Tapijn parkrun, Maastricht

Tapijn parkrun route
Tapijn parkrun route. 1 small loop, 3 large.

Feb 29th 2020, and 6 parkruns launched in The Netherlands, the first in the country. 68 people attended Tapijn, while 228 were at Rotterdam’s first, and though most at the latter were Dutch, having six available to spread out visitors was a very good idea (Others: Goffert 60, Karpendonkse Plas 160, Maxima 206, Stadspark 91). I had picked Maastricht on the grounds that the far South of the country would be likely to be quiet, though it also felt like I was making a gentle political point. Meanwhile, back in the UK, a far greater one was being made to great howls of irrelevance, nastiness and stupidity (“they don’t like it up them,” “since when has it not been acceptable to shout at staff?” “they can’t call her racist, so they do this.” “look at him, crying”).

Tapijn parkrun is in Maastricht, easily reached from anywhere in the town’s centre, and a pleasant run or walk through a park which has several animal statues to find after the event.

I had walked to the start, next to the EDLAB building of the University, and the Tapijn Brasserie, the day before, but it is easy to spot if you’re heading there nearer to the start time. The brasserie has a tower which you can see over other buildings, just visible in one of the pictures below.

There is parking very nearby, that you pay for – I heard one participant talking about checking on her payment status while going round, so you can clearly pay online. Most of the run site is an old military barracks etc., and one Brit had come back to his old haunts. He had parked a mile or so away, to the South, knowing there was free parking there, so that’s an option, too, if you drive. It’s about 3 hours drive from Calais, 2:45 from Dunkirk, 2:15 from Hoek, 2:00 from Rotterdam.

The start is just a little further along to the West than the spot shown in the photos, but you can’t miss it. The run is anti-clockwise, with a small loop first, then three large ones. For the small one, starting on the bottom of the route map, above, head East, then take the first left, head to the end (ignoring the fork to the right, which is part of the larger loop), round and back to the start. For the larger loop, ignore that first left, to the end, left, left again past the bird cage. Then back to where you were, but this time right and over a bridge, a sharp right-turn to a short out-and-back section, then past the cage with a “creepy giraffe” in, bear right round the back of that, out of the park onto a pavement beside an access road, then left to head back in. You take the left fork on the path, going the opposite way along here compared to the short lap, then right (at the bridge) to the finish or end of lap.

Some – many – pictures to take you through the route, here.

It’s very simple on the day, well-marked and with marshals at crucial points.

The park is used by cyclists, walkers and people heading to the centre of Maastricht, but was pretty quiet at 9. With a bigger field they might have to make sure we all keep off the cycle lane before we set off, but we all moved out of the way for the one cyclist who came along during the briefing (they did one in English and a separate one in Dutch). One slightly bemused local got off his bike to wonder what was going on, and seemed happy enough to watch us till he realised there was still space for him to head through.

A sculpture of a giraffe, being mourned by a girl
The giraffe, described as creepy in the briefing. I didn’t see it through the cage in any case. It is a paean to lost species, I was told.

The brasserie should be on to a good thing, and has agreed to open early, from 9:30, to offer an obvious place for everyone to meet afterwards. The food looked good (this is not a complaint about its taste; I didn’t eat any), and the fresh orange juice was delicious. Of the 68 who participated, 27 were newcomers to parkrun, and most, if not all, must be locals. A group of 20 or more runners came through the park at around 10am, so there are further locals to hear the word and join in. Meanwhile, we sat and chatted for a good while, comparing travel notes, before heading off to different parts of the city.

Maastricht itself is a lovely city, of cobbled streets and tall townhouses. It’s also near Drielandenpunt, a point where Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany all meet, with a tower and labyrinth to let you enjoy the experience. It’s drivable from the England-France ferries, or the ones direct to The Netherlands. I recommend Stena Line’s Rail & Sail, which includes rail travel to any point you like on the NS network. £55 from anywhere in the Greater Anglia region.

As a side note, if you plan to be in The Netherlands for a while, it’s worth knowing that their own banking and transport systems are well integrated, such that as a visitor you can get stuck, without a Dutch debit or OV (transport) card. Buy train tickets through the NS app, and have euros for supermarkets (cards are generally fine in shops and restaurants).

Results from Tapijn parkrun, event 1, 29/2/20.

St Helens parkrun, England

St Helens parkrun route
St Helens parkrun route. A little wiggle from the middle, 3 laps, then a tour round the back of the mansion house to the finish.

I had a car load of Lego to take to Wigan, so took the chance to add a parkrun up there, too. With rain and wind forecast, cancellations were in the offing, but in the end this part of the country was spared – we certainly saw some rain early on, but from 8 till 11 on the day was clear, even sunny at times.

parkrun advertised on a signboard, along with walking in the park, and 'fit forever'
Exercise, including parkrun, advertised on a signboard.

Victoria Park is small but has everything you need. There’s a small, free, car park, with other parking on the roads around. The lodge at one end of the park has toilets (and is also used to store the event’s kit). Meet at the bandstand for the parkrun itself.

I took a friend with me for the trip North, and we stayed at The Bay Horse, Ashton in Markerfield, which is just a few miles from the park.

The bandstand is an obvious feature, though I couldn’t see it when I first wandered out of the car park, so took the opportunity to follow the course for a while, till it and people and Hi-Viz hoved into view. After a couple of “good morning”s, my first proper interaction was with a local who said, I kid you not, “turned out nice again“. His intonation was perfect, possibly he was actually quoting either from the film, or from Eric Idle’s theme to The Infinite Monkey Cage.

Flowers arranged in circular beds on an immaculate lawn
It is a pretty, well-maintained park.
People gathered around the bandstand in the sunshine
The bandstand.

The bandstand is a convenient spot to leave your kit – plenty of us took off long-sleeved tops and hung them over the railings. There are free hot drinks and cakes there afterwards, so chances are that volunteers are in attendance for the whole time. I’d have had no qualms about leaving a bag there, in any case.

The park is on a hill, and the route is 3 laps, so you get to run down and up a hill enough times to be thoroughly au-fait with it by the end. The start takes you onto the downward part, halfway along, the part alongside Bishop Road is fairly flat, then you climb next to City Road. It isn’t hugely steep, but it is pretty long, and I definitely felt it on the second time. And the third. That said, the total elevation is 31m, as against 62 for Sunny Hill last week, which explains why I ended up with a quicker time here.

The paths are wide and tarmacced, which is just as well because the event is well attended – some parts had puddles, but road shoes are always going to be fitting. We had 352, with 519 the record (1/1/19). If you get stuck, though, it is possible to go past people on the grass, though the field was pretty nicely stretched out after half a lap or so.

It’s a lovely event, and yet another to recommend. The St Helens 10k also goes through the park, and the rugby stadium is fairly near, so there are other reasons to visit, too. You could just wander round the park afterwards, spotting items of interest:

Results from St Helens parkrun, event 295, 22/2/20.

Sunny Hill parkrun, Hendon, England

Sunny Hill parkrun route
Sunny Hill parkrun route. A shorter loop at the top, then two figure of 8s, heading anti-clockwise. The hill is right in the middle.

It can be sunny, and wasn’t today, but the hills are a given. The course does a great job of fitting 5k into a fairly small park without feeling at all squashed, and still allowing room for dog walkers and those gathering for other sports to use the paths.

I drove, and parked in the small park car park, marked by a red square, above. The postcode given on the event site would take you to the other side of the park, which I am sure is fine, but the car park is just off the A41, and easy to reach from the North (so long as you don’t miss the tight turn, and avoid the bollard). There is a sign to the park, but otherwise it looks like a driveway.

The meeting and briefing is by the finish, as shown on the map, though today we had a great, enthusiastic and clear first-timer’s briefing which pointed out the start, and there were enough first-timers there that once a few started to move to the start, we were unstoppable. The event director seemed happy enough to bring his briefing to the bench by the start instead of the usual spot. Rules. Made to be broken.

The start is downhill, then you turn left before the finish area – with the main hill straight on – to run round a relatively flat section at the top of the course. That hill is waiting, though, and once you’ve done that first loop, you head straight on, up the hill (shortish, steepish), turn right to go down it (longish, shallowish), then follow the path left to climb back up it (long, gradual, tough). Down again, a steeper descent and you’re back onto the first loop, before doing the same figure of 8 again.

Yes, the hill features four times. Brilliant training, and a tough course but a fair one, in the sense that there’s no long uphill then short sharp downhill – I felt I got a reward for pushing, and the hills were runnable, where at Wendover Woods, last week, I’d walked some of the ups.

Just next to the car park is the cafe (the toilets are also here), a log cabin, which will do you eggs, salad and toast, Mediterranean/Middle Eastern style. Excellent.

Don’t be put off by the hills – come for the welcome, enjoy feeling you’ve found a hidden gem, and a higher position than you’d get at an event with more participants, stay for the breakfast.

Results from Sunny Hill parkrun, event 46, 15/2/20.

Wendover Woods parkrun, England

Wendover Woods parkrun route
Wendover Woods parkrun route.

Wendover Woods is a Forestry Commission site, near Aylesbury and just off the A41. There’s loads of parking, for £2.50/2 hours – download the Glide app if you want to avoid queues for the paystations (pay before you exit – the barriers are camera-operated) on busy days, though it was fine today. It is possible to park in one of the muddy areas on the main road and walk/jog up, though the drive is over a mile long.

Woods. Sign on the left says "Gruffalo orienteering course starts here!"
Start of the woods proper, a right turn after the toilet block takes you here.

The facilities are also good, and obvious – toilets and cafe, right near the start and finish. Everything you might need, really. The event is on good paths, though at this time of year you will hit the odd muddy or wet spot. Road shoes are fine, though, unless you’ve very comfortable trail shoes. Even then, it’s probably overkill – I went through the muddy patches and got splashed, but didn’t slip.

Open view over the countryside off to the right
One of several viewpoints on the route.

From the start you head away from the facilities, make a turn and go back past them, with a marshal making sure you don’t go straight into the bollard next to the toilets, shown in the picture below. A right-turn later, and you’re into the woods for the rest of the course, with the first open viewpoint appearing on your right shortly after. The mix of tree-lined paths and occasional wide-open views is a grand one, and being on a one-lap course is also a relatively rare treat.

Potential hazard on the course, well-marshalled for the event, as you run past the toilet block
A marshal stands in front of the bollard as you run by.

As the run director was careful to warn us, much of the first half is downhill (though an uphill section comes earlier than I’d expected), which makes for a mostly uphill second half. That makes it feel pretty tough, though it doesn’t take in as much elevation as, say, Tring, which is nearby.

Tall trees along the right of the course, by the start and finish
Start and finish area. Tall trees!

It’s a glorious event, even on a cold day. On a warm one, I’m not sure I’d leave the woods, but I was happy enough to head off given that it was chilly. I didn’t even mind my miscounting – I was after an event 75, and this was 74, so I’d not checked closely enough. But the event number doesn’t matter – just know that you’re in for a lot of woods, and you’ll be heading past a whole lot of views and paths that warrant a further look, later on, if you have time and conditions for it.

Tall trees and green grass in the park
View of the park.

Results from Wendover Woods parkrun, event 74, 8/2/20.

Kingdom parkrun, Kent, England

Kingdom parkrun route
Kingdom parkrun route. 3 laps, anti-clockwise.

Kingdom is a members-only cycling club, with a cafe and gym, near Penshurst, Kent. They are happy to enjoy the synergy of having people run in their woods, then head hungrily to the cafe afterwards.

Grassy area with bare trees, under a blue sky
View down the hill from near the start.

With Tonbridge parkrun re-starting after three weeks of cancellations, numbers were down a little, but still saw 143 finishers (against over 200 in the three previous weeks).

I arrived at 8:35 and was one of the last to slot into the car park – with 60 spots, it won’t take everyone, but they did a great job at squeezing us in, especially given other fitness groups using the grounds and gym. Overflow parking is – carefully – along Grove Road, which also works just fine with a bit of management.

Mud and a puddle on the ground near a corner
Plenty of mud around the course. Here you can avoid it. In other places, not so much.

You can’t miss the meeting point once you’re anywhere near, and the briefing was good and clear. Three laps, then into the finish funnel. The start is downhill, which makes the finish a fairly cruel up, though at least it’s on gravel, rather than mud. There is plenty of mud on the course, which didn’t bother me in road shoes when going carefully, but you’d want something with more grip to push the pace at all.

Tailwalkers cross the start line under a bright, low, sun. One in yellow high-vis, the other orange, and walking a dog
Tailwalkers cross the start line on their final lap.

The route switches back on itself a few times which means, when combined with the three laps, you get plenty of chance to see other people, even if you’re having a solitary walk or run. Simplified, you could say the route is a long gentle down, then a long gentle up, though there is some respite in that. It is never steep, always manageable, though I’ll admit I wasn’t pushing too hard. Had I been, there’s a fairly long uphill section, leading to another one after a short break, before the final uphill bit to the finish which would have found me out. The more I think about it, the tougher that looms in my memory.

Elevation map below. It might be a slight net downhill, given that the finish doesn’t climb quite up to where you start.

Down, then up, and repeat, on the elevation map
Kingdom parkrun route elevation map.
A gate ahead of people gathered at the finish, post activity. Trees surround the area, under blue skies
View of parkrun activity from the car park.

The atmosphere was jolly, helped by a quipping run director and blue skies overhead. A group of youngsters got busy with mountain climbers, push ups and more off to our right; I can’t tell if they watched enviously or were happier in what they did, but it’s a big on the exercise atmosphere. A group were doing some yoga indoors as I headed off. I enjoyed my run in the mud, among the trees and along with a crowd of all ages, and with several dogs.

People drift away from the finish line. Wooden structure behind, above an area used for fitness training
Finish line.

Results from Kingdom parkrun event 42, 1/2/20.

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