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.

IMG_1546

 

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.

IMG_1551

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.

IMG_1559

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.

IMG_1572

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.

IMG_1581

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!”

IMG_1530

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!

portrush

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!

minnies 100th 011

100 barkruns!

IMG_1763

Matching 100s

 

city park christmas day

Citypark

10572116_797480390283399_5711504792681986448_o

Wallace

1384304_646344868730286_299587364_n

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.

IMG_3578

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.

IMG_3582

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.

Custom house

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

IMG_1430

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.

eclipse watching agust 99

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.

lhj iceland

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.

getting ready

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

img_1317 img_1316 img_1315

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.

img_1318 img_1319 img_1320 img_1322 img_1323img_1324

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.

img_1350-copydanceoncarpet

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

img_1330

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.

tv

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.

img_1326 img_1328 img_1329

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.

img_1335-copy img_1334-copy img_1332-copy

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.

img_1340-copy img_1343-copy img_1341-copy

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.

img_1344-copy img_1345-copy

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.

img_1349-copy img_1346-copy

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.

img_1336-copy

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.

img_1348-copy img_1347-copy

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.

img_1360-2

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.

readingpoem

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.

swishskirt

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.

img_1351-copy

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.

img_1352-copy

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.

ballhall

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.

Dance with your soul

…is the title of a biography of Miss Milligan, who along with Mrs Stewart were the founders of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. Miss Milligan used to distinguish between “dancers” and “performers”, and believed that there was more than just technical perfection to aim for, that the spirit and essence of the dance was more than good footwork.A1EslVHZntL.

After a bit of soul-searching myself (Did I REALLY want to devote substantial time money and energy into this?  For what great purpose? Would I be making the world a better place?) I’ve started my journey towards becoming a qualified Scottish Dance teacher. This consists of five separate modules.  Unit 1 is a written theory and history test, Unit 2 examines your own dancing skills, Unit 3 is a test of teaching prowess, Unit 4 is a portfolio of practical teaching experience, and Unit 5 is a final practical examination.  This year, I went to St Andrews Summer School for 2 weeks to sit Units 2 and 3.

“Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis!” is the refrain in Juno and the Paycock, and that was my feeling as well as I set off to hide in a dancing bubble for a fortnight, hoping to ignore the worrying world events and concentrate on something that I could do well, and that brought me joy.

tee-shirt-temps-danse-noir-limpid-soul-vetements-articles

I’ve attended Summer School a few times before, but had never been there for opening week. It was noticeably quieter, there were no queues for the dining room, and there was space to dance in the common room and Younger Hall. After a welcome drinks reception on the Sunday evening, we Unit 2 candidates met up in the TV room to introduce each other, and meet Rebecca, our tutor, and Kathleen, our pianist. There were 10 of us for the first week, including two people re-sitting, and we came from all parts of the world. We would be spending most of our time in the Common Room, mornings and afternoons, and would have homework to do in the evenings. We were all housed on the same floor, which helped us to gel as a bunch.

13906919_10210167154086263_7257932344377353941_n

We’d already done some preparatory work before arriving, including analyses of the 12 dances we were expected to know very well for Unit 2.  There were four each of jigs, reels and strathspeys, and the exam on Friday would require us to dance one of each as first couple, as well as acting as supporting couples for the others. We would also be expected to do a recap before our dance.  As well as knowing the steps, this necessitated using your big-room voice, with appropriate hand gestures.  I found doing the recaps a little nerve-wracking to begin, and during one of them it was pointed out to me that I was standing with my hands on my hips, obviously focusing deeply on remembering the words!  Thankfully this was only during class, rather than the exam.  And before each recap the whole team got to “huddle” where we could remind each other of the main points.

On Tuesday evening, I managed to “sneak out” to the dance held by the local St Andrews branch in the lovely town hall.  While I was there, the chassis-ridden outside world crashed into my bubble, as my husband phoned me to tell me that Max had had to be rushed to the vets with bloat, a twisted stomach which I knew was a very serious condition.  He had had an emergency operation, but the next few days would be crucial. My fellow dancers were very supportive, one of them was a vet and was able to answer my questions, whilst others provided gin and hugs.

On Wednesday evening, things got even worse, when I received a phone call from my husband’s best friend, to tell me he’d been rushed to A&E suffering from severe dizziness and balance problems.  Thankfully he was released a few hours later, but I found myself seriously wondering if I should just go home. And that 2016 could just feck right off!

By mid-week, Rebecca had matched each of us with partners.  Being only 5’2, and knowing that there were a couple of tall guys in the group, I had expected to be dancing as a “woman”, but I was partnered as a “man” with Claire, and I think we made a great team.  It did mean I needed to work hard at some of the formations such as the Tournee, which I had practised on the assumption that I’d probably be a “woman”!

My husband visited Max every day, and kept me updated on his progress.  The poor wee thing looked miserable in photos, and I wished there was something more than facetime where I could stroke his silky ears or give him a chuckle under the chin.

Thursday Nights at Summer School are a big Younger Hall night.  I’ve given off in the past about the nonsense about having to buy a separate ticket for these, and last year I’d forgotten to get one!  So this year I’d bought my Thursday tickets in good time.  However, it was our exam on Friday, and the rest of the group wanted to have a final run through all the dances, doing as much “cleaning” and fine tuning as we could.  So my Thursday ticket lay sadly unused on my desk.

On Friday Claire and I checked that our chosen outfits didn’t class, and we had a final run through in the morning, before the exam in the afternoon. I wore a new dress in silver grey, with yellow polka dots, and it moved nicely when I danced. I’d met one of the examiners, Marilyn Watson, before.  She’d been my examiner at last year’s Dance Achievement Award, and had also recently visited Belfast to take a children’s day school.  With five couples doing the exam, only four were needed on the floor for each dance, so there was a welcome break at intervals.  The dances Claire and I were allotted were General Stuart’s Reel, Miss Hadden’s Reel (which is a jig….) and Miss Gibson’s Strathspey. There were a lot of Misses and Mrses in the names of the dances, as well as a General and a Duke, and a Reel which was a strathspey….

IMG_0286

We rattled through them all in good time, and celebrated with a glass of champagne at the garden party, before relaxing at the traditional Friday ceilidh.

No rest for the wicked, though, and on Saturday morning we were back in the Common Room making a start on Unit 3.  We were looking forward to dancing for fun in the Younger Hall on the Saturday night, and wanted to take some group photos. But at the interval I looked at my mobile phone to see four missed calls from my husband, and I knew what he was going to tell me.  Max had contracted an infection after the operation, and had slipped away that evening.  He hadn’t been in pain, and there had been someone with him.  Saturday nights usually finish with a “dregs” party, where everyone brings along their remaining stash of booze and nibbles, but I wasn’t in the mood to party and went to bed.

Sunday was a rare day off.  Having been stuck inside all week while the sun blazed in the sky, of course it was mizzly and grey.  I found my way to the beach and had a long walk, smiling at all the lovely doggies frolicking on the sand and in the surf.  Some Edinburgh friends came and took me out for lunch, which we had in the delightful fishing village of Craill, where I really enjoyed some dressed crab in a dinky little cafe overlooking the sea.

IMG_0290

Monday was back to studies, and our first chance at teaching to a group of volunteers, rather than just amongst ourselves.  Working with a real live musician was a new skill for all of us, and I was rather proud of my commanding “Ready…AND”s.  The structure we were learning was quite prescriptive – teach a step in certain incremental way, then do a skills exercise, leading to a formation, and for the exam there would be an additional 8 bars to dance to make up a 16 bar phrase.  We learned so much from watching each other do practise lessons, and we co-operated on writing our nightly lesson plans.  I only had my iPad with me, and I found that downloading Word for iPad, combined with the Office 365 package that I’d recently taken out, were a godsend.

We were allocated numbers at random, which would be the order we would do our test on Friday.  I was Lucky 7 – “the luck of the Irish!” said Rebecca.

In any spare time we had, we were working on an item for the Friday ceilidh.  George had come up with some new words to “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, and we tweaked and fine tuned these, and grabbed the odd 5 minutes with Kathleen to practise.

On Thursday morning, we gathered nervously outside the Common Room to receive our assignments in sealed envelopes handed out by Mervyn Short.  After this, we wouldn’t be able to speak to Rebecca, though we could use any of the other tutors for advice.  We agreed we would all open our envelopes together.  My step was strathspey travelling step, my formation was turn corner and partner, ending own sides, and the final 8 bars were advance and retire, and 1s turn 1 1/2 times to end opposite sides.  I double checked a few aspects of this: so the 1s were starting in the middle of the set facing their first corners? And finishing in 2nd place opposite sides?  The whole 16 bars was very like part of a dance, Strathglass House, and I was worried that the more experienced dancers in my group of volunteers would be disconcerted by the not-quite-ness.  And neither beginning nor ending a 16 bar phrase on own sides just felt a little awkward.

I did a quick lesson plan, ran my concerns past Mervyn, and decided to get some much needed fresh air.  In one shop of pretty things, I was just finishing my purchases when Rebecca entered – she put her had across her face and joked “I can’t see you!” I also decided to get a haircut, just so’s I’d be neat and tidy.

IMG_0292

We worked together during the day, timing each other, looking at YouTube videos of the various formations we had, reminding each other of the teaching points, and rehearsing our patter.  I felt sufficiently on top of things to get to Younger Hall this Thursday, though I spent some of it on the balcony trying to hone my observation skills.

As Lucky 7, I wouldn’t be on till the afternoon, and I didn’t want to get into my chosen outfit too soon, in case I spilled anything on it.  At breakfast time, someone expressed concern that my skirt was too long for the exam, and I explained that I would be changing later into a plain navy flippy skirt, with a navy top and my lucky star turquoise necklace. I spent Friday morning rehearsing and getting my timings down, and although I was nervous, I tucked into the traditional fish and chips lunch with gusto.

IMG_0291

Soon it was my turn.  I calmed my nerves with some Rescue Remedy, entered the room with a bright smile and handed my neatly printed lesson plans to the two examiners and Rebecca, and checked the music with Kathleen.  I was happy with how the lesson went, I tried my best to be engaging and bubbly, and to keep coaching in my biggest voice above the music.  I even managed to throw in a Eurovision quote before the final dance through – Nicky Byrne in this year’s Irish entry “Sunlight” sings “dance like you mean it.”

I was happy that I’d had no brain meltdown moments, and that I’d done my best.  But I was still anxious about the results – there are about 24 different attributes that the examiners are awarding a score of A,B,C or D to, and in some of them you MUST get a B or above.  And no more than two Ds in total.  So it could be one wee thing that means a fail.

Meanwhile, there was champagne to be quaffed at the garden party, and a final 5 minute rehearsal of our ceilidh item. It went well, and a number of people commented afterwards how much they had enjoyed it. Please forgive the blatant over-acting.

Those words in full:

Reach close reach, spring beat beat and
Reach close reach, spring beat beat
We’re Unit 3s from far away
We’re here to learn, and every day
While you went out dancing we were in this room, going
Reach close reach, spring beat beat
Our aching feet would love to be
In Younger Hall or in the sea
But we must do homework, need a lesson plan, hop step close
We show you how to pose, how to point your toes
Now your posture and grace
Will help each set you’re in begin
To dance like you know how it goes
We’ll teach you how to dance strathspey
And pas de basque with a jete
And if there’s a figure called a tournee
Yo’ll never ever go the wrong way
Rebecca’s looking sacred, I feel so unprepared
I’m facing volunteers
I’d like to introduce Kathleen
Who’ll come in whenever she hears (with the music)
My teaching points I must explain
The hands and arms and covering
Remember your posture, close your feet in 3rd once again
We never see the sun, Jim Stott says have some fun
And here’s a camera crew so get it right.
It rained on our day off – enough!
I’m sneaking out dancing tonight.
Exams are done, it’s party time
And Claire will say “all back to mine”
Can someone bring chocolate gin and lots of wine….
Reach close reach (etc)

Another Saturday morning and I STILL hadn’t been able to revisit the lovely local parkrun! We had a bit of a reminder of “what next” – I still need to do my written Unit 1, and then see if I can use some of the 7 weekly classes we have in Belfast Branch  to build up my Unit 4 portfolio. I realised just how Lucky I am, with the support and encouragement of a great lively branch, blessed with many very experienced and generous teachers.  We managed a quick rattle through some of the new Book 50 dances, and I spent the afternoon having a welcome potter around St Andrews’ charity shops.

RSCDS Book 50

The Saturday dance in Younger Hall was full of emotion. I was trying to get a dance with each of my fellow students, but there just wasn’t enough time.  We took some photos and headed back to the dregs party, and I squished and squeezed everything into my suitcase.

My journey home was uneventful, though I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, and was never so glad to have my husband’s arms around me.

The house is eerily quiet without Max, he was such a big presence in many ways.  Minnie is missing her companion, though she was overjoyed to see me. I got the hoped for email a few days later, telling me that I had successfully passed Units 2 and 3.

And I’ll leave you with Max, a soul who liked to go his own way.

max walkies

Maxim Von Thunder 2007 – 2016

 

 

Harley Goes To Marley

Having done all the (at time of writing)22 Norn Irn parkruns, I need to venture further afield these days to try new ones.  I do take advantage of any travelling plans I have, and it’s usually possible to tag on a parkrun during a weekend away.  And, since this is a blog with “dancing” in the title, it’ll come as no surprise that this time it was a dancing weekend.  Not just any old dancing weekend either, it was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dublin Scottish Dance Club.

Accommodation in Dublin proved difficult to find – not only was there a big football match on, but somebody called The Boss was playing at Croke Park.  I decided to try out an Air BnB, and found one close to the main dance event in Taney Parish Centre.  There are around 10 parkruns in the greater Dublin area, and with one called Marlay (sometimes spelled Marley) close to my lodgings, my itinerary was complete.

marlay 014

I drove down on the Friday night, having only the briefest of disagreements with the sat nav.  But that’s a compulsory element of travelling these days. I was soon being welcomed by Barbara, and introduced to the other house guests for the weekend, including a mother and daughter from Texas who were fascinated by my jigging and jogging plans.

marlay 010

The house has a lovely garden patio area at the back, and I was able to introduce Barbara to the joys of watching the space station sail overhead.

Access:

On Saturday morning I donned my tartan leggings, and let the sat nav take me to Marlay Park.

marlay 013However, it took me to the front entrance, by the big house, and I knew that the parkrun started at the back.  So I had to do a little bit of driving around in circles, another compulsory manoeuvre for today’s traveller.   But I got there in good time, parked up, had a bit of a wander around to get my bearings, and joined in the warm-up session.

marlay 024

Facilities:

marlay 021

The start and finish are beside the children’s playground, where there a few shabby toilets.  There are nicer ones in a block down the lane, and more by the big house.

marlay 032There’s plenty of parking – there needs to be as this has regularly over 500 runners.

marlay 016So a good funnelling system is in place.

Music is played to add to the atmosphere.

Afterwards, many go to the stalls set up by the big house, offering coffees, wheatgrass juice, paella, and buns galore.

Course:

It’s basically one lap of the park with a few legs added.

It does go down as far as the house, and the start and finish are at the same place.  There’s an uphill section during the first k, which does serve to thin the runners out a bit.  Though some of the narrow sections still get a little bottle-necked.

The park itself is just beautiful, with lots of lovely features including a walled garden, little bridges, and a miniature railway which operates on Saturday afternoons.

marlay 052

Crowd:

It seemed to be a fairly young crowd, and indeed I got chatting in the scanning line to Adam, who had just done his first parkrun.

marlay 029Well done, young man!

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

I’m still listening to Eurovision songs, and I enjoyed “Time is Like Thunder”, the Belarus entry from 2015, with the lady playing the violin in a giant egg-timer.

 

Time:

My own time was an OK-ish 29 something.  I do try to aim for sub-30 when visiting a run for the first time, especially when I don’t have my canine pulling pal.

marlay 030 I did find a friendly black dog to chase, which reminded me of how helpful running can be in dealing with dark thoughts.

And the rest:

The weather was glorious – blue skies and sunshine.  I caught a bus into town to meet my fellow dancers for a tour of the Mansion House, admiring all the coats of arms in the oak room.

I’d enjoyed the most delicious brunch at Eden, consisting of a courgette and potato cake, served with asparagus, poached eggs, hollandaise, and a very tasty balsamic roasted tomato, which I must try to recreate. Eden was worth visiting even just for the loos, with limericks painted on the doors and walls.

From there I’d wandered through the Powerscourt Townhouse, and was tempted by some beautiful pieces in Jean Cronin ‘s lovely vintage wear, settling in the end for a green swirly Clements Ribiero dress, before further tempation in the shape of Ruby, in the Hibernia Arcade, where I was seduced by a duck egg blue Orla Kiely.

Suitably shopped out, I went back to the house and changed for the evening into my purple/ green tartan skirt, which I wore with a purple shirt and choker.

ball2016-14

The dancing was great fun, and included some dances which had been written by or for the club’s instructors. The Elephant’s Stampede was tricky, but had us all laughing, while Rosalie’s Birthday Reel is one we had practiced beforehand.

 

There was a lovely supper provided, and a very convivial atmosphere all evening.  But my eyes were closing, and I slipped away at 11, where I was glad my sat nav remembered how to get me back to the BnB.  And I was home in time to see the space station fly over yet again – a perfect way to round off a weekend full of smiles.

ball2016-08

 

 

All my parkruns