Bere Island parkrun

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, 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, turn 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.

 

Dungloe parkrun, Donegal

Dungloe parkrun route map, with view of two loughs
Dungloe parkrun route. 3 anti-clockwise laps.

Dungloe parkrun is on the outskirts of the town, at the River Walk. Parking is free, over the road at Lidl, there are no toilets and the surface is good. The paths are gravel rather than tarmac, so watch your footing a little bit, but it’s not prone to ice, water or tree roots. It’s not completely flat, but there are no serious inclines.

Me, running; long grass and trees behind
Me at the final corner.

The markings needed for the course are minimal, and the start and finish posts are permanent, along with a sign advertising the event at the entrance to the walk. It can run with minimal volunteers, so long as everyone knows to turn right at the final turn twice, then left on the third lap, over the bridge to the finish. It’s very simple, though there is a tempting path just before that turn, taking you through a stream. That also leads to the finish, and one or two have taken that route.

With two loughs off to the side, and a big clump of trees in the middle of the loop, it is very scenic, particularly on a clear, bright day. It was cold, but the views compensated.

This was my actually second attempt at the run. Last week’s ended dramatically for us all, but ultimately with a happy outcome. As I came round on my second lap I saw a group of people up ahead. Only when I got near did I realise a runner was performing compressions on another, who was flat-out. I’ll spare you the details, but we all gathered and hung around together, doing whatever we could, as paramedics arrived. The course can just about fit an ambulance, so he was taken away, and we all re-grouped – to no great effect, but not wanting to just walk home – in the local supermarket car park as they brought in a coastguard helicopter to airlift him out. Happily, he was discharged from hospital in the week, and is now recovering, and promising to come and walk the course as part of that.

There was no such drama this week, and we were all glad to layer a happy memory on top of a traumatic one. The run director said that in the week she was done with the whole thing, but wouldn’t have missed today, nor future events, for anything. It’s a small event – 22 finishers today – but one with a warm welcome and a lovely community feel.

The Run Director did a great job of talking to everyone and also including us all in various combinations for photos at the end:

Results from Dungloe parkrun no. 189, 30/11/19.

Kilkenny, Co Kilkenny, Ireland

Jetlag means that although I have been in Kilkenny for over 24 hours, I haven’t done much. I have seen a fair amount of the surrounding countryside, thanks to a couple of hour+ runs, and wandered through the centre a couple of times. But otherwise, I arrived around 3pm yesterday, as school kids made their way home, ran, slept 8 till midnight, was awake 5-7 and planning a run as soon as it got light, then, with a nice synchronicity, slept 8-12. Finally I was up, ran again at 2, South through country lanes, returning as, again, school kids made their way home. Youngsters walked through the streets with their hurling sticks, politely moving out of my way (how unlike England) and older folks asked “how are ye?” Cars, while not quite on the ‘automatic deference to the pedestrian’ level of the US, are politer than in the UK, with one or two even rolling along behind me on quiet roads, till they were sure I was happy for them to pass (by my having stepped off the road – there was room anyway). Even watching England collapse in Barbados (cricket) and Tottenham lose to Chelsea on penalties (football) haven’t taken the edge off.

It’s a joy, even on a damp and occasionally drizzly day.

Some photos, which aren’t brilliant, but give a flavour of the sights, if not the feeling.

Ferry, cross the Irish Sea

Ferry, cross the Irish Sea
Nefyn, United Kingdom

Nefyn, United Kingdom

Last night’s goodbye turned out to be temporary. I spent plenty of time in Howth before heading to the ferry port for about 9. So early, and presumably out of step with any arrivals or departures, that the port was pretty much deserted. I congratulated myself on finding the port without needing to use the toll tunnel (you can get obsessed with avoiding tolls, it seems) and pulled in to the services. Wandering to wash my hands I wondered if they had wifi, and they did, so I left the iPod connecting.

Sitting down in the small lounge with chocolate, thinking that I might as well be here for some time, perhaps with the laptop, sorting out the blog, I checked the email that was coming in.

There’s one from Linda, still in Dublin. Flight not rearranged and it turns out she is, in fact, about a mile and a half away. I dragged my brain out of its comfortable ‘here for a bit’ feeling, checked the map and decided it was worth driving in to the centre. I’ve had a blind spot with town/city centres throughout, feeling that taking the car in would be a pain, and nearly parked in the first free spot I saw. It turned out, though, that there was free parking right in the middle and I walked to the hostel.

The burly bloke on reception was a little intimidating, but seemed to understand that my ‘friend has sent me an email saying she’s staying here, can I have a look?’ was important, and took me to the communal gardens and her room. Both empty of Lindas, but he was saving himself for a flourish. As we walked to the exit he added “there is a tv room, too”, diverting me that way. And there, sat in a corner, journaling while the TV spouted unhelpful content, she was. Burly man left us to it, I think with some sense that this was not a standard meeting. We had to have another goodbye, of course but first could Bam! and potato/pohtato our way around Dublin.

Jeannie Johnston, ship, in the dark of night
Jeannie Johnston.

I headed back to Dublin port around midnight. Again ferociously early, but saving last minute angst, plus I was so close to getting round Ireland without losing my bike or having the car die that I wanted to finish this step almost as much as I wanted the ferry to be cancelled and give me another night. Eventually we rolled on and I found a seat for some sleep-2.55-5.45 ferry, yawn. Luckily I’d taken both jumper and gilet, because after a warm day the air conditioning was doing an unwelcome job of keeping everywhere cool. With sporadic sleep it was, though, a calm crossing, pulling in to Holyhead on time. Unlike my first ferry I was off in quick order, with early morning sunshine lighting me away from Holyhead (batman). I’ve been on the train/ferry special to Ireland before, with time to explore Holyhead, and it didn’t warrant a second visit. Instead, I was in Caernarfon by 7, looking for the Sunday paper I’d been denied the previous day and some breakfast. Service Welsh style was stroppy as the spar had only just opened, but hobnobs and lucozade in the shadow of the castle with the sports section was my idea of bliss.

View of the bay
Rubbish views, Welsh style.

 

A goodbye.

A goodbye.
South Dublin, Ireland

South Dublin, Ireland

Last night I’d checked the route and printed Linda’s barcode, so we were ready for parkrun first thing. The hotel was only 25 minutes away via the M25-sorry, M50-so we were there with time to follow the tourist directions, have a warm up and meet Joe and Jacqs. The directions took us to the far end of the park to the start/finish line, but it’s only a short jog from there, and there are underused toilets on the way as a reward. I like a reward, and I’ll take what I can get. The run was scenic, one small anticlockwise loop of the initial field then a gently twisting course through tree-shaded paths before a final clockwise loop to finish. I raced those ahead for as long as i could keep accelerating and managed to isolate myself in sixth after a mile or so, which helped make my splits ugly, but I was reasonably happy. Linda was just behind; “two for two,” as she put it, though I doubt I will stay ahead if we race again. Afterwards Jacqs’ kids and parents joined us all on the grass and we chilled out under a cloudless sky. My ankle had been fine, I forgot all about it, with only a small twinge to remind me I’d gone over on it the night before.

Ruined church in front of a marina
Church and Ireland’s Eye.

Linda and I left after 11 to find a pub. I’d not cased one out but figured it wouldn’t be long before we spotted one from the road and so it turned out, as we listened to the end of he first half before hopping out, with perfect timing to miss the Australian try at the end of the half but also to catch the whole of the second. Whoever wrote the script did a great job. Nervy close win, series nearly in their hands before a close loss, looking to have it won at 19-3 before having to, as they say, go out and win it again from 19-16. Boy how they won it. 41-16, running tries in for fun in a burst from 20 or so minutes to go, making it comfortable.

Marlay park, parkrun venue
Marlay park.

That was the last thing we could do together. Linda had a flight at 4.15 she could probably switch to, not wanting to hang around for her originally scheduled 10/7 flight after I’d gone, so we packed and headed in comfortable thought filled silence to the airport.

Goodbye. At least for now.

I found myself at a loose end. My original plan involved finding a Sunday paper, but I didn’t spot one at my first spot. I realised why later, glad I hadn’t looked too hard. The airport is north of Dublin, and I headed out ignoring the motorways, figuring that would take me to the coast. It did, along with most of Dublin; at the first stop, near Baldyhole (or something) there were Garda managing the parking, and I thought it was going to be a nightmare. Just up the road, though, was a lay-by with space and I pulled over with a book and Lidl lunch. The views were spectacular. Again. And I could see, round the coast, the reason for the parking mayhem further along; more sandy beaches. My pebbly beach did me fine, and I snoozed before heading off, my engine waking up the gent who’d decided to snooze in the lay by rather than walk down to the beach. At least I hadn’t left the car in gear and made it a permanent snooze.

Conscious of the need to pay the motorway toll from the day before by 8.00 I rolled on aimlessly, ending in the next town. At Howth I managed to pay my toll charges then wandered. The small pretty seaside town was thronging on a sunny day but the cafe culture is only partially successful-all the patrons of two restaurants that lose the sun in the early evening were wrapped up in blankets against the sea air.

Harbour view
Harbour view.

The town is on its own peninsula, and has a two pronged harbour sweeping out to sea. Once I’d explored there and taken in Ireland’s Eye, a short distance out to sea, I turned inland which, in a burst of greediness which has surely led karma to create the sights of, say, Slough, has its own views, with great hills and a tree lined horizon, with cyclists coming in both directions to take on whatever challenges the peninsula offers. Spotting a ruin up on the hill I climbed, towards ‘historic Howth’, where a lane of pubs and shops turns into a tiny lane that seems tiny and quaint when closed in, then offers dramatic views of The Eye where the view opens up. As the sun disappeared I browsed my suddenly empty boot-somehow I filled it on my own then after a few days had room for Linda’s pack but now the latter’s absence left a hole. I found that I had finished all my real books without realising so was on I the kindle and fish and chips, killing the hours before the ferry.

Wales awaits, as I make my own Lions tour.

 

Checking in with a reservation

Checking in with a reservation
South Dublin, Ireland

South Dublin, Ireland

After the smooth natural progress round the coast of the first few weeks, this week I’ve been a bit scatter gun, first heading North thinking we’d hit Northern Ireland, then South before finally settling on the midlands, though even then I headed west only to come back east again. Plenty of sights to see, though, and the driving is a pleasure, opening up new vistas as the landscape undulates.

We’d headed west yesterday so that I could come back east towards Dublin today. The phrase ‘my sense of progress’ popped out of my mouth the other day, but I’ve realised how important it is for me to feel like I’m moving towards something when travelling, and even when running or cycling. We had a day where we passed Cork from both directions and that did my head in a bit, but today was a smooth slide down the road to Trim for its ‘castle with dramatic views’. Those views are only available if you take the extra keep tour, but with entry to the grounds 3€ and the keep an extra €1, it makes sense. The climbing gave me the willies of course, but the roof is a great secure spot for a vertigo twit. Our tour group was large so in places we were promenading slowly round the smaller rooms, looking at the stone walls, but otherwise a good tour. Trim in the sunshine, glory be.

The Keep, Trim Castle
Trim castle keep.

I’d made us a reservation, and at a hotel, too. Getting there I’d tried to avoid the M50, with its toll, but unlike the M6 toll road, this one is totally useful, to the point of there being little way to avoid it once you’re near enough to Dublin. We found the hotel, which looked uber posh-it only belatedly occurred to me why Linda wasn’t commenting on the fact that I’d obviously made a reservation, that she was thinking I had gone for a terribly lavish hotel stay. In fact the place was only a smidge more expensive than our Cork b&b. Walking to the room for the first time felt a bit like the stroll from lounge to gate in an airport, though having a room numbered 1813 is probably a clue that things may be a distance away.

Pink, red, yellow and white/purple flowers
Flowers.

We ran. I had checked the map-again avoiding spontaneity, but since we were bordered on one side by the N7 (road) and another by a retail park, I had wanted to check there were real places around. We found them, small village of Saggart-small enough that the phone denied it existed-led into Rathcoole and towards the end of the run we got into more countrified areas. Good, tough running on a warm evening, not ruined by me cracking my ankle over on a kerb. It felt better as I ran on it, so I figured it would hurt but be okay the next day.

For dinner we headed to Rathcoole and found an enormous place, which had a bar on one side, a bar/eatery on the other, with that leading into a huge restaurant. Joined up meat all round to mark the near end of the break.

Summary: castle 1, run 1, lost in countryside trying to avoid M50 2.

 

Belvedere house

Belvedere house
Longford, Ireland

Longford, Ireland


Another day that might have appeared unplanned to Linda but where I had actually thought it through. This may be the best compromise between her go with the wind style and my need for a direction, especially when driving. I know where I’m going, she is going with the flow.

We were aiming for Lakeside Hostel, in the Irish midlands, but with a stop at a house that sounded interesting-the phrase ‘spiteful history’ had drawn me in. We pulled up at Belvedere House and I, to the amusement of the ticket clerk, insisted on paying “seeing as you had no idea we were coming here”. The map showed several routes round the grounds but it was pretty obvious we would do the longest one.

Immediately outside the visitor centre you spot the folly wall, erected by the owner back in the day supposedly so that his brother, with whom he had fallen out, couldn’t look over his grounds and house. It’s a bit like the walls you’d get with toy soldiers-meant to show part of a destroyed house, but in itself moulded to be exactly the size and shape it is. Just down from there is the lake, which is stunning, gently lapping the shore, a grassy bank rising away from it towards the house itself. Plus a rocking seat to sit on and contemplate, though that didn’t last us long seeing as we’d only just got there.

The grounds have a great ‘long walk’ of about 3k, taking in plenty of shore front if you’re willing to take the paths less trodden-it seems the litter pickers are not-and plenty of trees, along with some slightly odd Lion, Witch and Wardrobe themed sights. The signs are particularly gaudy. Round the far end is another folly, a grand arch, and as we sat looking at the beautifully landscaped gardens (Capability Brown, of course)-the path bends and drops away from you, the view narrows and then expands-we spotted a thing. Yes, that tree off in the distance is definitely shaped as a huge cock. It made me giggle to start with, but we decided it wasn’t accidental. Heading round the house later we read the history of the various owners and saw that the unmarried penultimate owner had passed it on to his male friend and companion. Ah, got it.

It’s a lovely house, small but perfectly formed (smallish, at any rate, it still has rooms downstairs for the servants, and the tour is limited by the upstairs rooms being out of bounds) but the grounds are absolutely stunning. They come with a lovely sense of mischief.

Staying still

Staying still
Abbeyleix, Ireland

Abbeyleix, Ireland


A day without travelling. In the morning we struck a blow for independence and also for showing off movement by going for a run at different times-our landlady was later to call us fitness fanatics, and then interpret my silence as offence and change it, but really I wanted to point out that we’d run then slept, not quite the busy day of active farmers.

Abbeyleix Church
Abbeyleix Church.

No changing location, though, today. Later in the afternoon we explored Abbeyleix, too late to visit the gardens that are recommended, but in plenty of time to visit the pub. First, though, I had to pay my M50 toll from the day before, which I’d remembered at 2 in the morning and made note of. Couldn’t find Internet access anywhere and I was looking at the map for a bigger town when Linda arrived back from the shop to let me know I could just pay there. Doh, should have asked on one of our other visits to he shop, but job at least done.

Morrissey’s is a gem of the old-style Irish pub. We’d spotted one in Ballacolla on the way out, a pub that is also the newsagent and grocer, but Morrissey’s is the archetype in these parts, dark and fabulous, with beer on the lower shelf, cereal the upper, old ads all around the bar and locals popping in for a pint and the paper. Brilliant. I cooked, we ate, we sat. Mmm.

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