parkrun tourism: Coventry

Event #55 parkrun # 225

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My little darlings are both in showbiz, which often sees me poring over tour schedules, trying to match up cheap flights, affordable accommodation and nearby parkruns.  It’s very rare that they are in the same place at the same time, but this year, on my birthday, all the stars seemed to align!

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Except…….

Storm Callum arrived.  My Friday morning flight had been due to take off at 8.30 am, and Jemima’s show was in Coventry at 7 pm.  I’d been saying all week I could cope with a delay of several hours.  But FlyBe made the decision to cancel all their morning departures from Belfast City airport, leaving me in a bit of a panic, booking alternatives.  (To be fair to FlyBe, propeller planes do not take kindly to the gale force winds that we were subjected to).  So EasyJet to the rescue, from the much maligned Belfast International.  Check in and security were all very smooth, and I caught a train from Birmingham International straight to Coventry with no problems.

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Saw Jemima’s show, i-Infinite that evening, and was ready for my Saturday morning parkrun fix.

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Access:

I was staying at the Ibis hotel close to the station, which was an easy 15 minute stroll to War Memorial park.   There are a number of buses which pass by, and a decent sized car park.

Facilities:

I was there well before 8.30, but already the team of volunteers was setting up (and storm Callum wasn’t helping them keep the cones in place!).  This is a large parkrun, so a small army of volunteers is needed.  They were very friendly and welcoming, and pointed me in the direction of the loos, in a very smart looking building.

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Loos are clean and warm, and are opened about 8.30.  I got chatting in the queue to a local student, and also the tail-walker/ first-timers-briefer for today.  This is also the cafe where runners meet afterwards for cake and conversation, and where I enjoyed a bacon butty and cup of tea for under £5.

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Course:

2 and a bit laps around the beautiful park.  In October when I visited the trees were looking stunning in their autumnal splendour, but causing quite a bit of twigs and seed cases on the ground.  It’s mostly tarmac all the way, not totally flat, but with cheery and encouraging marshalls at various points ringing bells and calling out “keep smiling!”.  There’s a finish funnel, so keep in order and keep moving.  Scanning takes place up by the cafe.

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Crowd:

It’s a University town, so expect a good few speedy twenty-somethings.  The start has signs for you to line up based on your expected finish time, which does make for a smoother and less bottle-necked first 200m. IMG_0355

There were also a couple of dogs and prams, and a wide age range from under 10s to….ahem, people even older than me.  Numbers are usually around 600.

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Gear:

I’d forgotten to bring any sort of waist belt or pouch!  When I’m running with Minnie there is a zippy pocket on the running belt, and I always have something to transport poo bags and treats.  So I had to be inventive – I tucked some money and my hotel key into my wristband/ sweatband, and shoved my phone into my sports bra.  My Garmin and headphones worked perfectly.  I wore my black 100 shirt, and my cow cowl, which was recognised by fellow tourist Beth,  though this is her local run.

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Time:

Ugh, 35 minutes.  But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.

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And the rest:

After a welcome shower back at the hotel, I caught a train to Birmingham New Street, which is a massive station with its own branch of John Lewis attached!  Harry’s theatre, the New Alexandra, was right beside the Station Street exit,

and we met for a lovely lunch at Cherry Reds cafe.  Service a bit slow, but funky and fabulous food. Motown the Musical is a non-stop feel good megamix of hits – guaranteed to leave you smiling.  And a busy show for Harry as Head of Automation, lots going on all the time.

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I caught a train back to the airport station, my goodness this is a big airport!  I’d had to get on the phone to FlyBe earlier, since if you don’t take your outward flight they automatically cancel your return leg. But my 8 pm flight was very hassle free, and I was back home at 9.30 pm.  That was certainly a fun packed couple of days, and a birthday to remember.

All my parkruns:

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: Victoria, Glasgow

parkrun # 204 event # 47

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Victoria, eh?  Well, having done Belfast Victoria (which is a B for all you alphabteers), and noting that the latest London event is Victoria Dock, and hoping to see my son working on the cruise ship Queen Victoria, I have devised a little Victoria Lap of my own.

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Talking of alphabeteering, I still need a G, and was hoping that a trip to Glasgow would net me one.  But No!  Sort it out, Glaswegians.

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Access:

I was staying at the Argyll Hotel on Sauciehall Street, in leafy and beautiful Kelvingrove.  There for a dance weekend, Victoria was the nearest parkrun, just under 3 miles away.  I’d got to the city using the Hannon Coach service.  £29 each way, very relaxed and friendly service, you can take as big a suitcase as you like, no worries about potions and lotions or security queues.  I blagged a free upgrade to the Stena Plus lounge, and so my outward leg was very pleasant and well fuelled.  There’s wifi on board, and to be honest, the opportunity to just sit in one place and do very little for a few hours was divine. 6 hours, city centre to city centre, which is I reckon about 2 hours more than flying, but waaaay less stressful.

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Anyhoo.  To the parkrun!  The Argyll has a nifty taxi-call button in their reception, and I was kept informed of all the details about my taxi, which took about 15-20 mins to get to the famous Golden Jubilee gates. Many people seemed to arrive on foot or by bike.  Car parking is just on the local streets.

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Crowd:

On the day I visited, they were having a memorial run for Brian, on what would have been his 42nd birthday.  There were quite a few youngsters taking part, but I’m not sure how frequent that is.  Average attendance is 250ish, there were 350 this time.  The marshalls were really friendly and encouraging.

Course:

It’s a 3 lapper on what at first sight seems a flat tarmac route round the obligatory duck pond.

IMG_2995This of course means that’s there is a sneaky hill hidden behind that clump of trees over there. And you have to do it 3 times.  But it’s a wide flat path, and speedy runners will find they can get a good time here. Start and finish are in the same general area.  I adored the swans, the daffodils, and the lovely trees.  A really pretty park, no wonder it’s a popular spot for locals.

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Facilities:

I had trouble finding any loos, and those that should have been open at 9 weren’t.   The bag drop is at the tennis court fence.

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Gear:

I always travel in my second best trainers, and they were suitable footwear for this course. My Garmin performed as expected, and I wore my tartan leggings, as I was in Bonnie Scotland.  No other cow cowls spotted.

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Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

No headphones in, but my internal juke box was playing through the Scottish dances that I have to call at ball in a few weeks time.

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Time:

It was a glorious warm morning with blue skies and welcome sunshine, but I found I was having difficulty finding a good rhythym for my breathing.  Plus I was in town for a dance thing and didn’t want to risk any injury or aching calves.  So it was a slow but safe 34 minutes (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…)

And the rest:

The dancing part of the weekend was an absolute joy.  It was my first time attending a Spring Fling/ Fringe event,

and having so many young people around made for a lively and exuberant atmosphere.

IMG_3008 (1)  I bumped into old friends from past Summer and Winter Schools, including one who’d stooged for me in my Unit 3 exam! And I even had a  spare hour or so to mooch around the delightful Kelvingrove Museum, and enjoy the organ recital.

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All My parkruns:

Summary list of all events run

 

parkrun tourism: York

parkrun 196, and 45th different event.

On my parkrun adventures, one of the targets that keep you going (100 Tshirt to 250 is AT LEAST 3 years….) is grabbing letters of the alphabet.  Now, there’s no X anywhere (surely an opportunity for somewhere, but meanwhile St Andrews, as in cross, will suffice…) and Z is a foreign trip to Poland or South Africa.

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The Norn Irn parkruns do have some of the lesser spotted letters – there’s a Q at Queens, a V at Valley, and 2 Ws at Waterworks and my home run Wallace.  But I’m still lacking a G, J, K, (all of which I can get on the  island of Ireland, albeit with difficulty), and the U and Y, of which there are very few.  So when I saw a chance to get a Y at York, I absolutley jumped at it!

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Access:

Located at York Racecourse, this is a pretty easy to get to run.  I was staying in an Air BnB, and had booked a taxi, not wanting to risk missing the start, but my son, who was working in the city for the week, just walked there from his digs, and in fact we walked back into town together, which took about 20 minutes.  There’s plenty of car parking near the main racecourse entrance, and also some at the start of the parkrun, which is at the far side of the track. I saw a few people arrive by bike, and there are some bus options described on the parkrun page.

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From Belfast, I flew to Manchester, which was cheaper than Leeds, and took a train from there, about 90 minutes.

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Facilities:

I’m not sure about loos or showers, but Poppy’s Coffee van was doing good business after the run with a range of delicious sounding hot chocolates and lattes.

 

IMG_2735 - CopyFor leaving your jacket etc beofre the run, many opted for the time honoured “hang it on a fence” tradition, and one of the volunteers had a basket at the start line to collect any discarded coats and belongings.

Course:

People tend to congregate at the finish line, before heading to the start, at the far side of the track.

You can cross the grass, which can be wet and puddly, or take the slightly longer route on the tarmac path which forms the parkrun route.

The first timers briefing at the start was warm and freindly and assured first timers that this was the best day of their lives!  The course is 1 and 1/2 circuits, and is dead flat.

IMG_2748I could be critical and say it’s a bit boring, you definitely have to dig deep and “just keep running!”, and I’d wished I’d brought some headphones so I could have some music or a podcast.

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Crowd:

This used to attract 700-800 ish runners each week until the recently started Heslington event at the University.  Perversely, I was staying on Heslington Road, and this would have been a closer course, but, letter Y!  There were just over 500 runners when I visited, and a couple of fellow cow-cowls said hi.  My son didn’t have any running gear with him, but opted to walk along with the tail walker.

 

IMG_2757It’s a dead flat all tarmac course, so very accessible for buggies and wheelchairs.  I saw a couple of doggies (Hi Maggie!) and a blind-guide running pair, and I was in the tailwind of a lesser spotted 100 parkrun jacket most of the way.  There were some pacers, and some “walk a minute run a minute” guides as well.

IMG_2741 - CopyIt’s also very fast – there were 3 sub-17 times on my visit, and the course record is an astonishing 14:37.

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The funnel gets quite muddy after all that.

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Gear:

My Garmin behaved, I could’ve done with music, and my shoes were…well, I always travel in my second best trainers.  That way, if I need to ditch some weight before the return leg it won’t break my heart.  And when I dug out my Karrimors to travel in, I realised I’d last worn them at the Castlewellan Cracker, and they were still carrying a muddy sheen…

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Time:

I haven’t run for at least 3 weeks, but honestly, a time of 37 minutes on this flat course is tut-worthy. I usually do a Scottish skip-change-step over the finish line, but as I was at a racecourse I opted for a Miranda-style gallop instead.

And the rest:

I loved my visit to York – walking on the walls, queuing to get into one of the Harry Pottter shops that are now taking over the Shambles,

 

IMG_2767giggling at the plastic dinosaur in the nativity display at York Minster, going to the Cilla show at the Grand Opera House,

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bacon butties at the Dyl cafe in one of the old buidlings on a bridge,

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a Yorkypud wrap,

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and seeing Tim Peake’s capsule at the Railway Museum.

 

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All My parkruns:

 

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

Veggie for November: Week 1

Fundraising page

I’d been intrigued by the fundraising idea of Cancer Research to persuade people to go vegetarian for November.  I’ve been vegetarian at times during in my life, for various reasons including ethical, environmental and health.  I don’t really eat or enjoy much red meat, though I do like my seafood.  I’ve just recently sigend up for a regular veg box delivery from Flavour First, and I was looking for more adventurous ideas for what to do with all the goodies.

My husband, on the other hand,  is a carnivore through and through.  November suited well because it included a weekend where I was away, and a week when he was away, so the amount of dual meal-making would be reduced.

So I didn’t foresee any major issues, and was if I’m honest a bit blase about the challenge.  I wasn’t going to be strict about dairy or eggs.  Let’s see how Week 1 went!

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Day 1 co-incided with one of my planned 5:2 calorie days, and here I ran into my first hurdle.  On 500 calorie days, I love a bit of low calorie protein like prawns or tuna to help me feel satisfied.  I did my usual no breakfast, and for lunch had some potato and leek soup that I had in the freezer.  I had some kale from my last veg box that needed using up, and combined that with mushrooms and an egg for an omelette dinner.  My big saviour today was a jar of balsamic pickled onions, which pack a real satisfying punch.  And I picked up a few tinned pulses at BM Bargains. But I felt tangibly hungry.

Day 2:  I’d made some tasty overnight oats wth some posh yoghurt, apricots, pumpkin seeds and a swirl of mango vinegar (one of my bargain buys from Sawyers –  reduced from £7.99 to £1).  I’d done some Indian veg dishes at the weekend, and used up the leftovers for lunch – lentil dahl, tomato raita and a red onion pickle.  For dinner I used a macaroni cheese ready meal from the freezer – it was OK but I was horrified at the high calorie count…

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Day 3: Off to Perth for the weekend – the RSCDS AGM, where I was looking forward to some great dancing with friends old and new.  I was travelling by bus and boat, so I was limited to the options available en route.  I started with another of my overnight oat dishes, this time with craisins and lime juice, and a swirl of mango vinegar – a fabulous combination.

On board the Stena ship, I paid the £18 to upgrade to Stena Plus, where I had access to lots of acceptable snacks like olives and crisps, nuts and wee buns, and wine.  Sadly the only white wine was my bete noir, sauvignon blanc.  The soup of the day was minestrone, but the member of staff couldn’t tell me if it was vegetarian,  They said they’d find out, but didn’t get back to me.  I went for the veggie burger and sweet potato chips, and it was disappointing.  The texture of the mozarella burger in the brioche bun, with slightly mushy fries, was all rather baby-food-ish.  I don’t like mayo, but the meal came with coleslaw, which I dislike, and some mayo on the burger itself.  I had some time at Glasgow for the change of buses, and I stocked up on cheese sticks and haggis crisps, which I was delighted to find were veggie!  I’m getting good at spotting the important symbol on packaging.  I ate those on the bus, as I had a super-quick turnaround once I got to Perth and headed off dancing!

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Day 4: Saturday is parkrun day, and I usually do this with only a cup of tea (or 2, or 3) in me. I took a cheese stick with me for afterwards.  I found myself at Reids bistro for lunch, where I really enjoyed roast med veg on humous on toasted sourdough.

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I’d researched “vegetarian restaurants in Perth” and headed for Tabla Indian, where I chose 2 of the street food starters, both of which turned out ot be deep fried.  Though the okra and aubergine were lovely,  I had some roti bread with that, which I couldn’t finish, but took in a napkin for later.

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Day 5: Another travel day.   My body has been complaining about the lack of protein, so I stocked up on some nuts for the journey.  On the boat, the choice of veg sandwiches was egg, in a very chunky bloomer, or cheese and mayo, in a granary bread,  I’d have loved the egg in the granary! Back at home, I made buckwheat with mushrooms, chestnuts and tahini.  It was a little bit brown, but very tasty.

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Day 6: Supposed to be a low calorie day, but I was struggling with a sore throat and tiredness. I had some leftover buckwheat for lunch, and tried Linda McCartney sausages for dinner, with crushed potaotes and red onion gravy.

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Day 7: Get some protein in early with poached egg on avocado on toast.  I’d prefer better bread than the cotton-wool white stuff that was in the bread bin – I feel the need for some quality seeded stuff.

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I was meeting my sister for lunch, and we were thrilled to find that Home reatsuarant had a range of vegan dishes (for her) as well as a tempting selection for me.  She had a comfort food sweet potato curry, I had chickpea fritters on tabouleh with a smoky and salty aubergine dip. It was all delicious, and I’ll undoubtedly be back.

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For dinner I finished off my buckwheat along with some edamame/ broad beans/ peas from the freezer, which I swirled in a good dollop of seriously strong spready cheese.

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Summary: I’ve had one encounter with a “eggs aren’t vegetarian – do you mean lacto-ovo-vegetarian?” I’m impressed at my body’s self-awareness and ability to identify what nutrients it needs.  Eating out is often tricky, but occasionally a joy.  And planning ahead is essential.

Funds raised: zero

Eclipse Trip 4: San Francisco

Thursday

For my final breakfast on board I opt for the signature dish of French Toast, which is rather good.  I spend most of the morning in the Sightseer Lounge, while we glide through canyons and along the Colorado River.  Here, people messing about on the river greet the train in their own special fashion, earning it the nickname “Moon River”.

There’s a 10 minute stop at Reno.  We reckoned that was so that couples who had been together 24/7 from Chicago could get a quickie divorce.   For lunch I tried the veggie burger, which was rather tasty.

We arrived at Emeryville, a transport hub on the edge of  San Fran at 4, and didn’t have to wait too long for the bus transfer.  We alighted at the Financial District drop off point,  and took a  taxi to Bush St, where we were staying at the  Grant Hotel, just north of Union Square.

The room was a decent size, but had a potentially treacherous step up into the bathroom.  Causing me to call out “Step!!!!” anytime R went to the loo in the night.  Our first night’s aimless wandering took us to Chinatown where we enjoyed a rather large meal for 2 special.

The walk home was a bit trickier – whilst the city is still on a grid system, there’s no indication of where the really steep hills are.  But we found that the little Kwik-e-mart on the corner does booze.

Friday

The breakfast in hotel is very spartan. There’s no milk for tea, not even in wee plastic jiggers.  There are pastries and croissants, but no butter or jam.  Or cutlery.

I’d researched the various ho-ho bus options, and chose City Sightseeing, as it included a Sausolito tour across the Golden Gate, and an evening tour. (The other companies were offering guided walking tours, which after last night’s steep hills experience I wasn’t prepared to risk).

On our first circuit on the bus, we learned the reason for Crissy Field cancellation – an alt-right free speech rally, which of course prompted much outraged protest rallies to be arranged.  Trump you’ve gone too far this time, messing with a parkrunner’s tourism plans!  The bridge itself is shrouded in mist, and we learned that this month is known as “Fog-ust”.

At Pier 39 we were delighted to watch the sealions at play, and checked various transport details at the visitor centre.  Trams and buses $2.75, payable to driver, cable cars $7.  A MUNI pass is good if you’re there for a few days, but we’d already gone for a 2 day bus pass.  I had lunch of traditional clam chowder served  in a sourdough bowl overlooking the bay.

In the evening, we’d booked the “Alcataz by night” tour – these sell out months in advance, so it’s worth booking online beforehand.  There is no booze allowed to be sold on the boat out, and none on the island.  It is chilling, in every sense.  The island is cool and foggy, and the cells suitably spine-tingly.  We had an audio guided tour narrated by former inmates and warders, and learnt of the various escape attempts.

R had a hot dog on the boat home, while I was ready for a glass of vino, and I got some humous from the Kwik-e-mart for supper.

Saturday

No parkun, boooooooo!

We treated ourselves to a fantastic brunch in the little diner on the next corner.

We got back on our City Sightseeing Tour, which was a bit detoured by all the protest and counter-protest shenanigans, and to our dismay find that it isn’t doing the Sausolito Tour.

They could’ve said earlier!  And I should’ve read the reviews on Trip Advisor.  We got off instead at Golden Gate park in the midst of a marijuana festival.  We weren’t too clear where the boarding point is, as these bus tours aren’t allowed to have anything useful like signs, but we made it back to hotel.  We took tram back  to fishermans wharf, where we intended to take the night tour, only to find that we’d missed the last one.  Again, I’m appalled by the lack of communication.  We took the tram back to the hotel, and I had a really lovely sushi roll in the place next to the hotel.

Sunday

We’d booked a hire car from the place across the road from the hotel.  Not just any old hire car, a Ford Mustang convertible, which we’d had visions of driving down Highway 1 in by the ocean, warm breezes in our hair.  After the compulsory argument with the  Sat nav  we escaped the city’s gravitational pull, and got onto Highway 1.  Sadly, Fog-ust extends down the coast, and we saw precious little in the way of surf or beaches, nor could we put the roof of the car down.

We stopped at Half Moon Bay for brunch, where I had Califormia Bendict.  This means it had avocado in it.  On to Santa Cruz, where R was meeting a biking chum, who he’d only ever previously engaged with online.

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We came back to the city via the Big Basin redwoods which are stunning, though the  teeny winding roads were a bit hairy.  Having successfully returned the car before closing time, we had a fabulous  dinner in Del Populo of eggplant salad and pizza, chatting to UK tourists sitting beside us.

Monday

Crissy Field is not the easiest place to get to, so we took an Uber to get there so I could do a freedom parkrun.

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It’s always hard running solo,  and I had to conjure up imaginary cheering marshalls.  There were still some chalk markings visible,  left by counter proterstors.

It’s compulsory to take a cable car ride, but these can be hard to actually board as they are always full.

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Most people queue at the end points and no-one gets off, so it’s pointless waiting at any other stop.

At Fisherman’s Wharf we had lunch at Cioppino’s – scampi aurora and a free cup of clam chowder.   We enjoyed a potter around the Musee Mechanique, where I got a mechanical fortune teller to tell me my fate.  I have have set myself rather a high goal, apparently, which I will surely reach!

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I took a quick visit to the Giardhelli chocolate shop.  We took the  cable car back down Powell, and opted for dinner at the pizza place across the road.  These served very odd antipasto, and an even odder carafe of wine which was only a fiver.

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Tuesday

On our last day, we had brunch at Lori’s Diner, which was really cute, with a vintage car as part of the décor.  R bid farewell to the super-duper Apple store, and we took a taxi out to the airport.  Our tickets said Terminal TI, which we read as “one” but really it was “I for International”.  Aer Lingus were as efficient and pleasant as I’ve always found them to be, and we had a hassle free journey home, even managing some sleep on the plane.

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I would go back to San Fran: as a bridge aficionado, it was disappointing not to see the Golden Gate, and of course I shall have to do Crissy Field properly!

Even Tony Bennett left his heart here.

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Eclipse Trip 3: Grand Junction

If it’s Tuesday this must be Denver.

 

After the very late boarding of the train in Lincoln, I woke in need of a decent breakfast, and joined the queue of people waiting to be put on a list.  It’s amusing to be seated with total strangers, and to compare plans and journeys so far.  My breakfast companion was a woman who lived in Glenwood Springs, and had travelled on this train many times.  We went for the creole eggs meal, which was tasty, though I wasn’t so keen on the grits.

There was a fair bit of shifting and shuffling at Denver.  I learned later that this is a switchover point for the track providers from BNSF to UP.  We were still running a couple of hours later, although there is a planned stop of 1 hour here, which was reduced to 15 minutes.

Coming out of the Mile High city, and the scenery really starts to get interesting.  To climb up into the mountains, the train takes a number of S bends, and the view back down over Denver was impressive.  We then began to travel though a series of tunnels, including the famous 6 mile long Moffat Tunnel, and the views each time we emerged were stunning.

Conversations with fellow passengers centered around the eclipse. For many, it had been their first experience, and I was impressing people with “it’s my 3rd total, plus a failed attempt to see an annular in Iceland” story, until I met someone for whom it was his 15th eclipse. He and his party had been so concerned by the clouds in Nebraska that they’d hired a plane to take them above.  And they were already planning the next trip to Chile in 2019.  I’m not sure I’ll make that one, though there’s one visible in Spain in 2026 (on Jemima’s birthday!) that might be in my plans.

There’s not too much that a train can do to catch up on lost time.  We were growing concerned about making our next stop in Grand Junction.  The timetabled arrival was 4.30, and we were due to pick up a hire car.  The hire car place closed at 6, and from what I could gather we were running about 2 hours behind schedule.  There’s no wifi on the train, and travelling through these remote regions a phone signal is not always guaranteed either.  When we did get a signal, we couldn’t work out what the USA access code was.  in the end, our wonderful steward Ralph lent us his phone to make the call, and Enterprise GJ were themselves monitoring the eta of the train, which they could see as 5.33.  I guess this is a situation they are all too familiar with!

We were met at the station and taken to the Enterprise offices not too far away, and a very smooth and swift handover process followed (complete with the compulsory oh wow, one day I hope to visit Ireland!).  I drove to our hotel, the Palamino Motel, where we checked in to a large room complete with fridge.  The receptionist recommended the Mexican restaurant a few doors down, and indeed the food was excellent, though far too much.  I saved some prawns, rice and avocado for lunch the next day, making use of our room’s refrigerator.

Getting back to the land of wifi, I checked on Facebook, and to my utter devastation learned that Crissy Field parkrun in San Francisco is cancelled this week.  Having been planning this whole trip for well over a year, and started a project to spell the word DANCER with my summer holiday parkruns, this was a huge disappointment.  But hey, these things happen, and I could still complete my spelling with a bit of rearranging.

Grand Junction is in a very fertile part of Colorado, famous for its fruit (especially peaches) and wine.  Our morning plan was to drive around Colorado National monument, which is a stunning scenic drive with lots of views of canyons and gorges and balancing stones.

 

After a bit of compulsory arguing with the sat nav, we got there, and the radio played Sweet Home Alabama to complete the idyllic picture.

We had our lunch at the Visitor Centre, where I loved seeing the bright blue colours of a pinyin jay.

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We left the hire car back in the early afternoon, dropped our bags at the station, and had a little explore of the town centre.  It’s definitely got a hippy vibe to it, with lots of street art and interesting shops.  We called into a café so I could try some local wine, which I have to say was delicious.  I’m not sure if it’s possible to obtain Colorado wine back home, but I’m going to try!

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The train was only 20 minutes late today, and around 5 pm we boarded along with about 30 others.

I’d been concerned about the train’s dinner reservations issue, as these are given out before 4 pm each day, but had been assured that our cabin steward would sort us out. I was less than impressed by the dining car staff, who said they’d squeeze us in somewhere, which meant it was 8.45 before they were hustling us into place, clearly while trying to get us out as quickly as they could.  We were supposed to get a side salad, which was not offered, and a dessert, which I had to prompt them about.  I do apologise to the people we were sharing a table with, for I was not very good company that evening.  They’d ordered a baked potato, were served mash instead with no explanation or apology. But we were charmed by John in the Lower Lounge of the sightseer, who was terrific company, and worked out how to make Roger a special vodka diet coke.

Back to my ironing board bed for the last night on board.