was slightly torn between running here or at Felixstowe, until I realised that I could jog to Sizewell, through fields and tiny lanes. It was just over 9 miles from Blaxhall, roads to start with but soon onto footpaths and muddy farm tracks. Also a new housing estate, where new construction seemed to have removed the footpath, which left me with one foot in someone’s front garden, and briefly in a paddock, to avoid a detour. Sorry, Leiston. The light at around 7.30, as I ran through Snape, was a treat for the couple of photographers who had positioned themselves on the bridge.

Sizewell halfway point
Me, turning at about the halfway point.

The run itself is almost an out and back, along wide, hard packed sand/earth. Nothing muddy, but not super fast thanks to a spongey, comfortable surface. Certainly I struggled a little to get going, though the couple up front raced away from the rest of us. Between them and me were a couple of gents, but they expended energy racing each other and facing into the wind that hits you after the turn, and I caught them before the finish.

As the photo above suggests, there is a loop – you head out for nearly a mile, then turn left onto it. It’s flat, so the route back is not far away from the route out, but it makes for a good, clear course, in that people at the front are not running on the same paths as people at the back for very long. And there’s loads of space, which meant several people were running with their dogs, which was lovely.

Sizewell parkrun tracks
Sizewell parkrun tracks.
Sizewell parkrun finish
Sizewell parkrun finish. The start is a little further along.

Lovely run, even with some wind. That is variable – last week it blew people to halfway, then they had to struggle back into it. This week we weren’t conscious of it on the way out, then realised there was a retarding breeze on the way back, but it was nothing too serious.

It’s a great course for pretty much anyone. Nicely marshalled – with just a few people, as that’s all it needs. There is a sandy patch near the start which might be tricky with a buggy, and you’d want all-terrain wheels in any case, so as not to be at a standstill, but it is doable. Just don’t get put off by the very beginning.

I’d also recommend some version of my run there. I met another bloke who had run to the start, in his case from Aldeburgh, and he’d enjoyed the countryside. It’s some of the best around, I always think when I come up here. And there are big pig farms. Big farms, and big pigs, that is.

Pontypridd parkrun

Pontypridd parkrun route
Pontypridd parkrun route.

Free, and every week. That’s the simple thing about parkrun, and one of its great strengths. Sometimes people wonder why we aren’t charged some small amount, to cover costs of setup or refurbishing a park, or providing something essential, but as the head of parkrun UK once put it, there is a big gap between nothing and something. From time to time, when one has free time, the weekly nature is frustrating – if only I could squeeze in another one on Wednesday!

But you cannot, and the run is worth waiting for. That was today. I was tempted to liken it to the Tory party’s recent astonishing “this week’s idiot” campaign, which has been a huge success, and shows no sign of slowing down – Mcvey says prisons have dogs that can bark at drones to scare them off, Francois reckons he knows aviation better than the CEO of Airbus, Kawczynski claims the UK had nothing from the Marshall plan (it was only the biggest recipient, so, um, close) and then sticks to that line after being corrected many, many (many) times, including live on radio. Labour hasn’t been able to keep up, with Hoey trying valiantly to do it on her own, with Onasanya taking the heat off her one week. The Tories, unfortunately, got into that state of excitement I mentioned this week, with Fysh and Chope going in the same week. It does at least let you work out why there are two “Disgraced Former Minister, Minister”s in the government – when there’s no talent, you go with whatever’s left.

Where was I? Wait for it, and talent. I can do the former, if not the latter, but having felt not in the mood during a sluggish warm-up, the run itself, as I got going and felt sprightly from the start, was great. I used what I had. My position was artificially high, with cross country this afternoon in Pontypool keeping away, or slowing down, the quick runners who are normally here, but even without much company, I was happy to keep a regular pace, aided by knowing there was a pacer behind giving motivation not to slow down.

The park, and therefore the run, is right in the middle of town, so simple to find. There’s paid parking in town, or plenty of free roads nearby (I parked up the hill behind the station). The location means I felt I got to see the town as well as the park, even with only a short warm up and cool down run – the latter took me, accidentally, on a loop of town. No, really, accidentally – what if I head down here? Where am I now? Um, left? That’ll do. Where on earth am I now? Oh, there’s the station!

The run itself has one short loop, then three large ones, which means plenty of traffic with a few hundred people, but marshals call out in friendly fashion that people should stay left, and you can actually see them react to drift back in if they’ve drifted out. There is a bit of a rise on the back of the long loop, which makes for a lovely swoop to get you moving on the gallop towards the end, past the lido. People spread out nicely on this wider section, in the same place, but part of different groups – you know, the way our political parties ought to accept they are now.

I found the incline hardest on the first lap, when it came as an unwelcome surprise, and one which I felt I struggled up. After that, despite my mile splits getting a second quicker each time, it seemed easier, so it clearly isn’t too great. It’s a pretty quick course, then, and with 300-400, at least, that should apply to more or less anyone (though there’s always a chance you’ll get stuck in a clump at any massed event). The town was damp and a little grey but still welcoming, and the fact of the run being so close to the river adds scenery (if you remember to look) even as it runs brown under overcast skies. Overall, it’s a run even Grayling couldn’t make a me… actually, I’m not sure about that. But it’s a lovely run, and you can explore the Taff Trail afterwards, for almost any distance, if you’d like some extra Welsh miles.

I didn’t stick around after my loop, skipping down to the afterchat of Cardiff parkrun, where friends had run, which is only 20 minutes or so away. You have plenty of parkrun options if you’re in the area, all highly recommended.

Brecon Beacons in the snow

An unashamedly short post; I was in Wales when snow hit Britain at the end of January 2019. Although it was very cold, the weekend saw some beautiful weather, so even quick snaps with a phone camera came out pretty well. Car parks and lay-bys filled up with people out exploring the hills, or dragging their kids’ sleds back up the hills. I stopped in the middle of the hills, when I finally found an empty lay-by, just to get a couple of pictures. And the view from YHA Brecon Beacons was as lovely as a snowy view can be.

It was lovely and warm indoors, blessedly.

Snowy Brecons from a lay-by
Snowy Brecons from a lay-by.
Snowy Brecons from a lay-by
Snowy Brecons from a lay-by.
Babbling brook near the hostel
Babbling brook near the hostel.
View from Brecon Beacons YHA
View from Brecon Beacons YHA.
Snowy story circle
Snowy story circle – this just a short walk from the hostel (turn right from the front door).


Gnoll parkrun, Wales

Gnoll parkrun route
Gnoll parkrun route.

Snow! Snow and ice! I headed West from Newbury on Friday, and was happily smug to find the roads clear after Swindon. But when I checked, most parkruns in Wales had already been cancelled. Three fairly near me were possibly on. And, as it turned out, the nearest of those, in Neath, was ice-free, at least on the tarmacced sections, and was on. Swansea Bay had already declared they’d be running, so that was my backup, but I was happy not to have to make the 20 minute drive.

Gnoll is set in a beautiful country park. In all my rush to check which events were cancelled, I hadn’t looked up the course at all, so the surroundings came as a lovely surprise. Just after 8 in the morning, the sun was out, and the paths were clear.

View over the park
View over the park.
Clear paths on a snowy day in Neath
Clear paths on a snowy day in Neath.

The route is fiddly to describe, but simple enough to run, made up of a short, medium then long loop, in that order. After meeting near the cafe, everyone strolls round to the other side of the lake – it’s not far, but leave a few minutes – and then run round the lake once, clockwise. That’s the short loop. Then you run round the lake again, but this time, back at the start, turn left to do an out and back, run round a ’roundabout’ (on grass, just short of the series of small walls that marks the layout of demolished Gnoll House). This out and back is slightly up on the way out, with some rocky terrain, and then has a quick downhill on the way back, with tree roots to watch for. Once back at the lake, the medium loop is done. Then you run round half of the lake, and at the far end, just beyond the cafe, do another out and back (with a loop at the top), up a hill, back down at pace (though with some ginger footing thanks to a little ice this day), back round part of the lake, do the out and back to Gnoll House again then finish round the last bit of the lake, by the cafe.

The lake, Gnoll country park
The lake, Gnoll country park.

It’s a pretty quick course, except for the one out and back bit up Gnoll hill. I didn’t really feel like I was running at that point, but it’s fine once you get up and it flattens out. On this particular day, water had run down the right side of the path (looking at it on the way up) and was partly frozen, so I took some of the downhill section easy; people were coming up the other way, too, so it was best to avoid sliding through them. The swooping curve back down to the lake is probably the quickest part of the course, though.

Everyone was friendly, as ever, and this tourist was mighty glad to get a parkrun in, and a new event, to boot.

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