Penrose parkrun, Cornwall, England

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

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

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

Crowd at the run briefing
Crowd at the run briefing.

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

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

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

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

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

Land’s End parkrun

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

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

Land's End sign
Land’s End complex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Pont y Bala parkrun, Wales

Pont y Bala parkrun route
Pont y Bala parkrun route; a double out-and-back.

Bala, site of many a family holiday for those based in the North of England. I was not one such, being a Southerner, but I’ve been told of it many times, and was curious to see the place. The town is just another town, but the lake – it’s all about the lake. Stunning on a good day, though I had to assume that, as this was a pretty grey day.

Bala Lake
Bala Lake. You’re not far from the parkrun course here, albeit not actually on it.

A quick word of warning, too. If you tell some of those Northerners that you have visited “Barla”, they will look at you quizzically, and wonder where that is. Say “Bala”, with a short a, and they’ll know immediately. Go on, try it out.

The run itself is a simple one, on a good surface. The surrounding grass was boggy after days of rain and drizzle, but the course was perfectly fine in the skimpiest of road trainers. Hard packed, with a scattering of pebbles – it’d be alright with a buggy, if congested, but I wouldn’t try it barefoot.

Pont y Bala course
Pont y Bala course. Looking towards the lake (though I didn’t spot it while running).

The course is a simple out-and-back, that you do twice (so 1.25km each way). The path isn’t the widest, so either settle in, or make sure you’re near the front if you want to shoot off. Passing is easiest on the outward stretch, before anyone turns and comes back towards you, though with relatively small numbers, it’s far from impossible through the rest of the event. Just be nice.

The finish line. The gate is closed after the event
The finish line. The gate is closed after the event.

Parking is available right by the event, £2 for four hours. I was happy to pay and then explore the town afterwards; a tiny contribution to the place. I spotted some free parking near the lake, and the place isn’t that large, so there are probably residential options, too. Some headed further into the industrial estate, perhaps because they could park there.

Afterwards, they head to a cafe just over the road and down a side path/road (about where “Get Wet” adventure company is marked on the map), but I took myself off round town, stumbling across the lake and immediately seeing why people drag (er, bring) their kids here. I also stumbled back onto the course. I hadn’t realised that the first turnaround point, 1.25km in, is very close to the lake. You will probably be less clueless, but from the lake I walked the whole length of the course again, in reverse, and only spotted I was on it when back at the car park.

Pont y Bala is also one of the four runs that count towards the “Full Ponty” achievement on the Running Challenges add-on, which will pull in a small stream of extra tourists. But numbers are manageable and the out-and-back nature means you can grin, gurn or give thumbs up to as much of the rest of the field as you want.

Results from event 32, Pont y Bala parkrun, 19/11/2019.

Bakewell parkrun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whet your appetite with photos of the Monsal Trail.

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

Aachener Weiher parkrun, Cologne

Aachener Weiher parkrun route.
Aachener Weiher parkrun route. 2 laps, starting below the pond, in the middle, heading East.

Alphabetically, this is the first parkrun in the World. One of the volunteers described it as the hilliest 5k in Cologne – they have done great work in cramming a 5k in, up and around the hill in this park, in a pretty flat city. The Weiher of the name, incidentally, is a pond, and running round that bit is at least flat. The rest of the course is not.

View over the pond (Weiher)
View from the SW corner of Aachener Weiher.

The numbers, as with most other German parkruns for now, are relatively small, which means a chance to chat with almost everyone before or after the event. Some even managed to chat during it, which is a great effort. There’s only one hill in the park, but you go up it one way, come back up it from the back, and then find another bit of up before returning to the waterfront part. And then repeat.

View of tower in distance and pond nearby
The view from the meeting point.

It’s a course that never lets you go. The twists and turns mean there is plenty to look at, from the tower (shown in the picture above) to the tree-lined parts, to watching parts of Cologne appear and disappear between the greenery.

View of grass and trees in front of the pond
View from a little way up the hill.

I really enjoyed the run, and the cafe afterwards – very near, to the West, just over the road and between the two numbers 264 on the map at the top – was very hospitable. It doesn’t open till 10, so no need to rush over.

Cologne has good public transport, but the park is only 3km from the central train station. I was staying a little further away, in the North of the city, but there’s green belt of parks and walkways, much of the way round the edge, and I walked that for a total of just over 5km. That gave me a view of parks and the tower, and is a great way to explore a little more of the city.

Results from event 29, Aachener Weiher parkrun.

Neckarufer parkrun, Esslingen

Neckarufer parkrun route
Neckarufer parkrun route. East to start, back past the start/finish line then West, over a covered bridge.

Several of the events in Germany put on an extra parkrun for German Unity Day – their equivalent ‘one extra run’ for the UK’s Christmas day, Canada Day and Sweden’s National Day. Friends joined me in Stuttgart to hop on a train to Oberesslingen (the stop after Esslingen station, 20 mins from Stuttgart Hbf – catch the 7:55 or 8:25) to run it.

Paper Berlin Wall at the start, 'die mauer muss weg' and 'Freedom' written on it
A paper wall at the start.

With plenty of UK tourists, plus locals from other runs that weren’t offering an extra event, it was a festive atmosphere throughout. Several of the event team are from the UK and have been based in Germany for years, so can switch between the two languages with alacrity, helping everyone feel at home. As a tribute to the occasion, we had a paper ‘wall’ set up on the start line, for keen people at the front to break through.

Group of runners posing in front of the paper wall
My club mates (mostly – also Teri, fourth from left, and Mark, on the right).

We were there in plenty of time to look at the route. The start is a tiny downhill, flat with a small rise towards the turn around point, just over 800m away. Out and backs are great for spotting everyone and letting you run not just with those at your pace.

View of people gathering at the start, in front of an 'aching läufer' sign
View from the bridge (not run over, but we walked over it to the cafe on the island).
View of the river, trees on either side and clouds mostly obscuring a blue sky
Looking down the river from the bridge.

After the turnaround, and a gallop with the river on your left, you pass under the bridge shown above, with the start on your right, and head along for a while longer. It isn’t totally straight, though, with a tight turn onto a narrow wooden bridge, and another 180 on the path beyond taking you onto a snaking, if short, downwards section. It’s probably possible to run it very quickly, but the snaky nature made that difficult on a first attempt.

View of the briefing over an apricot-shirted runner's shoulder.
Chris, the event director, switching from German to English in the briefing.

The rest of the route is straightforward, and soon you’re turning – at roughly 3.3km – round a cone to head back to the start. That snaking downhill is now a sapping short uphill section. This parkrun has previously had between 13 and 36 participants, so 104 loaded the course up, but we were fine, with a few people checking their stride or making sure not to swing wide onto the bridge if someone was coming the other way.

Runners around a cone at the final turn
Celebrating the final turn (just over a mile to go from here).

Post run we mobbed the cafe; finding our cards generally didn’t work we jumped on the few people who had enough cash to make sure the cafe’s good start to the day didn’t turn into a lot of poured but unpaid-for drinks. There is another run (Kräherwald) even closer to Stuttgart, and Monrepos is just to the North and a similar time away by train (catch the 7:38 or 8:08 S-Bahn), so you have options in the area. Consider Neckarufer if you fancy running by the river, and testing hip sway on the twists.

View from the riverbank; trees on the opposite bank showing splashes of orange and red
Autumn colours on the river.

Results from Neckarufer parkrun event 27, 3/10/19.

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