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.

Rothwell parkrun, Yorkshire

Rothwell parkrun route
Rothwell parkrun route. 2 1.8km laps, one shorter.

In case you’re wondering; yes, many people have commented on the shape. I’ll say no more.

Rothwell is South of the centre of Leeds, easily reached from surrounding areas. I came from Pontefract, and it took about 20minutes. There’s plenty of parking – I went past the event car park, turned right after following another car park sign, didn’t see another at the next junction and parked very near the start, in Park Lane. It’s a wide road, so there’s space to park – in places, on both sides. It’s the road shown beyond the park in the picture below.

Crowd gathered at the start
Crowd gathered at the start.

The run is on tarmacced paths, with grassy areas to the side allowing a large crowd to find its pace and spread out. It’s not totally flat, with a climb up to the decision point – left for laps 1 and 2, right on lap 3. Then the course drops as you head back to the start, before a long flat section along the North and East of the park.

I got round, happy in the crowd, and ‘actually running’ for the third week in a row. Scanning was quick at the end, and I sat briefly on the grassy bank that looks over the finish funnel, before scooting back to Pontefract to catch up with friends, post-run. The obvious reaction to that is “Wait! why not run Pontefract parkrun?” and it’s a good question, and testament to tourist madness. I ran Pontefract back in 2011, so fancied a new run, while a friend ran Pontefract in order to pick up the “Full Ponty” badge from the running challenges.

Results from Rothwell parkrun event 124, 25/1/20.

For more from Pontefract, see the Jan 30, 2020 episode of With Me Now.

Penrose parkrun, Cornwall, England

Penrose parkrun route
Penrose parkrun route. Out and back, North to South.

At the end of a week in Penzance, after Land’s End parkrun last weekend, I went to the next-nearest run to the town; 15 miles away, and about a 25 minute drive. As you can see from the map above, it is close to both Helston and Porthleven. The latter has very pretty beaches, and gives access to the South West Coastal Path.

The course, has changed. It used, as far as I can figure out, to start from nearer the National Trust car park, in the middle of the estate, and moved when they had to do work on that car park. It is now an out and back from next to the free car park by the side of Flora motors, off Porthleven road. It is a big, potholed car park, though with nearly 300 runners, it was pretty full by the start time. The run now heads from the gate that marks the entry to the estate, along a slightly winding and slightly undulating route past Loe Pond.

Crowd at the run briefing
Crowd at the run briefing.

There are toilets back up the road (away from the estate) at the Lakeside cafe, which is in as pretty a situation as it sounds.

A cold start meant some runs had had to cancel, but there was no ice, only mud, on this course, which is surrounded by trees. The path is wide enough for everyone to pass, as quicker runners reach the turnaround and fly back – almost literally in the case of today’s leader, who got to the finish in 13:58 behind his dog. Friendly runners called out “keep left!” as he and others (a couple of minutes later) came past, so any overtaking is best postponed till you can see the way is clear.

A fairly typical start at Penrose
A fairly typical start at Penrose.

Although locals miss the old course, this is still a pretty run. It’s fast, too. There’s a little hill heading up to the turnaround point, but that means your second half starts downhill; perfect if you want to remind yourself to keep the effort up. There was a nice crowd of nearly 300 people there, which made for a bunched start but soon spread out along the trail. For me, it’s another National Trust course covered, and I took advantage of the sun and clear conditions after a stormy week to head to the coast and see The Lizard, England’s Southern-most point. I parked in the village, rather than at the National Trust car park at the point; it’s a km or so to walk to the point, and then you can walk several different distances along the coastal path, with plenty of cut-throughs back to the village. Might need wellies for some of them after rainy weather, mind.

Results from Penrose parkrun, event 254, 18/1/20.

Land’s End parkrun

Land's End parkrun route
Land’s End parkrun route. Approx 1 mile out and back, then three anti-clockwise loops at bottom left.

Booked to stay in Cornwall for two Saturdays, I had a choice of many lovely and tempting parkruns. They’d all be tempting anyway, by virtue of being so far from my usual locations, but there are plenty of National Trust, scenic, riverside or other factors. In the end, I chose the new one at Land’s End; scenic, new and at the very Southwestern extreme of England.

Land's End sign
Land’s End complex.

There’s masses of parking; the event page says it’s free to parkrunners, so I ignored the pay and display sign and put a barcode on my dashboard just in case. It seemed that on this quiet January day, with the attractions all closed for maintenance, no one was checking. There are kiosks at the entry, so perhaps in busier times you will flash a barcode at them. At any rate, I don’t know exactly how it works, but it worked just fine.

There are toilets in the main building – the doors in the passageway behind the columns, above. That passageway is also the way to the meeting point, just behind and to the right.

The run director has a megaphone, which may not be needed for the numbers on a January day, but is for the windy surroundings. This was as windy a day as they’ve had here, though there will be windier ones. The short laps go fairly close to the edge and though there is a wide path there, very windy days will probably lead to cancellation. Today was fine, though people (okay, me) on their first short lap tended to stick close to the left hand side, lest a sudden gust lift them into the air. On the second and third, knowing it wouldn’t, we used most of the path. With a little left over for safety.

The route is very straightforward to follow, with marshals massing near the start/finish, to make sure you take the right turns. The start goes down the exit road, which is closed for a few minutes for that purpose, then takes a left onto a path with several sharp turns – there’s plenty of space, just stick to the left for the sake of people coming back the other way. Keep going till you meet the turnaround marshal, run around their cone and back. At the end you don’t go onto the exit road, but use the narrower stony path beside it, heading onto the three short laps. All you have to remember, as the run director told us, is that you pass the ‘first and last’ house three times, then finish. Easy.

There’s a very nice cafe on site; they’ll happily sell you a beer, too, if you want to celebrate more than usual.

I loved the event. It isn’t totally unpopulated, and at least one person walked from their nearby house to volunteer, but most people will travel from the near area and there’s an air of excitement at being here to run or walk. As always, highly recommended and plenty of fun.

Results from Land’s End parkrun, event 9, 11/1/20.

Bakewell parkrun

Bakewell parkrun route
Bakewell parkrun route. Out and back, left then right.

I booked to stay in the Peak District, with Bakewell my nearest parkrun. I figured I’d probably do it, it being so, but when I mentioned it to people I got many knowing nods, mmms and oohs. A good one? I asked, rhetorically.

Why, yes! It’s on the Monsal Trail, 8.5 miles of old railway track, once a main line between London and Manchester, serving the industry in the region. Now not only do you have a flat, wide track to walk on, with side paths taking you off into the hills and nature reserves around, but you can run through the old railway tunnels and pretend to be a train.

The course doesn’t go through those tunnels, they’re a couple of kilometres further along, but I think it’s worth the trip. The YHA at Ravenstor is about 5 miles from the start at Hassop station, so I imagined several tourists making the jog down in the morning, or at least being joined by people along the way. But no; although it is a predominantly tourist run, most stay in Bakewell, it seems, or park at Bakewell station and walk up (about a mile).

The run director made a feature of the tourism. “Normally,” she said, “I’d ask if we had any tourists.” (At this point, one over-keen bod was too keen to announce themselves, heard what they wanted to hear and stuck their hand up.) “But here, we ask if we have any locals!” And only a smattering of hands went up.

It’s a very simple route. Out for 2.5km, turn round cones under a bridge, and head back. Stay left, and keep off the trail until the event starts. Simple. It’s slightly up on the way out, so the return is quicker than the first half. I can recommend the journey to and from Ravenstor, though I was accompanied by just as many people on my way back as on my way there: none.

Whet your appetite with photos of the Monsal Trail.

Results from Bakewell parkrun event 90, 12/10/19.

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.

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.

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