Neckarau parkrun, Mannheim

Neckarau parkrun route
Neckarau parkrun route. Clockwise from bottom left.

Mannheim is a big transport hub for the region, by road and water, and the smoke stacks  of the industrial area are visible as you approach. Yet it makes good use of the water on the West and East side of the city, and the parkrun is in a beautiful spot, through tree-lined tarmac and mud paths. It is a flat and fast one, so long as you aren’t distracted by views of the river that appear on your left. Take my advice, and walk or run there from the North (where the station is, and the large youth hostel, both under 4km away) and take in all the river views you want beforehand. Or just, hey, more river views. Run or walk it how you want, gaze at the trees and water.

River view through trees
The river appears through the trees.

The run generally gets around 70 runners (for now – parkrun in Germany is growing. Hasenheide, in Berlin, with today the day before the marathon there, got 733). Today we had 77, with a record of 105 that will one day look tiny. The route can certainly take more if necessary.

Wide tarmac path with trees on both sides
The start area (after the start, so the sign has gone).

The run directors are well set up for visitors, with separate first-timers’ briefings in German and English. In the latter (smaller) group alone, there were visitors from Greece, England, Australia and Poland.

Runners and volunteers at the finish line
Scott, from Australia, contemplates marathon legs after his finish.

I got talking to Scott, from Australia, before and after the run. He was fit, if tired, from the Sydney Marathon a few weeks ago, and here on business. It’s probably the kind of city, or region at least that attracts as many people for work as pleasure, but it’s a parkrun not to miss if you have the chance. Despite being here for work Scott had, admittedly, travelled from tourist-friendly Heidelburg, which was recommended to me multiple times over breakfast. It’s about 15 minutes by train, but I didn’t go, preferring to spend my day in Mannheim, in Mannheim, but it is banked for later.

View of the finish line
It isn’t exactly hidden, but the finish line is tucked just round the corner. Accelerate before you see it, if you have anything left!

Post-run/walk chats are at PURiNO, right on the river front – but a different-looking part of same, more open and with hard paths, round the bend of the river from the run. It’s just a short walk from the finish.

As ever, a glorious run with friendly folk and great organisation. It’s also one for any kind of weather because of the tree cover and good surface underneath.

Finishing straight; hard-packed path, with trees on either side
The finishing straight, looking the wrong way

Results from Neckarau parkrun event 96, 28/9/19.

Algonquin Provincial park

Algonquin vehicle permit
Vehicle permit. Good till 10pm.

The West Gate of the park is 43km from Huntsville, 170 from Barrie, 265 from Toronto. Near enough for a visit from most of those, though set aside as much of the day as you can – there’s a lot to see (and taking a break would be a good idea, too). From West to East gate is 56km, so you can traverse the park in a day, though with 15 marked trails before you get into the overnight hiking routes, you’ll not be stopping everywhere.

Stop at one of the gates and buy a permit (CAD 21, per car), then make sure you stick that on your dash at each stop (you might remove it in between if you have open windows – although there’s great tree cover, there was quite a breeze when I was there and I nearly lost it once).

The trails and campsites are well marked from the road, but a map is handy to know how far each one is. There are some long ones that need an overnight backpack trip, but some of the day ones really need a whole day for you to make the most of them. I headed East immediately, only just ignoring temptation, so as to start out there and work back to my start. I started with walk 11, Big Pines, which has some big trees. Really big trees.

Algonquin trail map
Map of the different trails.
Lookout Trail booklet
Lookout Trail booklet.

The walks I covered, heading East to West. I started just after midday, finishing after 7pm:

  • 11 Big Pines, 2.9km.
  • 10 Lookout, 2.1km.
  • 8 Two Rivers, 2.3km.
  • 7 Bat Lake, 5.8km.
  • 5 Track & Tower, 7.5km (there are two clearly marked shortcuts, cutting out the main lookout. The shortest (going from post 4 to 11) makes it 5km).
  • 1 Whiskey Rapids, 2.1km.

Big Pines Trail is a 2.9km walk; relatively easy. The interpretive booklets for each trail are really good. Well-written, each one takes a different tack – talking you through the flora, or fauna, or human history. I learnt a lot without even really trying.

The Lookout Trail is just down the road, so very little time to rest in the drive, and is another straightforward walk. 2.1km with some ascent to get to the lookout. Great views guaranteed.

Two Rivers Trail is 2.3km, with a straightforward ascent up to another cliff, for more great views out over the wilderness.

After those shorter walks, it was time for a longer one. The walk to Bat Lake, with that lake near the end, is 5.8km. There’s a bit of a climb from 1km to 2.5 or so, then a drop before a pretty flat last 2.5 (after which I forgot I had ever climbed). The views are great, and there are likely to be fewer people on the longer routes – on this one, I barely saw another person on this cool, cloudy September Saturday.

Bat Lake, ringed by trees
Bat Lake.

Buoyed by this longer stroll, I drove back along the road a little, paused in the car for 5 minutes to give my legs a rest, and then headed out to cover the 7.5km of the Track and Tower trail. I found this fascinating, with the accompanying booklet (pick them up at the beginning of each trail) covering the human history of this part of Canada. Large parts of this trail lookout over, or walk along, the site of old railways, carrying people and logs in and out of the area. In places that is obvious, but in others, you’d have no idea, as the forest has well and truly taken back over.

Narrow trail through woods marks where there used to be a railway track
Photo of the railway that used to run at this site, in front of what is there now.

You can take a shortcut on this trail, and cut it down to 5km. You’ll still get the track story, but miss out on the lookout point (a highlight of Algonquin) and the site of the old fire-lookout tower.

Fairly early in the walk, you come to views over Cache Lake, which is also overlooked by other trails; it’s a big lake of several parts.

Looking out over Cache Lake
Cache Lake.

Beyond the lake comes the shortcut turnoff, and, if you don’t take that, the climb up towards the lookout point and tower site.

The lookout point gives a fabulous view, described in the trail booklet as their favourite view out over the park. Although the fire lookout tower here was pretty much redundant – the areas it covered were viewable from elsewhere – it is well worth the climb to have a look.

The map makes it look like an out and back, but actually there’s a loop at the lookout point; just make sure you head right at info post 7 and it all becomes clear. The stairs up are also the stairs down.

After the excitement of the lookout, you head back down, along some narrow trails and then emerge onto a wide trail that is more obviously an old railway line. There are also trestles marking where a bridge once took the line across the water. If you have lots of time, or a bike, you can explore this old path much further along. If walking, just don’t miss the left turn which comes after a few hundred metres, marked by a couple of small signs.

The walk back to the car park is a long 2.5km, though you do get to look out over Grant Lake, which used to be known as Gem-of-the-Woods. It is a gem.

Grant Lake, a pleasing oval shape
Grant Lake.

The back of the booklet lists other walks which have information available.

List of other Algonquin Park Publications
Other Algonquin Park Publications.

I was pretty tired after this 2 hour-plus walk, but still had over an hour of daylight and convinced myself one more walk was worthwhile. There is a 1km loop, but it is shut during peak weekends, and this one counted, so I was left with the Whisky Rapids Trail, 2.1km. There were lots of people milling about the car park when I arrived, but 30 minutes later as I finished, after 7pm, the car park was empty but for my tiny car.

Nearly empty car park
Car park after 7pm.

I was enervated by this walk, helped by the start being a descent that I galloped down. Information points come thick and fast, with the booklet telling you all about the ecology of this area; it may look barren, but algae, slime and the like feed plenty of life, albeit life that is mostly too small to see. A squirrel ran across my path, surprised by one last human as the day quietened down, but that was it for life. Kingfishers are talked of as being an essential sight, but they were shy while I was there.

I headed off, making the most of the last of the daylight to get as much of my journey done. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I hadn’t eaten since 11am, and was pretty hungry, but not eating had allowed me to fit in a lot of walks. Having longer in or near the park would be far preferable, and allow slower progress and more contemplation on the walks. Without time for that, though, I had a fabulous day, filled with stories and sights.

Lake with trees on the far side reflected in the water
One final water view.

Avery Beach parkrun, Huntsville, Ontario

Avery Beach parkrun route
Avery Beach parkrun route.

The cancellation of Sunnidale parkrun, Barrie, gave me the opportunity to rent a car and head North, to Huntsville and from there to Algonquin Provincial Park. I’m sure Sunnidale Park is lovely, but running along the shore of Hunters Bay and then taking a dip – legs only for me, but full swim for some – in the water afterwards was a huge pleasure and this was a great parkrun day.

It really is a stunning setting. The route is an up, down, up, down, never-let-you-go kind of course, along paths and the new boardwalk over the water. You head West/South to start, touch the gate at the turnaround, come back on yourself and then head North onto the longer section. The best view of the Bay is from the start/finish area, which is just as well because you’d be advised to keep your eyes mostly on your footing in some areas.

Hunters Bay
Post run, and two runners head for a dip.

Many runs in the area had posted “rain or shine, we’ll be there!” type messages the night before, because the forecast wasn’t good. It was cloudy, but with no actual rain, which was a bonus. There were a couple of slippery mud patches on the course, but nothing to cause more than a small slide, or a change of landing position for the wise.

There’s a small car park right by the course, which is fine for the numbers they are getting now, and a couple of portaloos there. You cross a railway line before you get to the car park and the run director waited for a freight train to pass – both saving her voice and allowing one last car which, yes, did contain a parkrunner, to cross over. Apparently trains are very rare at that time in the morning. She came up and said hello. I assumed that was because she had spotted my parkrun 250 shirt, but no. After the run she admired that, which was nice but, more importantly, suggests she had initially just spotted that I was a new face, which is really lovely. With 20-30 participants typical at the moment, it’s a lovely community event, and one at which it is straightforward to chat to most, if not all, people afterwards. I got touring tips while bathing, talked parkrun in the car park and asked about the event under cover after scanning. Apparently they do go for coffee, too, but as people dissipated, I chose to get up to Algonquin (just over 50km away) and make the most of paying the entry fee (CA$21 per car).

Sand-based court looking over the Bay
A sand court by the start/finish.

Results from event 18, Avery Beach parkrun.

Eramosa River Trail parkrun, Guelph, ON

Eramosa River Trail parkrun route
Eramosa River Trail parkrun. Out and back, then do it again.

Eramosa River Trail parkrun is listed on its own course page as an out-and-back, but thanks to construction that long route has not yet been used. Instead, it follows half of that route, and covers it twice. That makes for extra waving opportunities from runner to runner and walker, which might make it hard to adjust should they move to the longer course in the future.

Crowd gathered on the start line, with parkrun flag flying
The start/finish line.

Some parkruns in Canada attract very small numbers, but Guelph has not been one of them, with 93 turning up to the first event, a minimum of 37 since then, and a record in this 12th event of 109. The course might be a little cramped with hundreds, but with the numbers it has had so far it is fine, even allowing for a few other users. The run director didn’t even have to tell us all to keep right, though at some point that might be needed.

Tall trees overlook the trail as people gather and the picnic is laid out on long tables
Picnic laid out on the table.

For this event, they were taking advantage of the tail-end of summer to have a communal picnic on the grass by the trail (which itself is next to a river, as you might expect, though it is hidden in the photos by the trees). It seemed like most people stayed, and most had brought food, helping the tables to almost groan in supporting it all. Cakes, hot drinks and savouries, with chat all around.

People in different coloured running kit chat after the run
Lawrence and me, post run.

I had been taken there by my friend Lawrence, who lives in Toronto, on our way to an event still further West. It is reachable by Go Train from Toronto, though only if you go the night before. It’s about an hour and a half, probably less on a quiet Saturday morning, by car.

The course is pretty fast and flat, other than those 3 180-degree turn-arounds, with a light dusting of small stones on the course not making much difference to pace. The course page says there are no toilets on site, but a portaloo was pointed out, somewhere off up the route, and there are fast food outlets nearby (the ones we stopped at nearby require you to buy something to get the key for the toilet, but your mileage may vary).

Me, Jem, Dale and Lawrence through the event's photo frame
Me, Dale, Jem, Lawrence.

Afterwards I was happy to stand and chat with various runners, more of whom had finished ahead of me than I would have liked, but never mind. We also stopped in at the My Kitty Cafe on the high street, which will let you mix with their current group of cats for a small fee ($5 or $3 if you buy a drink or food). It’s worth a visit just to see the fantastic play rooms the cats have, let alone getting attention from the fluffy things.

We also met Dale, pictured right, and one of the marshals, who will be out to reclaim his fastest half marathon by a swimmer record. That will go along with a couple of others, including ‘golfer’, for which he carried an old-school golf bag, complete with hard plastic handle which did his back no good at all. Who said parkrun attracts oddballs?

Another great parkrun in Canada; they’re all good, but head to Guelph if you can.

Results from Eramosa River Trail parkrun, event 12.

Lawrence lies on the floor while I pin him for a count of three
Lawrence rests after the run and gets pinned for his trouble.

The Cabot Trail

The Cabot Trail, taking you round the edge of Cape Breton Island, is a well-travelled tourist trail, with plenty of variety in the activities available. None of that really mattered to me, because I just wanted to drive the car I’d hired, a Dodge Charger. But I managed to let my exploratory instincts take over, with just a short trip North to Baddeck, and the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site (or museum, if you want to save words).

Alexander Graham Bell museum
The picture is washed out, but you can see the building has great views out over the lake.

I spent a happy hour or so in the museum, with its exhibits from his time teaching, breeding sheep, inventing and helping, even revolutionising, deaf education.

I liked the story of his sheep breeding experiments. Failure is a necessary part of science, but this story still made me smile. It stands on its own. From a caption in the museum:

“Bell’s desire to help the local economy prompted him to experiment with sheep breeding. He attempted to develop a flock of sheep that would consistently bear twins. He believed that a relationship existed between the number of nipples on a sheep and the likelihood of multiple births. Over 30 years of research led Bell to conclude that no such relationship existed.

Bell was successful, however, in breeding a flock of multi-nippled sheep.”

As well as holding the exhibits, which paint a great picture of his interests, his life and that of his wider family, the museum has outside areas with great views over the Bras d’Or Lakes.

View over the lakes, with trees bathed in sunshine in the foreground
View from the roof of the museum.

The museum is great. I was itching to drive the car, though, and also to take a picture or two of it.

It was a beautiful, warm day; puffy white clouds scudding across a blue sky. And the landscape as you head round the Cabot Trail. Either way affords great views, but I went anti-clockwise; in a drive-on-the-right country, that puts the ocean right next to you in places.

View over still watch from close to a lake.
View over a lake. Plenty of lay-bys to stop at and explore briefly.
Hills overlook the road
Hills overlook the road. This sort of scenery will fill your eyes.

I headed North, stopping every time the scenery threatened to overwhelm my senses and make me a dangerous driver. I stopped often.

A bench in the foreground, with a house at the bottom of the hill. Lake stretching out into the distance
Lonely bench looks out over the water.

There is no shortage of sights, or places to stop, and I was happy to let serendipity guide me for most of the day, turning up coastal views, trees, water, rocks and a general feeling of peace. The map makes it quite obvious that the Cabot Trail just takes you round the edge of the peninsula, with most of it inaccessible – left wild to allow wildlife to flourish. It is possible, in places, to feel like you are being funnelled round the bit that’s open to visitors, rather than exploring it. But it is astonishingly beautiful.

Alongside the serendipity of just driving up and finding whatever was there, I had been told to turn off the main road in the Northeast, and head to Neils Harbour and White Point.

I stopped first at a short walk, the Jack Pine Trail.

Finally for this day, other than the pleasure of driving across the top of the island to HI Cabot Trail, I parked at White Point. I couldn’t work out (or remember) why this spot had been recommended to me, even though the conversation had only been a couple of days before. A small port, some farm buildings. Water.

A small port, looking out over water to land the other side
Parking at White Point, the reason isn’t obvious.

But take a walk up the only path available, marked as the trail head, and an incline up a rocky, hard-packed mud path is a nice little workout.

Then, as you crest, the view opens up.

I found time for one last walk, through forest, over a small bridge and to a waterfall. But White Point was the highlight of the day (if you’re thinking “but aren’t you going to bang on about the car one more time?” then yes, you are right, that too, and I would but you’ve stopped me, alright?).

Travelling to Cape Breton by car

Thanks to the excellent 80 year-old I met in Halifax, the idea of driving the Cabot Trail had replaced that of heading to Prince Edward Island. Admittedly, his recommendation had only been “what can you do round here? Well, there’s the Cabot Trail, I suppose”, which isn’t glowing. But moving, looking and walking seemed a better use of a car than heading to PE and chilling out, which was the activity most recommended for the island.

I booked the cheapest car I could find for a five-day rental, and chose to pick it up from the airport, so I could drop it off straight away before flying out of there on the 6th. It didn’t seem more expensive to go from the airport, and I got cash back from by going via Topcashback (my referral link). Imagine my surprise, and glee, when the keys I’d been handed unlocked this lovely thing.

I nearly went back into the office to check, but why waste their time? It took me some time to pull out. A family was unloading opposite, and I wanted the space – this is not a tiny car. And I was paging through the options, connecting devices, seeing tyre pressure shown on the screen and finding that although I had turned down a sat-nav, this car was happily connected to maps and all sorts. I would be reminded of this often, as at 7kmph over the speed limit, the Dodge intervened to remind me what that limit was. There was even wifi, had I wanted to pay the extra.

Still, the point was to tour the scenery in this thing. I wasn’t going too far on the first day, just up to Bear on the Lake HI hostel, south of Bucklaw and a little South of the Cabot Trail itself; a little under 300km, through Canadian versions of Enfield, Truro and Port Hastings.

I saw some scenery. I arrived at the hostel, closely followed by a Brit who had been persuaded to upgrade her rental because the Cabot Trail is a bit hilly for a small car. I felt lucky.

We enjoyed the last of the sunshine as the Autumn evening cool descended. And I wanted very badly to get back into the car.

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