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.
Based in Whitley Bay for a night, before returning to Hadrian’s Wall (which for location purposes means the relatively well-preserved section in the middle of the country), I visited a couple of local-ish English Heritage sites.
Covid restrictions mean that some of the inside areas are out of bounds, though this is a site in flux in any case. The covenant that passed the property to English Heritage stipulated no attempt to recreate rooms, but just allow the space to tell the story. It’s an approach that fits with English Heritage’s approach – there is quite a difference in feel between the well preserved but rather static Roman sites at Corbridge and Chesters and the still-excavated Vindolanda – and leaves the Hall stark, but beautiful. Also, in 2020 they are in year 2 of a 5-year project to restore the gardens and add more explanatory text to rooms, so there are several reasons for the place being light on text: you aren’t allowed everywhere, not all rooms are finished, and the place is being actively restored.
That still leaves dramatic buildings, and beautiful gardens. There are sculpted gardens near the house, being restored on a long-term plan, and slightly wilder, big on trees and rocks (think small cliffs, rather than a rock garden – this is the ‘quarry garden’), areas further on. There is a one-way system in place which works well. One family ahead of me came the wrong way, to a loud, questioning “I didn’t think that was the exit?” from the young girl who was part of the group, going the right way, ahead of me. They stopped to satisfy her curiosity, and therefore got to see whatever amusing lapse of judgement caused the crash of metal poles by the infringing family.
But little real harm done. With the current one-way system, you can see the house at the beginning or end of your visit, and I went straight in. It doesn’t take long, unless you’re really using your imagination, to wander through the ground floor and cellars. It is some house, with a view over the estate, with sheep still nibbling in fields that are out of bounds.
After your first walk through the gardens, you come to the 14th-century castle. It was a castle for a while, then converted to a grand house from 1614, before that, too, was not enough for Charles Monck, who had the large Hall built between 1810 and 1817. The castle is grand but for now is an easy visit, with more interpretation to be added, and only the ground floor open.
Most people, it seems, come to this popular site for the gardens, and you are taken back into them by the route once you leave the castle. There is room for kids to explore, and gnomes tucked away for them to find, if they need extra distraction.
I was in sight (through a gateway) of returning to the hall when I wandered down a side-path out of curiosity. I was glad I had, as it takes visitors to Crag Wood walk. Don’t be put off by the sign by the lake that warns that the full walk may take up to two hours – it certainly could, but only if you move gently, and stop at every bench. Treating it as a slightly more rigorous bit of exercise than wandering in the gardens, and not stopping, I did the ‘long walk’ (there’s a cut-off to the short one, half the distance at most) in about 15 minutes. It is under a mile, and even the warning that it is strenuous refers only to a long gentle climb and descent, rather than any dramatic scrambling. The view of the house from the path that takes you to the walk is its most-photographed, through lush and beautiful rhododendrons. Or so I read – it being October, it was a grand view, but shorn of flowers.
From there I headed South to Prudhoe Castle, in a dominant position to guard a crossing over the River Tyne. Getting to the castle is straightforward, but you have the chance to cross the Ovingham bridge, which is single-carriageway. It’s worth a look at the photo here on geographic.org.uk. There are some wider sections, though I wouldn’t have fancied pulling over and waiting for someone to do the same, so was glad to read on wikipedia that that isn’t generally the way it is done – people wait at either end, using “unwritten rules that usually function well”. It could never work in the South, where attempting to dominate is ingrained in people’s sense of entitlement.
There’s just a small car park for the castle, suggesting visitor numbers are fairly low, even without the booking and limited numbers required by a pandemic. There is an exhibition in the house inside the walls, though currently only the ground floor is open. That is enough to give context: most significantly, though it defied most invaders, this is the only Northumberland castle to resist the Scots. It has long been ruined (reported as such in 1776), but in a scenic, admired, fashion, rather than a sad one.
The explanatory panels talk you through the history, from the Norman motte and bailey castle of the 12th century, through fighting for the crown and then, thanks to Henry Percy, against it in 1403. You can see evidence of the curtain wall sagging where it was built over the wooden fort (which then rotted under the ground) and of different buildings in the courtyard. For a while there were lavish gardens, later excavated such that they now show the medieval foundations. The exhibition has some great photos from the non-war residential years – a conservatory looks scenic, if odd, sticking out from a castle.
There is also a nice circular walk around the outside of the castle, which allows you to clamber down to the ruined mill house if you fancy. And I did. In fact, I did the circular walk twice. Although the entrance is very clearly up the cobbled path through the gatehouse, I spotted a “way in” sign on the door to my left as I walked up, and thought it might be some interesting route for one-way purposes. As indeed it is, but only so that the walk is one-way, not as a way into the castle. I realised my mistake as I wandered round the back of the castle, now several metres above me, but it wasn’t all that far to walk round. And no one saw, so it didn’t really happen.
To start without controversy, Cornwall is stunning. It is also very popular, but often large parts of the really pretty bits are inaccessible, making useful land valuable. Parking is, then, a scarce resource, rationed by price – it’s possible to feel as though Cornwall is full, or that you have to pay wherever you go. In fact, it isn’t the case everywhere. Below are three spots with free parking and gorgeous scenery. You can walk much, or much less, further than I did, but I’ve included my routes for context. All these sites are best checked on an online map first for a route; and beware the little lanes that lead to them, especially Luxulyan and Penare.
Henderson National Trust car park
This is a small car park, with sharply downhill access to the coastal path. Walk toward Talland, and there’s a lovely cafe (down another sharply downhill stretch), The Smuggler’s Rest, for hot food, cake, pop and beer. It was a gorgeous day when we visited, so we sat with cake first, then moved on to beer. Frankly, I just didn’t really want to climb the hill back up to the car, though we ended walking some distance towards Looe (just off the map to the East) afterwards, so I got into my stride.
Luxulyan is a village near The Eden Project (itself near St Austell). A drive down winding lanes seems unpromising until, all of a sudden, there is the small car park. Trails lead off into the woods, and there’s a relatively straightforward loop by the river. Very quickly, you come to the Treffry Viaduct. It used to serve two purposes, with water flowing under the top to power the water wheel, which let the tramway move up the valley. All this to link mines in mid Cornwall with the coast – now, surrounded by trees, tracks long gone, it is incongruous.
A little SouthEast of Boswinger, this is another car park accessed by little lanes, which I found a little nerve-wracking, though we passed the few cars with no trouble. Given that we came through the school run earlier on the journey, and they were well-practised at leaving space and politely letting people through, it might be more trouble with slow-moving tourist traffic than quicker locals. There’s a lovely, fairly strenuous, walk round the point to The Dodman. Near there is a large cross, erected by the religious. I couldn’t really see why it was there until I looked at the shadow and realised that it’s a big plus.
The beach is gorgeous and reached down a fairly sharp downhill walk. It’s only a few hundred metres from the car park, but not a straightforward wander.
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.
The Bonnefantenmuseum is on Avenue Ceramique, near the John F Kennedybrug (bridge). They have a permanent collection of Old Masters, with modern exhibits changing periodically. For me, these comprised The Absence of Mark Manders, Jan Hendrix: Terra Firme and a couple of pieces by Grayson Perry in the main entrance (though these may be more permanent). One gallery – to show Scenes from the Anthropocene, very soon – was closed, though I still easily passed a couple of hours there.
Detail from The Walthamstow Tapestry, by Grayson Perry.
Detail from The Walthamstow Tapestry.
Entry is 14 Euros for adults, or 16 if you offer to pay the suggested extra donation. There are two, large, floors to look round, and a smaller third. I headed straight for The Old Masters on the first floor, in that that’s where I found myself after walking up stairs.
Pieter Brueghel de Yonge, The Bird trap.
Detail from painting of a census.
Jan Van Hemessen, The Fall of Man, ca 1550-1560.
It was initially a surprise, given that it is now 2020, to spot the plaques under several artworks, to the effect that they were stolen during the Second World War, and haven’t yet been reunited with owners, or their heirs.
The paintings are varied and beautiful. Some of the faces seemed a little odd to me, though.
Faces, as Christ is whipped.
I headed up the stairs to check that Mark Manders was not there, and found it as advertised. His work is designed as a self-portrait, in building form. I’m not well enough educated to have followed it, but I found it interesting, as it spread from large to small exhibits, with the repeating motif of a head with a block vertically shoved in it.
First room, Absence of Mark Manders.
More clay, larger. This room, and the way to it, was surrounded by a thin film, which rustled as you walked past.
Dark room with a clay figure. I found it spooky.
Outline made from everyday objects – pens, pencils, tapes, matchboxes, etc.
The museum encourage new artists, as evidenced by this installation, also on the second floor. It isn’t as effective without the noises.
Colourful installation – subject, ethereality.
My shadow at the back of the installation.
Jan Hendrix is, like Mark Manders, a Dutch Artist. He has lived in Mexico since 1978, with his work shown here, focussing on the country’s fauna. The large tapestries were rich and it was tricky to resist the temptation to touch them (though I managed it).
Hendrix is friends with Seamus Heaney, and they have collaborated on some lavish-looking books, with the artwork supporting poetry and displayed here.
Artwork on display.
The Golden Bough, Seamus Heaney.
Artwork on display.
Finally in the museum, I wandered into Stanley Donwood’s The Optical Glade, and happily took advantage of the beanbags on the floor, which gave me a view of the roof. A group of children changed the atmosphere, from quiet and reflective to boisterous and lively, as they came in and did the same. The blurb informs you that the soundtrack was created by Thom Yorke, from sounds recorded in a forest. It’s very peaceful, and slightly trippy.
I enjoyed my visit, and recommend the museum thoroughly. If all the galleries are open, it might take another hour, but it isn’t totally exhausting to walk through it all, though I’m sure it would reward repeated visits.
View of the museum’s tower from behind.
View of the Maas from the first floor.
On a sunny day, the river looked beautiful, and the streets of Maastricht were winding and welcoming.
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.