Monday, 13 November 2017

London Brentford Thames Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 9.7 km (6 miles), terrain: flat

London Running Routes:
Best London Running Routes: Overview
Docklands-LimehouseRegent's Canal and Camden Town  
Hampstead Heath  
3-Parks Route: Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James' Park  
Regent's Park  
Hyde Park   

Heathrow Harmondsworth Moor  

Richmond Park
Notting Hill
Victoria Park 
Wimbledon Common Trail Run
Royal Docks/ExCeL Route 
Kew / Brentford Thames Run 
For more running routes, see Route List. 

The Thames riverside in London is lined by a chain of fascinating neighborhoods, most with a uniquely British feel. They range along the whole river, from the wide industrial horizons of the tidal surge in the east, at Woolwich, to the meandering, tree-lined mellowness in Richmond and Kingston in the west, with relaxed swans gliding past houseboats hung with window-boxes.

This route follows the Thames in the west, out past Hammersmith and Chiswick. On the one side is resurgent neighborhood of Brentford, where the smaller River Brent flows into the Thames. On the other side is elegant Kew with its famous Kew Gardens, one of the most impressive botanical gardens in the world. 
Houses along Kew Green
NOTE: Originally, I wanted this to be a Kew Gardens run, but then I saw the £16 entrance fee, and I decided to run behind the gardens, along the Thames instead. Kew Gardens is a wonderful spot, though, so make sure you get there sometime when you will have enough time to enjoy it.

This route begins at Kew Bridge, and then heads upriver to the west, heading out along one shore of the Thames, then returning on the other shore. There is a lot of variety: with nature, islands, houseboats, shipwrecks, canals, old shipyards and warehouses, a dam, parks and a big palace, Syon House.
Looking upriver along the route from Kew Bridge
So if you're ready to discover another cool corner of this great city, let's head off to Kew Bridge on South Circular Road. There is a nearby South Western Railway station and a couple of bus lines to get you there.

Cross the bridge to the south side, where Kew begins. Now, turn right to head west along the tree-lined riverside path.

NOTE: The pleasant neighborhood of Kew is worth running through, too, just south of the bridge. Go discover it sometime!
The start of the trail
Now run upstream along the Thames, first passing a group of houseboats. The wooded island of Brentford Ait lies in the middle of the river here.

The brick wall of Kew Gardens lines the way to our left. Unfortunately, we won't get any good views of the gardens from here, but the Thames itself is entertaining enough.

Most of this half of the run is full of nature, with woods lining both sides of the river.

After we pass Kew Gardens, at about the 2.5-km mark, it looks as if we're running along a narrow causeway, with water to both sides. This is the beginning of the golf course, which stretches off to the east.

The river now curves southwards and takes you by another wooded island, Isleworth Eyot. It kind of reminds me of Tom Sawyer country.
The obelisk in the Old Deer Park
You'll soon see a dam coming into view, Richmond Lock. That's where we'll cross the river and head back. Next to the dam on the left is a big meadow, the Old Deer Park, with its obelisk near the river trail.

Richmond begins right after that next bridge ahead, Twickenham Bridge, but that's part of the Richmond Park Run (try it!).

So let's go up the stairs to take the arched footbridge above the dam to Isleworth on the other side.
Richmond Lock
On the other side of the river, stay on the riverside trail, running westwards as we pass the 4-km mark. In a few hundred meters, it will turn left, away from the river, to go around a new, walled-in development. You'll come to Richmond Road, where you follow it northwards along the tall brick wall through Isleworth .
Beginning of trail in Isleworth
The road makes a sharp turn to the left at a little roundabout, then a little square follows a few steps later. Turn right at that square to continue northwards along North Street.
Crossing Isleworth Common
In just a few steps, we'll come to an open green square, the Isleworth Village Common. Cut diagonally across the square on the path towards the arched gate through the little shopping center. On the other side, you'll come to Church Street at the 5-km mark.
Start of Church Street
Continue northwards along the street, and we're now back at the river.

You'll pass a boat's ramp at All Saints Church, and then Church Street turns left to leave the river.
Along Church Street
In a hundred meters, you'll come to the entrance of the next highlight of the run: Syon Park. Turn right onto Park Road to go through the iron gates into this private residence belonging to the Duke of Northumberland. The house and lands are open to the public, and lots of visitors go there for a tour, and a Hilton Hotel is located across from the palace.
Syon Park meadows
The land used to be an abbey, and before that it was the site of a Roman village. Each year, a archaeological dig uncovers more of the site.

There are wide meadows at the beginning, then you'll pass Syon House, the duke's London home, at the 6-km mark. Keep going straight along the road, with the Hilton Hotel parking lot along the left side.
Syon House
The road will eventually exit the park at London Road, a pretty busy road which soon becomes Brentford's High Street. Turn right onto London Road.

But this road is a bit too loud for my taste, so when we cross the bridge over the River Brent, take the steps down to the right, leading to the tow path along the canal-like river.

NOTE: If you want to explore some more, you can also run the other direction, upriver along the Brent, past a quickly redeveloping area with some huge corporate headquarters.
The River Brent, from the High Street bridge
Heading eastwards along the Brent, you'll pass a long line of narrowboats and other houseboats at the 7-km mark. When you come to an old railroad trestle, turn right to go under the trestle and then back up the few steps over the dike to rejoin the tow-path. The tow-paths were used by men and horses in previous days to pull barges along the river.

Just before you come to a little harbor basin, the tow-path switches sides: you have to cross a narrow footbridge to the south side, then continue along the Brent until the next bridge.

Now turn left to cross the bridge along Dock Road, and head north away from the river. Dock Road will take you back to Brentford High Street in just a hundred meters, heading by some industrial businesses.
In Watermans Park
Back at busy Brentford High Street, turn right and continue eastwards. You'll see the huge brick water tower at the London Museum of Water and Steam farther down the road, near the end at Kew Bridge. The museum is located in a Victorian-era steam-powered pumping station, and the tower was used to keep the water pressure constant.

After passing Ealing Road and a McDonald's, you'll see Watermans Park to your right side, along the river. Run down into the park to continue running directly along the water.

There are some sunken boats along the waterfront here, across from Brentford Ait.
Cool old sunken steamship
The trail ends at the east end of the park, where you have to rejoin High Street again, for just a hundred meters. But you can get back to the river at the next little street on the right side.

Back along the quiet riverside, just keep running the few steps back to Kew Bridge, passing more houseboats and riverside pubs until you arrive at the old brick bridge.

There you are, another great London run!

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Paris Montmartre / Pigalle Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 5.5 km (3.4 miles), terrain: one hill, gain 60 meters

If there is one neighborhood in Paris that fits every tourist's romantic Paris dream, it has to be Montmartre. This is the place where so many impressionist painters made Paris the center of the art world, where Toulouse-Lautrec painted the cancan dancers at the Moulin Rouge.
Artist in Montmartre: you just have to love Paris!
Renoir, van Gogh, Matisse, Degas, Picasso, Modigliani... They all lived and worked here, and they painted the scenes that played out before them in the streets and cafés of Montmartre. Many of them are now buried in the Montmartre cemetery.

The neighborhood is not big, so we'll zig-zag a bit on this short run, to see a few of the most scenic streets. Montmartre is one of the few hills in the Paris area, so this is one place to actually do some real hill-climbing.

South of the hill is the gritty Pigalle red-light district, with clubs like the Moulin Rouge, which adds a nice contrast to the picturesque hilltop. We'll combine the two neighborhoods, plus the cemetery into one really interesting run!
Start of the run at Place Pigalle
So get yourself to Place Pigalle, easy to reach with the Pigalle station of the number 2 and 12 Metro lines. The Folies Pigalle club lines one side of the round place.
Along Boulevard de Rochechouart
The big street here is the Boulevard de Clichy. It has a wide, tree-lined pedestrian promenade down the middle, so we'll follow that eastwards. We'll pass Star's Music store with its amazing variety of musical instruments, and a lot of local shops. Lots of people of leisure sit around on the benches along the promenade day and night.

The street-name soon changes to Boulevard de Rochechouart, and you'll come to Place d'Anvers on the right side. It's a nice little square, so let's round it and enjoy the greenery and come back out to the boulevard.
Place d'Anvers
Now we'll head north towards Montmartre hill. So cross the boulevard and run northwards along Rue de Steinkerque.

In two blocks you'll be at the base of the hill with Sacré-Cœur basilica crowning the hilltop with its beautiful white domes, throning above a park along the slope. This is the one-kilometer mark.
Sacré-Cœur from below
There are lots of people here, plenty of tourists and a lot of hustlers trying to separate them from their money. As runners, luckily, we're too fast for them...

So run up the zig-zag pathways heading to the top, then continue on the central steps to the plaza in front of this really impressive church.
View from the top!
The view from the top is great! You can see southwards and eastwards across the whole city. And good news: that was already the main climb, there isn't much more of a rise for the rest of the run!

Now turn left (westwards) to run past Sacré-Cœur along Rue Azais. It ends soon at Rue du Mont Cenis, where you turn right to run a bit uphill to a square at an older church, St. Pierre. This church is left from an old monastery at the site, built where St. Dennis was martyred by the Romans.

Until the late 1800s, the hill was still mainly open country: just the monastery on top, with hillsides covered with vineyards and fields, and with 13 windmills grinding the grain for the nearby city.
Portrait artists in action at Place du Tertre
Turn your back to St. Pierre and run straight west along Rue Norvins to the next square in just a block: the Place du Tertre. This square is the heart of the neighborhood, surrounded by restaurants, and the whole square is full of their outdoor tables. In the evening, the colorful lights make it enchanting.
Street scene in Montmartre
Really talented portrait artists line the square, waiting for people to request a portrait. It's fascinating to take a look.

So circle the square and continue down Rue Norvins for a couple of blocks, one of the most charming streets you'll ever see. In fact, EVERYTHING around here is charming. Keep your eyes open! A lot of things look somehow familiar if you've spent any time looking at impressionist art.
At La Bonne Franquette
At the first right-hand turn, take that street, Rue des Saules past more famous spots. That restaurant on the right, La Bonne Franquette, was made famous by van Gogh in his painting "La Guinguette". Pissarro, Sisley, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Monet and Zola all used to drink there.

We head downhill, then turn left at the first chance (at the pink house called La Maison Rose, onto Rue de l'Abreuvoir.
Photo shooting at La Maison Rose
The road leads to a square called Place Dalida, named after a popular singer and actress who had lived nearby. A lot of fans make a pilgrimage to her statue at the square. There is a viewpoint down the steps to the north. This area is noticeably quieter than the touristy area behind us: a nice change!
Fans visit Dalida
Now turn south along Rue Girardon for just a hundred meters, till Square Suzanne Buisson comes up on the right.

At the 2-kilometer mark, turn into the square to run past the boules players and others relaxing in this nice little park. Exit to the north through the flower gardens.  
Boules players in the heart of Montmartre
NOTE: at the moment, the northern part of the park is being renovated, so you have to head back to Place Dalida and turn left to run westwards, down the narrow lane that heads past the park.

Exit the park to the left and head west along quiet Rue Simon Dereure. It ends at Avenue Junot, where you turn left and follow it as it curves uphill back towards the area where we already were. On the right side, take a look into the beautiful little cul-de-sac, Villa Léandre.
Nice homes along Villa Léandre
When you reach the first intersection, at Rue Girardon, turn right and run the block till it ends at Le Moulin de la Galette (one of the old windmills, and scene of one of Renoir's most famous paintings, "Bal du moulin de la Galette".

Now continue along the narrow alley, Rue d'Orchampt. There is some interesting street art along the house walls here, so keep your eyes open!
Rue d'Orchampt
The alley turns to the left and continues downhill until it meets a couple of squares that connect, bringing you farther down the hill. So head downhill through Place Èmile-Boudeau and pass a couple of friendly pubs.
Place Èmile-Boudeau, heading downhill
Keep running straight downhill along Rue Ravignan until it ends at one of the main streets down along the hillside, the Rue des Abbesses.

This is a lively neighborhood, with lanes heading further downhill, and restaurants and shops all around.

Let's turn left to run just two blocks to the Place des Abbesses, a spot that looks so Parisian. This 3-kilometer mark has a carousel and a Metro station, and there's an interesting little park behind it, with its "Le mur des je t'aime", the "I love you" wall. The words are translated into lots of languages all over the wall, and many romantics head here to take a few pictures.
The "I love you" wall
Circle the park then head back along Rue des Abbesses in the other direction, heading downhill to the west.

Run about five blocks, until the road splits. Continue straight along the left-hand street, Rue Joseph de Maistre (stay to the left of the nice old half-timbered house with the Le Basilic restaurant).
This way along Rue des Abbesses!
In a block, you'll come to a busy street, Rue Caulaincourt, where you turn left. You'll cross a bridge above the Cimetière de Montmartre below. The cemetery was built in an old gypsum quarry, which is why it's so low. In fact, the whole hill is honey-combed by old gypsum mines. The mining started back in the Celtic days, before the Romans arrived.

At the south end of the bridge, take the stairs downward and then turn left to enter the cemetery, at the 4-kilometer mark. It's an interesting place, with memorials to lots of famous locals (lots of artists, and Dalida again!).
The Montmartre cemetery
Basically, just circle the cemetery on whichever paths you think look most interesting. You'll have to exit at the same place that you came in.

It's a bit eerie, a sea of old tombs and monuments, in its own little netherworld below the busy city streets.

When you exit the cemetery, continue south, down Avenue Rachel until it ends at Boulevard de Clichy.

Now you just have to get to the promenade in the middle again and turn left to run eastwards back to Place Pigalle.
The Moulin Rouge, always good for a picture!
Along the way, you'll pass the Moulin Rouge club on the left side with its famous dance revue (cancan was invented here). And a few hundred meters later, you'll be at Pigalle again. Now that was a lot of contrast!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

La Palma, Ruta de los Volcanes Trail Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 14.4 km (9 miles), terrain: very hilly, sometimes steep, gain 757 meters!

This is one amazing run. You'll transition from rain-forest shade forests to blasted, wide-open volcanic lava-flows. Sometimes you'll be in the clouds, sometimes you'll have views out over a carpet of clouds way below. You'll be stepping along the edge of craters, and viewing out across the Atlantic Ocean towards other islands. 
Trail view over the Atlantic towards Tenerifa
NOTE: This route is extremely rugged! It's steep, rocky, and you have to watch your step all the time. You might even prefer to hike it rather than to run it. But there are some hearty runners who traverse the rocky terrain like mountain goats. However you do it, make sure you bring a water bottle and a windbreaker! Walls of clouds can also suddenly move in, so watch their movement, and bring a good map and GPS. Plan it for a day when the ridge should be clear of clouds.

The Canary Islands isle of La Palma is the result of one huge volcano, then many smaller ones that followed through the millennia. No visit to the island is complete without a visit to the edges of the volcanic craters, some less than 50 years old.

This route follows the Ruta de los Volcanes (E7) hiking trail that winds along the peaks among a variety of volcanic cones and lava fields that popped up, one by one, forming the south end of the island. The route is normally well-marked, heading north-south almost the whole way.
El Pilar mist
We'll start it at one of my favorite spots on the island, El Pilar, a picnic park up in the clouds, and one of the most popular recreation areas for the islanders. Often, the clouds get stuck up here on the north/south ridge, and it looks like a rain-forest. Cloud-soaked Spanish moss drips from the trees, which disappear upwards into the swirling mist above.

The E7 hiking route begins a long ways north of here, circling the huge Caldera de Taburiente then heading southwards past all the main volcanic cones along the ridge of Cumbre Vieja, all the way to Fuencaliente, at the southern tip of the island. We'll just follow the middle section of the trail, Cumbre Vieja, where the biggest concentration of volcanoes and lava flows can be found.
Start of the run at El Pilar
El Pilar is off on a side-road from the main road between Santa Cruz and El Paso (watch for the signs to turn off), along the ridge that divides the eastern and western sides of the island. There is plenty of parking, so find a spot and put on your running gear!

Now walk to the area with the picnic shelters and playground swings on the south side of the road. If you walk past the playground to the far south end of the park, you'll see the waymarker signs for the hiking trail towards Fuencaliente, which begins going right up the hill. Did I mention that this is one difficult trail? Oops, well now is the time to tell you...
View northwards towards the Caldera de Taburiente
The trail heads uphill through pine woods towards the southwest, along the north flank of Pico Birigoyo, our first volcano. There are some nice views northwards towards the huge Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma's first volcano, the biggest volcanic crater in the world.

After a kilometer, the trees thin out and you have a wide view westwards, over the black lava fields of an eruption about 70 years ago.
View westwards over the clouds
After 2 kilometers, the trail heads down into a valley to join onto a jeep road, turning left, then heading uphill to the south. At different spots, you can see where recent fires have blackened the pine woods around you, but most of the trees survived.
Blackened pine tree along the way
After another half a kilometer, the trail leaves the jeep road and heads uphill southwards, passing a strange rock spiral that some people once laid out. The trail crosses a couple of wooden bridges and then takes you out over the ridge to the face the east side of the island.
Wooden bridge
At the 4.5-kilometer mark, you'll have a great view eastwards out over the ocean towards Tenerife. A few trails branch off here, heading downwards towards the east coast. But continue uphill, following the signs towards Fuencaliente.
Downhill runner at the trail branch-off
We are now in the high country, the trail will follow the Cumbre Vieja ridge for the rest of the way. This area is where the 1949 volcanic eruption happened, with lots of fairly fresh-looking lava flows.

Soon, at the 5-km mark, you'll come to the steep edge of a crater opening westwards, Volcán Hoyo Negro. The black and tan volcanic ash layers are strongly eroded into deep canyons. What a sight!
Volcán Hoyo Negro
Continuing southwards past some rocks with great views to more volcanoes. You'll face the blackend peak of Montaña de los Charcos across a lifeless, black valley of loose ash and rock.
Approaching Los Charcos
The trail takes you along its western side. The wind is wild up here at the peak, not a place to hang around!

Just south of los Charcos is a second cinder cone, Deseada, almost 2000 meters high. There are some cement markers along the trail here, with a couple of smaller trails heading off the the left (eastwards) that take you to the edge of Deseada and los Charcos.

Take one of those trails down to the crater edges and get a closer look at these other-worldly sights. You'll feel like you're on Mars.
Deseada and Los Charcos
But it's been 7 kilometers of hard trail climbing so far, so let's turn around and head back home now. There's still a long way to go to get back! And when you make it, kick off your shoes, shower off the sweat and grime, and it'll be time to tilt-back a well-earned glass of local La Palma wine!
Here's to one beautiful run!