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.
Castlewellan is a small market town with a beautiful forest park, about 45 minutes South of Belfast. It’s just a few miles from the coast, which made for a cool breeze on a warm day. The parkrun is in the Forest Park, almost completely shaded as it runs through a tree-lined path around a lake, with an extra out and back to add a kilometre.
There’s masses of parking in the park, though if you’re only coming for the run, the £5 cost might seem a bit stiff. Park in town and walk up one of the paths into the park, it’s only a kilometre or so. Or camp in the campsite next to the lake and fall onto the course in the morning.
The park is glorious. A nice 4k or so loop round the lake itself, paths to explore off to one side, and then a whole other area with multiple hilly routes to test you, running round and up/down Slievenaslat – you can see the start of the contour lines above the top right of the lake, above.
It’s a gorgeous run. It was entirely warm and mostly sunny on this lovely day, but even in grim weather you’ll have the constant distraction of great scenery. On a cooler day I might have wandered up the hill for the views, but was content to wander back, via the fields. I hadn’t originally planned to stay in Castlewellan, but my original accommodation cancelled while I was a few hours from the ferry, so booked in a rush. Having a parkrun on my doorstep was a bonus, never mind this whole area to explore. Obviously I recommend it.
The out and back is the toughest section. There’s the greatest chance of mild congestion as runners are on both sides of the path. And more importantly, it’s uphill all the way out. Yes, that does mean it’s downhill all the way back to the lake, but – uphill all the way. Gently so, but still. Phew.
Northern Ireland is not short of great scenery, but there’s quite a concentration in this Forest Park. Worth a visit on any day, but come along at 9:30 on a Saturday and you can parkrun, too. Lovely.
On the day Northern Ireland set a record for its highest recorded temperature, a run by the sea turned out to be a great idea. With a breeze and glorious views (which I noticed mostly while walking round after the event), this was a gorgeous run as the day warmed up around us.
I hopped off the midnight ferry from Cairnryan at 2am, drove to the car park and then waited. At this time of year I only had a couple of hours of darkness, and those with the sky changing colour, to sleep before daylight came, so sleep was fitful. Dawn, though, was gorgeous, with the sea shushing against rocks as an atmospheric backdrop.
Facilities. Drains Bay car park is ample for the current size, leaving space for other activities such as the charity walk that set off this morning. There’s also parking for a food truck and a gelato truck that I only just resisted. The toilets there should be open from 9, but were opened before 8 this morning. There’s another car park on the water side just opposite the park’s gate, which is about 600m (the length of the out and back section) from the start and finish.
I was disappointed to see the whole distance only equated to 40m of elevation climbed, as it felt like it was rarely flat. The first out section is, but after that there’s fairly constant gentle ups and downs, with one long downhill section to complete the lap of the park. A pretty tough course, I thought, though I did complete each mile more quickly than the last, so I guess it’s not so lumpy as to completely knock the stuffing out.
There’s plenty to see, most of which I missed in the general blur of trying to get round, even though it’s two laps round the country park. A trampolining area, campsite, cafe, fitness equipment and a mini railway. None were in use as I went round, though the park was getting busier after 10:30 as I walked round later.
The course was well marshalled and signed, with a few large signs put in place where there aren’t marshals. On the course map, above, you can see a small loop at the bottom left. At that junction you just turn right each time, so runners don’t cross each other to make the loop. All that said, there are also permanent arrows on poles, as shown in the picture below. There are probably other kilometre markers, too, though I only spotted the 1k – and that on my walk, not while running.
A few pictures of hills. Or gentle inclines to attack, perhaps, if you’re fitter than I am.
A few more tight turns on the route. On the first, you cross the road, keep the railings on your left and sharp right at the bottom. In the middle, pass the bench on your left, then right and left to not hit the fence. And finally, a cruel uphill with railings on the side, where normally you’d cut across the grass, but here follow the path round an S-bend.
There are other sections of the park, which aren’t covered by the run, and if you’ve time I recommend a walk to the far end (compared to the run start) to see the maze, flower garden and time garden – it must have been a long time since I’ve used a sundial as I was amazed at how accurate they were.
Larne – seaside location, scenic, coolish on a warm day and a testing place for a parkrun gallop!
Orangefield park is in the South East of Belfast. It’s near several other parkruns, so were you to go and suffer a cancellation, you’d have a fair shout of making it to Ormeau or Stormont. The park merges into Greenfield park, which might cause consternation if you were to, say, glance up, sure you were in the right place, and see the name of a different park. There’s a toilet (20p) at the entrance, though it was out of order this morning.
Belfast is a very easy city to drive through – big enough to have everything, but not so big as to be full of traffic – so although I was staying 20 miles away on the other side, my journey took just half an hour. I parked just over the road, by Dixon playing fields, which at the moment seems to have enough space for those who travel to the run as well as those who use the fields later. Plenty of people jogged off into surrounding streets afterwards, suggesting local participation is strong.
I was there before 9, which is too early (9:30 start in NI. I hadn’t forgotten.) No one was around, and I had just a moment of wondering whether I was, in fact, in the wrong park. But no, it just doesn’t take that much setting up, and they weren’t so worried that they needed to be there before 9. The course is 3 and a bit laps, under a mile for each lap and about 6-700m still to go once you finish the third lap.
For a short course, there are plenty of ups and downs, twists in the route and even a short section through wood, with mud underfoot. They’ve done a great job in making a straightforward course interesting. I was sufficiently discombobulated to wander off from the finish down a road that took me as far from the start as I had been all morning. I retraced my steps, rather than explore the main roads I found. That delay is why none of my pictures have runners in. By the time I had got back to the car, got my camera out and got back over the road, the tail walkers were way ahead of me, and had cleared the arrows from the course.
As last week, I enjoyed the run and being in a group doing the run, but not quite as much as I enjoyed finishing. But given that rain had been forecast, as it had all week, and had held off, likewise, it was mostly a pleasure to run in the warm air.
The first-timers’ briefing was fairly well attended, and my guess that some were tourists from GB was borne out in the results, as a couple of fellow well-travelled runners were in the group, one of whom was finishing her 250th different event after a long, long wait. It’s a good spot to choose; there are some more central, or more obviously scenic runs in the capital, so the numbers here aren’t too high, and it’s a good, testing run without any horrendous hills.
A few people picknicked in the grass by the cars after the event, which was probably just an impromptu use of a brief sunny period, but it was a decent substitute for a larger cafe gathering. Come to Belfast. Pick a parkrun!
Unencumbered by having some landowner permissions dependent on the full lifting of restrictions, parkrun was able to return in Northern Ireland on June 26th – unlike England, Scotland and Wales. I’d already booked a trip, but was only in Northumberland till the Friday before, allowing me to hop on a ferry from Cairnryan and head over.
I picked a small event, both to avoid any over-excitement and to make sure I wasn’t a part of a tourist invasion – though that didn’t happen on this first weekend. Limavady is a small town in County Londonderry, with the run taking place in a long, thin park in the middle of town. It’s not quite a mile round, so to get the 5k it’s three laps then a little bit extra (more than you might want, if flagging) to the finish.
Outside of a pandemic, they use the leisure centre for changing etc., from where it’s a short walk to the start. They had suggested using the closer car park in the hospital, but it really isn’t far from the centre and I just parked there.
There was a general feeling at the start of relief as much as joy at being back, with people slightly amazed that it had been 66 weeks since the last event – many had expected to be paused for just a few weeks. Overall, although I felt a warm glow as I finally got to the finish, it felt more like the “oh yes, that’s parkrun” feeling I’ve had when overseas, in which case that acts as proof that it’s really no different in a foreign country. I suppose I’d explain that feeling as showing that it felt no different, and very familiar, even after a year out.
The paths, as you can see, are fairly narrow, though no problem with under 100 people (59 on this day). Anyone who has started too far back can use the grass to avoid getting stuck. There’s a tight turn at the far end, round a loop then back onto the same path, so for a very short period, runners/walkers are going in both directions. It’s not flat – the first straight is slightly downhill, there’s a short and sharper uphill after the turn, and a little more uphill to come at the end of the lap.
Although I’ve had to resign myself that being slower that a couple of years ago is now a feature, not a bug, I managed not to be lapped, and this was the fastest I’ve run in a long, long time. Proof that just being around others wakes up my competitive side. There were a few spectators watching from the side of the park – a lapped course makes that relatively easy. In fact, if you were particularly keen, the park is narrow enough that you could go from side to side for each lap, and support someone multiple times if you really wanted to gee them along.
It was perfect weather for running – cool but bright – and just a joy to be back. I wasn’t sure if I’d get the bug for parkrun every Saturday again, but it came back pretty quickly. More to do with the pleasure of finishing than the uncertainty of “how much will this hurt?” at the start, for me, but definitely still there.
Karpendonkse Plas is a lake in the NE of Eindhoven, next to the Technische Universiteit. If coming from town, you could walk through the campus, or there’s a path to the North of it that follows the river. There is plenty of parking right next to the start.
I stayed in Helmond, where there’s a cheap and quirky backpackers, which meant a quick hop on the train (buy your tickets online to save a euro off the price, making it €3.40 each way). I caught the 7:45, but as the journey is only 10 minutes or so, and the lake a couple of kms away, a later one would have done just fine.
There is a fabulous sports complex near the route, but it isn’t open before the event. I didn’t know that, but had used the toilets at the station in any case (€0.70). It is open afterwards, allowing you to wander past the athletes of Eindhoven Atletiek, running and jumping, if you head for a drink. The running club there – 1,500 members strong, and the original club of Sifan Hussan, among others – is supportive of the event, with members in the core volunteer team, but they haven’t yet flooded it with numbers. I am sure some will build it into their routine; a group were running round the playground to warm up, then using the lake, and they’d be ideal. That said, the parkrun is already getting good numbers, after local publicity including a TV spot, with 160 at the first and 78 today.
The route is straightforward. Starting at the SE corner, by the lake, two laps of the field clockwise (keep the field on your right), which then goes straight into two laps of the lake, anticlockwise (keep the lake on your left). Technically, 1.9x laps of the lake, given that the lap starts back at that SE corner, and for the finish you turn right at the NE corner, galloping across the field to finish between a hedge-feature. (I don’t have a better description – see pictures for a couple of hedge features.)
The course is almost completely flat, with changing but always good surfaces. If it’s not tarmac, it’s hard-packed mud with shingle, or brick pavement. One of the team said they were asked about a winter course, but this place has never flooded yet, so they are confident that they’ll just, as the running club has, keep running round the lake. There were a few puddles on the path, which the same person had never seen before, but they weren’t big enough to be any serious impediment. I barely even got my shoes wet.
Turn right at the first opportunity after the start.
Having turned right, head past the playground.
After running round the back of the playground, a right turn takes you back to the lake.
Plenty of right turns round the field.
The first two laps of the field took me to about 1.2km, so each lap of the lake is about 1.9km. We had glorious sunshine on a cold day, which makes a difference to the photos. Fewer tourists than last week, 24 first-timers and a group of ‘unknowns’ who wanted the run, but not to scan, so there’s plenty of local interest.
Crowd at the finish.
Crowd at the finish, showing a different view of the natural funnel.
I shared stories with the group – mostly volunteers – in the sports hall afterwards. You never know who you’ll end up talking to; the lady who initially spoke to me in fluent Dutch turned out to be a former double Eindhoven marathon-winner, Heather MacDuff. After thinking marathons sounded daft when London started, she discovered she was pretty good at running – going from a decent 2:55 winning time in 1986, to 2:34 in 1988 – but had no luck with selection for most major competitions, always running much better times when it wasn’t so necessary. Still, her times made mine seem very modest, but she was magnificently modest about it, and just as interested in talking about parkrun.
I didn’t talk to the other volunteers as much, but it’s clear they are all interested in running, while being very keen to support the walkers. A large group accompanied the tail-walker (Sluitloper), having a merry time, and the first person I talked to asked “Are you here to walk?” as his way of asking if I was aiming to participate, which was a great way to phrase it.
Feb 29th 2020, and 6 parkruns launched in The Netherlands, the first in the country. 68 people attended Tapijn, while 228 were at Rotterdam’s first, and though most at the latter were Dutch, having six available to spread out visitors was a very good idea (Others: Goffert 60, Karpendonkse Plas 160, Maxima 206, Stadspark 91). I had picked Maastricht on the grounds that the far South of the country would be likely to be quiet, though it also felt like I was making a gentle political point. Meanwhile, back in the UK, a far greater one was being made to great howls of irrelevance, nastiness and stupidity (“they don’t like it up them,” “since when has it not been acceptable to shout at staff?” “they can’t call her racist, so they do this.” “look at him, crying”).
Tapijn parkrun is in Maastricht, easily reached from anywhere in the town’s centre, and a pleasant run or walk through a park which has several animal statues to find after the event.
I had walked to the start, next to the EDLAB building of the University, and the Tapijn Brasserie, the day before, but it is easy to spot if you’re heading there nearer to the start time. The brasserie has a tower which you can see over other buildings, just visible in one of the pictures below.
The EDLAB building, University of Maastricht.
The Tapijn Brasserie is the tower, just above the right of the white building. It’s visible from a little way away.
People gathering for the start. The parking here is not available, but paid-parking is next to the road.
There is parking very nearby, that you pay for – I heard one participant talking about checking on her payment status while going round, so you can clearly pay online. Most of the run site is an old military barracks etc., and one Brit had come back to his old haunts. He had parked a mile or so away, to the South, knowing there was free parking there, so that’s an option, too, if you drive. It’s about 3 hours drive from Calais, 2:45 from Dunkirk, 2:15 from Hoek, 2:00 from Rotterdam.
Gathered before the start.
The start is just a little further along to the West than the spot shown in the photos, but you can’t miss it. The run is anti-clockwise, with a small loop first, then three large ones. For the small one, starting on the bottom of the route map, above, head East, then take the first left, head to the end (ignoring the fork to the right, which is part of the larger loop), round and back to the start. For the larger loop, ignore that first left, to the end, left, left again past the bird cage. Then back to where you were, but this time right and over a bridge, a sharp right-turn to a short out-and-back section, then past the cage with a “creepy giraffe” in, bear right round the back of that, out of the park onto a pavement beside an access road, then left to head back in. You take the left fork on the path, going the opposite way along here compared to the short lap, then right (at the bridge) to the finish or end of lap.
Some – many – pictures to take you through the route, here.
The start line. Run this direction, keeping the building on your right.
The bird cage, NE corner of the route; run from left to right in this picture. The road behind is Henri Hermanspark.
A sign just after the bird cage. The swans watched on.
Straight along the path past the water. Several times.
Bridge for the main loop to the right. Marshal’s job nearly done here. Small loop goes to the left.
Giraffe cage on the right.
Left turn onto the pavement section.
Pavement section, access road to the right. We were warned to keep off it, though few cars will come along.
Main path heading back towards the finish.
Left turn here.
The finish line – after the tape.
It’s very simple on the day, well-marked and with marshals at crucial points.
The park is used by cyclists, walkers and people heading to the centre of Maastricht, but was pretty quiet at 9. With a bigger field they might have to make sure we all keep off the cycle lane before we set off, but we all moved out of the way for the one cyclist who came along during the briefing (they did one in English and a separate one in Dutch). One slightly bemused local got off his bike to wonder what was going on, and seemed happy enough to watch us till he realised there was still space for him to head through.
The brasserie should be on to a good thing, and has agreed to open early, from 9:30, to offer an obvious place for everyone to meet afterwards. The food looked good (this is not a complaint about its taste; I didn’t eat any), and the fresh orange juice was delicious. Of the 68 who participated, 27 were newcomers to parkrun, and most, if not all, must be locals. A group of 20 or more runners came through the park at around 10am, so there are further locals to hear the word and join in. Meanwhile, we sat and chatted for a good while, comparing travel notes, before heading off to different parts of the city.
Mourning bear statue, overlooking the route – that’s the bridge you run across, from right to left in the picture.
Beneath the giraffe are a few other animals, including this one looking up at me.
Maastricht itself is a lovely city, of cobbled streets and tall townhouses. It’s also near Drielandenpunt, a point where Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany all meet, with a tower and labyrinth to let you enjoy the experience. It’s drivable from the England-France ferries, or the ones direct to The Netherlands. I recommend Stena Line’s Rail & Sail, which includes rail travel to any point you like on the NS network. £55 from anywhere in the Greater Anglia region.
Winding street of Maastricht.
Cobbled square in Maastricht (not near run).
As a side note, if you plan to be in The Netherlands for a while, it’s worth knowing that their own banking and transport systems are well integrated, such that as a visitor you can get stuck, without a Dutch debit or OV (transport) card. Buy train tickets through the NS app, and have euros for supermarkets (cards are generally fine in shops and restaurants).
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.
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.
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.
Central bollards marked. The man in yellow is on the final stretch. To the left is the main lap.
Wide tarmacced paths.
Finish funnel to the bandstand.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.