parkrun Bushy Tails: With added Bushy!

Well now.  Every parkrunner knows the story of how it all began, all those years ago with 13 runners in Bushy Park, London.

Bushy Park London

Not many people know that there are other Bushy Parks.  Including one in Dublin.  Which only recently began a parkrun there!

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So along with quarter/half/fullcowelling, alphabeteering, regionairing, and spelling out words like “parkruncornetto”, parkrun tourists now have new challenge: Double Bushy.  Appropriately in Doublin.

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Last year I’d attended the Dublin Scottish Dance Club’s 50th anniversary celebrations, and used the weekend to visit Marlay Park.

Marlay Dublin

This year, I wanted to try a different parkrun, and was thrilled to discover that Bushy Dublin was a short drive away from where I was staying.

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Access:

The park is in Rathfarnham, and in fact the recommended car parking is at Rathfarnham Shopping Centre, which is what I plugged into my sat-nav.  It got me there, roadworks notwithsatanding, and I parked as requested in the middle, rather than encoraching on the space where the car washing folks are plying their trade.

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After crossing the road, and a wee bridge into the park, I turned right, and was a bit misled by a bootcamp group that were setting up by a shelter.

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But I had an inkling they were not parkun, and continued my usual “wander until you see recognisable signs” meander.  I must have looked particularly puzzled, as a cyclist stopped me and asked if I was looking for the parkrun start.  Yes! I answered enthusiastically, and he replied that so was he.  We set off in search together, allowing me to utter the phrase “Follow that bike!”

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If I’d turned left instead of right at the bridge, I’d have been there in 100m.  But hey, made it in time!

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Crowd:

There were a lot of people arriving by bike, and my new friend offered to let me use his to hold my bag of post run essentials (coat, car keys, water).  A fellow 100 shirt wearer came and chatted to me, he was doing his 170th run and was quite emotional about the journey it has taken him on.  Ther were a good smattering of younger runners too.  I’d had a bit of banter on Facebook beforehand, and they were really friendly and chatty afterwards, and even gave me a name check in the run report!

Lots of parkruns have Duke of Edinburgh award folk doing their bit as volunteers – here it was some great chaps from Terenure Mens Sheds – thanks lads!

Facilities:

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There isn’t anything in the park itself.  Parking as mentioned is in the nearby shopping centre, which is also where the loos are ( I couldn’t find many of these) and also post run coffee in Partners (where customers can use the loos.  Well, Partner’s (sic) customers can use them, it’s 2 yoyos for others).

Course:

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There’s about a km along the side of the Dodder river, which can be quite slippy and has a few water channels to watch out for.  Then it’s into the park itself with 2 laps around the pond, and a little extra leg.  There’s a small bit of this extra leg which has runners going in both drections, and the turnaround point is well indicated with cones. Back out onto the riverside walk, and you know you’re 1 km from the finish line. There’s no real inclines to worry about, and the paths are wide enough to accommodate the current 100ish crowd.  The park allows dogs to be off-lead until 100 am, so that’s a factor to be aware of.

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Gear:

My Garmin is starting to really play up, may need to start looking at replacements.  My 100 shirt was a talking point. No other cow cowls sighted. Although the paths are all tarmc, they were slippy, and trail shoes would be a good option. As the morning had dawned mizzly I hadn’t bothered with sunglases.  So of course the sun came out!  But the mostly tree-lined course made sure this was not a problem.

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Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

It’s Eurovision Day – I know, what am I doing away dancing and so missing the show! But I’ve been watching the semi-finals, suitably attired, and me and my running chums really enjoyed “Running On Air”.

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Time:

This is a pretty fast course, so run times are good.  Mine not so good, still suffering from some foot niggles, so I had to be content with a sub-32 result.  First in my age-cat, though!

And the rest:

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I was staying in a lovely wee Air Bnb place on Ballinteer Ave.  I enjoyed a super supper on the Friday night at the gastro-pub across the way – fish platter supreme with proper baby Guinness!

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I’d tried and failed to make these during my Euroviz party, to enjoy during Ireland’s performance.  But they wouldn’t stay separated.  Which may be a political prophecy.

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After my parkrun I explored Dundrum Town Centre, which is not the same as the town centre of Dundrum. I had the most lovely pasta dish

IMG_1613in Dunne e Crescenzi overlooking the dancing fountains.

This place ( ie shopping centre) fancies itself somewhat, and is proud of having a branch of Harvey Nicks.  Shame they can’t spell confectionary, though.

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I took a trip to Airfield, a sort of open farm / formal gardens place, and was most impressed by the stunning colours of the flowers.

The evening was taken up with the Dublin dance – 20 well chosen dances, and a fabulous supper, a truly wonderful evening.  I arrived back at my lodgings just before midnight to enjoy…..

Celebrations:

Consensus has it that the suitable celebration for running a Double Bushy is to have a double Bush – a large measure of Bushmills whiskey, from the oldest distillery in the world, and near where I grew up on the North Coast.

IMG_1619  I couldn’t find any Bush, so being in Dublin I settled for local tipple, Jamesons.

Slainte!

All My parkruns

parkrun tourism: Ballincollig

 

IMG_1547We’re getting into a good groove now – my husband lets me know when he has business trips to parts of Ireland, and I work out which one has a nearby parkrun I’d like to visit. On this occasion it was to the city of my mother’s birth, and the capital of the self-styled Rebel County, Cork.

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It’s a 4 1/2 hour drive door to door, but we broke the journey on the way down, and then I got my first opportunity to drive his car and use the sat-nav to get to the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel.  Well, I  missed the turn-off first time round, as it’s a funny flyover affair, but I got there in the end.

Access:

I used the sat-nav to get me to the parkrun as well,  using an approximate nearby attraction.  The course page suggested parking at the Lidl store, where there is  loads of space.

IMG_1548  It’s a wee walk to the start of the run at the Regional Park, where there are a limited number of parking spaces.  And also a loo, though it’s one of those plastic pods which demands 20c off you.

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Crowd:

They seemed fairly young and speedy, but were very friendly and chatty.  I do love the very melodious Cork accent, but had to tune my ear in to catch the pre-run brief.

Course:

Two laps, pretty flat, all on tarmac or gravel, through some gorgeous trees.  It’s a sort of bow-tie shape, and as the start and finish are beside each other you can leave bags or jackets there.

IMG_1553There are markers at each km, and also a countdown at the finish.  Useful info is chalked onto the path at the start, as well as an encouraging message near the finish.

Gear:

This was their event number 47, and so they have no home-grown milestone T-shirt wearers yet.  I saw one red 50, but mine was the only black 100 on show, and that certainly attracted attention, in the form of supportive cheers on the way round, and some natter afterwards. My Garmin worked well, so did my headphones, and I used my Dogfit bag to store all my gear in, left at the tree at the start.

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

I’m excited that it’s Eurovision 2017 next week, and have downloaded the CD already.  I smiled at the “Running on Air” song by Nathan Trent for Austria.

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OK so what’s your excuse for not sub-30-ing?:

Well, it was quite windy round the playing fields part.  And I get a bit nervous running on gravel.  And I’m nursing a sore throat.  Nothing to do with the amount of wine I drank last night, no, no, not at all.

And the rest:

Cork is a bit mad. I spent an afternoon aimless wandering its streets and entries, discovering that most of the cafes displayed a “Toilets are for customers use only” sign on the door. I’m guessing that there aren’t enough public toilets, everyone’s on a pub crawl, or the fact that the city centre is an island surrounded by water just promotes the urge…Pub Crawls aroud the heritage taverns, each with a suitably rebel name, are promoted, and I also enjoyed visiting the Elizabeth Fort and st Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

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After my parkrun I ventured down to Cobh.  Having visited Titanic Belfast, and Sea City in Southampton, I wanted to see how this town’s memories of Titanic had a local flavour.  The sat-nav and I fell out when she wanted to take me down a perilously steep road – Cobh is on a really sharp hillside and so consists of many many hills and steps.

I found myself wondering if its residents were particualrly fit after all that exercise, and. as if to prove my point, around the next corner I found a statue of Sonia O’Sullivam, Ireland’s greatest athlete.

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I visited the Cobh Heritage Centre, and learned not just about the Titanic connection,

but also about the Lusitania, the emigration story, the deporotation of convicts to penal colonies, the tale of Annie Moore, the first person to be processed through the Ellis Island immigration center, and the SS Sirius, the first ever ship to make the transatlantic crossing.

References to Titanic were everywhere – I walked all the way out to the memorial garden, which is a goodly hike out of the town centre.

I sustained myself with a seafood chowder at the heritage centre, and a delicious gluten free choclate cake at the Leonardo cafe in the town.

And the highlight of the trip was the breakfast stop-off at Blarney Woollen Mills – definitely worth a visit!

All my parkruns

 

 

 

 

 

parkrun tails: Minnie earns her cow

IMG_1516The Facebook group UK parkrun tourists is for those seriously serial and widely travelled runners who have been to more than 20 different events.  At that point, your name appears on the “Most Events” table, and as an unofficial means of recognising each other on our many jaunts, the cow cowl is worn a visible symbol of this acheivement.

I knew Minnie had been to many of the Norn Irn parkruns with me, but it wasn’t till I actually sat down and counted, that I realised she’d been at 19!  MUSA is a no-dog event, and the distant runs at Enniskillen, Limavady, Derry and Portrush were ones I had done on various weekends away, without her.  But she’s pretty well behaved on long journies, and has been to fairly faraway runs in Omagh and Rostrevor.

I’ve long wanted to take her with me to Portrush.  We’ve done the Waggy Races twice now over the same distance on the next beach along the stunning north coast, in Portstewart, where rather conveniently my parents live. So having checked the all important tide times, I plumped for 22 April as the chosen date.

The morning dawned cloudy but dry, which to be honest is perfect running conditions.  We left at a quarter to 8 and were pulling into the car park at 9.  I’d had a bit of a niggle with my back since my last Sunday long run, but Deep Heat seemed to be working its miracles, and I didn’t feel any problems when running.  Mum and Dad were there to see me off, and Cracker posted his customary Saturday morning status update as “Cracker says: Oh Minnie you’re so fine, you’ve parkrun at 20 sites, Hey Minnie! Hey Minnie!”

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I chatted to a few other tourists who’d got talking to my cow cowl, and some fellow Wallace folk.  There were just under 200 runners, but even starting at the back, with a wide stretch of sand it’s easy enough to weave through, and we soon found a good spot where we weren’t in anyone’s way, and Minnie could really stretch her legs.

Portrush is a tough course, even with light winds and low tide.  Yes it’s dead flat, but you need a certain level of determination to keep on going on an out and back course, and that finish line seems like it never gets any closer!

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But I knew all my previous run times here had been in the 30s, so I was reasonably confident of a PB. And indeed I crossed the line in 26:26, my best time in quite a while.  But of course I couldn’t have done it without my best running companion.

Thank you Minnine, and well done!

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100 barkruns!

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Matching 100s

 

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Citypark

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Wallace

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Our first run at Wallace

parkrun tourism: Tymon

Serial parkrun tourists set themselves various challenges: all the events in certain geographical location, for instance, or run times ending with each of the number of seconds 0-59.  A popular goal is to become an “alphabeteer”, to have a run a parkrun begining with each letter of the alphabet.  There’s not (at time of writing…..) an X, so St Andrews, or anything with a “Cross” in its name is acceptable.  Z is elusive, but managable (there’s one in Poland).

Even having completed all the Norn Irn events, and a few others in London, Manchester and Scotland, my alphabet collection is pretty sparse.  Currently on 36 different events, I still need 8 more letters!  Maybe I’ll be able to coincide completing the alpha-set with my half-cowell of 50 different parkruns.

Anyway, with my husband doing more work in Dublin and the south of Ireland, I’m finding the opportunity to run more of the Irish events.  “I need a G and T!” I am often heard to cry, and so I was delighted to get the chance to earn my T, at Tymon Park.

Access:

We stayed at the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel, which has handy access to the M50, the busy Dublin ring-road.  I’d travelled down by the Enterprise train, and managed to book early enough to get a return for £30.  If you don’t book at least 3 days in advance, a single fare is £34, so it pays to plan ahead.  I took the LUAS tram out to Red Cow, and a single fare is e2.90.  The tram is clean, and the service very frequent, with stops right beside Conolly station, or for a more frequent service walk round the corner to the Busaras (bus depot).  The hotel is short walk from Red Cow, though I managed to get lost!  The directions given to me were “cross the bridge and turn left”, when they should have been “cross the bridge and then take a HARD left doubling back on yourself down a wee alleyway until you are beside the main road”.  Anyhoo, I’ll know for next time.

We used sat-nav to get to the car park at Tymon, which is right beside the M50.  The start and finish are both beside the car park, on the Limekiln Road entrance.

Facilities:

There are no loos in the park, but the GAA huts sometimes open in time to allow runners to have that all important pre-run pee.

There’s no nearby cafe afterwards, but volunteers bring along flasks of hot water, tea, coffee and biscuts, and this makes for a very convivial post-run atmosphere. Car parking is free.

Crowd:

There were 117 runners on the day I visited, which is pretty close to the average attendance.

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My husband remarked that there seemed to be more women than men, though I think that was just cos the men all arrive at 9.29. One or two dogs, and a buggy which I slipstreamed behind at the start. There was a warm and friendly welcome from the volunteers, who were happy to pose for a photo with Cracker.

Course:

It’s a 2 lap course on flat tarmac paths, past some lovely little ponds and handsome trees.  There’s an almost imperceptible gradual rise on the first km, which my calves certainly registered on the second lap.

Gear:

I had to choose between my genuine 100 shirt, or my jokey 150 one, in the end going for an all black ensemble set off with cow leggings and cow cowl.

My Garmin has started to play up, and the screen went completely blank a few minutes before the starting whistle, so I couldn’t rely on it.

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When I examined my splits later my pace was extremely erratic – I’m not sure if that was me, or the watch playing silly beggars.

Time:

My running times are really poor at the minute, and I didn’t even manage to sub-30. But hey, that leaves me the possibility of re-visiting to catch a PB whenever I’m back on form.

P1890093 I’m carrying about an extra stone  (14 pounds, 5 kg) after an indulgent Christmas period, and I need to up my miles and down my calorie intake.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

It’s always good to listen to local boys U2, and I smiled when “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” came on, as after my whistle-stop 24 hour trip to the city I’m sure I would be quite tired.

And the rest:

I was booked on the 15.20 train home, so after a leisurely shower, I bought a tea from the garage shop at the front of the hotel and took the LUAS back into town.

The sunshine was glorious, and I was trialling some new travel clothes from Like Mary.

I strolled along the side of the river, acheieved my goal of obtaining a bus fare refund, found the new Harley Davidson shop in Temple Bar, and had lunch in Mexico To Rome (great value at 9.95 for a starter of bruschetta, main of chicken and mushroom pasta, and a glass of wine), with a ringside view of all the shenanigans outside.

There was a free exhibition in the imposing Custom House, which I found fascinating from both a historical and architectural viewpoint.

I was especially taken by the Riverine heads of the various river gods, each decorated with motifs relevant to their location.  Apples for the Blackwater, a chain for the Foyle, and leafy vegetation for the Liffey and Shannon.

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There were plenty of seats on the train, and I had a relaxed journey finishing my Pratchett, “Monstrous Regiment”.

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All my parkruns

Chasing The Eclipse

Solar eclispes happen more frequently than you might imagine – there’s usually one per year.  However, they tend to only be visible in often very inaccessible places, such as the middle of the Pacific ocean, or over the polar ice-caps.

In 1999 I travelled to France, and managed to get into the zone of totality just south of Paris.  We met up with my cousin and his family, who are also dedicated space and astronomy nuts.  Sadly, we were clouded out right at totality, though I can still remember my amazement at this great dark shadow rushing towards me at over 1,000 miles an hour.

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In 2003, I took my gang to Iceland, where the promise of an annular eclipse, a ring of fire rising over a glacier at sunrise was too tempting to refuse.  Well, I say “promise”: the good weather prospects were less than 30%, and indeed I ended up seeing only murky grey cloud becoming slightly paler.  But still we had a fabulous week in Rejkjavik.

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In 2009 my husband and I went to China, and joy of joys were in the right place at the right time to experience 6 magical minutes of totality.

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And of course had an unforgettable trip seeing other fabulous sights such as the Great Wall, the terracotta warriors, and the brash skyscrapers of Shanghai.

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Eclipses go in sequences called saros: from Wikipedia

a period of approximately 223 synodic months (approximately 6585.3211 days, or 18 years, 11 days, 8 hours), that can be used to predict eclipses of the Sun and Moon. One saros period after an eclipse, the Sun, Earth, and Moon return to approximately the same relative geometry, a near straight line, and a nearly identical eclipse will occur, in what is referred to as an eclipse cycle. A sar is one half of a saros.[1]   

When my cousin and I were researching the France ’99 event, we discovered that the next one in that saros would occur on the day of their 25th wedding anniversary, and it would be in the USA.
So I’m currently well into my planning and anticipating this year’s holiday. We will fly from Dublin to Chicago, spend a few days there, before catching the  California Zephyr train, which crosses the States terminating in San Francisco. Along the way we will stop off in Lincoln, Nebraska, and drive to the little town of Beatrice which is in the centre of the zone of totality. Beatrice is one of my online usernames, so it seems fitting to go to a town with my name on it.

So what should I pack? Chicago is the windy city, even in August, there might be rain, there will be fog in San Fran, and of course we have planes, trains and automobiles to catch.

One of the most valuable pieces that a traveller can carry is a versatile wrap, pashmina, shawl. It serves as a blanket when trying to get some sleep, is a stylish cover up for evening strolls, and can be folded into a cushion. I love this Ichi reversible wrap in dove grey and mustard, which I found on sale for £10 in a little boutique in Carrickfergus called Lisa’s Attic.  It looks good, though the mustard side is a bit fluffy and sheds hairs over the clothes beneath.

Some companies specialise in being comfortable and stylish. I swear by my Craghoppers trousers and tops, which have features like security pockets, quick dry, and mosquito repellent. And I’ve just discovered Like Mary, an online company which makes gorgeous wraps and shawls, as well as other travel friendly clothing.

I treated myself to some cropped harem pants. I’d bought a pair of cheapie harems in Majorca and I love them for relaxing and travelling, as they take up very little room and are easy to dress up or down.

I alao bought some wrap dresses and tunics.  I was very pleased at the quick delivery service.  And when I had to return the wrap dress as it just didn’t suit me, the refund was also very prompt.  I packed the grey patterned tunic on a recent day trip to Dublin.  The sun was shining and I teamed it with leggings and a cardi for a stylish and practical outfit.  The tunic is lovely and roomy, with great pockets for thrusting your hands into when the breeze picks up.  It takes up little space in my bag, and washes like a ribbon, so it is destined to become a firm travel favourite.  My only quibble is with the itchy scratchy label which was annoying my neck, but I was able to remove it without too much trouble.

And they are a bit marmite, but I adore my Crocs!  They are lightweight and comfortable, especially when doing a lot of walking around a city.  And they are waterproof – I even hooked them over my wrists while swimming in Orlando.  So I’m not taking them out of my travel staples just yet.

Now, I wonder can I find a set of eclipse viewers among my souvenirs…….

Winter School 2017

I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to go to summer school this year, and so instead I booked myself for the first time into Winter School.

One of the downsides of summer school for me is the rather spartan conditions in University Hall, so would a fabulous hotel, promising a wee dram by an open fire, in a spectaular setting and with a ball in a real castle, live up to expectations?

Atholl Palace Hotel

This event has been going for 17 years, mostly in Pitlochry, a very picturesque spot in the Highlands.  When people asked me where I was going, I said “stick a pin in the middle of Scotland, you’ll be close”.

Thursday dawned, heralded by chaos in the form of Storm Doris.  There were widespread reports of heavy snowfalls, trees down and power outages.  Oh well, I reasoned, I had all day to get to Pitlochry.  Anticipating some delays along the way, I set off for Lisburn train station (Lift from husband – cost, one kiss).  I bought my single to Sydenham, (cost £4.70) the stop for the airport, and a cup of tea from the stand (it’s gone up to £1.50 since my last time here, I notice).  I spotted my friend Deborah in the waiting room, and she raised one eye at my laden suitcase, and said “I hope you’re not flying anywhere today!”

The train reached Central Station and stopped, rather than continuing on the Bangor line.  Alighting and enquiring, I was told that a tree had fallen on the line, and the next service was probably in an hour.  I decided to cut my losses and get a taxi (cost £8).  But as we pulled onto the Sydenham bypass, traffic was really slow, and a quick consult on Twitter informed me that there was a tree down here as well!  It was just at the footbridge at the top end of Victoria Park, and to give credit, it was removed swiftly and we made the airport in good time.  My luggage weighed 17 kg, and there were no queues at security, though my dodgy trainers did have to go through the scanner twice.

Once airside, I studied the departures board.  Many flights were delayed, diverted or cancelled, but mine remained steadfastly and optimistically “scheduled”.  I decided to settle down with a Bloody Mary, only the bar had no tomato juice!  The horror!

Incredibly, our flight was called for boarding on time, and we pushed back right on schedule.  The flight is very short, and with a following wind took 20 minutes.  The woman beside me in a lovely leopard print coat was interested in my tales of Scottish dancing, and I gave her a leaflet.

After a safe landing, my bag appeared on the carousel very quickly, and as I left the terminal building there was a shuttle bus ready for boarding, including a helpful member of staff who put my case in the rack for me.  A return is £10.

At Glasgow Queen St, I found that the direct train service to Pitlochry wasn’t for another couple of hours.  So I had just about decided to try to find somewhere nearby for a relaxed lunch, but went to double-check the timetables in the travel centre.  The staff assured me there were no storm related delays, and I found that there was indeed a service I could take which only involved a short changeover at Perth.  Return ticket, £30.

The journey to Perth was very comfortable, and there were seats aplenty.  The transfer to another platform was a bit tricky, involving quite a lot of changing levels, and then standing on a rather windswept platform for 20 minutes.  I was glad I had my furry earmuffs and a pair of gloves.  This train was much busier, but I managed to find a little single seat in a corner.  I recognised a few familiar faces among the passengers, and quite a posse of us alighted in the charming little station at Pitlochry.

It was a bit of a struggle manhandling our suitcases over the footbridge – I’m not sure how passengers with mobility problems would cope.  But someone kindly offered me a ride in their taxi, and before long we were sweeping up the imposing drive and checking in at the Atholl Palace Hotel.

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The hotel began life offering hydrotherapy treatments, and has gone through several owners and refurbishments since then.  It still retains a spa, inspired by the lavender beds in the gardens.   My room took a while to locate, and was up a hidden staircase, again with no lift.  The room itself was large and bright, although cold, and with a rather worrying large step into the bathroom.  I unpacked, and hung my clothes in the wardrobe, which was well stocked with hangers, before making my way into town briefly to find a cash machine, admiring the Japanese garden en route.

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I’d originally signed up to go on the theatre tour, and needed cash to pay for that, but as I was looking round all the lovely things to do and see in town, I was happy to allocate my place to someone else when I got back to the registration desk.

A drinks reception took place in the Bow Lounge, which was another chance to get caught up with old friends.  We were assigned tables for dinner that night, and though I didn’t know anyone at my table, we were soon chatting away.  I discovered that one lady was even more of an eclipse chaser than I am, and had visited far flung regions of the world to see the phenomenon. There was dancing down in the Atholl Suite, which is a large circular room, but it’s mostly carpeted with a small wooden floor in the middle.

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This makes dancing on it rather difficult.  A soirée was held in the lounge with some singing and dancing.

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My Friday morning class was back in the same room, with Mary Marshall teaching, and Adam Brady on piano.  Mary reminded me of the character Gretchen Betjamin in The High Life, and she put us through our paces for The Cocked Hat, and finished with a big circle dance, the Dunedin Quadrille (cross right foot over left, and limp to the left for 8 steps….).  There was a TV crew present for some of the morning, so we made sure our steps were neat and our smiles bright.

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I wanted to see a bit of the town, so I headed in for a bit of retail therapy.  The weather was cold, verging on icy, with bitter winds and rain.  So I felt I should have more sturdy footwear, and hunted the charity shops until I found a pair of grey brogues from Hotter.  I tried on a few items of clothing, and was sorely tempted by a lavender tweed jacket reduced from £250 to £99.  I had lunch at Cafe Scozia, where I was the only customer.  I ordered fish and chips, and was served a huge portion, complete with a red onion laden side salad (bleurgh), and garnished with curly parsley, which made me smile.  I felt I maybe should have ordered something more Italian, and saved my fish supper treat for a proper chippie.

Anyway, the waiter was very friendly and chatty, and he recommended that I go and see the new     Pitlochry Dam   Visitors centre, which was a short walk around the corner.

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I loved learning about the construction of the dam, and the explanation of hydro-electric power generation.  And why fish need a ladder.  The views across the water were just beautiful, and I continued my stroll down to the Festival Theatre.  I called in to look around, and found a cream scarf and a turquoise ring in the half price basket.

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Back at the hotel, I was just in time to catch Janet Washington with her beautiful collection of clothing, and I found a blue peachskin skirt with tartan hem down to £40.  For dinner I had a haggis starter, followed by sea bass and a frangipane tart.  Dancing was again in the Atholl Suite, with music provided by Angela Young and Peter Shand on two pianos. The dances were mostly easy enough, but I was struggling to find a willing partner at times, and sat out the Jubilee Jig.  I nipped back to my bedroom to put my feet up and watch The Last Leg, before heading down to the soiree, where I enjoyed a local Eradour whiskey and listened to Angela and Peter who were taking requests and playing songs from the shows.

Saturday morning means parkrun! Sadly there was no such thing nearby, but I decided I would go out running anyway, and see the local Black Spout waterfall.  I met a fellow runner on my way, who turned out to be Alastair Smyth, whose wife had been one of my examiners last year.  He showed me the best way to the waterfall, and revealed that he runs every single day.

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The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and the waterfall itself absolutely magnificent.  I was really struck by the amount of birdsong I could hear, and the carpets of snowdrops under the trees.

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I had definitely earned my breakfast, and tucked into a bowl of porridge supplied by the school’s sponsors, Hamlyns.  Glad of my Hotter shoes, I hot-footed it (geddit?) to this morning’s class, accompanied en route by the couple from Guernsey (hey, isn’t there a parkrun there? I spy a trip coming on).  There was much surface water on the roads, and I ended up being splashed head to toe, sitcom style, by a passing van.  Class was in the leisure Centre with Mervyn, accompanied by Angela.  This was a nice big space, but the floor was rock hard, there was no drinking water, and the toilet was smallest one I have ever been in.  I went back down to the main street for tea and carrot cake, only later discovering that there was tea and biscuits provided up in the Town Hall.  You’d think someone might have mentioned this!

Mervyn was featuring older dances, and I found the Long Chase particularly challenging – it was certainly long.  We also did the Chapman, and the Bramble Bush, and revised polite turns, and changing feet between pas de basque and slip step, which required great concentration.  Angela’s accompanying tunes were from the same era, and I loved the Pachabel’s Canon used for the cool down.

Ooooh, that   Janet Washington!  She entices you in to her shop like a gingerbread house, then plies you with wine, crisps, chocolates and cheesey oatcakes!  I managed to escape having purchased a black T shirt with tartan trim, a blue tartan flower, and magenta silk top to go with the skirt I bought from her   a few years ago.  Oh and a sash in County Fermanagh tartan, having taught her the correct pronunciation.

Staying in town for lunch, I went to the Cafe Biba, a charming little stone single storey building, which to my delight had a selection of mini dishes available for lunch.  I had the Spaghetti Bolognese, which came with a slice of garlic bread and generous helping of cheese.  And a garnish of curly parsley.

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I managed to scrape into the RSCDS shop before they closed, and found a CD with Blue Bonnets on, which I’m planning to teach soon.  And also made it to the final tour of the day of the   Blair Athol distillery, which is right on the doorstep of the hotel.  The name means “Burn of the otter”, but I have yet to discover why there’s only one L when all the other Atholls have two.  The distillery is owned by Bells, and most of the whiskey produced goes to be blended, so I took the opportunity to buy a bottle.

And to join a Friends of the Classic Malts group, where you get a special stamp on a passport at each distillery you visit, earning a special quaich at the end.

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Over dinner of garlic mushrooms, vegetable curry, and cheeseboard, I got chatting to someone who said that what they were looking for from Scottish Dancing was perfection.  I almost did a double take and asked, are you sure you’re in the right place?  I’ve greatly enjoyed watching extracts on You Tube from the display teams at the recent Newcastle festival, and that’s probably as close to perfection as one can get in dance – if one ever reaches it. (What does perfection look like?)  It’s certainly not top of my list of what I want to achieve either teaching or dancing in a class.  I like to get it right, certainly, but the joy of dance goes much further than that, and isn’t dependent on it.   Fun fitness and friendship sums it up better.

By this stage we’d already agreed to dance a strathspey together that evening, and I’m pretty sure my tournee fell short of perfection. Sorry!

During the soiree I felt rather left out.  Winter School has a reputation for being cliquey, and I could see why it had such a name.  I did manage a dance, though my feet were aching and in my Sketchers my footwork wasn’t great.

After breakfast on Sunday, I walked to the town hall, which is quite a trek.  Someone later mentioned a short cut, but in my experience a short cut is “the muddiest distance between two points”.  This at least had a decent wooden floor for dancing, though the pillars in the hall formed local hazards.  Raphaelle was teaching, with Peter on piano, who told us that Scott Skinner (the Strathspey King!) used to see different keys in different colours.  We were put through our paces, and challenged with a dance in 3 bar phrases, which had everyone counting furiously under their breath.  I wasn’t always totally clear about what we were doing.  This is an advanced class, which is a joy to be in, but I could have done with a bit more instruction on eg change of feet.

I had lunch in the  Fern Cottage, and again I was the only customer.  I had the soup and toastie option, which came with the obligatory curly parsley garnish. The leek and potato soup was really good, but note to self – don’t have tomato in a toasty. It makes the bread soggy, gets far too hot, and I hate the feel of cooked tomato skin in my teeth.

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The afternoon began with an entertaining session led by Angela on identifying different music and musicians and the era they came from.  We started by getting into groups and having to identify a selection of tunes, what book they came from, and who was playing.  Again, I was feeling sidelined, as the others in my group didn’t seem to be listening to what I said, and certainly weren’t writing it down. I was however totally entranced by the music of Tom Orr ,  and will definitely be looking out some of his CDs for my collection.

After that we had a gin tasting session led by Eden Mill gin distillers of St Andrews.  I’d bought their “12 gins of Christmas” for my parents, and so I was looking forward to the tasting. The fondness of gin among Scottish dancers is evidenced by the fact that the Co-op, the only supermarket in town, had sold out of tonic.  We tried 5 different gins in total, each with its own garnish and mixer.  I most enjoyed the Oak gin, which was almost on its way to becoming a whiskey, and which I could drink over ice, neat.

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So taken was I with the gin that I completely forgot I’d booked a spa session!  But I managed to re-schedule it for the next day.

Sunday evening was the celilidh.  I was planning to read a poem that my best friend had sent me for my birthday last year.  I’d attempted to find where it came from, and had asked several people who might have recognised it for a summer school in the past. It was well received, and Maureen Haynes was able to tell us who had written it.  Though she confided in me later that she was a bit puzzled as to how I’d got it, as she thought she had the only copy in existence.

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After a bit of a Google, I was able to find it in an archive of poems by Pat Batt which had been published in the London RSCDS branch newsletter, the Reel.  And what a useful archive that will be, I’ll never be short of a poem to recite at a ceilidh ever again!  My party skirt was admired – I always say it’s got a bit of everything in it, from tartan, to Celtic swirls, to little Dutch girl hearts.  And glitter.

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On Monday we were back on the carpet of the Atholl Suite, with Johann teaching us, and Luke accompanying.  I liked some of the work we did on posture and balance, but I felt there could have been more rotation of couples.  In a particular 3 couple formation we spent quite a bit of time on, there was a set of four, so two poor sods had spent quite some time standing doing nothing.  For Unit 4 I’ve been working on my observation skills, and seeing if there are things I could learn and copy, or avoid.

I knew we were having an early dinner, so I didn’t bother with lunch.  I had my spa treatment, and went to the   Thistle Shoesshop, where I treated myself to a gorgeous pair of bronze shoes, with insoles.

I tried them out during the walkthrough of the ball dances in the afternoon, which was a useful reminder of Alltshellach and its scary tournee.

I did some first stage packing, and changed into my grey ball gown ready for dinner at 5.  We piled into 3 busloads ready for the journey to     Blair Castle.  I was intrigued to learn that previous owners had included the designers of the Forth Rail Bridge, and the Jubilee tube line.

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The hall was very imposing, and everyone was busy taking photographs of themselves next to the portraits or the fireplaces.  People had warned me that space on the floor might be at a premium, especially with 160 people on the course, so I was prepared for tightly spaced sets. The “big bad tournee”, as Raphaelle described it,  was hard to do with enough swish and swoop, likewise the diamond poussette when everyone is dancing.  I again struggled to find a partner for some dances: I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong, standing in the wrong place, or people just don’t want to dance with me!  However, I only sat out one dance, the Eightsome Reel, which is a bit boisterous for a ball, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it.

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No tea or coffee, just water and juice available, which I think speeded proceedings up.   The band were terrific, and really gave the evening an extra-special zing.  At the final dance, the Reel of the 51st, my feet were complaining, and I was tempted to sit it out.  But Adam Brady asked me to dance, and as the devisor of tonight’s programme, and someone whose neat footwork I have often admired, I couldn’t refuse. The 160 hands round and back at the end were a rather special sight.

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On the bus back I was starting to nod off, and when I went to my room to take off my ball gown and rub down my feet, I decided that I had had quite enough for one day, and went straight to bed.

Tuesday was threatened by Storm Ewan, but I managed a final run up to the waterfall, which included hearing a woodpecker for the first time.  After breakfast, I completed my final packing and began much goodbying.  The train to Glasgow was on time –  I noticed that although there were lots of empty seats, passengers needed a bit of prompting to move their bags or scoot over. Smooth transit to the airport, and I was relieved that my case, with its extra bottles of whiskey and gin, weighed in at 19.5kg.  I had packed the grey Hotters near the top,  ready to ditch them if required.

No security issues, and I opted for lunch at the Caledonia, with its lovely views over the runway to the snow-topped mountains beyond.  I saw a few V-shaped skeins of geese (I presume?), wasn’t sure if they would be migrating at this time of year, or if they were just on their regular commute.  I only later discovered that there’s an airport lounge;  I like to try these out, so I don’t know what its price was or what facilities or views they had.  Maybe it needs more advertising earlier in the passenger’s footway.

The plane was on time –  I was sitting in the wrong seat, but the gentleman whose seat I took didn’t mind, and my baggage made it successfully with only minor losses ( my yellow beads had come unstrung and my silver scarf ring was a little bent out of shape.  But the booze survived!)

A helpful gent carried my case over the footbridge at Sydenham, where I had a bit of a wait in the wind and cold for the rain, and was met at the station by my husband.

Would I go again?  I’m not sure. Here’s why:

  • It’s very expensive – in previous years the 120 places have sold out straight away, so this year they upped that to 160, which also sold out in 24 hours.  So next year the price will rise.  I feel this can only deter more young people from attending.
  • The floors are not great for dancing on, and even me, with my sturdy runner’s calves, was finding it tough going.
  • The ball in the castle is lovely, but crowded.
  • Its reputation as cliquey and elitist is probably not undeserved.  I could have done with a “first timers” briefing, and maybe  each class could have had an appointed “care bear” to make sure newbies knew how to get to their class, where coffee was, to make sure they had a partner during the dances, and to perhaps even invite them to a party.  I was aware that there were parties happening, but I received no invites.
  • It attracts those who have grown frustrated with Summer School, especially the lack of proper differentiation between the classes.  To be fair, I’ve only ever heard this from people in the Very Advanced class (or technically advanced high impact or whatever it calls itself).  The names of the classes are confusing to beginners, and when people are making their self-assessment of abilities, I find that they fall into two camps.  There are those who think “Oh I hope my standard is high enough for this class”, and those who think “Oh I hope everyone else in the class is up to my standard”.  Realistically, every class is going to be a mixed ability class to some degree, taking age and injury into account, and there’s always something new to learn.
  •  Besides, there’s any amount of dance weekends in all sorts of places from Skye to Cyprus, from Budapest to Lyon, and I think I would like to try to visit some of those.

Southampton parkrun

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Access:

The parkrun takes place in Southampton Common, which is pretty close to the city centre. It’s a mile from the train station, and there are plenty of nearby bus stops too.

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When choosing a hotel for a weekend away, I look at 3 things: what are the reviews like on trip Advisor, how much is it, and how close is it to the nearest parkrun.  Occasionally, I hit a bingo and all 3 of these combine.  The Blue Keys Hotel is rated in the top 3 places to stay in the city, it was offering a decent weekend rate, and it was a short and pleasant 10 minute stroll to the common.

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There is some car parking by the Northlands Road entrance, but most people seemed to arrive on foot.

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There are toilets in the Hawthorns cafe, which at least DOES have access before 9, and many people meet there afterwards for a coffee.

 

Crowd:

Southampton is a big University town, meaning that there are more charity and kebab shops than you can shake an amusing T shirt bearing the slogan “Never ask an atom , they make up everything” at.  It also affects the average age of parkrunners here.

thumb_img_3004_1024The event began in 2012 and attracts big numbers – there were 533 on the day I visited, their record attendance was 942, and it is often the second biggest attended event each week after Bushy. An educated guess suggests that the record numbers co-incide with the start of University term, when fresh faced students are eager to maintain a fitness regime.

I managed to get a photo with a fellow cow-cowl wearer, and another “parkrun tourist” wearing his round his neck and sporting a 100 shirt gave me a thumbs up as he passed me on the course.  And I spotted a few Antrim visitors in their apricot tops.  There were a couple of doggies and a few pram-pushing dads.

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Big crowds need a lot of volunteers, and I was impressed at the turnout of high-viz vest folk (all 41 of them!), who were very friendly and helpful.

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Course:

The Common looks wide, open and flat.

img_1128-2 There are a number of routes around the grounds which can be used depending on weather conditions;  I experienced Route C, which was basically 2 laps, incorporating a sneakily hidden hill behind the trees.  The surface was all tarmac and the paths were wide.

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Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

Big crowds can mean a lot of hemming in at the start, and I did struggle to find a good spot to run at my desired pace.  But a woman in front of me seemed to know how to weave her way through the crowd, and so I attached myself to her, as Nicky Byrne was crooning “Hold on to me and let me hold on to you” from his Eurovision entry “Sunlight”.

 

Gear:

I’d opted for the purple Jog Lisburn top with matching skort, the cow cowl and matching leggings, and I left my jacket in the little cart by the finish line.  I noticed on the walk to the event that my shoes are starting to squeak, so I think it’s time to start breaking in a new pair.

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Time:

The results were processed really quickly.

I usually aim for around 30 on a first visit to a new parkrun – I can manage this without too much strain, and it leaves me room for manoeuvre should I ever return.  And I was pretty content with my time of 30:22, just making it into the top 400 with finish token 399.

All my parkruns:

All my parkruns

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And the rest….

We had a super weekend in the town, enjoying visiting the Sea museum to hear the Titanic story from the viewpoint of the port it had sailed from, and where most of the crew came from.  Being familiar with the Belfast side of things, this was a thought-provoking visit.  And we had a drink in the Grapes pub, where 3 brothers famously spent too long on a final bevvy before joining the fated ship….which they missed.  My son was born in Belfast on 31.5.91, exactly 80 years after Titanic was launched there, and it’s rather poignant that he’s now working on a cruise ship based in Southampton.

Sadly fog settled onto the airport on the Sunday evening, and our flight was cancelled.  But we were transported to and put up in a nearby Hilton, and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast next day in Beefy’s (the hotel is next to a cricket stadium), and then availed of a special offer of the executive lounge for a tenner, which was just fabulous – local cheeses and chutneys, yummy traybakes, chilled white wine, and a lop-eared rabbit making its way to Guernsey. Sure where would you get it?