City Park parkrun, Craigavon

City Park parkrun route, Craigavon, Northern Ireland

A one-lapper! I have been indecisive recently – frankly, it seems as if all of Northern Ireland’s parkruns are in gorgeous settings, and I couldn’t decide between a view of the reservoir, another forest park, or the Parliament buildings. In the end, I headed for Craigavon, as that’s where new friends from Moira Junior parkrun tend to be. Several of them were there. And I missed them all on the day.

Post-run view of the leisure centre, over the lake. Civic centre car park behind me.

In part that was because this was the largest event I have done in some time, with over 200 people (and partly because I wandered straight off at the finish to get my camera). I haven’t seen so many at a run since a 10k I did in Hatfield, and not at a parkrun for… some time. It was far from congested, though, as there is masses of room outside South Lakes leisure centre, where it starts and finishes.

A view of the finish. See? Masses of space.

I parked, as the website recommends, in the civic centre, which is right next to the course. Most people park at the leisure centre, which is slightly closer, but either way there is loads of parking. The direct gate from civic centre to the water was closed by the time I got back, around 11am, but it isn’t far to walk round the centre and in through the front gate.

The finish line, with crowds.
Reverse view from (near) the finish line.
The first section, after the plaza in front of the leisure centre. No one stopped for a drink.

The other bonus of this course is that it’s a one lapper (or one plus a tiny bit, to be totally accurate, given that the start is before the finish line, so the latter is assembled after everyone has set off). After Comber’s four laps, this was quite the difference.

It is also incredibly easy to follow, once you’ve taken the right fork (shown below, and marshalled at the time) at the end of the first straight. That takes you away from the lake just for a short while – it felt a lot longer when walking it afterwards. Other than that, you just follow the lakes round, keeping them on your left, and watch for cyclists (not that I saw any) who might prefer you keep to the pedestrian part of the path.

Take the right fork for the parkrun route.
Dangerous place sign next to the lake.
A view of the lake.

It’s a very flat course – one small rise during that fork, and a couple of other slight rises that might have been as much my lack of fitness as anything else – and so ought to be a fast one if you want it to be. They have been asking for volunteers on the night before for the past few weeks, but it has always worked out, so long may it continue. On a day like yesterday, sunny throughout and then warming nicely after 11 (I spent the rest of the day at Kilkeel beach – this is one of those countries where they can’t “close the sea”), it was absolutely gorgeous.

Results from Citypark parkrun, event 389, 28/8/21 (235 finishers).

Hillsborough Forest parkrun, NI

Hillsborough Forest parkrun route. 2 laps clockwise, from the path in the woods, bottom left of the route above.

A new event, this started when parkrun returned in Northern Ireland, on 26th June 2021. It partly fills the gap between Craigavon and Castlewellan and, more importantly, is in a gorgeous location.

It doesn’t even need to use all of the available ground, so there’s more park to explore before or after if you want to. The event is two B shaped loops, clockwise in the NE section, beside the lake.

The website suggests parking in town (and that’s where the toilets are), but this was a rainy day and I parked in the Forest Park car park – at the end of Park Street on the left side of the map. This clearly gets busy, as they have marshals there once the morning gets going, but today it was pretty quiet, for obvious reasons. It was dryish as we walked to the start, and rained during the event. This was the perfect run for that, being mostly under tree cover, but that didn’t stop us all getting wet on the way back to the car park.

The start and finish. The start is actually on a path, not as “middle of the woods” as the picture makes it look.
View from the gathering point, right by the finish.
The first turn.

It’s not especially hilly, though it felt it. Whenever you turn away from the lake you’re going uphill, which makes for two obvious hills on the map. The one in the middle of the route is the toughest, especially the second time around. It’s also gravelly underfoot – nothing too loose, but you might prefer trainers with some cushioning to minimal tread.

View of the finish.
Heading up the first incline (this lot are cooling down, I wasn’t actually able to keep up with these youngsters).
Top of the course, which you cover in both directions.
It is a bit of a hill, honest. But mostly just pretty.

It’s a gorgeous course, and a great park to just mooch around afterwards – trees, lake, fort overlooking it all. People gathered happily under tree cover at the finish before making their way back to wherever they’d come from, and I strolled back round the course, mostly dry despite the rain, taking pictures.

Results from Hillsborough Forest parkrun event #9, 21/8/21 (122 finishers).

Comber parkrun, NI

Comber parkrun route. 4 laps.

I had three events about 45 mins away, and on a whim picked Comber. It is four laps, which might normally put me off – too much repetition if you’re not in the mood – but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s very flat, so despite all the turns, this was my quickest run of the year.

Me and others, in the field of flags.

The route runs round two fields, which are joined by a fairly narrow bridge – it’ll take a person in each direction, but not much more than that, so just needs everyone to be nice. Which they were on this day. The start and finish, in almost the same place (start on the path at the edge of the field, finish on the path next to it) are just by the bridge, and all are very close to the rugby club – open to use facilities and parking – and the other car park, right next to the rugby club.

Finish between the trees – the block on the left marks the start.
The bridge between the two fields.

The first field, in which the event starts, runs round playing fields and a showground, lined with trees. The other field is in early stages of development, I think, with trees and other greenery yet to grow much. It is also, as is often the case in Northern Ireland, filled with flags. When people complain that we don’t show enough flags in the UK, it might not be because of oppression but simply that most of our allocation is taken up by this part. The fact that NI marks its 100th anniversary this year (2021) may also contribute.

Flags along the path. Yes, look ahead, flags. Look right, flags. And, trust me, look left and – oh, you’ve heard it.
Turning point at one end – run round the flags.
Guess which field?

The run director was warm and welcoming – “There’s a defibrillator. If we have to use it there will be a small charge” – and seemed to know most of the people there, which made for a warm sense of community. The run, as I say, is flat, with the slightest of inclines on the back end of the field of flags, and a facing breeze as we came up it, the only impediments, other than the turns. The surface is good and, on this day, the weather warm, which meant plenty of people hung around for a chat afterwards.

Whereas this is clearly the other field. Car park on the left, rugby club behind the hedge.
The route is marked by permanent arrows.

Just make sure not to miss the scanning, which is not in sight when you finish, being in the rugby club car park, which is itself through a gap in the hedge – covered by a metal contraption (it might be a gate, but seemed more Heath-Robinson than that at a glance) once we’re all done.

Scanning and coffee/tea at the rugby club.

Comber itself is a nice little town, with supermarkets and cafes around a central square just a short walk from the park, and beyond that another small park for a stroll. I suspect they lock the rugby club car park afterwards, so move your car if you’re going exploring.

Results from Comber parkrun event 305, 14/8/21.

Crawfordsburn Country parkrun

Crawfordsburn Country parkrun – one lap, though you cover a couple of bits twice, in different directions.

This event has a reputation for having a complicated route,though it was fine for me, following people happily in the middle of the pack. There are (small) permanent arrows, and marshals or signs through the course, though fewer at the end – I’m not sure you could follow the course using just the arrows, but might be wrong. I didn’t really know where I was, other than on the sea-front sections, but I also didn’t get lost.

Start line. Just behind the trees to the right is the finish line – the turn is where the people are, on the left.
The start is marked, and shows the small arrows. On the left is the visitors’ centre/cafe.

It was ‘recommended’ to me as a hilly course, and it certainly felt it, though Strava reckons there is only 35m of elevation. You certainly get an impression it’ll be hilly from the start, as a short flat is followed by a left-turn and immediate run uphill.

Runners on the first hill.
The first hill. It looks fine, here.

After that little dogleg – up the hill, along the top, back down the other side, a left turn takes you to the seafront area. This is Crawfordsburn Beach. Helen’s Bay is just North/West of here, and another lovely spot to visit if you have time. The route doesn’t go that way, heading round the field then East/South along the front.

An example small route marker, looking out to sea.
Turn left onto this path, follow it round and right at the end – left to Helen’s Bay.
The beach, and a long flat section till you turn into the woods.

Much of this section is covered in both directions, though you don’t go back up that initial hill again. The loop through the woods is lovely, but tough – there’s a short, sharp hill which I had been warned about, tried to run up and settled for a walk. A hill that goes, then goes again – it levels off briefly, then carries on, and I was grateful to have walked the first bit.

Keep going, past the stream and this bridge.
You can’t go any further, and finally cross the stream.

Finally, a left turn (unmarked) takes you back to that initial path by the beach, past the hill and then left to the finish. The latter is in sight of the start, but not quite in the same place.

Following a volunteer (post event) down the left turn, back to the beach.
The finish line, mobbed by people.

Another lovely run, and I was lucky enough to see it in sunshine. As a result I walked most of the route again, heading further East/South to explore. It’s gorgeous.

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