Great Denham parkrun, Bedfordshire, UK

Great Denham parkrun route
Great Denham parkrun route.

A trip to the UK left me with time to take in a couple of parkruns. Since I was spending the weekend at the U20 & U23 championships in Bedford, I looked for one near there, and picked Great Denham. Their course page suggests getting there on foot using the “delightful” riverside path and though that appeared an under-used route this day, I took it, allowing me to leave the car East of the town, near the athletics stadium, and get to the run, West of town. I agree with the description. Bedford has a lovely park, and makes the best of the river. On a sunny day, the greenery, the multitude of different bridges over the water and the birdlife made it idyllic.

Run direction stands on a hillock in front of the crowd
Event briefing, Great Denham parkrun

The run itself is two (not quite two, technically, as the finish is before the start) clockwise laps, about as easy to follow as can be, with just a few marshals used to make sure. It’s flat, partly on tarmac, partly hard-packed (in June) mud paths; it should be pretty fast, not that I was in condition to find out. Being the UK, this was a little more populous than I have grown used to, but not a massive event, with 158 people on the 70th event.

3 female runners moving along the path
A sunny day in Bedford.

As always, the welcome was friendly and the briefing clear and well-delivered. I highly recommend the route through town, though the free park and ride is closer but still allows a short warm up before the run. The park itself looks new, part of a development of houses, and as such has paths for walking and running, but some of the rest is still growing, so in places is relatively wild – great for the wildlife, and I hope it can be left like that. If you want more space to explore, head towards Bedford itself.

Gt Runners moving along beige path bisecting field
Moving on a warm day

Results from event no. 70, Great Denham parkrun, 23/6/2019.

Utrecht, The Netherlands

Utrecht is a lovely city. I got off the bus, which drops you near the central station, and near a plaza surrounded by businesses, a cinema and so on. My first impressions were of space, loads of space, then bikes whizzing around (this a gentle introduction to the need to pay attention in the more crowded middle) and… silence. It can’t have actually been silent, there were people all around, bikes and so on, but it seemed very quiet. An absence of industry, and not much traffic in that area suggests it is a well-planned city. Plus it was Sunday, and the receptionist later suggested people were sleeping off Friday and Saturday nights.

It’s a place of cobbled streets, some wide boulevards with little alleys leading off, canals and parks, flowers and greenery decorating it all. The centre is essentially surrounded by canals, as are many other parts – once or twice, I found myself trapped by canals, but that is rare, and happened because I had explored outside the centre.

Volksgarten parkrun, Düsseldorf

Volksgarten parkrun route
Volksgarten parkrun route. 2 laps, anti-clockwise.

Dusseldorf is a lively place, and another Germany city with a lovely park to run in. Though if you’re not near it, head for the riverside, from where you can go for miles. Still, for parkrun, this works well. 2 laps, anti-clockwise, on a course that wiggles enough that I didn’t really know where I was. Not that it mattered, as it was marked with cones throughout and easily navigated. The only hazard was a lone cyclist, who saw me coming and paused while I ran in front of her path.

Volksgarten group photo
Volksgarten group photo.

Once again, I have found myself at a relatively new parkrun, without having targeted it. Dusseldorf was a little easier to reach from Holland, for friends, so we went there rather than Cologne (that also made the decision for me, as to whether to get the train home, or the ferry from Holland – the latter is now nearer, and cheaper). Event 7, with 15 of us running. Three of us tourists with a number of parkruns to our name, one a semi-reluctant tourist who isn’t fussed about a result, and happy to appear as an unknown in results.

We also had a new course record; some might say it’s a female course record, but given that Hannah ran faster than anyone has yet on this course, for now at least, it’s one for everyone to beat. I lowered the 45-49 best, but given I was beaten by both Hannah and a local in the over 50 bracket, it’s a properly pyrrhic achievement, if there is such a thing.

Volksgarten parkrun start line
Volksgarten parkrun start line. Deserted, because the meeting place is behind this point.

The marshals and organisers were as friendly as ever, the low numbers made it easy to chat to people afterwards, and on a sticky early morning, running in well-shaded park was a pleasure. It’s a quick course, with only the twists and one small incline toward the end of the lap to slow you down. You can see the terrain in the banner picture at the top – hard-packed paths, with a little covering of gravel. There was the odd patch of mud and puddle, after morning rain, but it is a good surface generally.

It’s also easy to get to. I jogged 2.5kms from accommodation near the central rail/bus station, but the S-bahn (Düsseldorf-Oberbilk is slightly nearer the start than Volksgarten) and U-bahn (Kaiserslautern-Straße) are nearby if needed.

Results from Volksgarten parkrun no. 7, Düsseldorf.

A walk round Hamburg

Sculpture of rowers in a park
Rowers.

Hamburg comes highly recommended. It is set on the banks of the River Elbe, which is wide and deep enough to allow Hamburg to be Germany’s third-biggest port, and also scenic. It has a hippy vibe in the St Pauli district, with the football club internationally famous for their politics and fans, rather than their football. The museum for that district is small, and cheap, but was free for me, because they were re-doing the exhibits and hadn’t yet put up English descriptions. It was still a nice, but short, stroll, and I had a cheap beer in the bar there.

Tugboat on the river

Large church with spire to one side
Large church.
Large, long, buildings dominate both sides of a canal
Buildings dominate the canal.

Sitting and looking over the river at the Federal Government buildings was a cool highlight on a warm day.

View over the river
View over the river.
Sculpture of a bicycle in front of a crate decorated with graffiti
Cycle sculpture.
Sculpture of a bicycle in front of a crate decorated with graffiti
St Pauli FC.
Reeperbahn, and its S-Bahn station
Reeperbahn.

I was only in the city for a couple of nights, travelling West to get to Dusseldorf for parkrun (though there is one in Hamburg) and then Holland for the ferry home. I didn’t, therefore, go wild down the Reeperbahn, but it is clearly a hub for culture of all types, albeit, as drinking centres are, very different at day compared to the night.

I used Flixbus to travel in and out of the city, which was easy. And, as with many other German cities, you have the choice of over (S-Bahn) and underground (U-Bahn – though actually, much of that is overground, too) transport along with buses to get around. Something for everyone.

Świnoujście parkrun, Poland

Swinoujscie parkrun route
Świnoujście parkrun route. 2 laps, anti-clockwise.

Świnoujście is a ferry port with service from Trelleborg, Sweden, so very convenient for a trip after, say, Malmö parkrun. It is also very close to Germany – so close that my jog post-parkrun saw me cross the border without having had any intention to do so. The parkrun is in a park in the city itself, near to the port and to the beach.

The port itself is on the other side of the river, which divides the city, and Germany, from the rest of Poland. There’s a ferry, which runs through the night; free to all, but not available to anyone without local licence plates between 4am and 10pm. The reviews on Google maps include some irate tourists who have found that out the hard way. Equally, a sat-nav may take you South, to the other ferry, which is not necessary if you are on the late ferry, which arrives at 11:15pm.

Group gathered on the start line
Group gathered on the start line. The girl on the bike is Margaret – we talked briefly at the end.

So long as you’re staying on the West side of the river, the run is not far from anywhere in town. For me, it was under 1km along a couple of roads. Although the park spreads through the local area and is thick with tree-cover, the start/finish area is visible from the road, Boreslawa Chrobrego. There are toilets right next to the start/finish.

Crossing the finish line
The event director gave those of us she knew – including the two English tourists she had only met on the day – a shout-out by name.

The course is marked by permanent signs. Just remember to look up for them, as they are on fairly high poles. I had it easy; not only is there a lead bike, but an absence of quicker runners meant I had him to myself, so just had to follow along (though I ignored one slight detour, to high-five a couple of marshals).

Finish token holder
Finish token holder, no further sorting required.

The course is almost entirely covered by shade, which would be welcome on a sunny day. We’d had a downpour at 8:00, leaving the air clear, and there was a breeze from the ocean, a few hundred metres away. It’s pretty flat, though the terrain changes from paved path to hard-packed mud for variety.

Finishers 1-2-3
Finishers 1-2-3.

The run director was excited to have visitors – I had the impression they don’t have that many here – and led me off to meet Keith. I knew another Brit was due to be there, as he had also run one of the Swedish events. In fact, I’m pretty sure we were both checking how to buy a ticket for the (free) river ferry last night, just after midnight.

English tourists
English tourists and locals in a photo frame.

A friendly welcome, a flat and well-organised run, a beach to visit afterwards and another country to dip into if you feel like it. What’s not to like?

Results from event 153, 8th June 2019.

Malmö Ribersborg parkrun, Sweden

Malmo Ribersborg parkrun route
Malmo Ribersborg parkrun route.

Each parkrun country can choose a special day on which to hold an extra run, and for Sweden, that’s the National Day, June 6th (for most others, it is Christmas Day). Three (out of eight in total) of the country’s runs were holding the extra, with Malmö the most easily accessible for UK tourists. And many duly arrived. The event record stays intact, with 152 from New Year’s Day 2019 (a day when many could choose to do two parkruns, one in Sweden and one in Denmark), but we had 144, which is well clear of the 79 people at the third-highest attendance.

Malmo group photo
Group photo, tourist upon tourist.

I was there already, having hopped on the ferry from Travemünde (which also stops at Rostock, though it looks harder to get on as a foot passenger from there). Malmö is a pretty city, clean and efficient-seeming. All week there has been much excitement as students graduate, the day-time portion of which involves decorating their car with blue and yellow balloons or flags and riding the streets, honking the horn.

I’m also told there was a shooting in the centre last night, almost camouflaged by noises of revelry.

But it is lovely, and so is the run, a flat one-lapper, a 3km loop West, out and back, then a 2km one East, all with the water off to one side and the bridge to Copenhagen off in the distance. The start is on a narrowish track (3-4 people across) and shaded, but after that you’re mostly fairly exposed to any sun.

It was very hot today, mid to high twenties already by the 9:30 start, rising to 30+ in the afternoon, just as they had the day before (on Sunday, I was wearing a jumper). That and the general humidity made it a tough run, but the socialising before and after with fellow parkrun tourists made it a great day. The cafe afterwards is on a pier out into the water and also very genial. Pick the wrong door out the back and you’re among naked sunbathers – not my error, honest. If you don’t read Swedish, look for the “no photos!” icon.

Results from event 62, Malmö Ribersborg parkrun.

Malmö Castle (Malmöhus Slott) and museum

The castle was founded in 1434 and was made into a museum in the 20th century. At the time it was very modern, and had masses of space though posters suggest they are starting to run out. Entry costs 40kr (under £4) and gives you access to a range of exhibits.

Carl Lewis' spike shoe

In the basement, through the shop, is the aquarium, a riot of colour and different fish and aquatic life. I ended up with only 10 minutes in here and still enjoyed it.

Professor Balthazar exhibition poster
Professor Balthazar exhibition poster.

On the top floor at the moment is an exhibition/installation about Professor Balthazar, a cartoon from the 60s and 70s; I didn’t know it, but it links people in many countries, and the exhibit shows some of the cartoons and explains some of the political context. I lucked into a free guided tour (2pm) which gave me a much better idea of what was going on. The non-aligned movement was an attempt by a group of countries, led by Yugoslavia, to not pick a side in the Cold War. At the time there were 20+ members, and the exhibition shows parts of the peace parade in Belgrade (which has plaques from each country’s leader) and the now-decaying brutalist monument in Petrova Gora, Croatia. That monument is referred to in the episode, “Professor Balthazar and the Monument to the Invisible Citizen“. There are a couple of long videos about Professor Balthazar and the Zagreb Cartoonists which are worth watching.

Stack the nails game
Stack the nails game.

On the ground floor, there is a room of games – can you pull with the same power as one horsepower, block puzzles and so on. I was proud my ability to stack the nails, above.

Graduands gathering outside the castle
Graduands gathering outside the castle. This is the only exit.

This week, Malmö has been filled with the noise of students celebrating the end of their studies by decorating their cars and cruising the streets, honking their horns. On the Wednesday there was a big gathering at the castle, with groups taking it in turn to appear from the gate, dance and pose to music and then run across the bridge to join the others, before hopping into trucks and heading off for a cruise. It was all very charming. That is the only entrance and exit, but people were able to get through if they had to. I suspect it cut down on people actually entering the museum for a little while, though.

Prisoner photographs
Prisoner photographs – taken as they are released.
Prisoner photograph
Prisoner photograph.

The castle was also a prison for a good while, and there’s an exhibition devoted to that which is billed as not suitable for children. I could see why: the sound effects made me jump a couple of times, and the prisoner stories are a bit grim in places. You’re invited to pull out drawers for information, and peer into nooks and crannies (including the odd jump-scare).

Prisoner photographs
Prisoner photographs.
Puffer fish in the aquarium
Puffer fish in the aquarium.

The whole museum is a great mix of information and installation. I spent a good three hours there, at times reading, others listening and in other places just letting it roll over me. Even after that, I still had to rush through the aquarium before closing time. It’s a great museum.

Cricket podcasts

I thought there was an uptick in the number of podcasts covering cricket while I was watching The Ashes. Now the World Cup is in England, though, those podcasts have settled in and got serious about their publishing schedule. In fact, if you listen to them all, as at least three give daily coverage, you are at risk of burnout, as are the presenters, who might also be at risk of over-interpreting every game. Are South Africa really out of it after 2 losses? “Maybe” seems a fair reflection, but it assumes they lose to India; to listen to the podcasts is to think they are already done, as they fill their time with a little too much “what does this mean, this early on?” chat. Every day.

Here’s a look at the delights that await. Rest assured that, rather than listen to them all, you ought to flick through them, and that post World cup, their frequency will calm down, at least until The Ashes, later in the summer.

The Final Word. If you listen to only one, and all that. From the Australian Duo, Geoff Lemon (whose book, Steve Smith’s Men, won multiple awards this year) and Adam Collins (who I met on a plane). They prove there is simply no substitute for being a professional broadcaster; links are slick, they don’t dwell on their better comments, waiting for a laugh – in cricket terms, rather than stand with bat in the air, watching the ball depart to the boundary after a good shot, they have already turned, reset and are thinking about the next ball. Coverage is wide-ranging, fair and as neutral as possible, and the relationship between the two warm and inviting. There are a number of highly articulate ex-cricketers, but none of them have the facility with words of professional journalists, and these two are among the strongest of the latter group. Oh, and the music – easily the best.

Tailenders. Greg James (DJ), Felix White (musician and, of late, cricket writer) and Jimmy Anderson (great fast bowler). Something a little different, and regularly reduces me to tears of laughter. My only reservation is that jumping in now, part way through, might leave you feeling you’re listening to a clique, but I think they do a reasonable job of explaining what the in-jokes are. And there are a lot of those. It’s an odd mixture of people, but it works, and early on they pulled in ‘Machin’, who is an ordinary bloke, gifted them in a phone-in, who used to know nothing about cricket, but has a family connection to Sachin Tendulkar. He was too good to let go, after being on once, and the presenters have sufficient judgment, or small enough egos, to bring him in as a semi-permanent feature. They talk cricket, a bit, but mostly this is colour around the game. At its best, joyous.

Test Match Special. Perhaps because of the competition, they now do more than just a summary of the day’s play. That is still available during England tests, but now you will also have professional controversialist Vaughan and “here’s something everyone else has said” Tuffers, doing their show more often, and they wrap reports of the day in more chat from Andy Saltzman (comedian and statistician) and others. Some episodes are more skippable than others; still the best overall coverage, and the daily test summaries are excellent.

The Grade Cricketer. This is Australian, and took me a few episodes to get into. It can be hilarious, as they put time into spoof advertisements. They use the word ‘Alpha’ a lot, and in the same way as the Americans do – theoretically, as a joke, but I think they dig it just as Aussie culture can. But, excuse them the extended laughter (with more money, I hope they’d edit it out) that can seem self-congratulatory, and this is thoughtful while also being relaxed. Culturally very different to, say, TMS, and that alone makes it worth a listen.

Wisden Cricket Podcast. Wisden and its spin-off The Nightwatchman (itself an excellent, quarterly, magazine, giving more off-the-wall articles about cricket) have had a few goes at podcasts, which took a while to get going. Now they seem settled, with the editor a regular, and they do a decent job at rotating guests and covering issues, with the simple “moment of the week” (or day, during the WC) a highlight. It’s not quite up there in sound quality, but if they can keep it going, it’ll only get better.

Freelance Cricket Club. Vithushan Ehantharajah and Will MacPherson. At the moment this is an archive, with no new episodes since March 2018, but they were always irregular. For extended chats – and that’s a better word for the informality than ‘interview’ would be – with cricketers, there’s nothing better (though the Final Word does have its moments), so I hope they’ll pick it up again. Sound quality is bad enough that it isn’t always good on the move or in a car.

Sky Sports Cricket Podcast. Sky, after years in the sports broadcast business, still seem amazingly amateur round the edges. Rob Key sometimes introduces these podcasts, and sounds like he’s being forced to do so at gunpoint (meanwhile, over at the BBC, David Gower was a contributor to the News Quiz, and seemed effortlessly amusing while also slick). He’s a great contributor, though, and the ‘Captain’s Log’ series, Nasser Hussain the latest, Andy Flower a highlight, is excellent. Otherwise I pick my episodes carefully; always avoiding Bob Willis, who is difficult to take when you can’t see his face. Equally, when they have Atherton, Bumble, Knight and or Key, it’s a treat.

At the moment, The Final Word, Wisden and TMS are all doing daily podcasts, and The Grade Cricketer three per week, so there’s a lot of stuff to get your ears around. For a day’s summary, I’d go for The Final Word, with Wisden if I had time.

Pieschener Allee parkrun, Dresden, Germany

Pieschener Allee parkrun route
Pieschener Allee parkrun route.

A short jog from where I was staying, not far from the centre of Dresden, yet a km into the run and you are away from civilisation almost entirely. Pieschener Allee is on a section of land left mostly wild, while the surroundings of the start and finish area is used for other sports grounds and car parks, because this is flood plain and so not suitable for heavy development.

A couple of those car parks were in use by camper vans, too, if informally, which would put you very close to the start of the run.

 

The route itself is a pretty simple out and back. There’s a right turn off the pavement and onto the track (signposted), and then at the end of the track (after about a mile) you turn sharpish left – you can see that in the route above – onto a slower section. Slower because there is a choice of either running on the grass, or picking your footing in two narrow hard-packed, mud, tyre tracks. I aimed for the latter, but the wider flattened grass would probably have been just as good.

Me, in a picture frame. Green plants and trees all around
Me, in a frame.

The first (and last) mile is shaded, the rest, the slower bit, is open and exposed. Today, that meant it was pretty warm. It’s also the ‘wild’ bit, with fairly high grass to either side of the track. There are a couple of orange-topped poles off to the right – keep them on your right, don’t be distracted if there is anyone running nearer to the river than you, you just stay on the track. Eventually (perhaps, say, flagging in the heat) you make it to the turn-around point, and do the whole thing again, in reverse.

The main long, straight, track
The main long, straight, track.

It was a small field of just 17 parkrunners today, but still an international one, and the small numbers meant we all met more or less everyone. The event director was Russian, one of the volunteers American, and my fellow runners included an Irish student – wearing a “Dresden Hurling” top – and an Australian-German who splits his time between the two countries.

Wild flowers, long grass and the River Elbe
Wild flowers, long grass and the River Elbe.

Afterwards they head for coffee, a wander back along the path into town, but I had to check out and hop on a bus North, so jogged back along the river, in the shade of Baroque churches and stone walls, over the Augustus bridge and back to Dresden’s Neustadt.

Lovely run, clockwork organisation, and Dresden is a great and inexpensive city to visit.

Results from event 29, Pieschener Allee parkrun.

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