Saturday, 29 August 2015

Edinburgh Portobello Beach Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 3.6 km (2.2 miles), terrain: flat

Here's a route that puts you into an unexpected surroundings for an Edinburgh run: right along a sand beach, with tourists and seagulls vying for space on the sand, and ships entering the Firth of Forth off past Inchkeith Island. Portobello is a bit like a Scottish Ft. Lauderdale: there is a beach promenade with small parks, a public swimming pool, a little amusement park and a stretch of row-houses. The stretch of sand is just a mile long, though, adjoined by rocky coastline to the north and south.
The promenade in Portobello
The best time to run is in the mornings, when the morning light strikes the promenade from the east, and the neighborhood is slowly stirring to life.

This run is a bit short, but it can (and should) be extended with a bit of zig-zagging along the quiet side-streets, with their pleasant homes and churchyards. Or you can keep running southwards towards Musselburgh. The trail there is along a street, but still not bad.
In a park along the promenade
You can easily get to Portobello from the city center by taking the 45 or 26 buses. You can get out at Bridge Street, just as the road enters Portobello.

So now you're there: let's run! Turn left onto Bridge Street, towards the east and the water and start running. You'll go by a small parking lot, and after that you'll see a small square that abuts the beach promenade.
Heading south, into the sun on the promenade
When you get to the promenade, just turn right and follow your nose along the beach. You'll soon pass the amusement park, and then the indoor baths. You'll pass walkers, bikers and people out with their dogs.
Passing the boat club
When I ran this route this week, a sheer endless stream of parents were accompanying their little kids along the promenade to a nearby kindergarten.
Bellfield Street, just off the promenade
At little side-streets like Bellfield Street, Brunstane Road or John Street, you might want to turn right and run towards the Portobello High Street and then run back on the next block, just to add a bit more distance, if you'd like. I really like the homey little houses along the streets, and they make a nice contrast to the wide horizons of the beach.
The way back along the sand
When you reach the end of the sand beach in the south, just turn around and head back to the start. You can either follow the promenade again, or (if it's not high tide) run back on the packed sand near the water's edge, for a closer view of the waves, birds, shells and coastline.
Cruise ship coming into the Firth of Forth
Alternatively, you could continue southwards along the waterfront road (Called Seaview Terrace here), with the rocky shore to your left and the street with its row-houses on the right.

Another idea to lengthen the run is to continue it at the north end when you get back to Bridge Street. The promenade continues into Seafield, past some industrial-looking buildings and car dealers. Just keep looking out to sea, and it looks much nicer!

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Leeds Canal Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 13.2 km (8.2 miles, but you can shorten/lengthen it as you please), terrain: flat

This is one of those really easy routes: simple, flat, scenic, you can't get lost, and you can turn around any time you please. If you're in central Leeds, make sure you try out this run along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, which begins just south of the Leeds train station.
Along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal
Work on the 127-mile-long canal began in 1770, and continued for 50 years. The biggest cargoes were coal and limestone, connecting Leeds and Bradford with the port of Liverpool in the west. Cargoes were still carried until the 1980s, but since then only a few sport boats ply the waters.
Every mile there is a marker: still a long way to go!
But that makes it all the quieter and nicer for us runners. The towpath directly next to the canal is a great place to unwind and enjoy the green scenery. There are quite a few old stone bridges and a lot of wooden boat locks.

So, if you're ready, let's head south down Neville Street at the Leeds train station. Neville Street goes through a loud, dark tunnel under the train tracks, and comes out at the River Aire, where you cross the bridge.
Start of the run, from bridge over the River Aire
Crossing the bridge, look to the right and you'll see where the canal links into the river, with some old wharves and black cranes.

Turn right at the first street past the bridge, Water Lane, running westwards, then turn right again at the first chance, onto Canal Wharf.

Run past the stone warehouse on your right, and now follow the water the 100 meters to the first stone bridge. We need to cross that bridge back to the north side of the canal, where you turn left and now follow the asphalted towpath westwards along the north shore of the canal.
Switching to the north side: just follow that towpath on the right!
So now comes the simple part: just run westwards as far as you please, then turn around and come back.

This route, to make it interesting, has a scenic end-point picked out that's a bit off the canal: Kirkstall Abbey. The extensive abbey ruins are in a nice park just a couple of blocks north of the canal at about the 6-kilometer mark, so they're a really nice highlight to the run.

Back in Leeds, heading east, you'll likely see a lot of other runners, walkers and bikers along the first few kilometers. The south side of the canal is still fairly industrial, but pleasant green shrubbery grows along both sides of the water.

There are also quite a few new apartment buildings along the north side of the canal in the city center.
Sunken barge along the way
You'll go by various old boat locks, including one double lock, raising the canal quite a ways above the River Aire, which flows to the right of the canal.

At the 3-kilometer mark, you'll run under a metal railroad bridge, and then a barge basin connects to the canal along the right, full of narrowboats.
Narrowboats in the basin
Just after the boat basin, the asphalt ends and the trail is now hard-packed, rough gravel. After a rain, there are big puddles. A little parallel road now follows the canal along the right, so some runners and virtually all bikers follow that road rather than the rougher towpath. You can decide which you prefer (hey, I like the waterside, myself).

You'll then pass the Leeds Golf Course across the canal, as the canal curves northwards.

Maybe you've noticed that each canal bridge is numbered. At about the 5-km mark, when you get to bridge 222, just before the stone buildings of the Kirksdall Brewery, turn right onto Bridge Lane and run east over the bridge crossing the River Aire. This is our detour to the abbey.

Along the left side of the street, just past the WWI memorial cross, you'll see a gate into a little green park. That's the Kirkstall Abbey park.

Turn in there. You'll follow a beautiful, flower-lined little stream, cross the bridge over that stream, running northwards parallel to Abbey Road.
Kirkstall Abbey ruins
The park opens up into a big lawn and you'll see the abbey ruins before you.
Abbey windows
The path loops the abbey, so you can circle it and head back home the same way you came again. If I were you, I'd forget my running tempo for a bit and just walk past the impressive ruins, and take a look into a few of the windows and doors that you'll pass. Have fun!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Helsinki Western Shore Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 13.4 km (8.3 miles), terrain: hilly in a few spots

Helsinki can be heaven or hell for a runner, depending on the time of year you're there. I've been there in November, with the somewhat-hilly streets so icy that I had to gingerly place each foot down firmly with each step, even when walking. And I've been there a few times in the summer, with endlessly long evenings, where I wished I could go on running forever.

And last week I was back in town during perfect weather, running in the evening sunshine along the sheer endless waterfront.
Jugglers along the waterfront
If you are as lucky as I was, you'll also be there during the summer. This route will take you along the western shore of the city, which includes the magical highlights of Hietaniemi Beach and Seurasaari Island. Hietaniemi is indeed a real beach right in the city, and Seurasaari is a pristine island with nature that you would expect much further from the urban bustle.

The route as described is a bit long, at over 13 kilometers, but you could shorten it by starting further north (or bring €3 and take bus number 24 back from Seurasaari). I was not planning on running so far, but I just couldn't resist just exploring what was past each bay or hilltop. Before I knew it, I was already about 7 kilometers from the start.

So, if you also have the great luck of finding yourself in Helsinki in the summer, then get yourself to Hietalahdentori, where Bulevardi runs into the water on the west side of the city center. You can get there with tram-line 6 or the number 20 bus.
Start of run at the harbor: head along the right side
This old harbor basin has been turned into a little boat marina, with a plaza where lots of young people hang out on a nice evening.

Now run westwards along the north edge of the basin, and soon your path will turn northwards for the next 6 kilometers. This is the loudest part of the run, with quite a bit of traffic for the next kilometer. The road will go up over a pedestrian plaza, where you just keep heading north, below the road.

After the next intersection, you'll be running next to a cemetery on the left side. When you get to the cemetery road that leads to the left, Lapinladentie, turn there. This is about the 1-kilometer mark.

You'll notice that the left side of the cemetery is Russian orthodox, where the right side is Swedish, reflecting the Finnish power balance of the past centuries, before they finally gained their independence.
The trail along the cemetery, at the water
The road ends and four footpaths branch out from there. Turn right (northwards) here onto the dirt foot-trail that runs between the metal fence and the stone wall of the cemetery, and follow it as it continues along the shore, curving to the left.

The trail ends at a rocky hill, which you can run up and over... and then you'll find yourself overlooking a giant beach, Hietaniemi! On a nice evening it will be full of sunbathers, swimmers and volleyball players.
Hietaniemi Beach
Now just run across the sand along the water's edge, running curves around the sunbathers. At the north end of the beach, at the 3-kilometer mark, cut through the parking lot and then turn right to follow the next bay along the little waterside path.

Just stay along the water as you round the bay next to Merikannontie street and head north again. In just a block, you can get away from the street noise by staying close to the water when you get to a pair of cafes on a peninsula. Take that path, which will bring you past an aquatic stadium, and then back to the street.

Now continue along the waterfront promenade, and before the 4-kilometer mark you'll run past the very cool Cafe Regatta in a little red shed sitting on a rock at the water's edge.
Cafe Regatta with kayakers
The promenade and Merikannontie street end at an intersection of Paciuksenkatu street. The path heads away from the street to the left, going going past a metal fence, then reaches the water again tu turn north. It now heads uphill along rocky cliffs, with nice views.

The path reconnects to the street at the hilltop before the 5-kilometer mark, just before a tall white building across the street. There is a little street heading downhill to the left, Seurasaarentie. This street will take us to the best part of the run, Seurasaari island, so turn left here and run downhill.

At the bottom of the hill, you'll pass an old mansion on the right, then you'll see a footpath leading to the right. Take that path (it just shortens the coming loop in the road) and follow it as it leads into a little park with a pond.

Run straight west through the park and come out back at the street again, along the shore, with reeds growing in the water.

You will soon see the beautiful white wooden bridge that leads off to Seurasaari island to the left (south).
The bridge to Seurasaari: paradise begins here!
Right before the bridge, at the 6-kilometer mark, you'll see the fenced-in grounds of the former presidential residence, now a museum. The running route around the island was once used by an earlier Finnish president.

So now cross the bridge, and you are on an island without residents or cars.

Take the first right-turn to run along the western shore, looping the island counter-clockwise for about 2-kilometers.
The western shore of Seurasaari
The nature is almost untouched in most parts of the island. You'll be in another world. You could swim or sit and watch the time go by if you felt like it. Cliffs and coves line the shore, and blueberry-covered hills form the interior.

You could loop the entire island, but to keep it short, I turned around at the dock with the white wooden railing. Turn left there and then cross the island (just a few hundred meters) and then turn north on the eastern shore.
One of the museum village windmills
This is where you'll find a museum village: a collection of old Finnish houses, windmills, barns and even a church set among the trees. At the big windmill, turn right and follow the trail along the eastern shore, past the buildings until it leads back to the white bridge to the mainland.

So now you can just head home, running the same way that you came. I just shortened it a bit:

When you get back to the parking lot at Hietaniemi Beach, don't turn right to run through the beach again, just run straight along the little sidewalk past the tennis club and you'll come to a quiet street, Hietakannaksentie, in a park.

Now continue running south. You are just 2 blocks west of the loud Mechelininkatu, which is the main street that would lead you back to the start of the run.

Hietakannaksentie runs into the stone wall of the cemetery, where you turn left and run to Mechelininkatu, where you turn right and run the last 1.5 kilometers to the start.

You'll be tired but very, very happy!