There is land in Ireland (and other countries) to the West of it, so it may not remain so, but this is currently the most Westerly parkrun in Ireland and in Europe. It isn’t actually right on the coast, but the wind is pretty unrestricted in blowing into your face as you step out of a car, holding the door carefully to avoid that banging open. The rain, too, is going to go with whatever direction the wind blows it. It rained before the start, stopped for most of the run, and threw it down while walkers were finishing off – by luck more than judgment, I was back in the car by then.
As you can see from the route map, there’s a gap between start and finish. That short walk, up and over a dune, made it even luckier that I had made it back to the car before the rain really started again. Only when my teeth were chattering after a visit to a supermarket on the way back did I realise that the drizzle – probably horizontal, if unshowily so – I had been out in had made me pretty wet in any case. This was also my first run of the colder season in a hat. And I very rarely wear a hat.
This being Ireland, I was given a warm welcome. And with it being a small group of people, almost all regulars, I was able to speak to many of the people there, even though we didn’t hang around long at the end.
There are many things worthy of mention about this parkrun. Parking is free, just find a spot next to the route. There are no other facilities at all. The views are great, and you are very exposed to the weather, whatever it may be. It’s Westerly. The people are wonderful – just for being there, but also for the warmth of the greeting that helps a visitor feel a part of the community. One thing immediately obvious as a contrast to England is that although this is in rural Mayo, and accessible down small roads, I didn’t hit a pothole. Not one, honestly. I know! 2022, and roads without potholes? No one will believe it possible in England.
That is also true of the route, which is run along the road around the lake. That road serves a few houses only, but looks brand new in a way I had forgotten is possible. It’s a great surface, and the only car we saw, pulling in just after we set off, turned out to belong to a park runner who started late and still caught many of us up, and so was very careful in picking his way through the runners and walkers.
Given this was autumn, I can only wonder at how ragged the conditions might be in winter, but this is a lovely event no matter what the wind throws at you. Just take some warm clothes, and change wet clothes afterwards rather than relying on a car heater to dry you off. I was still very glad I’d picked this run, as I’m sure the chat can’t be beaten, even if other places in Ireland might equal it. Completing it also marked my 10th event in Ireland, which means I’ve run at least 10 different events in each of 10 countries, a nice round number to hit.
Visiting the Giant’s Causeway, and parking near it, is free for National Trust members, or £5 per car if you’re not a member and don’t want to go to the visitors’ centre. That parking charge gets progressively cheaper the more people you take in your car, but if it’s just you, you fancy the walk and want to do it for free, then Dunseverick, around 8km away, is a good option. The coastal walk isn’t too strenuous – it’s only when you get to the Causeway that you have a large drop, around 100m to the coast – and the views are spectacular.
The car park in Dunseverick, marked as “Dunseverick Castle car park“, is free but popular and not huge. There are a couple of lay-bys, too. One is right next to the castle car park, the other a little further down Causeway Road to the East (away from the Causeway). The castle is an atmospheric small ruin that you can see on your walk to the coastal path.
The coastal path is easy to find, and not far from the car park, and you just follow it. After just over 7km, having expected an 8km walk, you’ll be pleased to find you are already at a sign offering a way down to the Causeway. Here’s your decision – do you take the steepish (but well maintained) steps down, or continue along the path to follow a much gentler, significantly longer route round the back. In the photo above, the steps are close on the right, while the coastal path continues around the headland you can see. The causeway is visible, sticking out into the sea, and the easier path comes at it from behind.
I chose the stairs, which then took me onto the path you can see above, and then walked to the causeway. It’s a lovely way to arrive, though the other way lets you see the columns from a distance as you approach. I was lucky, in that this was during the first summer of the pandemic so it was quiet however you came at it, but at busier times going down the steps should allow a more peaceful approach. You can’t avoid finding people on the causeway, though.
The views of the Causeway itself are well worth the walk, even if the actual site itself is not enormous. It is atmospheric, though, and as it stretches away into the sea it is easy to imagine it once stretched for miles. The stones are fairly easy to scramble up if you want to walk out to the edge, or near it. There is a tougher scramble when you first get to the Causeway, if you approach from the steps side, but you can just walk round the other side.
I chose to take the steps down and then the longer route on the way back, to give the chance to take in different views as much to save my legs from the climb. There is a bench at the top of the steps that allows recuperation but I just didn’t take it on.
It’s a good walk back, with similar views, only reversed, and just as gorgeous in even half-decent weather. The whole thing was 16.15km, and took me about 3 and a quarter hours. I was glad of a sit-down at the end. I did, though, have time to stop at The Dark Hedges, which is a very quick sight to see and makes for great photos. They were used in Game of Thrones which I haven’t seen, but I still enjoyed my quick visit. As you may guess from the photos, you can’t drive along this bit of the road, but parking is not far away from either end.
There are lots of beautiful natural sights/sites in Ireland, but these are two of the finest in Northern Ireland, and you can visit them at minimal cost.
I had been checking the Northern Cricket Union website on and off, hoping to catch a league match, but without success – fixtures are published but I never found a start time. That might be me, or just that spectators are discouraged in Covid times (unlike England, Northern Ireland hasn’t given up and given in to the macho “pchaw, I’ll be alright” crowd). It was with some excitement, then, that I spotted that the Ireland team would be playing in Northern Ireland, after some sell-out T20s in Dublin.
I managed not to over-excitedly book tickets weeks ahead, figuring that the weather might be changeable, but relented with a week to go, in case they hit the 500 limit. When the previous Friday’s match was abandoned after one innings, I was worried, especially with rain in the forecast, but the rain spread itself through the day, and they got a result even after a 2.5 hour delay to the start.
I knew it would be convenient, given the terms and conditions promised free parking at the ground, but still didn’t expect to be able to drive right in and parked at the Stormont car park next door – it’s small, but free all day, and a short walk to the ground. But I could have driven right in and parked more or less by the door, it’s that convenient. Adelaide was good, given you can park very close for $20 on the day, but this is better, and the convenience feels like a thrill after the hassle of attending any large-scale event.
The crowd wasn’t large, with 30-40 in to begin with, swelling to 100 or so in the afternoon, helped by schools and work finishing for the day, so tickets were not hard to come by. They were also a bargain at £15, so I wasn’t overly bothered by the tough refund conditions. So long as 9.5 overs were bowled, you’d see nothing back.
I had brought plenty to read but ended up chatting to fellow cricket lovers who were glad to see a game after cancelling their trip to Manchester – before the game itself was cancelled, and just because England seems too insane a place to visit right now. We passed the time before the game finally started, and then Brendan Taylor walked out for his final international innings. An overcast day didn’t look likely to provide conditions for a glorious end, and so it proved as Josh Little bowled both openers after a slow, solid start. He is a useful weapon.
Rain took the players on and off, with the number of overs gradually nibbled away at, and the usual comedy that cricket’s laws ensure – at one point they played through a shower, walked off as it ended and then didn’t appear again for half an hour as we sat there in the dry.
Covid-wise, we were asked to download the NI app, take a test beforehand and have a mask to hand for going inside, not that we needed to. It was all pretty relaxed on the day, other than us being asked not to handle to ball. Stewarding was in place, but relaxed – it is very straightforward to get on to the pitch, it’s just that almost everyone just doesn’t, as we’ve seen in England recently.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day, even though it was a fairly low-key game that Ireland won fairly easily, despite worries about losing the light if they went on too long, and losing a few wickets without too much batting further down. Chasing was much easier than trying to set a pace, though Ervine would have single-handedly scored plenty if he could have stayed there, and provided most of the runs in any case. The first ball of Ireland’s reply went for four as we strolled back from the ice-cream van, which set the tone, and Stirling did more or less as he pleased. He was given out at least twice and successfully overturned with reviews before eventually bashing one up in the air. Zimbabwe did much worse with reviews, with Ireland reviewing two, maybe three decisions that weren’t given in the field, and players trooping off afterwards (without screens, that was how we knew the decision went against them). The Irish umpires were perhaps being extra careful not to be perceived as being in favour of the home team, backed up by technology.
There were Zimbabwe fans there, too, who chatted happily to Raza when he came close. He was the highlight of the day for me, as I gestured to the umbrella I’d just put up as they played on in rain, and he shouted “Ump! Look! And these are the locals!”
Near as dammit, anyway.
The cricket ended some time before 7 – a long day, as I was there for the 10:30 start which didn’t happen, but one which whizzed by. Having parked at Stormont I took advantage of the last of the light to have a walk around the estate, which is a lovely spot, with the parliament building way at the top of the hill. Apparently the trees are planted 200ft apart at the start of the drive, spreading to 250 near the top, which gives a false perspective and makes the building look closer than it is. Clever. And perhaps good motivation for the runners who were using it for training: “It can’t be that much further! It is, though”.
As parkrun returned in Ireland, I decided that heading a short distance across the border wasn’t too out of keeping with the spirit of things, and the fact that Dundalk was well under an hour’s drive away sealed the deal.
As it’s only just starting back and they’re feeling their way, there are no facilities on site – use the hotel was the general idea. There is plenty of parking, free on a Saturday, though that didn’t stop many people bumping onto the pavement by the yellow lines. Let’s be charitable and there were many people who figured 5k was their absolute limit, so walking an extra 150m would be too much.
There’s a lovely big windmill on campus, which is a feature you can’t miss.
As a multi-lap route running round some fields, this could be uninspiring, but I found plenty to look at, and the course twists just enough to keep it interesting. One side is slightly downhill, the opposite slightly up, but otherwise this has the potential to be pretty quick, so long as you can get round everyone. Not an issue I had, so this was my quickest of the year again – I’m not running much, but it is still getting easier now I can parkrun regularly.
Let me jump you straight past the fact of three laps to the finish. I was moving fairly well, and looking forward to the finish and a guarantee of being quicker than previous weeks. As a result I perhaps switched my brain off, and accelerated towards the very obvious finish line, next to a container in the middle of the park. We had run down there already, so I knew it. I accelerated to use up whatever I had left.
And was applauded as I past the finishing line, pointed towards the roundabout, which now seemed an implausible distance away. I had overcooked it, because the finish line had shunned me, facing the other way and waiting for me to return. I had thought my watch was going to make this course a little short, rather than reaching the more obvious conclusion that having run 4.7km, the finish line was not quite as imminent as I was attempting to make it.
There you have it – be careful with the finish, it may be slightly further away than you think it is, if you forget about the loop.
Otherwise there were no dramas, plenty of happy people and a few – though not too many – visitors from elsewhere, glad to be back at a parkrun with .ie in the URL. The playing fields were fairly busy, so be sure to follow the crowd, and paths, rather than any small groups who might break off to run across the grass, but otherwise you can’t really go wrong.
A novelty – a parkrun that still has the extra word ‘park’ in the name.
Although I could see where the run was, I wasn’t sure where to park from the website, so trusted to the directions, which said to look for the sign to the park from the road. I was relieved, then, to see volunteers gathered by the car park.
Even better, behind those trees there’s a sign that clearly says start. I relaxed a little too much at that – once I got closer after some faffing, I realised that it was pointing towards the start, not its actual location. I had plenty of time, but it’s worth bearing in mind, especially as the start is on a large clearing up a cruel hill, so you don’t really want to have to rush up it.
It really is a very large clearing. As a result of all that space, and the first path being downhill, the start was tremendously exciting, and definitely got legs and blood moving. The surface is hard-packed, if a little rocky – think big gravel, not the stuff you’d put on a driveway – so watch your footing. You’d probably be fine running in shoes without much cushioning, so long as you’re not blasé.
The course is two laps, clockwise round the lake, past the campsite and through the woods. And, of course, up that sodding hill a couple of times. The route picks a less cruel incline than the one we walked up to reach the clearing, but still – it’s a fair way up. The finish is lower, though, so it is at least a net drop. And, as ever, the total elevation was disappointing (20m) given how hard the hill felt.
Some of the paths are fairly narrow, so pick your spot to overtake carefully – the start is an excellent spot, as is the long straight just afterwards, which becomes the finish. From there it is twisty and narrow, round the lake and over the bridge above.
Climbing the hill takes you to the highlight, the section through the woods. It is darker in there, and still slightly uphill, but it’s a lovely spot, with the course snaking through and back up to the clearing.
After doing the whole thing again, you can gallop as best possible down the tremendously exciting start (I didn’t find it quite as exciting the third time), take a right turn at the bottom and along to the finish, next to the campsite.
The cafe is right next to the car park, and with toilets behind it – those were open even though the cafe is currently closed.
It’s a lovely run of many features, and a nice park to have a stroll round afterwards. Dungannon itself has a series of interlinked parks, and near to Dungannon Park is a posh, if under-rented, outlet centre ensuring that not only can you get refreshments, but also a whole new wardrobe – of clothes and probably an actual wardrobe, if you’re short one. I didn’t even get to the centre of town, as the parks are a little outside, but enjoyed both a run and a walk, plus doughnuts from a supermarket. Everything I needed, and plenty I didn’t.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I headed to Colin Glen because of the description on their site: “This is a hilly parkrun and will be a great challenge.” It sure is, albeit not especially slow because you get so much downhill in a row. The run director wandered over to find newbies and was happy to tell me it was uphill for 2k, downhill after you’ve run round the lake – so you work from the start, but are rewarded at the end. It would be hard not to run a positive split, and even a royal flush (each mile quicker than the last) just due to the nature of the course, and I certainly did both.
The other part of the course description is slightly misleading – it refers to two laps, but in fact there’s a long run uphill/flat to the lake, then twice round it (and it is quite small), then a long flat/downhill run back to the finish.
The park is in between Belfast and Lisburn, and far enough from the centre of either to attract lower numbers than other runs. They’ve had over 200, which must have been quite a crowd up and down the paths, but for now attendance is between 50 and 100. There’s an ample car park for those numbers near the start, right next to the church. The start is marked as being a few hundred metres into the park, but everyone meets in the car park. If you can park on the left as you drive in, you’ll find getting out a little easier, with spaces on the right a bit tighter for space.
The course is straightforward, navigationally, and there are permanent yellow arrows on the ground should you want to follow it on your own. Right at the first fork, over two bridges then left over the last one, uphill just a bit more and then onto a flat section leading to the lake.
On this damp day, the surface felt a little slippery. I didn’t slip, and it didn’t feel dangerous, even on the sharper downhill sections, so perhaps just a bit of tree sap making the surface feel a bit odd. It’s mostly tarmac, with a few shingly bits and the occasional sheen of mud over the top.
Scanning and chat happens in front of the cafe, which was open, if not the centrepiece of post-parkrun socialising right now. They also had a higher than average number of young marshals, which was nice – they’d justify having a few child-sized hi-viz vests, though they look pretty cute when they work almost as overcoats.
Another pretty and welcoming Northern Irish parkrun.