Sligo parkrun

Run number 296, event 80, celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary

One of my current challenges is to get on the Irish “most events” table, as well as a longer term goal to do all the runs on the Wild Atlantic Way, so we were spending a weekend in the Glasshouse, Sligo’s finest hotel, on a rather grey and overcast November.

Access

Sligo has a nightmarish one way system, comprising of various City Loops, that cause a visitor to be completely perplexed.  The sat-nav didn’t help, bringing us down a “no-through road” and requiring some rather worrying reversing in the dark near the fast flowing river.  But after about 3 circuits of the gyratory system, we finally found the hotel carpark.  I was concerned about getting trapped the following morning, so I facebook messenged the parkrun asking for directions, and got this very prompt and very helpful response:

“Hiya, if you are parked in The Glasshouse carpark, your best bet is to turn left at the exit, then left again at the traffic lights just past the main door of the hotel. Cross the bridge, then stick to the right hand lane as you go along the river. The road sweeps right, then up a hill, and sweeps right again & downhill. Go into the left lane as you come down the hill. The AIB will be on your right. Continue on Bridge Street, across the river again, then turn left along the river, keep going for about 1km and you’ll find us opposite Cleveragh Retail Park”

So I had no excuses!

Facilities

There is plenty of free parking by the play park, and more over the road in the retail park.  Toilets and coffees are also in the Westeroast coffee shop, which has a bit of Game of Thrones theming. Start and finish are in the same area, so you could leave any non-valuable belongings there.

Course

Don’t be deceived by the fact that it’s by a river, it’s much hillier than you might imagine!  Tarmac path all the way, just watch out for slippy leaves. An outward route for about 0.5km, then 2 laps around the playing fields before returning on the same path.  There wasn’t much of a view due to the low cloud, but I’m sure in brighter weather it is quite picturesque.  It is well marshalled at the junctions. 

Gear

I was wearing my green 250 shirt, which attracted some attention (and I was the runniest runner that day).  I’d forgotten my gloves and my zippy belt, so my husband had to take on handbag-minding duties.  Saw no other cow cowls. No watch or phone, and I wore my second-best red Hokas.

Crowd

There were 95 runners when I visited in November.  Sligo is a very sporty town, so there were some super speedy youngsters, as well as some walkers, so all abilities are made welcome.

Time

I spent some time chatting to marshals and other runners, so I wasn’t pushing for a fast time, but I did my trademark skip-change over the finish line in 41 mins, which was faster than last week, and I came first in my age cat!

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle

I wasn’t listening to music while I ran, but I did join in with “Ireland’s Call” and “Fields of Athenry” during the rugby match that afternoon.

And the rest

We loved our visit to Sligo, lots of independent shops and old fashioned department stores to potter in.  We treated ourselves to buns from O’Hehirs bakery, which we enjoyed watching Ireland beat the All Blacks in the Rugby.  I can thoroughly recommend The Glasshouse, the food was excellent and the staff friendly and attentive.

lNI (and other) parkruns: summary list

Faskally Forest parkrun

Run number 295, event 79, attending the AGM in Perth

It was one of those days where “you don’t have to be mad to be a runner, but it helps!”

The weather was a bit dreich, but the parkrun weather fairy managed to keep the worst of it down to a light drizzle (I believe other events did not get off so lightly!)

Access

It’s about a mile outside Pitlochry itself.  I caught at 8.11 train from Perth which had me at the station just after 8.45, in plenty of time to warm-up brisk walk out to the entrance.

Facilities

There is (currently) a dedicated car park for runners, but it IS locked after the event close down, so make sure to move your vehicle afterwards.  A cute and clean toilet block is located just near the main entrance.  Start and finish are at the same point, so if you trust the “plastic bag by a tree” method, you could leave belongings there. At Your Own Risk, of course.

Course

It takes “undulating” to new levels!  The start is up a challenging hill, and then there are 3 sort of oblong laps, with a couple of uphill sections in each.  Lots of friendly and chatty marshalls at each station.  It is an extremely pretty course (if you can lift your eyes from swearing at the hills), but watch out for slippery leaves, mud, loose stones and tree roots.

Gear

Most Valuable Player award definitely went to my parkrun World Tourist rain jacket, in fetching aqua colour, which kept the rain off during my walk there, and also has a handy zipped pocket where I stored my valuables and tied the jacket round my waist. It even featured in the run report! 

I was wearing my new With Me Now T shirt, and the phrase “is it fancy dress?” on the back earned the response “well it was last week!” from fellow tourist Angus.  I wore my autumnal leggings, which matched the glorious colours of the forest.

Crowd

There were 47 runners when I visited in November.  It’s a relatively new event, so it’s still getting a bit of interest from keen tourists.  There’s a caravan site nearby so I’m sure it will attract visitors during the more inclement months.  As well as Angus from Inverness, I also got chatting to cow-cowl Colin originally from Crawfordsburn, though he now lives over the water.  There was a sizable turnout at the parkfaff café (held this week at the Pitclochry Dam visitor centre, but it’s not always there), where the results were processed at table extremely quickly.  My breakfast of smoked salmon draped over scrambled egg on a bed of spinach and potato cakes prompted much jealousy amongst those who’d only opted for a scone (they looked nice too, as did the bacon butties)

Time

I was taking it easy.  I’d been dancing for 3 hours the night before, with another 3 hours to do this evening, so I wasn’t going to risk a fall or stumble over those loose stones.  49 minutes, I think it was only the tail walking crew behind me.  But time is an illusion anyway.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle

I was running with no tech – neither music nor watch. “Naked” I believe that’s called. Anyhoo, I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with fellow runners and volunteers, and to hear the sounds of nature in the birdsong, the wind soughing in the branches, and the gentle ripple of water.

And the rest

It was such a joy to be back at an “in person” dancing event, even though the programme of dances was certainly challenging!  Meeting up with old friends, listening to live music, sharing in the joy of dance, it was all rather wonderful.

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Oaklands parkrun

Event #78 run #293

Attending the With Me Now pow wow

With Me Now is a weekly podcast all about parkrun. It is presented by Danny Norman and Nicola Forward, with regular guest appearances from surrogate mum Bev, cat Dolly, various Ste and Steve’s, and many more. In jokes include “ Dolly or Bev”, describing things as “ arbitrary” when they are not official milestones or “things”, no context comments and random vegetable emojis. I’ve been a listener for a number of years, and have often had comments or emails read out on the show.  So when the get together ( or Pow-wow) was announced, for the weekend after my birthday, I did not hesitate to book my flights to Birmingham and a cheap hotel.

Access

The flight from Belfast to Birmingham is less than an hour, even though my car decided not to start as I was leaving the house, and I had to take a taxi instead. Birmingham airport is well connected to the main New Street station in the Bullring, and from there my Ibis budget hotel was a short 10 minute walk away.

I’d sussed out which bus stop I would need for the 60, X1or 2 the night before, but I was very happy when someone spotted my cow cowl at the stop and asked if I was heading for Oaklands. We gathered another pair of WMN hoody wearers, and our local guide made sure we got on the best bus and got off at the correct stop.  It’s very near the Swan shopping centre, where there is ample parking.

Facilities

The shopping centre has loos and coffee shops a plenty. For the post run parkfaff we took over the Costa, and I joined a breakaway group in the Subway right beside it, with Greggs also getting some of our business.

 Course

Three and a bit laps on wide tarmac paths, with a very slight undulation. I like 3 lappers, you can usually see where everyone is, and for slow runners like me you usually have the last lap in peace and quiet without being overtaken.

 Crowd

Well, what a crowd there was today! Normal attendance would be around 100, but the WMNers swelled that to 250. It was great to meet some of the names I’ve become so familiar with, as well as bump into old friends I’d met at previous tourism gatherings like Bushy Dublin. The volunteers did a fantastic job of keeping us all in order, with friendly cheery marshals and fast efficient results processing. Remember the days when you used to have to wait for an email about 5 pm to get your results? The virtual volunteer app is just brilliant, modern tech at its best.

Gear

I was wearing my apricot #parkrundancer top, but I was getting serious T shirt and hoody envy from all the delightfully personalised tops- Not Dolly, arbitrary, it’s a thing, cool down, warm down, fall down, lie down…. I need me one of those.  But what should my handle be? Good ole parkrun dancer? Wardrobe mistress? Potatoe? Hoedown?

I came bearing gifts- a moth cloak for “ forgetful moth” Nicola, which she absolutely loved and wore for most of the rest of the day. Danny had been specifically clear that he did not want any gifts, so I send him a picture of some Comber spuds to thank him for virtually volunteering at Comber ( his barcode number had been used in error a few times resulting in him being thanked for volunteering even though he’s never been over to Norn Irn). Oh, and a big thank you to the Master Baker, whose lemon hearts were just delicious!

Strangely appropriate song on shuffle

I didn’t have earphones in, it was much more fun to cheer and chat with fellow runners

Time

Having recently celebrated my 60th birthday this was my first time running in a new age cat. 37-34, faster even than Dulwich, and my best age grade in quite some time.

And the rest

I really enjoyed my short stay in the city, even though open top buses are not operating right now. But I was able to wander through Chinatown, along the trendy Gas street basin, visit the upmarket Mailbox, home to Harvey Nicks and the BBC, take a trip on a canal boat, and admire the beautiful library of Birmingham. And the super KittyCafe above the station concourse, which rescues cats and lets them roam around while you enjoy your coffee.

I’m still fundraising for the Smile Train, do please donate if you can, and let’s spread some smiles around the world

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/linda-harley6

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NI (and other) parkruns: summary lists

Dulwich parkrun

Event #77 run #289

Reason for visit: the London marathon, baby!

Access

I was staying with my daughter in Crystal Palace.  I didn’t want to redo that parkrun as I’d already done it ( twice!) and anyway it was cancelled that week. My alternative plan was to run Victoria Dock before dropping my bag off at the Excel. But IT was cancelled too! They knew that a lot of marathoners would have the same plan and didn’t have enough space for a safe event. So Jemima used her expert knowledge of local transport options, and worked out which bus I should get to arrive at Dulwich in time.

Course

This is well known as a fast course, and many parkrun records have been set here. The start and finish are in the same area, with the “ hang it on a tree” option for storing belongings. It’s 3 laps, wide tarmac surface all the way.

Facilities

There are loos behind the cafe by the bowling green.  I didn’t get a chance to try out the café but I believe it does good brownies.

Crowd

Usually about 300 or  so, there were 414 the day I attended. I did get chatting to a few other cow cowls, also in town for the marathon, but checking their what’s app to make sure their home events were running smoothly. A rather sweet grandfather-grandson pair were completing milestone (arbitrary) runs together.

Time

37:53, my fastest this year. But I’ve been focusing on long slow runs in prep for the big one.

Strangely appropriate song on shuffle

“I can’t keep up” by Silhouette

And the rest

Can definitely recommend City Mapper asa useful app for getting about by public transport.

Read all about The London Marathon

And you can still donate here

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/linda-harley6

Also see NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

The London Marathon

Running the London Marathon

I’ve always said I didn’t have a marathon in me – I’m a keen parkrunner, for sure, but there’s a massive difference between running 5km and running 42 of them, all in one go.  But as part of my *cough cough* milestone birthday celebrations, I was somehow persuaded that this would be A Good Idea!

The first hurdle was getting a place.  There is a ballot which takes place every year, but most runners who apply are unsuccessful.  So I decided to go for a charity place instead.  Big events like marathons raise a huge amount for charities, and the absence of races and the like during the pandemic has been a massive blow for many, especially smaller and less well-known charities.  I was able to secure a place for the Smile Train, which provides medical treatment to children born with a cleft.  This can make it difficult for them to eat, drink, or talk, and has a detrimental impact on self-confidence.  I was very moved by the stories and pictures shared, and of just how life changing and enhancing this simple operation can be.  So even a small amount of money makes a very big difference.

Then came the training.  I was following a beginners 16 week training plan, which entailed a couple of running sessions during the week, with a progressively longer one on a Sunday.  Those long runs were vital in identifying what gear was comfortable to wear, most importantly socks and shoes, as well as how I was going to fuel en route.  Trying out jelly-babies versus mint imperials was one of the more enjoyable parts of training!  I also discovered that I got cold very quickly post-run, and that I liked listening to podcasts which distracted me from thinking “how much longer do I have to run?”

The final few weeks flew by, and I really appreciated “tapering” where instead of running for 3 ½ hours my long run was now a “mere” 90 minutes.  I received my kit bag in the post, and carefully packed it with all the things I would need at the finish line – warm clothes, Compeed plasters, and comfy footwear (crocs!) to change into.  Arriving in London, I headed to the Excel centre to drop off the kitbag, which I wouldn’t then see again till the finish line, and pick up my race number.  I double checked that I knew how to get to the starting point in time next day.  There are so many runners taking part that there are actually three different start areas, and within each of those, groups of runners set off in waves at allocated times.  This means quite a lot of hanging around (i.e queueing for the portaloos), and I was glad of the jacket I was wearing to keep me warm.  There are designated bins at the start where discarded clothing is collected and then redistributed to charities and the homeless.

Just after 10.30 my wave was called to enter the holding bay, and the excitement was really building as I chatted with other runners around me, many of them also doing their first marathon.  And then we were off!

Everyone who has run this event will tell you that the atmosphere provided by the crowd and supporters in London is something special.  They are not wrong.  Each side of the road was full of people cheering and calling out our names, with helpful encouragement like “nearly there!” (at mile 1…..).  A pub was playing YMCA as we ran past, and to a woman we all joined in with the actions.  As I passed a bagpiper I did a little bit of Highland dancing.  And the drummers, samba bands, Morris dancers, jazz groups etc all propelled us along on a wave of great spirits.   Many other runners were in fancy dress – I was overtaken by a pair of minions, a few rhinos, the queen, and Freddy Mercury, a telephone and some sort of internal organ.

The route continued past the Cutty Sark, and shortly after that crossed the iconic Tower Bridge, where I took the mandatory selfie.  From there the route weaves out to Canary Wharf, where it started to rain and quite a fierce wind blew up.  I was really struggling by now, and my walk breaks were getting progressively longer and longer.

Once I hit mile 20 I was determined to make it to the finish, and just kept on plonking one big ole foot in front of the other.  I did manage to break into a final jog to cross the line, though I was so emotional at that point that the official photos make me look very sad.  But I wasn’t, I was elated. It had taken me just over 7 hours, but I did it.

Afterwards I had a few blisters to deal with, and going up and down stairs was agony! But I recovered more quickly than I expected, and as is compulsory I now manage to shoehorn a mention of the marathon into every conversation.

It’s still not too late to contribute to my fundraising efforts, at

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LindaHarleyGillespie

or

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/linda-harley6

or contact me for other methods.

Buncrana parkrun

Event #76 (trombones in the Big Parade), parkrun #280, reason for visiting – celebrating the return of parkrun Ireland, and ticking off all those Donegal ones that I haven’t even begun to do!

Access:

Instructions on the website are very clear – cross the river and take a left. There’s plenty of parking around, and loos. The Tip O’Neill memorial, and a fine large sundial, are nearby.

Course:

It’s an out and back route along the shore path. Don’t let that fact fool you into thinking it’s flat – it most certainly is undulating! Cheerful marshals at each point will make sure you don’t get lost.

It crosses the stunning Castle Bridge before a sharp right through some trees, currently festooned with motivational sayings. The views across Lough Swilly are just breathtaking, with mountains, sea, a distant ferry crossing, and the waves breaking on little sandy beaches.

Crowd:

There were 70 participants when I attended, including a few far flung tourists such as myself. I met up with fellow 250 T shirt wearing Ronan, and as we have both recently acquired new wheels, we spent of time doing “Well my new car’s got” Top Trumps. It’s popular with those who want to walk rather than run, so if you’re ever holidaying in this part of the world (It’s on the Wild Atlantic Way), and fancy an enjoyable stroll of a Saturday morning, you know where to come.

Gear:

250 top, leggings with a big zippy pocket for holding car keys, and my running belt is just too small to hold my new bigger phone. So much so that in order to take photos I ran the last 1km doing what I hate doing, running with the phone in my hand. Cow cowl, though I didn’t spot any others. Apple watch is still doing brilliantly at recording runs, sweat wristband, and of course my barcode wristband!

Time:

The course record is 16.20.

I’m still training for the marathon, so I haven’t been running this distance much. Plus I did stop to take lots of photos! So I was happy enough with a sub-40 minute result. I’ve no doubt I’ll be back some time, and can try to improve on that.

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle

I do love Bryan Adams and “Run To You”, which is a good pace for running to.

All my parkruns

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

London marathon:

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LindaHarleyGillespie

This will be my first (and probably only!) marathon – if you’d like to help me spread some smiles around the world, your donation would be very much appreciated!

Dean Castle Country Park parkrun

Event no 75, (3/4 cowell!) parkrun 289

Occasion – picking up my new wheels!

Getting There:

On the outskirts of Kilmarnock, the rather beautiful country park is well signposted with brown signs. I was there to pick up my new car, which in turn had made its way from Edinburgh, and this was the closest location to the ferry at Cairnryan. (Note for future reference – there are parkuns at Ayr, Girvan, Troon, and Stranraer)

Facilities;

The start and finish are at the same spot, just right by the car park. The car park itself gets pretty busy, especially if there’s football on over the road, so please park considerately. There are clean loos in the visitors centre, which opens at 9. I wasn’t able to hang around afterwards for coffee (did I mention my new car?), but the visitors centre looks worth popping your head round.

Course:

It’s undulating! Feels a bit like a roller coaster at times, and the ups are quite steep – you never gain on the downs what you’ve lost on the ups, but these sharp gradients mean you really have to take care on the descents. The course is a Y-shaped 3 spokes form a central point at a rather picturesque stone bridge, done twice. It is really pretty, passing an animal paddock as well as lovely water features, and I do love running through trees, which are so inspiring. Can get quite muddy underfoot.

Gear:

My blue hokkas were perfect for the terrain, and my apple watch told me how my pace was. I’d asked the UK parkrun Tourists Facebook group’s advice on what top to wear – my apricot ‘parkrundancer’ that was a parkrun forever prize? Or my apricot with my home run, Wallace? My world tourist, or a With Me Now hoping for a “Dolly or Bev” shout-out? My 50 milestone customised with my first 50 events? or my running club T? In the end I went for the first option which was quite fortuitous……

Crowd:

I’d said Hi to the RD on arrival, and during our wee natter he established that I’m involved with the new event at Hillsborough Forest, and said that one of their regulars had run there recently. And he did indeed introduce me later! I approached a couple with someone wearing an apricot T, and they looked t mine to see where i was from. I explained it wasn’t my home location, but that my other main interest is Scottish Country Dancing, and consequently I do be in Scotlandshire fairly frequently. they looked at each other and said “I don’t suppose you know MK?” and I laughed and said, yes i did, she and I did our teacher training final together!

But the real joy was when someone came up to me as I crossed the finish line (doing a Highland dance style skip change step may I say), and I recognised an old face from Jog Lisburn, who I knew had moved to Scotland a few years ago! He’d shouted out “Go Jog Lisburn” as I was rounding the turn cone, but I had headphones on (bone conductors!) and hadn’t heard him. So sorry I didn’t get a photo with him, but it was so good to see running club stablemates in exotic (ish) locations. Here’s George posing with Cracker from a previous occasion. …

Time:

I told the RD I’d expect to run in about 40 mins, so there was no danger of me getting lost! With photo stops I came in at 40-10, which was grand.

Strangely Appropriate Tune On Shuffle:

Not while I was running, but while we were waiting to board the ferry (delayed because of ramp problems in Belfast) R was trying to pair my phone with the new car, and found the latest playlist i’d created, which was for a Scottish Dance class I gave over Zoom. The warm-up dance I’d used was “Prince of Orange”, and of course that made us laugh out loud and agree that the car’s name is Prince!

And the rest:

I always love little trips to Scotland, and this was no exception. We stayed in the Park Hotel right by the football ground, but unfortunately the ramp delays meant we arrived too late for dinner. But the very helpful staff had lots of menus from local takeaways, and i carb-loaded with some very tasty dirty fries. Hotel, parkrun and car place were all in about a 3 mile radius, so the driving was pretty straightforward. I’ll definitely take an opportunity to revisit, and try those famous pies!

All My parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

And since you’re here…..

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LindaHarleyGillespie

This will be my first marathon and I’m absolutely terrified! Any donation you can make will be so much appreciated, plus you’ll be helping to put a smile on many little faces. Thank you!

Garvagh Forest parkrun

parkrun no. 288, event no. 74, completing Norn Irn regionnaire, and celebrating my parents anniversary

Commencing on 31 July 2021, I opted to skip the inaugural and instead attend event number 2. I also did a bit of “voluntouring” (it’s a thing) and asked if they needed a tail walker. And they were delighted to have me in this role! (See also Copenhagen and Jersey, it’s a good way to tick off a new run and also add to volunteer stats. Plus you get to go for a PB on your return visit!)

Getting There

It’s in a pretty central area of mid-Ulster, which means it’s 50 miles from everywhere! I jest – the journey from Lisburn took me just over an hour, and through such exotic locations as Maghera and Swatragh, where I haven’t been in years, but which have a charm and unchanged feel about them that makes me want to stay longer. Postcode is BT51 5NJ. There’s a very small carpark at the forest itself, so please leave it for other users, and volunteers who are transporting loads of kit. Runners should park in the church next door, but be warned the gates close at 11, so if you’re going into town for a coffee and bacon butty keep this in mind.

The start line is a good walk from the car park, so leave plenty of time to get there. What three words for the start is narrating.ignoring.barks

Facilites

The nearest loos are in Garvagh itself, well signposted and well maintained. There are various cafes in the town for post run sustenance and faff.

Course

It’s all on forest paths, wide and flat. There are 2 big loops and one final small one. It’s run clockwise, so most of the well signposted turns are to the right, but there are a few left hand turns around a twisty section, so keep your eyes open!

Gear

There were yellow weather warnings across NI, so I wasn’t too sure just what to wear! In the end I had on my long sleeved Jog Lisburn top, my purple volunteer T, and my second best Hokas. And of course my cow cowl.

Strangely appropriate song on shuffle

I don’t listen to anything while tail walking – you’re the eyes and ears out on the course, and need to be able to react to anything unusual. But I was listening to Classic Rock on the journey there, and singing along to Run To You.

Crowd

It’s away from the metropolis of Belfast, but there are keen running clubs in the Coleraine, Limavady, Portrush area who will no doubt frequent this as a nearby alternative (especially on a windy January morning when the tide is high at the Port….). There were 71 runners when I visited, and 83 at their inaugural. I bumped into some Jog Lisburn stablemates, and Andrew with “other Minnie”.

Time

I was tail walking at a brisk pace, so 54 minutes. The results themselves came through in super quick time, and I got my text at 10.39!

And the rest…

I arrived with flowers, card, non alcoholic bubbles, and some tapas style finger foods to wish my parents a happy 62nd wedding anniversary, where again the weather fairies smiled on us and we sat outside in the warm sunshine.

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Scotland 2021 – In Flora’s Footsteps

Day 1

An early start to catch the 7.30 ferry to Cairn Ryan.  This becomes somewhat of a theme.  We had booked seats in the Hygge lounge, highly recommended for some peace and quiet in comfy seats.  Covid restrictions on-board included mask wearing while moving about the ship, social distancing in queues, and a limit on the number of people allowed in the shop.

As we headed north, I felt echoes of Scottish dances as we passed signs for Ardrossan, Dumbarton, Breadalbane.

We crossed the lofty Erskine Bridge and stopped at Starbucks for a quick lunch.  Limited seating indoors, and a one-way system.

The road up the side of Loch Lomond is quite narrow, very busy, and there are a number of roadworks.  This was our longest driving day, and our next stop was at the famous Green Welly, where travellers can take a comfort break, get a coffee, something to eat, and browse the extensive range of gifts and outdoor gear.  I got a jigsaw, a tartan notebook (in which to record these thoughts and observations), and a Green Welly bauble for the Christmas tree!  I buy a new decoration each year, usually on vacation, as it’s lovely to have these reminiscences when decorating the tree in the first weekend of December. It’s tradition, dontchayno.

From here, the scenery really becomes glorious, especially the stunning steep sided Glen Coe.  Though I’m never quite sure whether as a Campbell I’m strictly allowed here….

We were staying in the Ben Nevis Hotel in Fort William.  It’s a bit outside the town centre, but has plenty of parking.  It’s showing its age and is a bit rough round the edges.  There is a swimming pool, but you need to book a time, so I wasn’t that organised.  We also had to book a time for dinner, so at 6 pm we settled at our table in the bar.  It is table service only, and they are quite strict about this.  The staff appeared to be struggling, and weren’t really watching the room.  I know the hospitality industry has suffered greatly during the pandemic, and post-brexit it is difficult to recruit new employees for this type of work. 

The food arrived – but no cutlery.  Even though the knives and forks are in a basket on the bar top, you are not allowed to go and just lift some.  My salmon and prawn starter was tasty, but the spinach tortellini got a bit cold during the wait for cutlery.  The waitress didn’t know what wine they had, or what the soup of the day was.

The England football match was on.  It was being shown on a big screen in a large room next to the bar – you were supposed to book a seat, but that did not deter some determined fans who snuck in anyway.

We spotted the “Harry Potter” steam train shunting into a nearby siding, and that gave us an idea for the next day’s adventure…..

I fell asleep during the football and only discovered the next day that Italy had won!  I knew I had a bet on them so I waited for the betting site to let me know what my winnings were.

Day 2

Having seen the Hogwarts Express we decided to see if we could get tickets on The Jacobite, a famous steam train that goes twice a day between Fort William and Mallaig.  Seats, especially first class, are booked out months in advance, but a helpful sales assistant on the phone revealed that there are a few seats available on the day from the train itself.  Cash only (£49 each), queue up where indicated and then head for coach D.  Be careful where you leave your car – don’t park in Morrisons car park, use the Long Stay one instead (£4 for 10 hours).

The train itself has a teensy Harry Potter shop where you can purchase chocolate frogs, every flavour jelly beans, magic wands etc, as well as jigsaw puzzles featuring the famous viaduct.  (It even appears on the back of a Scottish tenner!) There’s a small buffet car too, but you can bring your own food on board, so I bought a packet of haggis crisps in the shop in the station.

The passengers are a mix of Potter fans and steam train nerds.  The view from the left hand side approaching the viaduct is the better one, and there is a short stop in Glenfinnan where we admired the old carriages and even a snow plough.  A kilted piper stuck up a few tunes – I was tempted to ask if he knew Flora McDonald and offer to dance…..

The train has a distinctive noise and feel – the chuff-de-chuff and “I think I can, I think I can” chant as we rattle along, the smoke obscuring the view from the windows coming out of tunnels, and the little black “smutties” that come through the open windows.

We stopped for precisely one minute at Ardrisaig.  This is so that the train spotters can say that they have been to the most westerly mainland railway station.

Past the Sands of Morar (another dance) and we are soon pulling into Mallaig station, where lots of seagulls are nesting.  The nearest loos are just past the police station, and cost 30p, though you can pay contactless.  Mallaig is a busy port, with fishing vessels and Cal-Mac ferries, as well as plenty of cafes and restaurants.  We found the cute little Harry Potter shop in Haggard Alley, where I was tempted by the Cloak of Invisibility. 

Lunch was in The Cabin, a delicious meal accompanied by a salad mercifully free of red onion, and some friendly service.

We left Mallaig at 2.10, I haven’t quite worked out how the engine got to the other side of the train, for there is no turntable.

One coach was now empty, as the passengers had only journeyed one way, so we were able to find seats on the side with the better view.  There are loads of bystanders and onlookers waving in the vicinity of the viaduct itself, and people also  wave and video and photograph from the road which runs parallel to the track for most of the journey.  On a sadder note, the only white wine on board was sauvignon blanc.

Back just after 4, the weather was a wee bit dreich, as they say in these parts, so we didn’t attempt any more sight-not-seeing.

I don’t think my emails are updating properly – still haven’t heard from the betting site.

Day 3

Early start, and after breakfast we set off around 8 am.  We stopped at the Glenfinnan Monument, where Bonnie Prince Charlie  ( to give him his full name Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart)  raised his standard to commence the Jacobite Rebellion.  The view from the little mound behind the visitor centre is amazing.  It’s a short uphill walk, but definitely worth it.

We reached Mallaig at 10, where we were catching the ferry over to Armadale on Skye.  It was a bit misty and murky, but at £16 for the crossing, this is easily the best way to get to Skye.  Had a cup of tea, saw no dolphins.

We stopped for lunch in the Broadford Hotel, rather fine bowls of Cullen skink with warm crusty rolls. 

I’d read of the legend of Sligachan Bridge, (built by Thomas Telford), where a local female warrior Scathach did battle with our own Cú Chulainn, but when they resolved their differences without causing mass world destruction the fairies granted the gift of eternal beauty to anyone who immersed their face in the river for 7 seconds.  Made perfect sense to me, and of course I had a go!  So if you don’t recognise me next time we meet this’ll be why. There is also a statue of a pair of mountaineers who mapped out routes in the mighty Cuillin Mountains.

The next stop was colourful Portree, where we had an ice cream and a wee dander.  As we had plenty of time, we decided to try going to Flora McDonald’s grave and memorial, but it was a narrow and twisty single track road so we gave up.

We stayed at the Skeabost View B and B, it’s a little bit remote but has lovely views, and a friendly and welcoming host.  After a bit of chillaxing time, we drove back into Portree for fish and chips by the pier.  There’s a bit of a wait for these, as it’s a really popular spot.

Back at the B and B we enjoyed watching the sun set and the tide come in, while spotting rabbits in the fields and a sea eagle soaring overhead.

Day 4

We had ordered breakfast the day before.  Very fine black pudding indeed comes from Charles Macleod.  I had veggie sosig and scrambled legs.  We had another early start to catch the ferry at Uig, and were there just before 8.30. There’s not much in Uig, but a rather nice little pottery shop does have some tempting wares.  This ferry (to Lough Maddy on North Uist) goes at some peculiar times, and not the same time every day, so double check if you are planning on using this route.   The views departing Skye are just gorgeous, and there’s plenty of spaces in the lounges, but it’s breezy on deck!  Cal-Mac are quite good at keeping social distancing, especially at avoiding congregating on stairs when returning to vehicles.  Saw no dolphins.

We arrived in the Outer Hebrides to rather grey and overcast weather, but made our way down some narrow lanes to Baleshare Beach.  Windswept and deserted, large pebbles, turquoise surf rolling in, and a very strong breeze!

The guidebook that I’d bought at the Green Welly didn’t show many roads on the map, but it did have an attraction in “Flora McDonald’s House”.  It took a bit of hunting down, and was reached down a farmer’s lane, where at the foot of the mound on which it stood were a group of cows and what appeared to be a bull.  I made my way to the monument with some trepidation, trying to exude lots of “I come in peace!” vibes to the cattle, but it was unnerving.

The memorial could really do with some (OK, a lot) of TLC.  There is an inscription, but it was so old I couldn’t make it out.  I had planned to video myself doing the highland dance “Flora McDonald’s Fancy” on this spot.  I started, but went wrong in the second step as I was a wee bitty nervous about antagonising the coos!  So I abandoned that and tiptoed my way back to the car saying “there there, nice cattle” in what I hoped was a soothing voice.

Having left from Skye and already been on North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist, we thought we might as well add another island to our itinerary, and crossed the causeway to Eriskay, bemused by the “Otters crossing” sign as we did.  The causeway only opened 20 years ago and was a much welcomed transport link.  We visited the well-stocked Eriskay shop, where I bought a colourful wall calendar for next year.  And had a drink in Am Politician, the pub named after the vessel which ran aground near here carrying a valuable cargo of whisky, inspiring the book and film “Whisky Galore”.

Our stopover this evening was the Borrodale Hotel, in a lovely room that had recently been refurbished and has a bath with Jacuzzi jets!  Their anti-Covid measures were being very well observed, with one way systems and social distancing.

Dinner was langoustines and seafood linguine, though I was disappointed to find crab sticks as part of the seafood.  Early to bed as we had a very early start next day to catch yet another ferry.

Day 5

The hotel had provided a takeaway breakfast for us as we were leaving so early – fruit juice, sandwiches, crisps, piece of fruit, yoghurt and a chocolate biscuit.  We arrived just before 6 am at Lough Boisdale terminal, which is small but efficient. This was a long ferry crossing, and I found a good spot on the top deck to take in the stunning views as we left Uist, and sailed between Skye and the “cocktail islands” of Eigg, Muck and Rum.  And Canna.

Saw dolphins!  Several pods of orca, with their black fins repeatedly breaking the surface.  A keen passenger with binoculars did exclaim “whale!” at one point, but I didn’t see it.

Disembarking was well organised, with staff ensuring that there was no congregating on the stairs.  We were quickly off into Mallaig (again) and back down the Road to the Isles.  We had hoped that our timings might allow us to photograph the Jacobite as our paths crossed, but it was stopped at Glenfinnan station as we passed.

The sun was shining on Ben Nevis and the surrounding scenery as we made our way to Oban and the Great Western Hotel.  There is some parking to the front, which is £6 per night and protected by lockable bollards.

We took an “aimless wander” along the seafront, and had a drink at the Oban Inn, watching the constant stream of maritime traffic across the bay.  Continuing on to South Pier I had scampi and chips while he had battered black pudding!

Back to the hotel we checked in and unpacked.  I walked up the steep hill to McCaig’s folly, where I posted a “where’s Linda” Facebook picture.  And lo, one of my old pals from Luxembourg said that she lives in Oban and we arranged to meet for coffee the next day.

We had dinner at Coast – I had veggie curry which was rather nice.

Day 6

I found a chatbox on my betting site to see why my winnings hadn’t been paid out…..only to discover I’d bet on the wrong flippin’ competition!  I headed out early for a run, and my headphones were not working, so I was full of self-recrimination and negative thoughts as I ran to Ganavan Sands, where the parkrun would be, if it were on.

Breakfast was a bit slow, having to wait to be served, and for tea/ coffee top ups. 

We had hoped to visit the “hollow mountain” dam at Cruachan, but their phone line said that they would remain closed throughout 2020 (sic).  (Rumour has it a major blockbuster movie is currently being filmed there).  Instead, we visited the rugged stronghold at Dunstaffnage Castle, home to my Campbell ancestors, and where Flora McDonald was held after BPC’s escape.  The castle is currently closed to visitors, but there’s a lovely old chapel in the grounds, and the information board mentioned other old stones at Ardchattan Priory, so we went there next.  But while the Priory is open to walk around its extensive gardens (£5), the stones are a good 1800m walk away.  Across a field.  Uphill.  With livestock.  So we didn’t.

In Connel we attempted finding the Falls of Lora but without success.  For future reference they are a weir under the bridge, so check the tide times for the best views of kayakers attempting it.

Back in Oban, we tried to book a table in famous fish restaurant Ee Usk, but nothing was available, so instead we booked at the Piazza next door, given that it had lovely views over the bay. We had a light lunch of mackerel pate and Haggis pot at the Oban Inn, though we had to wait for cutlery to be brought out.  After an ice cream we had a quick potter round the charity shops, where I found an aboyne blouse for my highland dancing.  Then I went to Roxy’s bakery on Argyll Square where I met up with Clare, and we chatted about old times over a tasty lemon and blueberry slice.  She’s a bit of a whisky expert so we took a quick look into the shop at the distillery in the centre of town, and she gave me some tips and suggestions for what I might like.

I changed into a holiday maxi dress for dinner, and we headed to la Piazza.  We shared a garlic flatbread to start, and then I had very tasty seabass on leeks and linguine.  But the noise levels inside this glass box were rising alarmingly, and I slipped out as soon as I had eaten.

Wandering back to the hotel, a piper on one of the boats docked at North Pier struck up a few tunes.  I should’ve called over and asked if he could play Flora McDonald, but it was probably a bit too slippy to dance on the slipway.

Day 7

For breakfast I had fruit salad and a croissant.  The weather was a bit misty, but we braved the tight and twisty road up to Pulpit Hill, where we enjoyed great views of the bay, even though we couldn’t see too much of the islands beyond.

We took the long way round the Argyll coast to our next destination, and even managed a detour to the Clachan Bridge onto Sheil Island, the “Bridge over the Atlantic”.  This is a scarily steep bridge, we were astonished that lorries and coaches made their way over it.  It is the only way onto and off the island – so don’t listen to the satnav telling you to carry on down the road to Easdale, you’ll just have to come back on yourself.

A brief stop off at Loch Melfort Hotel to enjoy the view, and then a stop at Lochgilphead for lunch.  There is an extensive programme of work upgrading the seafront, I look forward to returning when it is complete.  We dined in a little Italian chipper, where I had a mozzarella and mushroom toastie, before getting an ice cream while we wandered to the teeny stone bridge at the edge of town and carefully crossed the road to see the Crinan Canal.  Sadly no boats were passing needing to use the swing bridge.

Our journey continued along the sumptuous shores of Loch Fyne and through Inverary.  We had a break in the Loch Fyne Oyster complex, where I stocked up on a few essentials (Oban chocolates, haggis crisps, seaweed lip balm) in the little deli, before reaching the Tarbet Hotel.

This is a very old brownstone building which stands right on a major junction in north Loch Lomond.  Traffic heading further north to Oban and Fort William makes a right hand turn here, and it is amusing (and a little scary) to watch some vehicles miss the main turn off and then try to cut down the lane meant for traffic approaching from the other direction.  I’m amazed there aren’t more accidents here! The sun was shining, we had a table outside, and the views across to Ben Lomond over the sparkling water were beautiful.

I was a little concerned at their Covid practices.  Everywhere else we had been was strict table service:  here, you just grab a table that’s free, even if there are empty glasses and crockery on it (ie it has not been sanitised between uses), and then queue at the bar for your drink.  The staff try to remind people to socially distance and wear masks, but it’s not well observed.  The revolving door was in use (at the last hotel their revolving door was NOT to be used). 

The hotel is showing its age, the floors are a bit uneven and creaky, and whilst there is a lift, you still have to negotiate stairs to get to your room.  The bedroom itself was bright and airy, though with the road nearby it’s noisy.

We’d ordered a set dinner.  I had mushroom arancini, which were not bad, and he had filo wrapped prawns.  For mains, I had the only veggie option which was a curry.  It was OK, could’ve been spicier and a few more chickpeas wouldn’t go amiss.  R ordered lamb but without the mint gravy.  Of course, it came swimming in gravy. For dessert I had churros with a very nice chocolate sauce.

After dinner we walked to the loch shore.  It’s a very busy spot, full of motorhomes and picnickers.

Day 8

Worst. Breakfast. Ever

I’d gone for an early morning run, which instead turned into a hike through the Tarbet Isle woods, with some lovely views over the loch. Came back, showered, and we went down for our allotted time of 9 am, since we were not in a huge rush.  We had booked this location as it’s only about a 3 hour drive from here to the ferry home.

Tea and coffee came OK, as well as some rather nice toast.  I ordered porridge, R the cooked breakfast with no bacon, beans or tomato, but extra haggis and 2 poached eggs.  We waited.  And waited.  After 25 mins R went to chase up the missing food.  A large bowl of grey goo with an unwiped splodge on the edge of the plate was given to me.  R got a plate containing…..2 poached eggs and some haggis.  We complained again, and asked for extra toast.  I pushed around my rather unappetising porridge, which had neither honey nor compote that the menu had promised. R’s plate arrived back.  The eggs were hard, as was the tattie scone and lorne sausage.  We asked to speak to the manager, or the most senior person in charge.  He agreed it was unacceptable, and deducted the cost of breakfast from our bill.

I do get it, staff are hard to come by and need time to be trained.  But this was clearly not just an issue for ourselves, given some of the recent reviews on Trip Advisor.  I had a bet on the extra toast arriving, but no surprises given my gambling prowess that it did not.

Packing and checkout done, we took a route via Garelochhead which avoided the heavy traffic down Lomond’s side.  This is still the nuclear naval base, which provided for a different sort of view.  We stopped in Helensburgh for an ice cream at Dino’s, admiring the black sails of the boats racing on the water.

Back across the Erskine Bridge and the scenery is a lot more mundane.  Slow moving traffic and roadworks held us up a bit, and I didn’t get to do a five minute stop for shortbread-and-tablet-for-the-office.  Ach well, it’s for their own good!

Final ferry home was grand, I do love watching the H&W cranes loom large as we approach.  No dolphins though.

Haste Ye Back, say all the signs as you leave a wee village or toon.  Don’t worry, we will.

Knockbracken Reservoir parkrun

My 287th run at my 73rd different location, in order to reclaim legionnaire status. Also Toby’s first barkrun!

Getting There

At around 8 miles from my house, this was a pretty close NENDY. It takes place at the Go Hydro activity centre south of Belfast, near Carryduff. (What Three Words admits.lung.target)

Facilities

There’s plenty of parking, several loo blocks and also a number of catering trucks and spots. If that’s your thing there’s also a McDonalds and a KFC just before the entrance to the site.

Course

It’s 3 and a bit laps round the reservoir, and is flat apart from one Hill of Doom. Slower runners will be overtaken by the faster ones on lap 2, so keep aware of who’s behind you, but they will have the 3rd lap to themselves. There is some traffic and golf buggies around, so again, keep your eyes and ears open.

There are lovely views over Belfast, and lots of wee (and some not so wee) flappy winged things by the water. I saw but failed to capture a teensy blue butterfly.

Crowd

I was there at event number 6, when there were 137, about average turnout. This still being The Great Pause, there were a number of familiar faces travelling from the south, and a good turnout from local club Lough Mossketeers. It was Toby’s first outing to a parkrun, and he behaved himself impeccably, allowing himself to be patted and fussed over without barking, and he didn’t pee up a marshall’s leg or similar. There were a couple of other dogs running as well, and a pram or 2.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle

I was actually a bit nervous at the start line, I haven’t run a parkrun in well over a year. I even had that bad dream last night where I was at a parkrun but had forgotten my barcode. But the Hamilton soundtrack told me to Summon all the courage I require, and to Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.

Time

Toby may have behaved sociably, but he hasn’t got Minnie’s ability to pull me along – in fact sometimes it was the other way round! And I did stop now and then to take photos so 38 minutes it was.

Full list

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

And while you’re here…..https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LindaHarleyGillespie