Around Britain: Falkirk

SAMSUNG CSCIn July 2014 we spent a week touring around Britain, visiting some lesser known spots.


Our journey began on the early boat from Belfast to Cairnryan – it was very easy to board, although it was packed with Scottish bands returning after their participation in yesterday’s Twelf parades.  The queue for food seemed unduly long – the system of ordering, paying and acquiring food appeared to be really inefficient.  I only wanted a tea and a coffee – thank goodness they were bottomless cups, so I only had to queue once.  And then had unlimited supplies of tea. Which was nice.



Once docked and disembarked, we stopped at Asda in Girvan for loos and road trip snacks. Though we lifted a pack of Seriously Strong individual portions (Take 2, said Roger!) only to discover that they were spready cheese, not solid, so we needed crackers.



En route to the Kelpies, we decided we had enough time to see the Falkirk Wheel.  Parking was a bit tricky, particularly since we had a top box on, and the 2.1m clearance was just about sufficient.  And many cars were already parked over 2 spaces – they’ll be first up against the wall come the revolution!  But we strolled along the canal and to the visitors centre just in time to see a boat perform its graceful circular descent.  What a marvellous piece of engineering!  And how lovely to see canals being used more, especially by a beautiful swan with her chicks, hissing at passing dogs on the tow path.

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We cut our time short, as the Sat Nav seemed to say it would take an hour to get to the Kelpies.  Actually, they were only a few miles away – the SatNav’s eta was for our final destination, not the stopping off points.

Falkirk Wheel Kelpies IMG_5022

Helix Park was jam packed, with a line of cars queuing to enter, but the security staff were most helpful when we pointed out that we had reserved tickets for the tour, and we were ushered through gates to a spot right by the statues.


Ah, Duke and Baron.  They really are a thing of beauty.  Created by Andrew Scott based on actual working Clydesdales, standing 30m high, weighing 300 tonnes and costing £5m for the pair, these steel behemoths are a jaw-droppingly gorgeous confluence of rigidity and fluidity, sinewy steel, a riveting and outrageous blend of engineering and art.  They have the appearance of smooth strokable silk, though they’re made of solid cold steel.  They have graceful flowing curves, whilst being constructed of 500 solid metal individual snowflakes of metal.  They constantly change with the light, but have solid foundations extending well below the marshy canal-griddled surface.

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A tour costs £4.95, and includes the experience of stepping inside one, into speckled, freckled light cast by the skeleton and framework, the gaps in the plates giving fragmented glimpses of the world outside.


An hour’s drive took us to Peebles, where we had booked a room in the Tontine Hotel on main street.  Car park space at the rear, and a gold post box in front of this quaint old inn – the Tontine system was an investment scheme which basically amounts to last man standing wins the lot.

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Peebles is Picture-skew with a capital Pic.  The main street is clustered with dinky little independent gift shops and art galleries, a perfect pottering paradise. The town is situated on the River Tweed, with elegant bridges across it, and wide green spaces on either side.


We dined at the Crown, on the recommendation of the Norn Irish barmaid at the Bridge Inn, where I’d supped the Malt of the Moment (Glen Parker) in the beer garden beside the old stone bridge.  Dinner was haggis-stuffed chicken breast, and a pork/ black pudding/ apple burger for £35, incl drinks.


Having been on the fence for some time, I was suddenly convinced that Scotland should vote for independence.  Its own identity and branding are very strong.  But maybe what is good for Scotland isn’t necessarily what is good for the rest of the world.  Tough call.

NI parkruns: Victoria

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Victoria Park in Belfast hosts one of Norn Irn’s oldest parkruns, though it’s had a bit of hiatus recently with ongoing improvements being made to the park.


Some of my Jog Lisbrun friends like to do a bit of parkrun tourism once a month or so, and I agreed to join them on their jaunt to Victoria. The promise of brownies was an added incentive!

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Access: The park is right beside the runway of George Best Belfast City airport – in fact if the wind is in a certain direction, the taking off and landing planes are so close overhead that it’s impossible not to duck. It’s also across the road from Sydenham station, that “road” being the busy Sydenham bypass, below which an underpass leads you into the park. It’s pretty well sign-posted, though first time visitors can be a little unnerved by the back streets of red brick terraced houses surrounding the route.

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Course: Part of the park’s updating have included new pathways, with parkrun distance signs marked on the way. The course is one complete outer lap, one almost all way round, and then cross the bridge on to the island in the centre for a circuit through the trees. The shade is very welcome, though the gym equipment lurking in various leafy corners was rather spooky. There’s the teeniest of inclines as you turn the corner at the back by the Sam Thompson Bridge, but really, the course is delightfully flat.


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Gear: MapMyRun performed beautifully this morning, but my trainers felt tight, even though I re-tied them 3 times. Perhaps it was the fact that I was still wearing my ankle support. To be honest, there were no niggles at all from my ankle, and I feel I could leave the support bandage off in future.


Crowd: It was a BIG crowd! They often attact 150+, but since the closest parkrun at Ormeau was cancelled today, the numbers had risen to well in excess of 200. The park is able to absorb that capacity, though, there was plenty of car parking, loos on site, and not too bad a queue for scanning barcodes.


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Oddly appropriate song: In the week that my daughter was back home for her 21st birthday, and in the Park where we used to feed the ducks ( we lived in a house quite literally across the road), it was Annie Lennox singing “Precious Little Angel” that prompted a rush of emotion.

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Time: We’d started at the back, as the Run Director had said “dogs and prams start at the rear!” at which Mini barked her displeasure. But it was pretty easy to overtake, slotting into available emptier spots. The paths are nice and wide, with ample grassy verges on either side, so we never felt hemmed in. I quickly got up to a steady pace of around 5:20 per km, which would have been close to PB territory, but I slacked off after km 3, and my legs started to ache. And I’m really going to have to work on my finish – 6 runners must have passed me in the last 200m! But at 29:03 I was comfortably sub-30, and happy enough with that since I’m still not back to full training routine yet.

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Atmosphere: It’s a busy city park. There are still workmen finishing off the improvements, there are lots of dog walkers, and footballers playing on the pitches in the island. The highlight was undoubtedly one of the best bun selections I’ve ever had at a parkrun, including absolutely delicious gluten-free walnut brownies. Yum!

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NI parkruns: St Andrews

Yes, yes, I know St Andrews isn’t in Norn Irn, but I felt I could include it in my continuing series of parkrun tourism. I happened to be in the town for a week’s Scottish dancing, and I had to skip half a class to get there on time, but I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to try  out a course that awards itself the title of “best parkrun in the world”! 20140809_085509 Access: Various tourist leaflets I had read claimed that Craigtoun Country Park was either 2 or 4 miles out of town.  If it was 2, and I knew exactly where I was going, I’d have jogged.  But given the uncertainty I booked a taxi.  The parkrun page gave directions from the main entrance, so I got the driver to leave me at the big gates by the road (to be honest, the fare was over £6 at this stage, and I only had £5.50 with me.)  As it turned out, I still had a bit of a walk to get to the entrance to the country park proper, but the views along the way were stunning.


Course:  The park is absolutely gorgeous – white castles reflected in a calm duck pond, Japanese gardens, clumps of bright sunflowers, stone follies.  The route is three large laps across a variety of terrains including gravel and grass, with a final leg to the finish sprint across a grassy patch. There’s a slight incline on the way up, and then a gentle slope down on the way back, and the path crosses a minaiture railway track.

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Crowd: The run director asked for anyone who was new to the course to come to one side, and he took us through its key features.  I got chatting to one of the regulars, and asked if anyone might be able to give me lift back to town.  He volunteered his services, and as we were chatting on the way to the car, we discovered that he was related to one of my Dad’s friends!


My kindly chauffeurs Blair, Jane, and neice Emma

My kindly chauffeurs Blair, Jane, and neice Emma


Gear:  I was travelling light, so I didnt have my jacket with me, and even though it was August, it was still rather chilly.  Fine once I started running, though.  I pressed START on MapMyRun too soon, so its time elapsed was about a minute too much, and I spent my run trying to bring down my average pace. As the finish line is in a different place to the start, any water bottles, keys etc can be palced in a fetching bag which is taken to the finish.  Apologies for the terrible photo…



Oddly appropriate tack provided by shuffle: Since I was mitching class, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird made me grin, and it timed itself just right so that the fast section coincided with my final half lap.


Time:  I was aiming for “around 30″, and came in at 30:53.  I did struggle with the final hill, and a few runners overtook me there, and I can always claim I was distracted by so many beautiful views.



Atmosphere:  There was a good bit of friendly standing around chatting afterwards, a few waggy doggies to say hello to, and rice crispie buns!  See you guys again next year :-)

5:2 meals Vietnamese Spring Rolls

I’m always on the lookout for different ideas to have for evening meals on a 5:2 down day.  So while I was searching the Asian section in Tesco for miso soup and sushi ginger, my eye was caught by this kit for Vietnamese spring rolls.  They looked fresh and tasty for a summer evening, and the calorie counts were given as 95 for half the packet (3 rolls) – by my reckoning I could eat the lot with a prawn or chicken filling for around 250.


The kit contains rice vermicelli, 6 rice wrappers, and a sachet of peanut dipping sauce.  Ingredients to be added are suggested as shredded lettuce, cucumber strips, prawn, chicken or pork.  Mint leaves or corainder would also work well.


The vermicelli soaks in boiling water for 5 minutes until softened.


Each rice wrpper is dipped in warm water for a few seconds.  Then the filling is piled in the middle, and you do your best to roll into a tight cylinder.  This was the hardest bit, and I would need a bit more practice to make the rolls tighter.


They looked very attractive, but as I hadn’t rolled them tightly enough they were messy to eat – I ended up cutting them in half with a sharp knife, and then blobbing the peanut sauce onto the ends.


It was a substantial meal for well under 300 calories – I’m going to try to locate the rice wrappers on their own, and practice making some better rolls.  Anyone got a good peanut dipping sauce recipe?


NI parkruns: Queens

The Queens parkrun is one of the longest established of Norn Irn’s parkruns.  It is nowhere near the main University buidling – it’s at its PE Centre in Finaghy, known as “The Dub”.  The course is 2 laps around the tennis courts and playing fields.  It’s hillier than you’d think, some of the turns are quite sharp, and the terrain changes from carpark ashphalt to gravelly path.

Access: Located close to the sign-post House of Sport roundabout, it’s easy to get to this parkrun either from the Outer Ring, or from the M1 via Stockman’s Lane.  There is ample parking, and facilities in the modern building are excellent.

Gear: When I first did this run I’d only just started parkrunning, and I was taking part in an accountants’ charity weekend.  So I got a lovely new T shirt to wear!



not quite on the cover of a magazine...

not quite on the cover of a magazine…


Crowd: As you’d expect, there are a fair few students and academics who regularly run this course, but it’s also popular with Lisburners looking for a change of scenery from Wallace.  Attendance is usually around 60.

Strangely Appropriate Song: Reelin in the Years, by Steely Dan, made me reminisce about times past when I’d attended Queens University……

Time: I’d done this one pretty early in my parkrun career, and came in at 31:15, still chasing the elusive 30 barrier.

NI parkruns: #18parkruns

Inspired by the recent visit of the Strathclyde parkathoners running all of our courses over one weekend, a group of intrepid local runners decided to give it a go themselves.

An early timetable fitting them into a 24 hour slot was later revised to a more do-able 2-day itinerary (well, many of the parks aren’t actually open during the wee small hours, and the danger factor should not be discounted).  Using modern technology, an event was created on Facebook, Belfast Running Club’s website, and the hashtag #18parkruns was used on Twitter to keep up with their progress.

A hardy core team was aiming to run all 18.  Others were hoping to join as a relay team, or for one day, or for just their local run, or for the final 5 Belfast runs.

I caught up with them at my home parkrun, Wallace in Lisburn.  I was early, and just as well, as so were they.  AND they wanted to run earlier than their planned-for 2 pm start-time, to allow for a more substantial recovery break before heading into the final 5 in the big city.


I’d been undecided as to what I would do – I could have treated it as a normal parkrun, including bringing Mini with me.  But they were probably faster than me.  I could have cycled there, and shown them the course from the bike.  But the forecast was for rain. I wasn’t too sure who else from Wallace was planning to turn up – as it turned out, I was the only one (complete with my traditional bucket of Haribos), so I opted to act as marshall and gave them the outline of the route, kept a tally of how many laps they’d done, and clapped and cheered.


Some of their friends and family arrived while they were part way through, and they either ran along, or joined me on the supporters bench.



The route they took was:

Saturday:  Comber, Bangor, Carrickfergus, Larne, Antrim, Ballymena (Ecos), Portush, Derry & Enniskillen

Sunday: Cookstown (MUSA), Armagh, Craigavon (CityPark), Lisburn (Wallace) & Belfast (Five Parkruns)

Belfast – Queens (Dub), Falls, Waterworks, Victoria Park & Ormeau Park

Thats 90km in total, about 2 full marathons worth!


I must admit, I’m tempted to try the Belfast 5 in one day – that’s just over a half-marathon, although split into 5 separated sections.

Well done Simon, John, Liam and Joanna – a fantastic achievement!

NI parkruns: Ecos

My husband had left a motorbike in to have some work done in Broughshane, near Ballymena.  He was planning to collect it on a Saturday morning, so I jumped at the chance to tag along and do the Ecos parkrun on the way.  Well what do you know – when he called the motorbike repair guy to check that the bike was ready, he said “Don’t come before 11, as I always do the local parkrun!”  Only in Norn Irn, eh?

Ecos dragonfly

Ecos dragonfly


Access: The Ecos centre is visible from the M2, and is well sign-posted from Junction 11.  There’s lots of parking, the centre has toilets, plenty of seats and tables outside to enjoy the post run water/ coffee/ Penguins.  And spectators and travelling paparazzi (ie my husband and his son) have plenty to do playing among the huge metal spider, caterpillar and ladybird sculptures.


Pre-run brief

Route: The course is a sort of looping figure of 8.  It passes some lovely nature reserve, a cool avenue of trees, some bridges, and at one point runs parallel to the motorway.  The paths are quite narrow, which didn’t seem to pose a problem to a guy running with a double buggy AND a dog! The route is well signed along its route, though my heart sank when I passed the 2 km post, and I thought “Is that all I’ve run?”  I’m sure Ballymena kilometres mst be longer than standard ones. They tell me the paths are susceptible to flooding in the winter, but this July morning was bright and sunny.


a leafy pathway

Gear: MapMyRun let me down yet again.  I pressed “start”, didn’t hear its bored intonation of “Begin workout”, so I pressed it again, only to get the message “Workout paused”.  And by then we were off and I didn’t manage to get it going again.  I really must invest in a proper Garmin.

Discussing strategy with Longjohn

Discussing strategy with Longjohn

Crowd: Well, in addition to Longjohn the Harley repair guy, everyone I met was very chatty and welcoming, it really felt like I was part of the wider parkrun family.


running in the sun

Strangely Appropriate Song; As I set off I had McFly’s version of “Don’t stop me know, cos I’m having such a good time…” which summed up my feelings, having just recently got back running after an ankle injury.  And as I neared the finish, I changed the lyrics of “Hey Ho, le nouveau son de Manau” to “In Ecos Ballymena”.


collecting finish token

Time:  I’d been hoping for a sub-30, but without Mini to pull me round, or MapMyRun’s voice feedback, it was a less impressive 31.28.  But hey, there’s more to running than going fast.  I’m just delighted to be running at all.


post-run euphoria


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