parkrun tourism: Dungannon Park

Event #51 parkrun #217

There’s always a debate about whether to attend inaugurals or not. For a regionnaire, the temptation is to keep that status up to date. But some parkruns prefer a soft launch so that they are not overwhelmed by unusually high numbers on day one, putting their volunteer team under stress. However, I hadn’t seen any requests to stay away from the first outing for NI’s newest baby, Dungannon Park. And so off I went!

Access:
There is a camping/ caravan park situated here, so the brown signs are very helpful. Directions on the parkrun page are spot on, and I only had a teeny disagreement with my sat nav before pulling into the car park. It’s just over 30 miles from me, practically all motorway, so about a 35 min journey. Definitely a feasible one to repeat easily.

Crowd:

I’d expected more at an inaugural: there were about 150, so I imagine the usual numbers will be about half that.  Local running clubs were well represented, there were a few dogs (Hi, other Minnie!) and at least one pram.  The RD and volunteer team were very friendly and welcoming.

Course:

The start is in a wide clearing a short distance from the car park.

This makes it easy for some speed-self-seeding, and the runners have thinned out by the time they get to a slightly narrower path around the lake.  There is a bit of a tight bridge at the top of the lake, but good running etiquette will prevent this becoming a bottleneck.

Past a stunning waterfall, up a short hill,

and then through the trees before reaching a rather challenging hill!

2 laps and a bit, so the finish line is a bit away from the start line, should you wish to leave coats and belongings somewhere.  The ground is either tarmac or gravel.  It is a very pretty course, with ducks, flowers, and some lovely foresty trail paths.  Minnie gives it paws-up!

Facilities:

Being at a caravan park, there is an excellent toilet block.  There are showers too, but they may only be available to people staying there.  If you were touring Ireland by motorhome or camping, this would be one to add to your itinerary. There is also a very pleasant cafe with a tempting array of ice creams!

Time:

I haven’t been running a lot recently, so I’m easing myself back in gradually.  I was happy enough with my pace on the first lap, but allowed myself to stop and take photos on the 2nd.  What is it I always say?  Never knock yourself out on a first visit – make it easy to come back and PB!  So a 32 minute bar which I will definitely be back sometime to beat.

Strangely Appropriate Song:

I was running without music – it does help when with a dog, to be able to call out and hear other people telling you where they are overtaking.  Plus running through woods like this I always like to listen to the sounds of nature.

And the rest:

I’ve missed parkrun recently becuse I’ve been away doing a dance course.  And I’ve just found out that I passed!  So there was a spring in my step, and a lightness in my soul.  And if you need a Scottish dance ceilidh some time, give me a shout 🙂

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

 

What A Week: Wild Atlantic Way

The vision……
R has long fancied holidaying in a motorhome. The biker in him loves the call of the open road, and he likes camping weekends consisting of a lot of standing or sitting in fields doing not very much.  The plan was to rent one for a week, hit the west coast of Ireland with son and dog on board, and see how we got on.  You’ll love it, they said, you can just stop where you like, make a wee cuppa, enjoy the freedom and the relaxation, bond with nature. Yeah right.

R’s personality type means he likes things open, spontaneous, to be able to decide on the hoof.  By contrast, I like to research and plan. It was hard to find some common approach to the holiday, but we did agree it was sensible to book in somewhere for the first night, and wanted to do as much of the Wild Atlantic Way as we could.  So this gave me enough material to research.  I joined the Motorhome Craic facebook group, who were very friendly and helpful, and purchased the “Britstops” book, which gives deatils of some stopping places near local businesses (pubs, smokehouses, fruit farms etc).  My big worry was that we would driving around frantically at 6 or 7 at night unable to find somewhere to stay, so I drafted a rough itinerary with some suggestions.  Here’s how we got on.

Day 1: pick up van. Enniskillen

Handover, showing us where all the bits and bobs were and how to operate the various functions, including the all important chemical toilet.  We loaded up and set off for Enniskillen.  I sat in the back with Minnie, who was a bit restless at these new surroundings, and couldn’t find a comfortable spot. My first impression was of how rattly the van is!  There’s also no aircon, so it’s not the most comfortable of rides.  But we make it to Lochside Marina (£20, no extra for showers) with no issues, and do our first electric hook up (EHU).  I’d had hoped that the site would be close enough to the city centre to walk for fish and chips or something, but it was about a mile out.  We decided to get a Chinese delivered, which was rather tasty.  But I’m still struggling to see the attaction, plus being by the loch there’s quite a few biting insects around.

Day 2: Downpatrick Head

After a not-bad night’s sleep, I make tea!  And a one-eyed-jack (known in our house as Amy’s Eggs) for breakfast.  We headed for Sligo, where we would pick up the coastal route branded the “Wild Atlantic Way”.  This genius marketing ploy was devised by Leo Varadkhar when he was tourism minister, and since there were already a few coastal scenic atlantic drives in existence, it was just a matter of joining them up, adding a few wiggly signs, and sitting back to await the influx of tourists.

Except Sligo isn’t terribly helpful in pointing me in the right direction.  I scoured in vain for the wiggly sign, or even a sign for the airport, but all I can see is “Sligo Core” or “Sligo Ring”, which mean nothing to me.  We programme the sat nav for Strandhill, and shortly afterwards find a lovely pub restaurant called The Venue, with outdoor seating where we order lunch (chowder for me, roast lamb for R, fresh water for Minnie despite her barking at the kind waitress).  Parking in the car park is a bit awkward – we take up 2 spaces and hope that we don’t get blocked in.

We continue along the WAW, learning as we go how to differentiate between the main route (marked S or N) and the little fingers out to a viewpoint.  We stop at Lacken Strand, a vast expanse of golden sand with drones and air surfers overhead.  Minnie leaps to freedom and enjoys a few zoomies around the place.  It’s tricky drying off her paws, especially in such limited space.

Onward to Downpatrick Head, a spot which was recommended to us by a Swiss couple last night.  It’s a dramatic headland, and as we approach it in the afternoon sunshine we can see other headlands and islands dotted along he coastline to the west.  There are no stopping places to try to capture this in a photograph, but it would be impossible to do it justice even if there were.  The glorious panorama takes in big blue skies, azure seas, and green-grey granite slabs. I set off with Minnie towards the headland, but a sign says that dogs are not allowed, so I leave her back to the van with the boys and continue alone.  It is stunning – sheer cliffs, blowholes, and the 50m high Dun Briste sea stack.

 

Back in the car park, I order hot dogs and chips from Patsy’s van, and he delivers them to our door!

This is our first time trying “wild camping” ie no electric or water, and it feels strange to watch the car park gradually empty of day visitors and have the place to ourselves.  Well, almost, there is one other van in this car park, and another motorhome parked up in the next one down.  My hopes for a wild Atlantic sunset are dashed, though, as a surly sea mist rolls in and turns the sky 40 shades of grey.

We have problems with the chemical toilet, and decide that wild camping is not for us.  Patsy had recommended staying by the beer garden in Healys pub in Ballycastle, so that might have been a better option.

Day 3: Achill Island

Back on the coastal road, the views are stunning, but there are very few places to pull in.  What was that lie in the vision – you can just stop where you fancy? No, not really, you have to choose a spot that you can get in and out of safely without inconveniencing other road users.  But we find a great big car park opposite a fab Spar in Barr na Tra.  A fellow motorhomer with a lovely Boxer dog pulls in too, and we compare notes on how best to dispose of rubbish. The Irish government is promoting a recyling policy, and charging for landfill rubbish.  This does mean that there are very few bins around that we can use.  We try to keep recyclables separate and find the appropriate bottle banks etc, but I find that I’m using black bags, wet wipes and kitchen towel at a greater rate that I would at home, and can’t find many food watse disposal points.  But hey, it’s bound to be more environmentally friendly than flying somewhere.  Fuel topped up, and homemade scones purchased for later, we decide to skip Belmullet, and do the square loop at Blacksod Bay.  Suitable stopping point found opposite a pub, we turn on the gas to make soup and sandwiches.

After admiring the peaks of Achill over lunch, it’s lovely to make our way onto the island, and follow the signs to the newly opened Achill Seal Caves site (28 euro). The facilities are excellent, with loos and showers (1 euro for 3 minutes, plenty of space to leave towel and clothes), and a campervan servicing bay.  As I’m guiding the van into this, the rear brake light cover strikes a not-very-obvious grey wall and smashes. Ouch!  Oh well, it’s a bit of a rite of passage, and could have been much worse – no bodywork damage.  R gets the roll of clear tape and sets about doing the jigsaw of the smashed pieces.  The rest of us explore the beach.

It is golden sandy with rolling waves, but the sand is a little soft and rocky, and there are quite a few jelly fish washed up, so I’m not tempted to go for a dip.  The Strand Hotel nearby advertises “home cooked food all day!” but this turns out to be only at weekends,  So back to the van for rather tasty steak and veg that we brought with us.  Afterwards, we admire kites being flown on the beach, including an impressive whale, advertising a local pizza place.

Day 4: Keogh’s, Ballyconneely

The morning dawns cloudy but pleasant. so I take Minnie for a run.  However, the loose sheep give us problems: they see her and bolt, she sees them dashing off and wants to give chase. But it’s good to get the endorphins shuggling round my brain, and running on the beach in such surroundings is very therapeutic.

We pack up and head for Westport, one of the places I’d been looking forward to pottering around in.  But it’s a very popular spot, and driving through the town is more than a bit hair raising, with lots of cars double parked, and delivery vans reducing the available lanes.  So that vision of spending some time wandering among the colourful pubs and shops quickly vanishes.  We can’t see anywhere to park, so continue out along the southern shores of Clew Bay, and stop near Croagh Patrick, for a cheese-and-crisp based lunch. From there, it’s my favouite road in the whole world, the Doo Lough pass.  Again, not enough places to stop and photograph, but we enjoy the scenery around Killary Harbour and Leenaun.  Just past Kylemore Abbey, there is a narrow bit of road, and we see another motorhome approach us.  “Breathe in!” I say, but the 2 wing mirrors clip, at a combined speed of about 80 mph, and the mirrors pop out and smash.  We pull over, and the German couple do turn around and come back to us.  I get out the accident form and start completing it, my rusty German being tested severely (Indicator light? Mirror housing? And what date is it anyway?)  A Garda car stops and makes sure there are no injuries, and if we are happy enough just to exchange insurance details then he will leave us to it.  But it’s not just the mirror that is shattered – I’m feeling very stressed out after this, tensed up as if I was in a dentist’s chair, and my heart is in my mouth around each tight bend in the road.

Tonight we are staying at Keogh’s, one of the aires in my Britstops book, which is a large gravelly car park beside a pub-restaurant-shop-filling station. (You had me at pub-restaurant).  Manoevering is made a bit more difficult without a wing mirror, but we get set up, and head across the road to enjoy a super dinner in the outdoor seating area.  The menu is very impressive, and I am spoiled for choice, settling eventually for the seafood platter, including oysters, crab claws and steamed mussels.  It is absolutely delicious.

Day 5: Galway

Overnight, some travelling fair trucks have parked up near us, getting ready for this weekend’s Ballyconneely Show.  But we manage to pick our way out of the park.  No loos in the shop, which opens at 8, only in the pub, which opens at 10.  So we head off for Galway, having researched where the Ford parts dealer is, in the hope that a replacement mirror can be procured. Driving around the iconic stony green Connemara landscape, I imagine a sort of Craft-coffee-shop-with-loos, and lo and behold!  At Glinsk such a miracle appears!  It is lovely, with a very extensive gift shop where we spend some time, and beautiful gardens with a stunning view of the mountains.  I treat myself to a Connemara marble worry stone – just rub it and your worries will disappear!

Soon we are driving along Galway Bay, and stop at Spiddal to make ham-and-crisp sandwiches.  I have a little mosey around the Craft Village, with intriguing basketweaving, glass painting, silver jewellery etc shops.  Well worth a visit!

The sat-nav leads us through the narrow streets in Galway centre, where again double parking and delivery vans make the journey more difficult than it should be.  The parts place is on Headford Road, a large industrial and retail zone with a big Dunnes Stores, Halfords, and  a Pet World. Bad news is they don’t have that mirror in stock, but they can get one for tomorrow.  We head for Salthill camp and caravan park, to find them closed for lunch.  But we can wait.  It’s 40+ euros for the night!  There’s a per adult and per dog charge (what facilities is she going to be using?), 1 euro for shower, 50 cents for hot water to do dishes, 5 for laundry, another 5 for drying, and lots of dictatorial dos and donts on signs around the site.  Depending on which sign you read, check out could be 10.30, 11 or 11.30, so it’s obviously been a contentious issue. I can’t find the promised beach, but I do find Joyce’s supermarket, which is an absolute haven of edible goodies and local produce.  I buy some fancy artisanal yoghurt for breakfast, and some mushrooms which I add to a pack of microwave rice cooked in a saucepan, with crispy bacon for dinner.

I stroll along the coastal path in the evening light, before we join some fellow campers in the recreation room to watch the England-Croatia match.

Day 6: Lough Ennell

Minnie wakes early, and I take her along the coastal path as the sun is rising.  Some photographers are setting up tripods in the outdoor pool and diving area, but I’m not sure what they are expecting. I shower using a plastic bag method: put clean clothes in bag and hang on hook.  Take off dirty clothes and leave in a corner.  Shower, dry, put on clean dry clothes, and place dirty ones in bag.  I do some sun salutation yoga strecthes, and enjoy my hand-knitted hippy yoghurt in the sunshine.   All the hard stands have a grey water drain, so it’s simple enough to get everything ready to go.  Back to the motorparts place, I go for a bit of a walk, and enjoy a cup of tea and a croissant in Dunnes cafe.  I think that’s another thing I find hard on this sort of trip – finding some me-space.   The mirror arrives, R fits it easily enough, and we are soon underway.  We’ve chosen somewhere to stay tonight somewhere that’s on the way home, so it’s goodbye to the Wild Atlantic Way.  And goodbye to the City of Tribes which I didn’t really get to experience – I shall have to return some other time.

We set off on the N6, M6.  There are no service stations, but eventually we find a pull over place, and I rustle up soup and sandwiches and a mug-shot with added cheese for lunch.  Lough Ennell is well signposted, and is a large well spaced site with plenty of wide available spots with EHU and water.  28 euro.  There is a small shop on site (no wine….), but we get some bacon and eggs for dinner.  Being by the Lough, there are quite a few flies around, but a charming family of swans with a group of fluffy cygnets are playing by the water’s edge.  We settle in to watch Lilo and Stich on DVD, an old family favourite, and have an early night.

Day 7: Home

A good night’s sleep, a shower (1 euro), plenty of tea and bacon butties for breakfast, and I’m almost human again. An uneventful journey home (the van is much less rattly on smooth main roads), and we’re home mid afternoon, in time to give the van a good final clean before handing back.

Final verdict?  Motorhoming is not something I’ll be rushing to do again.  It’s a big beast which limits where you can park, and I like to be able to make tea, go pee, and have a shower, without it being a major faff.  But the scenery was marvellous, and I’ll definitely revisit the WAW some day.  Maybe in a sports car……

List of things we should have brought:

  • The list!  Which I thought I’d left on the kitchen table, but which turned up about 3 days in.
  • Scissors
  • Ziplock bags
  • cleaning wipes
  • J cloths
  • Hand towel
  • travel dog crate whcih can be used outside
  • Tether point for long lead
  • handwash
  • Crocs for everyone (I was the ony one who’d packed some, and had to share.  I should have charged by the 3 minutes, same as the campsite showers!)

parkrun tourism (and half cowell!): Castleblayney

Well whaddya know, I’ve only gone and run my half Cowell! Now my loverly tracker I had created to mark my progress to this, my 50th different event, so it was with some emotion today that I coloured in the final square on the L. I’d chosen Castleblayney as my mother had lived there for a while when she was a wee girl. She still reminisces about having to walk a mile to the National School, where they were taught in Irish, but all she can remember is ta rasha fada, ta rasha Fol (fly away Peter, fly away Paul).

Access:
Google maps offered me a choice of 3 routes, all of which would take me around 1 hour and 8 minutes. My own sat nav couldn’t recognise “Castleblayney”, so I chose the familiar outward route down to Dundalk and turn inland at junction 17. Crossing the winding Irish Border a few times as I headed west, the roads were good and nice to drive on, a few tractors to sit behind, but a very pleasant drive. The instructions on the parkrun page were good, and was pulling into the ample car park at Muckno Street well before 9.  The sat nav took me back through Keady and Armagh, so a few additional broder crossings…..

Facilities:
Parking aplenty, I did struggle to find loos onsite (though they were available in the little room used afterwards).

Crowd:
Numbers are small here, you are guaranteed a good finish position!  Youngish crowd, and Minnie and I were thrilled to meet little puppy Charlie.  No doubt he will be barkrunning at some stage in his future!

I got chatting to a couple touristing from London, whose local was Ally Pally, and who were also visiting family at Dundalk.   They were fascinated that my parkrunDANCER challenge had used those particular runs for the D and A.

Course:

I do love a forested course, and this was delightful.  Two laps through beautiful trees and shrubs, past lakeside and ducks, and foxgloves and rhododendron and a crumbling pile that I really want to win the lottery and restore. The path is compacted stone, there’s a few testing inclines, and I swear that second lap is longer than the first. It’s quite narrow in parts, if you need to overtake.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

I’m still working on running without headphones, but Classic Rock FM on the way down played Supertramp and “It’s Raining Again”. The weather on the way down was very wet, with a lot of surface water, but as I reached Castleblayney a little patch of blue sky appeared and the sun shone for as long as needed during the run.  Being so tree lined, there’s plenty of shade from the sun.

Gear:

My Garmin actually worked, for once!  I wore my cow leggings, Hoka trainers, and I’d adapted my milestone 50 Tshirt to list all 50 of the events.  This Tee had previously done duty as a 150 T, so I had to find a way of disguising the additional 1, hence the hashtag coverup.  I got talking afterwards to some people interested in running with dogs, so I showed them my waist belt and running line.  Having arms free is good, dog on a short but bungee line, and dog using a harness that pulls from the body/ chest rather than the neck.  No extendable leads, no way no how.

Time:

I was pretty happy with a sub-30.  I did my usual fast start, and was overtaken by 3 females, and so ending as 5th female encourages me that I can return some time in the future and nab a podium position!

And the rest:

It was all about the cow.  I’d put a lot into preparing for this.  I’d had the T shirt printed (huge thanks to Paul Knight at Print NI), and worked out how I was going to do a cake. Sainsburys came up with the yellow and black icing, and the “decorate it yourself” cake.  Lakeland had the cow cookie cutter.  And if I say I used Stolichnaya vodka for the cleaning of the cake do you think they might send me free samples?

I know there were some photos taken on the day, but I haven’t been able to access them.  When and if I can, I will add them in.

 

Coming soon – “50 ways to reach a parkrun – da movie!”

 

All My parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

parkrun tourism: Oldbridge

parkrun #208 event #49

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It had always been my plan to use the lighter mornings in spring and summer to tick off some of the Irish parkruns that are about an hour – hour and a half away from me.  Living south of Belfast, and close to the motorway junction, the journey to Oldbridge, Drogheda, was very straightforward, and on a balmy May day, was very pleasant indeed.

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Access:

The event takes place in the Oldbridge estate, site of the Battle of the Boyne.

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So there are plenty of brown tourist signs guiding the way.  My trip took me over the fabulous Mary Macaleese Bridge, and you will need euro coins for the toll (1.90 at time of writing.  Notes are accepted also).  There’s plenty of car parking. It was a little late starting the day I visited due to an Orange March, but I gather this is a once a year thing.

Course:

The course is mostly grass underfoot, so it can get slippy, and trail shoes would be a good option.

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It starts down near the wooden triangle huts, runs up to and in front of the big house, up a short sharp incline, along a ridge, into a field for a lap, back along the ridge and down the incline, and a few more field laps, with no repeated sections. Finish is close to the start, and you can leave keys in a bag, coats and water bottles under a tree where the scanning takes place. All the junctions are well marked or marshalled.

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There are some fabulous old trees in the estate, so there is occasional shade, but a lot of the course is quite exposed.  I can imagine during the winter it is a testing course. Fantastic views of the suspension bridge!

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Facilities:

Ther are nice clean loos in the car park, and a cafe on site, though runners are asked to change out of grassy shoes if they are going indoors.

Crowd:

Typical numbers are about 100, mostly youngish.  There were a few other dog runners there, I don’t think the course would be easy for buggies or wheelchairs. I didn’t get a chance to stick around afterwards, but everyone was friendly and chatty at the start.

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Gear:

It was a warm morning, over 20 degrees even at this time of day, but with a bit of a breeze.  I was glad I’d opted for the sleeveless apricot shirt and calf length trousers.  My garmin died half way round, and I wasn’t using headphones.

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Time:

Minnie was struggling in the heat towards the end of the run, so we tucked in just over 30 minutes.  Don’t worry, we’ll be back some time and I can snatch a PB!

All My parkruns:

summary list of parkruns

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