Schoterbos parkrun, Haarlem

Schoterbos parkrun route – currently 4 laps round the park, anticlockwise.

Schoterbos is in North Haarlem. The course is a very natural, hard-to-get-lost, loop round the edge of the park, on a 1300m route marked for running. That isn’t the original course, which takes in the middle of the park as well as the outside, to make a two-lapper, but there are extensive renovations going on at the moment in the park which necessitate the simpler course.

There’s free parking at the tennis club to the South, which is also used to store the equipment, and for coffee etc. after the event. Spotting me poking around, a gentleman came out of the club to see if he could help, and was very welcoming, pointing me to the toilets in the tennis club, and explaining that there’s currently no cut-through from the club to the park, so I should go round the edge (which is only a few hundred metres). I parked in the street outside, which was about as easy as it could be – not always the case in The Netherlands, with some towns full of paid-parking. It helps that this is a little distance from the centre.

The start, on Noorderhoutpad.

Other than the occasional walker, there is barely an impediment on the course, certainly no hill or even a bump. I ran this, walked into town and back and still had barely covered any vertical distance. While I was in Northern Ireland, I kept being surprised by courses that felt hilly and yet only have 20m or so of ascent. This course had 1m, and that shows the difference between a flat course and one that is a ‘bit hilly’ – 20m isn’t much, but 1m is as near to nothing as you are going to get.

The start.

It’s tarmacced all the way round except for a chicane in the middle, caused by the renovations. They put the world’s most energetic marshal there to give everyone a lift. He’s also a prolific plogger (picking up litter on the go), @wayeoflife on Instagram/Facebook – have a look to get an idea of some of the energy he transmits.

Blurry picture, but here’s the chicane and big energy from the marshal, who switched seamlessly from the two ahead to me without drawing breath.
Tailwalker pausing to cheer everyone else on.

This was event 11, having started in August 2021, and it’s a very slick event. Even with only 32 finishers, we had a new course record at the front, followed in by Dutch, South African, Australian and British runners.

Go past three times, then into the finish – so technically, given you start further ahead, it’s a 3.9 lapper.

Despite missing out on the sights of the middle of the park, with other people exercising, lakes and more trees, it’s a pretty enough route, with plenty of tall trees looming over the side of the path.

Noorderhoutpad, and cycling infrastructure.
Looking into the park, past the finish.
A Dutch scene, with bikes and people at the finish.
Hitch the bin to the bike and the event is done.

Afterwards I sat in the tennis club with fellow runners for a couple of hours, and a group of us headed into town to eat, which gave me my first experience of having my vaccination certificate scanned – very simply, now they recognise British ones, and I just called it up on the NHS app and people used their phones to scan it in.

It’s a little further into town than we’d thought, a good couple of miles to the heart of Haarlem. Not that we particularly noticed, chatting about everything and anything, but one of our number was on a tight timescale and had to miss lunch. Apart from that, everything was spot on: the event was easy to find, the place welcoming and the town very pretty.

Results from Schoterbos parkrun event 11, 6/11/21.

Kirkwall parkrun, Orkney

Kirkwall parkrun route. Start behind the small boathouse, head South then turn left, turn around the cone and come all the way back round the outside, round the cone at top right, then back and left to go past the start. On the third time, miss the second cone by heading right to finish where you start.

Although I missed the summer, and hit a windy weekend, I made it to Orkney in time to see it at its best, in sunshine. The ferry from Scrabster, at the very top of Scotland, takes under two hours, and leaves you in Stromness, where I had decided to stay.

As a result, I had to hop on a bus to get to Kirkwall, but the 8:10 got me there for 8:40, leaving plenty of time to stroll around the town and have a look over the course. It’s easier to do than to describe, with nearly three laps going back and forth past the Peedie sea (Peedie is an Orcadian word, for ‘small’ – it used to form a natural harbour). There are plenty of places to stay in Kirkwall if you’d rather, with the Peedie hostel overlooking the route.

One of many views from the bus.

There’s plenty to see from the bus, with views of the sea on both sides at one point. The fields are full of sheep (sheep) and cows (coos), for extra highlights.

View over the Peedie Sea from near the second cone. Start and finish at the small boathouse in the middle of the picture.

In the sun, the place looked gorgeous, but the wind blowing towards the sea at our backs was enough to slow us all down as we ran across the middle of the course. Turnout, at 34, was a nice size for a course that has two out-and-back sections on narrow paths, though they’ve had over 100, which must have been a little more chaotic.

Blue cones mark the finish, runners head left to right on the path.
The finish, with clouds gathering.

It’s all on paths, so unless the sea floods in you’ll have no difficulty with grip. And although the course description sounds complex, it’s very easy to follow. It’s also very easy to find – I hopped off the bus beside Tesco, knowing that was on the route, but if you stay on till the travel centre in Kirkwall, you’ll still be in sight of the course.

The course is distant (but not far) in between the lampposts.
View from the second cone – boathouse centre-right.

After a lovely run, as the weather brightened and the wind seemed less significant (more because I wasn’t trying to run into it, I suspect, than because it had disappeared – it only got stronger towards Sunday), I had a wander round Kirkwall itself, which is a charming town with a small centre.

The parkrun is also near the harbour, where they play the Ba game. I chose purely to imagine how it would feel to score the winning goal, fully immersing the ball in the sea – the sign nearby points out that players often immerse themselves, too, and it’s hard to imagine being given the time to score while pursued by a scrum of players without hurling yourself into the cold-looking water. I sat overlooking it in the sun, instead.

Results from Kirkwall parkrun event 111, 2/10/21.

Dungannon Park parkrun, NI

A novelty – a parkrun that still has the extra word ‘park’ in the name.

The route – two clockwise laps. The start is on top of a hill.

Although I could see where the run was, I wasn’t sure where to park from the website, so trusted to the directions, which said to look for the sign to the park from the road. I was relieved, then, to see volunteers gathered by the car park.

Everybody gather, huddle close beside.

Even better, behind those trees there’s a sign that clearly says start. I relaxed a little too much at that – once I got closer after some faffing, I realised that it was pointing towards the start, not its actual location. I had plenty of time, but it’s worth bearing in mind, especially as the start is on a large clearing up a cruel hill, so you don’t really want to have to rush up it.

A really large area for the start.
A downhill start, on a wide path.

It really is a very large clearing. As a result of all that space, and the first path being downhill, the start was tremendously exciting, and definitely got legs and blood moving. The surface is hard-packed, if a little rocky – think big gravel, not the stuff you’d put on a driveway – so watch your footing. You’d probably be fine running in shoes without much cushioning, so long as you’re not blas√©.

A sweeping downhill turn to get to the lake.
A downhill path brings you to this uphill section, and a sharp left turn to take the path on the right.
The view from the downhill path, which I missed both times. Lovely, though – the boards near the car park have more info about building the water feature.
A view of the lake.
You’d do well to spot this on the run, but it’s there.
View over the lake, more or less on the run route.

The course is two laps, clockwise round the lake, past the campsite and through the woods. And, of course, up that sodding hill a couple of times. The route picks a less cruel incline than the one we walked up to reach the clearing, but still – it’s a fair way up. The finish is lower, though, so it is at least a net drop. And, as ever, the total elevation was disappointing (20m) given how hard the hill felt.

Narrow bridge at the back of the lake.

Some of the paths are fairly narrow, so pick your spot to overtake carefully – the start is an excellent spot, as is the long straight just afterwards, which becomes the finish. From there it is twisty and narrow, round the lake and over the bridge above.

Climbing the hill takes you to the highlight, the section through the woods. It is darker in there, and still slightly uphill, but it’s a lovely spot, with the course snaking through and back up to the clearing.

Snaking through woods.
Climbing towards the wooded section.

After doing the whole thing again, you can gallop as best possible down the tremendously exciting start (I didn’t find it quite as exciting the third time), take a right turn at the bottom and along to the finish, next to the campsite.

Right turn towards the finish.
The finish line, with scanning immediately at the finish.

The cafe is right next to the car park, and with toilets behind it – those were open even though the cafe is currently closed.

Flowers by the bandstand. Behind is the start sign, which actually points you towards the start, a few hundred metres away (but up a hill. Did I mention the hill?)
Relief map of the park.

It’s a lovely run of many features, and a nice park to have a stroll round afterwards. Dungannon itself has a series of interlinked parks, and near to Dungannon Park is a posh, if under-rented, outlet centre ensuring that not only can you get refreshments, but also a whole new wardrobe – of clothes and probably an actual wardrobe, if you’re short one. I didn’t even get to the centre of town, as the parks are a little outside, but enjoyed both a run and a walk, plus doughnuts from a supermarket. Everything I needed, and plenty I didn’t.

Results from Dungannon parkrun event 89, 4/9/21.

Crawfordsburn Country parkrun

Crawfordsburn Country parkrun – one lap, though you cover a couple of bits twice, in different directions.

This event has a reputation for having a complicated route,though it was fine for me, following people happily in the middle of the pack. There are (small) permanent arrows, and marshals or signs through the course, though fewer at the end – I’m not sure you could follow the course using just the arrows, but might be wrong. I didn’t really know where I was, other than on the sea-front sections, but I also didn’t get lost.

Start line. Just behind the trees to the right is the finish line – the turn is where the people are, on the left.
The start is marked, and shows the small arrows. On the left is the visitors’ centre/cafe.

It was ‘recommended’ to me as a hilly course, and it certainly felt it, though Strava reckons there is only 35m of elevation. You certainly get an impression it’ll be hilly from the start, as a short flat is followed by a left-turn and immediate run uphill.

Runners on the first hill.
The first hill. It looks fine, here.

After that little dogleg – up the hill, along the top, back down the other side, a left turn takes you to the seafront area. This is Crawfordsburn Beach. Helen’s Bay is just North/West of here, and another lovely spot to visit if you have time. The route doesn’t go that way, heading round the field then East/South along the front.

An example small route marker, looking out to sea.
Turn left onto this path, follow it round and right at the end – left to Helen’s Bay.
The beach, and a long flat section till you turn into the woods.

Much of this section is covered in both directions, though you don’t go back up that initial hill again. The loop through the woods is lovely, but tough – there’s a short, sharp hill which I had been warned about, tried to run up and settled for a walk. A hill that goes, then goes again – it levels off briefly, then carries on, and I was grateful to have walked the first bit.

Keep going, past the stream and this bridge.
You can’t go any further, and finally cross the stream.

Finally, a left turn (unmarked) takes you back to that initial path by the beach, past the hill and then left to the finish. The latter is in sight of the start, but not quite in the same place.

Following a volunteer (post event) down the left turn, back to the beach.
The finish line, mobbed by people.

Another lovely run, and I was lucky enough to see it in sunshine. As a result I walked most of the route again, heading further East/South to explore. It’s gorgeous.

Colin Glen parkrun, NI

Colin Glen parkrun route. Start/finish at bottom right. Twice round the lake on the left.

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.

A rough idea of the elevation. There’s a bit of down in the long uphill, and this makes it look like you end higher than you start, which you don’t. But it certainly shows the looong climb. c. 65m of elevation in total.
Setting off at the start, surrounded by trees.

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 car park. Those empty spaces are in front of the entrance – presumably it’s a new entrance.

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.

Entrance to the park/trail.

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.

Tree-lined paths, heading uphill.
Arrows on the ground at every junction (because you run it in both directions, there are arrows in both directions at that first fork – just follow the ones leading right on your way down the hill).
Flat! On the way to the lake.
Entrance to the lake. I included this just to reassure you that you do *not* have to run up the hill on the right. Maybe come back and do it afterwards? (I did not.) Left after the bridge, to run round the lake.
The lake. Round twice.

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.

The finish line. Back past the start and on a few hundred metres to the car park entrance.

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.

Results from Colin Glen parkrun, event 212, 31/7/21.

Castlewellan parkrun, NI

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.

Castlewellan parkrun route. Start and finish on the right, out and back at bottom left.

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.

Main entrance up Castle Avenue. There’s another road, the exit for cars, just off Bann Road, behind Fresh Foods, which will also bring you to the lake.

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.

The start, seen from somewhere in the middle.
A slightly motion-blurred shot.

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.

Clearer views of the lake on the way back, after the out and back.

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.

Another break in the trees.
Gathered at the finish.
Why leave the view?

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.

If you want to see shots from all round the run, this video from 10th July 2021 takes in the whole thing.

Results from Castlewellan parkrun, event 131. 138 finishers.

Larne parkrun, NI

Larne parkrun route. Out, 2 anticlockwise loops, back. Start by the Sea Cadets base (and currently in their car park, to allow distancing), next to the Drains Bay car park.

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.

The start and finish are currently in the car park, to the left. Just to the right of the second marshal are two signs, which mark the usual start point. Note that the map on their page suggests it starts in the park, which is not the case.
Looking the other way (South) from the finish line.

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.

After the first major climb, remember to look left for a view over the sea (I missed it till I walked round).

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!

Results from Larne parkrun, event no. 322, 17th July 2021.

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