Bere Island parkrun, Ireland

Bere Island parkrun route
Bere Island parkrun route. West to East and back, anticlockwise.

Bere Island has been a must-visit destination among parkrunners in the know since it started. It involves a fun ferry-ride (two options in the summer, one otherwise), warm welcome, great scenery and communal gathering in a local cafe afterwards. There is nothing not to like. I picked a friend up from Kerry airport – the closest, but you’ll have to travel from any airport so can take your pick – and headed to Castletownbere, on the mainland.

Heading to the ferry
Heading to the ferry.

They say a lot of things about this parkrun. It’s a 9:30 start, but really 9:45 because it’s relaxed and they allow people to get there from the mainland. The bus is a white-knuckle ride. Not quite my experience, but it was definitely a bouncy, chatty and fun thing. The post event chat is some of the best. The views are gorgeous. Take anything outlandish with a pinch of salt, but anything good is likely to be true. It’s worth a read through the news reports on their website for a flavour.

We hopped on the Bere Island ferry at 9, and paid up – it’s all very relaxed, and the €10 return (cash) each for ferry + bus is collected when they’re ready. I don’t know whether they always take money on the way out, and just don’t on the way, back, but certainly the same person counted us in to the ‘parkrun special’ ferry at 11:15 that takes back those who choose to take the bus back from the cafe. On a nicer day, you could happily make a day of it on the island, and walk back to the ferry. In the summer months you can catch Murphys ferry from a few miles out of town (the pontoon, as they refer to it), which takes you straight to Rerrin, and walking distance from the start.

The record attendance is 181, swelled by summer visitors, but on this cool day we had just 29. A chance to meet more or less everyone, though we had more chance to chat to those on the bus and ferry.

Walkers and runners set off up the road
Walkers and runners set off up the road.

Unlike other parkruns, this event is on roads. It is so quiet that they don’t need to be closed – we didn’t see any traffic, and I’m sure any locals who aren’t taking part are well aware it is happening. There are a couple of other races on the roads at other times in the year, which I’m sure operate in a similarly relaxed manner.

Coastal view, watery sun breaking through clouds
View off the North side of Bere Island.

The start is uphill, and you soon come to great views away to your right, looking away to the South East. From here you can see other parts of Ireland, though locals are happiest when telling you that the “next stop is America” when looking out to sea.

We were lucky with the weather, which was dry and cool, but even then it was subject to rapid change – in this case, just the cloud and light conditions, so my photos look quite different from moment to moment.

We had a short first-timer briefing, with a map of the course. It didn’t matter to me, a bum knee reducing me to walking and giving me time to check the course map any time I felt like, but lack of one crucial direction sent Steve momentarily the wrong way. If in doubt, take the right fork, they said, and that’s true for everywhere except at the top of the course, when you should turn left. There are arrows there and a couple of other places, so if in doubt, follow the white arrows on the road.

Take the right fork.
Take the right fork. And follow the arrow.
Near the end, coming back in to Rerrin
Near the end, coming back in to Rerrin.

Afterwards we were feted for our parkrun count, and got stuck in to scones and coffee/water. We were made to feel welcome in a very short time, and if it hadn’t been so much fun, the bus ride back to the ferry would have been sad.

Later that evening, we ate at Murphy’s Family Restaurant, and were joined by three parkrunners, part of a larger work Christmas party. We headed on to McCarthy’s bar (yes, that one from the front of the book), where the musicians had heard of parkrun and gave us a shout out, and those same parkrunners came after dinner and talked to us some more, of running, the local area, music and more.

Come for the event, stay for the socialising. Great views, talk, welcome; all the best of Ireland.

Fishing boats in the harbour
Fishing boats in the harbour – they were kept in port by a large swell in the Atlantic, so this is actually a mournful sight for the locals.

Results from event 286, 14/12/2019.

Letterkenny parkrun

Letterkenny parkrun route
Letterkenny parkrun route. Start at the vestry (just South of the red cross), head anticlockwise round the hospital, down to the right and round the park. 3 times, plus a bit more to finish a little higher.

I drove through Letterkenny earlier in the week and was impressed to see not just a sign advertising the parkrun, but one that included the fact that this weekend was their 200th event. Reason enough for me to join in.

I parked next to the hospital and paid – via the website listed on the sign – a very reasonable €3 for 4 hours. I could have parked for free till 11 in front of the vestry had I not ignored the cars starting to arrive there. Never mind, supporting the local economy is a good side-benefit to the events.

Group of runners, walkers and volunteers outside the cafe
Volunteers outside the facilities.

I’d offered to tailwalk, so had an excuse to meet the volunteers beforehand. You’re pretty much guaranteed a good welcome anyway, in Ireland, but I certainly got one here.

A family or two had brought their instruments, and set up just to the left of the start line to play us through, and then headed for the meeting room, upstairs in the building behind the start line, to entertain people afterwards, too. There was a short prize giving – best tourist, best volunteer, that kind of thing – and then we were off.

Many colours of running gear on people gathered at the start line
Gathered at the start line.

The course is just over three laps, giving you a good chance to see round the edges of the hospital and then compare it with the completely-different settings of the smallish loop round the pretty town park. The event is super inclusive though I agreed with my walking partner that it could use more walkers.

It’s all on good surfaces, but isn’t the quickest, with a climb up past the left of the hospital, narrowish passage down to the park, and a few turns to get right. It has everything, though. Easy parking if you need it, close to town if you are based there. Toilets and refreshments right next to the start, and friendly people all over.

Post event cake and food
Post event cake and food.

Results from event 200, 7th December 2019.

Touring Donegal

In the UK, a weary staffer reset the “since party outrage” counter back to 0. It was originally expressing days, but switching from 1 to 0 repeatedly wasn’t very interesting, so they had moved it to hours some time ago. The staffer wasn’t weary of the job – by now, if you work for a party that is no longer Conservative, nor Unionist, and haven’t embraced lies and outrage as your currency, you are strange indeed. But boy, it was a lot of work. I was in Ireland, a still-sane country.

In the UK, legitimate and verified news stories of NHS struggles were crushed beneath a slew of unreliable claims that they were false – all expressed in exactly the same words, and calling the LGI “Leeds Hospital”, which no one does (but there is no problem with foreign intervention). A false, quick-spreading story that a staffer for the lying party was punched at that same hospital was only overturned because the reality was filmed – something we will from now have to do routinely. As all of that happened, in just a few hours on one day of an exhausting and depressing election campaign, I was touring Donegal. It is a beautiful, sometimes windswept and wild county, including the Northernmost point of Ireland.

Glenveagh National Park covers a large area, so you can walk for hours and hours. I parked at the visitors centre, which is free, and walked to the castle. If you want to visit the castle (a house, built in the 19th century, rather than an old stronghold), you’d be better advised to pay for the shuttle bus to save your legs, but it’s a nice walk.

I headed South to Narin Beach, which has a parkrun every Saturday at 9.30. It is a wide expanse of sand. I was lucky enough to be there on a sunny day – “like summer,” said a local, and round here that isn’t too far from the truth.

I also headed to Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) mountain, which has an easy approach walk (and at this time of year, you can open the gate in the car park and drive up to the top, to save a couple of kms). The views over the cliffs are spectacular.

There is a path heading up over the cliffs. With cloud hanging over the top, I wouldn’t have done it anyway, but seeing that its title is “One Man’s Pass”, made sure I just didn’t fancy it.

Rocks in the sea in the shape of table and chair, overlooked by cliffs
Giant’s table and chair.

On the walk back the views are just as spectacular. This isn’t the only place where they have arranged stones to spell out “EIRE” for air traffic.

Although it is a small place, and reviews suggest there’s not much to see without a tour (summer months only), I headed to Doe Castle, and sat in the grounds to eat lunch, overseen by a curious sheep.

Sheep poking its head through fence slats
Curious sheep. It can get to the field behind.
Doe Castle
Doe Castle. Worth a short wander round.
View of the castle from the other side of the water. Orange scrub this side, greenery behind
Doe Castle View – from the other side of the water.

Donegal is a stunning landscape, more or less wherever you go. The Atlantic crashes against its shores, there are beautiful, quiet beaches everywhere and the landscape is dramatic. Not much by way of flowers, either in the wild or in gardens, but the views are fabulous.


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