The Pastures parkrun- three quarters of a Cowell!

If you are not familiar with the parkrun tourist term, a Cowell is 100 different events. The Pastures was my 75th, so I am 3/4 of the way there now. This seems crazy to me. Yes, I do love parkrun, and I do love going to a new one if we are away for the weekend, but still, 75 different ones- it seems like a lot. I have not even got my 250 shirt yet, and I have been to my local ones (St Albans, Panshanger, Ellenbrook Fields, and more recently Jersey Farm) regularly. But then, when I start to think about it, I’ve been doing lots of little challenges – completing all of the parkruns in Herts, doing things like the Compass Club (parkrun names containing North, South, East and West), the alphabet challenge, the name challenge (all the letters in my name), Pirates (7 C’s and one R). All of that adds up!

So this was on our way back home from Scotland- we drove from Edinburgh on the Friday, stopping at a few Northumberland beaches on the way, and having a nice wander around the town in the evening.

Our hotel was less than a mile from the start (the start is just outside the castle) so it was a leisurely start for me.  It isn’t a big parkrun (100 people did it on that morning) and it had such a lovely feel with people catching up with each other. The field did have a “beware of the bull” sign on the gate, but I didn’t see it- hopefully the sign is there all the time but the bull isn’t. There were lots of cows in the  adjacent field, and plenty of cow pats to dodge during the run! Just before the run brief, someone dressed in a kilt stood near the sign and began playing bagpipes. He played Chariots of Fire and the theme tune of Star Wars, which answered a question that Andy and I had had in Edinburgh- are there other tunes that you can play on the bagpipes?

When he finished playing, everyone clapped, and then the RD did the briefing (no explanation of the bagpiper though). This course was the kind that I love- totally simple (2 and a bit laps of the field) with easy instructions- run to the tree, then turn right and run to the river, then back up to the start.

The marshal by the tree was trying to keep count, saying to everyone “One lap to go/ I think it’s your last lap now?”. The people manning the finish funnel were so enthusiastic, cheering us on each lap, commenting on the dog that was running, or the big smiles of the runners, or encouraging you to do a final sprint at the end.

It really felt as if this parkrun had minimum impact on the surroundings – not many cones or flags or signs to put out, the use of one field, a few cars parked in the street next to it but most people seemed to walk over from the town. In a good way, you could have walked to the field just after 10 and seen no evidence of parkrun being there- they went to a café in town to process the results.

My legs were feeling quite heavy, and the uneven ground (mole hills, tussocks of grass) meant I took my time. This was not a course for a pb, but it was my 75th different parkrun course so I was going to enjoy it. I took a few photos as I ran around, and just enjoyed looking at the castle, the river and the cows in the field next door.

I finished in 31:07, and took a few photos at the finish but then the drizzle got harder so I didn’t hang about. I did briefly chat to someone heading back to her car, but it was time for a quick shower and breakfast before the long drive home. So there we go, 3/4 of the way to a Cowell!

(One thing that did throw me a bit was as I was coming in to the finish I could hear some people charging up behind me. I was speeding up at this point, and never mind a sort of race to the finish, but these 2 guys ran past me literally at the finish line- they were going so fast they carried on straight through the funnel without getting a token. When the person handing out the tokens looked confused at them, pointing at me with the tokens and looking at them (maybe they thought we knew each other?). I pointed to the 2 guys and asked if they needed one, and the volunteers were trying to sort it out, counting out the tokens for the missing people, but then the guys came back again and grabbed some tokens. I do not at all mind which token I get, but this sort of thing makes it harder for the volunteers. I am not quite sure why they had to sprint by right at the end and confuse everyone. When I looked at the results, there are two unknown runners, one just before me and one after me, so maybe they were new to parkrun?)

How many parkrun courses have you visited? Are you working through any challenges at the moment? 

Scotland (holiday Summer 2021)

And yes, it is a holiday and NOT a staycation- I was not staying at home, I was travelling around, on holiday, paying for accommodation etc etc. It was a holiday.

Our holiday was split into roughly 3 sections, plus travel there and back. On the way up we stopped in York for the night (see my Heslington parkrun post) and on the way back we stopped in Edinburgh for one night, and then stayed in Alnwick (for The Pastures parkrun).

Part 1: Edinburgh

Part 2: Loch Ness

Part 3: Glencoe

I’ll try to keep each part brief!

Part 1:

We had booked a few days in Edinburgh, originally because Travis were going to be doing an outdoor concert there, but that was then cancelled. But of course we are happy to go to Edinburgh any time. We got there in the afternoon, after driving up from York, and spent a lovely few hours wandering. Being in a city meant taking full advantage of delivery options for food (as we don’t really have anything that we like near us)- delicious vegan burger/ Wagamama and vegan pizzas were consumed over the few days.  I recently got the Happy Cow app, which is a bit like Trip Advisor for veggie and vegan places, so we found some excellent food (it lists chains or places with vegan options too, but we mainly used it for finding independent places)- mentions go to Orinoco Vegan, a fab place in York, Holy Cow in Edinburgh did some amazing cakes, as did the Black Rabbit.  The following day we had a lovely walk around Leith river- it was forecast to rain but we had beautiful blue skies. The day after we went to the Botanical Gardens and it poured once we were there- we got soaked! But this was probably the worst weather of the holiday. I ran towards Arthur’s Seat one of the mornings, and popped into a Pret on my way back to pick us up some breakfast- it’s almost like a traditional weekend away once again.

I loved the Rapunzel style waterfall of flowers on the side of this tower- I think it was actually a bar but to me it seemed very Disney.

Of course we had to get breakfast from the Hula Juice Bar one day as they do amazing acai bowls- check out all the toppings!

Part 2:

We then had a few days staying by Loch Ness.  We took our time driving there, stopping in a few places to stretch our legs as it was a fairly long drive. We had a little apartment on the shores of the loch, and it was also close by to a canal (with one of those stair cases of gates) so we would often walk along there, and I had an easy running route for several mornings.

Loch Ness scenes

Having an apartment meant that we could self cater, but we did actually brave lunch out in Fort William. We saw a café and while perusing the menu  realised it was 100% vegan- how exciting! Originally we were going to get food to take away, but looking inside we could see there were only a few tables,  they were well spaced apart, and everyone had masks on unless they were eating (sensible Scotland has kept the mask rules when they have been abandoned in England…), so we had a lovely lunch inside- a big deal for us as the only place we’ve been out to eat has been the afternoon tea we went to on my birthday, which was outside. Andy had a pasty and I had toast with “avoca-no”- a green hummus made with peas and beans (really tasty)- we shared them both, alongside a chai latte (me) and matcha latte  (Andy).

Lunch out and lattes

We were well-placed to visit lots of woods, waterfalls and of course the lake for walks and views. We had mostly overcast weather with some sunshine, but perfect weather for walking as you didn’t get too hot, and no worries about sunburn (and yes I know you can get burnt when it’s cloudy, and yes I had sun-cream on my face, but nothing compared to a hot sunny day).

Alongside Loch Ness and a vegan cinnamon roll for breakfast one day

One day we drove up to Inverness, stopping at various places on the way, and having a lovely walk through the centre of Inverness (there are some lovely bridges over the river near the centre), and then stopped in a few places on the way back. Andy actually saw a red squirrel on that day, as it ran out in front of the car in front of us, but I didn’t see it.

One day we visited the ruins of a castle on the edge of the loch, and when we arrived it pelted down with rain! We sheltered in one of the buildings and thankfully it cleared up fairly soon.

I was really hoping to do a parkrun in Scotland, as the middle Saturday was the date of it returning. We were moving from Loch Ness to Glencoe on that day, so the plan was to check out, drive to a parkrun, I’d run it and then we’d head to our new place. Sadly, the two that were realistically in driving distance (eg under an hour) didn’t start on that day. I looked into Aviemore as I would love to do that one, but it was nearly 2 hours from where we were (small twisty roads, no direct routes) so in the end I had to accept defeat, and do a (not)parkrun along the canal before we checked out.

It was still exciting to think that all over the land people were returning though- welcome back Scotland!

Part 3:

Vegan cake and the imitation Canada

On the way to our new place we stopped at the café in Fort William to get some cake for later- we were staying in another self-catering place, so of course we can make a pot of tea in the evening to go alongside the cake. Their lemon cake was amazing. We also stopped for a walk through some woods (I got a bit obsessed with trying to see a red squirrel, and we thought it looked like a good place to see one). It reminded me so much of Canada, with the tall pine trees and views of the mountains reflecting in the lake. When we got to our cottage, we looked in the guidebook and it turned out that the land had been created by a man for his wife, who was from Canada and was homesick. I must say that they replicated it perfectly.

Our cottage was close to a little village, so one day we drove down to the centre and then followed a walk to a waterfall, up along the edge of the hills and then back down following part of the West Highland Way (a path which links Glasgow to Fort William). There was a deer just walking through the village- again, a bit like the elk that just wander about in Canada. We also saw a couple of deer in the grass in front of the cottage on a couple of occasions.

Seaweed sculpture, curved train tracks on Glenfinnan Viaduct, coast.

One day we drove out to the coast, looking across the waters to Skye, and reminisced about our holiday last summer. I saw that piece of seaweed and from a distance thought it was a red squirrel! I really wanted to see one! On the way back we stopped at the viaduct, and happened to be there as the steam train went over. We walked along the path under it and then up into the hills surrounding it to get a better view, as you could see the curve much better from that angle.

Another day we drove to Oban and had a walk along the sea- the tide was coming in so fast in the afternoon and there were so many jellyfish. At times it looked as if the beach was covered in bubble wrap as it was covered in hundreds of tiny clear jellyfish, but among them were larger colourful ones.

And one day we headed to Fort William to walk to the fort- it was a gorgeous walk alongside the waters, through some woods and through fields.

My final request was to go back to the “Canadian woods” for a final walk around, and we also went to get a takeaway from the vegan café because their cakes were delicious. Sadly I didn’t spot a red squirrel, but of course that means that I’ll have to go back.

We had to check out fairly early, and so were in Edinburgh by lunch time. Picking up lunch (from Pret obviously) we walked back to the botanical gardens, as the weather was beautiful compared to our last visit.

Later in the afternoon we walked to the top of the park next to the city where you get amazing views of the city on one side and the coast on the other.

Acai bowl, scenes from my run

I decided to have a run in the morning, so met Andy by the Hula Juice Bar to get an acai bowl for breakfast. We walked the long way back to the hotel, via Black Rabbit, as they did amazing looking vegan bakes goods- we got a biscoff cruffin for later.

We were only driving as far as Alnwick, so we stopped at a couple of beaches on the way down. One thing we both really noticed was the lack of masks and social distancing once across the border. I used some public toilets and not one other person had a mask on in there. It was quite jarring to experience.

Northumberland beaches and delicious cruffin

The cruffin was delicious but oh so messy to eat! All that was left was for me to do the parkrun in Alnwick the next morning, and I’ll save that for another post as this one is long enough.

What type of holiday do you enjoy?

Heslington parkrun- around and around and around (and around, and around)

In case you hadn’t guessed, it was a 5 lap course. Yes, five laps.

So this was step 1 of our holiday to Scotland- we left on Friday lunchtime and drive up to York, to stay there for the night. In a previous trip to York I had completed York parkrun (Y? Yes, to get my Y for the alphabet) and I wasn’t overly keen on the route, so I was keen to do a new course. Heslington parkrun was just under 3 miles from our hotel, and an easier route. I remember getting a bit lost on my way to York parkrun as I had to get out of the walled part of the city.

I set off and only got stuck for directions once, where Google Maps wanted me to go straight one (with a slightly slower alternate route turning right), but there was no pavement, and I saw a runner heading off to the right, so I decided to go the way of the runner.  This took me through some of the roads near to the sports village complex, and soon I saw a car park steadily filling with people dressed in brightly coloured running gear- I’d made it!

Just before the main briefing there was a quick call for new parkrunners, and they explained the course- not much explanation needed as it was 5 laps of the cycle circuit- you just needed to keep count! A quick main briefing and then we were off.

I didn’t think I would enjoy the 5 laps that much, but in fact it reminded me of the East Brighton one, where pretty much the entire time you could see everyone who was participating. They didn’t need many marshals, but each time you went past the finish area you got lots of cheers from the marshals. Some people were thanking the volunteers- this is something that seems to vary a bit from course to course. I’m never running flat out so I can always thank them! The route was pretty flat, but at some point you were heading into the wind so it was harder to keep a steady pace. I had to be mindful that I had another  3 miles to run back after, and think I managed a fairly steady run in the end- 9:35, 9:24, 9:27 and 8:28 for the final bit, with 30:45 being my finish time.

I took a few photos when I had finished and then headed back to the hotel. Andy made me a cup of tea and had been out to Pret to get one of their delicious vegan berry croissants, so once I was showered we headed back to the car to drive up to Edinburgh.

Are you a fan of lapped routes? I think the most I had done before this one was 3 laps, and although they are OK, my preference would usually be a single loop, or out and back style route.

Do you tend to revisit parkruns if you are travelling, or do you always look for a new one to go to?  I do love going back to the Brighton ones whenever I am down there.

The end and the beginning

The end of term and the start of the summer holidays was finally here!

The end of term is always a bit frantic, with so many things needing doing and less and less time to fit them in, and this year has been filled with extra challenges (hello online learning), and that coupled with more and more bubbles “bursting” meant the sense of relief at reaching the finish line unscathed and un-pinged was just huge.

I was given some gorgeous gifts from colleagues and from the children- including a selection of penguin themed things. (The top right is a badge with a penguin having a cup of tea- there is not anything more perfect for me than that!)

I had a lovely run on Tuesday morning with the sun looking beautiful across the fields, but the brambles were so overgrown and I ended up with loads of scratches all over my legs.

On Wednesday I did a similar run- out and back so avoiding the worst of the brambles, and in the evening we had our final yoga session of the term. It was super warm and so we did lots of slower poses, focusing on hips (always needed).

On Thursday I did my regular Saturday route- 5 miles through the woods- although I won’t be running it on Saturdays any more (as parkrun is back, hooray!). Later in the morning I parked outside town and walked in, as I’d booked a massage. I was going to go to Pret to get a drink (and maybe sandwiches for the Friday) but they were closed (due to the “pingdemic”- although in fact we should not be blaming the app but blaming this government for letting the virus get out of control….) so Starbucks it was for the walk back.

Friday was another run in the woods (a different route and more overgrown brambles) and then time to pack as we were off to Suffolk for the weekend. We drove up to where our hotel was, dropped off our bags and then headed to Latitude festival.

We were hoping to see Adam Buxton, but by the time we got in (the walk from the car parking to the site was longer than we had anticipated) they were not letting anyone else in. Never mind- there was loads to see. We went to the comedy tent and watched Simon Amstell, saw The Staves in the BBC Sounds (baby sea clowns) tent, went to the Waterstones tent to watch a talk on films by Mark Kermode, got some dinner (there were so many good vegan options- we had a peanut butter burger each) and then watched Wolf Alice headline on the main stage- they were brilliant.  At first I was a bit apprehensive about being with lots of people, but you had to show your vaccine passport or a recent negative test, and it was all very spread out. I’ve not been to that festival before, but it had lots of tents and stages all spread out, and everyone seemed very respectful of giving each other space.

On the Saturday I was off to parkrun (hooray), and as we hadn’t bought Saturday tickets, we had a day pottering around Suffolk. We drove down to Sutton Hoo (made famous in the film The Dig), and then went to Southwold (via a short stop to charge up the car a bit).

We sat by the sea for a bit and realised that we’d not seen the sea since October last year, when we went to Cornwall. There is something so refreshing about the sea air- it properly clears away the cobwebs.

The Sunday was another festival day- we got there much earlier (as we had to check out by 11am anyway), and managed to see loads of comedy- Joel Dommett, Reginal D Hunter and Jo Brand, plus lots of music (Tim Burgess regretting his choice of wearing a jumper)- the day was forecast to have thundery showers, but somehow we totally escaped. At around 8pm there were a few spots of rain, but that was all (unlike Standon Calling which was called off due to the site flooding).  We had to find places in the shade (I watched some of the comedy from the shade of a big oak tree nearby) and were both very glad we’d put on suncream. We’d brought along a blanket so spent some time sitting in the shade near a tent, listening to the music and relaxing, and then later on wandering through the woods and finding some of the smaller stages  (one stage was like an open air hipster coffee shop with random sofas strewn about in a clearing in the trees). The night ended with Bastille in their Re-Orchestrated show, playing music alongside an orchestra and amazing singers.  It was a brilliant weekend and I am so glad that we decided to go. We didn’t get home until 2am and I don’t know the last time that I’ve been awake at that time!

Do you like going to festivals? 

A trip to Bath and Bristol for the comedy festival

On Bank Holiday Monday we were off to Bath for a couple of days, so I headed out on a run first thing and then pretty soon we headed off.

We got to Bath around lunch time, and of course headed to Pret (to quote James Acaster, I love to manger). It was super hot and super busy in the town centre- I found it a bit overwhelming with people everywhere, so we walked along the river in the shade. Usually we visit Bath for the Christmas markets and don’t spend that much time outside, so it was good to see the sights a bit more. We’d found a little apartment to stay in so we headed to check in after our walk.

We ordered a Wagamama’s for dinner (click and collect)- the queue outside was crazily busy so we were very glad we’d ordered. However when we got back to our apartment, Andy found he had been given the spicy sauce and not the regular sauce- disaster. He likes spicy things, but this was full of chillis and way too spicy. Luckily I always think there’s too much sauce so I could pour half of mine over his. The poor staff were so busy sorting out all of the orders so it could easily happen.

The next morning we had booked tickets for an NT gardens in the centre of Bath, so we walked there (up a long hill), knowing that the walk in the gardens was downhill and the exit was at the bottom.

Well, when we got there it turned out they were draining the lake and doing some work, so the exit was back at the top again! Lots of walking up and down hills for us! It was lovely to be out in the sunshine, and of course places like that are nice and empty as they limit numbers.

We got some lunch after that, walked to see the Royal Crescent and went to sit in one of the huge parks. We found a nice spot in the shade and just watched the world go by- very relaxing.

After dinner (this time we ordered burgers- I had a nice vegan one from somewhere (I can’t remember) and Andy went to 5 Guys as he really wanted their peanut fries. We had seen another park in the afternoon, so walked over there after dinner.

On the Wednesday we were heading over to Bristol, so after a delicious breakfast of an acai bowl, we packed up and drove to an NT place between the two.  It looked very overcast, and rain was forecast, but as we walked around the gardens it held off. Literally as we were 10 steps from the car it started pouring! It was still raining in Bristol as we wandered around, but did dry up later on. We of course had to go to Bird and Blend for an iced drink- their iced chai’s (or hot ones) are just the best.

For dinner Andy found an amazing  pizza place that only did vegan pizzas, Purezza. We got them delivered and had them in our apartment as we had to head off for the comedy show- the main reason for our trip away.

The show was on the downs, a 2 mile uphill walk from the centre of Bristol- we waked up there but saw lots of people renting the e-scooters. It seemed like a good idea!

The show was really good- we had our own little square of grass with chairs, and then al the pairs of chairs were distanced from each other.  Thankfully it didn’t rain either! John Robbins was introducing each act and chatting in between, and then it was Phil Wang, Ray Badran (who I’d not seen before but was quite funny), Lou Sanders and Josh Widdicombe. It was really enjoyable. It’s funny, with lockdown I was in a nice routine of going on walks or runs, pottering around in the garden and so on. I can occupy myself quite happily, and of course there are ups and downs but most of the time I’ve been fine. However, going to something like this felt so enjoyable, I really hadn’t realised how much I’d missed things like this until I was at one again.  When we got home I booked tickets for a different lineup at the St Albans one.

On our final day we popped out for breakfast (Pret of course- got to make the most of having one nearby) and to B&B for a drink for the road, and then stopped at another NT place on the way home (Cliveden- I actually remembered the name!).

The wildflowers were looking beautiful, and we found a shady walk in the woods which was very much needed in the heat of the day.

Do you like comedy shows? What have you really missed these past many many months?

PS- This was not a staycation, it was a trip away that just happens to be in the same country still.