Saturday, 13 May 2017

London Royal Victoria Docks Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 5.6 km (3.4 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 
For more running routes, see Route List. 

I might also call this route "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." The old Royal Docks area in the far east-end of London used to be a busy port. It landed all the food needed to feed the growing city. But after World War II, the docks were used less and less, and the mills and warehouses surrounding the big basins were abandoned.

Since then, the area has been largely revived, but it's still a mixed bag of impressive modern buildings, old neighborhoods, marinas, industrial lots, the City Airport, parks, a university, construction sites and flat-out ruins. In other words, this route provides some amazing variety.
Lots of water and variety on this run!
The area is also the location of ExCeL, one of London's biggest convention centers, with a lot of hotels around it. So if you're hanging out in the area, attending a conference, here's a run you should like.

This run circles the Victoria Docks basin, with a little parkside loop along the Thames added in.

NOTE: There is another basin, Albert, just east of Victoria, and I tried circling it too, for a bigger run. But it is in more precarious shape, with big sections still blocked off for future construction. After several multi-kilometer detours after being forced to turn around, I gave up. So this route makes-do with just the loop around Victoria basin.

The Royal Docks were the main shipping docks for London in the early 20th century, one of the busiest ports in the world. It was mainly used for the import of food, with refrigerated warehouses lining the long, tide-free basins. Declining after WWII, they finally closed in 1981.

The area is served by two branches of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), an elevated track that winds its way through the East End. In fact, four stations line the route directly. So you can get there easily from the City of London.
Start of the run at the western ExCeL entrance
We'll start the route at the main entrance of ExCeL, the Western Terrace. But you can, of course, start anywhere you please.

Standing there at the big square at the entrance, you can see what a great job has been done reviving the docks, at least this one: Royal Victoria. Modern achievements of architecture and technology surround you: the massive ExCeL building, a couple of hotels, some old warehouses converted into restaurants, statues, a floating hotel ship and the lofty Royal Victoria footbridge, which spans the basin.
The footbridge
We'll turn east, keeping the basin water to our right side, and run along the pedestrian promenade along the side of the ExCeL building.
A dog show has just ended at ExCeL: heading east
Keep going till you finally pass ExCeL. You'll now pass a couple of hotels.

Straight ahead, you'll see a car bridge crossing the basin, the Connaught Bridge. There is a little separate pedestrian bridge next to it, so take that and run south, across the basin.
Crossing Connaught Bridge
At the other side, cross under the car bridge and continue southwards. London City Airport is directly across the fence to your left, and you'll likely see/hear a jet or two as you go by. The airport was one of the first attempts to re-purpose the docks. Its one runway is squeezed between two basins.
London City Airport along Albert basin
You'll need to cross two roundabouts until you reach the south side of N. Woolwich Road.

The DLR tracks are right above you here. Now turn right and run beneath the tracks through the nice pedestrian park-scape.
Under the DLR tracks along N. Woolwich Road
Continue westwards until you come to the Pontoon Dock station above you, at the 2-kilometer mark. The Thames Barrier Park is just to the left, behind the station, so let's loop through it. Head to the left through the parking lot and take one of the stairs or the ramp up to the park.
Relaxing greenery in the park
You can loop the park, which lines the Thames River. It also gives you a great view of one of the architectural marvels of London: the Thames Flood Barrier, stretching across the whole river. It looks a bit as if someone tried to build another Sydney Opera House on top of a bridge.
The Thames Barrier at low tide
Loop back to Pontoon Dock Station again, now the 3-kilometer mark. And continue westwards for about 300 meters until you come to Mill Road, turning north (to the right). Head northwards up Mill Street, past old, working-class homes towards a big smokestack straight ahead. Nice new apartments have been built to the left side: great location!
Along Mill Road
On the right side, the huge industrial ruins of the Millennium Mills opens up. The area is fenced off, with a big sign declaring "London's Atelier", but this grand vision never got off the ground.

The Millennium Mills ruins
Continue straight ahead to the water. You're now at the south shore of the Victoria basin, and there are a few outdoor restaurants here, and the other end of the footbridge.

Turn left and continue running westwards along the waterside, with nice waterfront homes and huge, leftover cranes lining the water, passing the 4-kilometer mark.
The promenade, with landing jet
Keep running along this nice promenade till you get to the west end of the basin. This is the liveliest part of the area, with water-skiing, floating bars and nice places to relax. This is definitely the spot to hang out on nice evenings!
Water skier shows how it's done
Now head north along the western shore, and you'll see the crystalline shape of a modern glass building on the left, called -- naturally -- the Crystal.
At the cable car station
And just past it is the Emirates cable-car ride that constantly transports people up and over the Thames, taking them next to the O2 Dome in Woolwich.

Now you're back at the north shore of the basin, at the Royal Victoria DLR station. So all you have to do now is turn right and head eastwards towards the starting point, running past a few of the convention center hotels.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Coburg Castle Running Route, Germany

Click here for route map
Length 5.7 km (3.5 miles), terrain: gradual up and down one hill, gain of 137 meters

NOTE: You can lengthen this run by doing more laps of the castle on the flat hilltop trail, each lap being 800 meters.

The great thing about this part of Germany is the number of hilltop castles perched above the pleasant old towns. Coburg is a lot like other towns in Franken and Thüringen, with beautiful market squares, small palaces and a fortress guarding it all on one of the surrounding hills.
View towards the castle from town
So, when in Coburg, I say to head on up to the castle for a great (and gentle) hill run for some spectacular scenery, wide views and lots of nature.
View from the castle ramparts: makes the effort really worthwhile!
The castle is visible from many parts of town, looming above. The Veste Coburg ("Fortress Coburg") is one of the biggest intact castles in Germany. It goes back a thousand years, and was never conquered. There is a lot of history connected with it. Martin Luther spent 6 months within its protective walls in 1530, writing sermons, translating the old testament and waiting to see if he would be acquitted by the Reichstag in Augsburg. This is the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door in nearby Wittenberg, and there is a Luther exhibition in the castle during the whole year.

So, if you're ready to make the inspiring run up to the castle, get yourself to the market square in the middle of the old town. The square is flanked by the old town hall ("Rathaus") along one side, and the Stadthaus on the other. The Stadthaus was once the seat of the state government when Coburg was the capital of the little duchy of Saxony-Coburg.
The market, with Stadthaus and statue of Prince Albert
There is a statue to the town's most famous prince in the middle of the market, Duke Albert, who married Britain's Queen Victoria and became an English prince. Turn to face the red/white Stadthaus to the north and now exit the square to its right, running eastwards along scenic Herrngasse.
Ehrenburg Palace
The street ends in two blocks at the side of Eherenburg Palace, home of the Saxon-Coburg dukes. Turn left then right to enter the big square in front of the palace. Keep heading east, past the front of the palace and exit the square by running up the asphalt street, which quickly turns left to continue uphill into the huge hillside park, the Hofgarten.
The way into the Hofgarten: the left side has no steps
The Hofgarten connects the town with the castle up at the top of the hill. You just have to follow the signs to "Veste Coburg" and you'll get there. As long as you keep heading uphill, you can't go wrong.
Students hanging out in the Hofgarten: that's the lifestyle!
Right as you enter the park, the trail splits, with the asphalt trail on the left without steps, so take that one!

The lawns right there are used by students from the nearby college on nice days, and above them are a few playgrounds. Just run uphill past the playgrounds and you'll find more signs guiding you upwards to "Veste Coburg" along asphalt trails.

At the one-kilometer-mark, you'll pass the "Naturkunde Museum", (the natural history museum) along your left, and keep plodding up the hill.
Heading upwards towards the castle
You'll then come to a spot where the trail splits, with signs pointing to Veste Coburg in both directions. It's best to stay on the paved trail to the right: it continues the gradual rise to the top. The gravel trail on the left heads straight uphill and has a lot of steps at the end, but nicer views of the castle above. You decide what you like best.

The asphalt trail curves its way upwards and then runs into a little street at a ridge, just below the castle. Turn left here to continue on up to the castle.

At the two-kilometer-mark, you'll run past a little parking lot and then you're there: with the stone walls rising above you, dotted by towers.
A runner exiting the castle gate
Keep running upwards and over the cobble-stoned bridge and through the gate-tower, into the castle courtyard. The castle buildings are beautiful. 
In the first courtyard
You can turn left to circle the second courtyard, with its old cannons and drinking well, then return to the first courtyard. You can even run up to the ramparts along the right (to the east), and have a great view in a few directions.
In the second courtyard
Once you've had enough of this amazing spot, run back out through the gate-tower and down towards the parking lot. But now turn left to follow the little trail that circles the outer walls. This provides more great views, of the surrounding hills and valleys and of the castle itself. At the western end of the castle, you pass the 3-km mark.
Along the circuit trail
After 800 meters on the circular trail, you'll be back at the castle parking lot again. You can now add a few more laps of the castle, if you want to add distance to the run. Otherwise, head down the hill the same way you came.

Along the way down, you might want to run a few different park trails, by staying along the left side of the park on the way down.

At the playgrounds at the lower end of the park, you'll pass the 5-km mark.

When you get back to the palace and turn the corner to the left, let's see a bit more of town by running straight south along Rückertstraße to the fountain, then continue along the little alley to the stone church straight ahead. Turn right at the old church to run around to the front side of St. Moritz.

The legend of St. Moritz goes back to the early days of Christianity. A Roman legion was sent from Egypt to the Rhine valley to put down a Gallic rebellion. But the legionnaires refused to take part in a ceremony worshiping Caesar. Moritz was one of the officers of the legion, and he was killed for leading this insult to the god-caesar. The head of an African that you see displayed around town on various flags and fences represents Moritz.
St. Moritz Church
Across the church square you'll see the 400-year-old high school (the Casimirianum). What a great old place to go to high school!

Now exit to the west along Neugasse.

In a block, at Ketchengasse, turn right and you'll be back at the market square in a few steps.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

La Cumbrecita Trail Running Route, La Palma, Canary Islands

Click here for route map
Length 3 km (1.9 miles), terrain: rocky, a steep climb at the end, gain of 109 meters

I gave up looking for fairly flat running routes on La Palma. This is a very vertical island! So here's one of my favorite spots on the island, even if it has a lot of ups and downs.

La Cumbrecita is an outlook along the southern edge of the caldera, the huge crater dominating the northern half of the island (it's the biggest volcanic crater in the world!).
Ravens enjoying the view of the caldera from La Cumbrecita
But Cumbrecita feels more like being in the High Sierra in California rather than being on the edge of an island volcano. It has pine trees everywhere, with several peaks rising around you through the woods. It's peaceful, and provides some amazing lookouts into the gigantic crater and the nearby cliffs.

La Cumbrecita is in Taburiente National Park, at the end of a paved road rising up to the lookout along the edge, 1,300 meters above the surrounding Atlantic. Parking is limited there, so you have to make a reservation at the park visitors' center at the beginning of the road, in El Paso. You could also take one of the waiting taxis to the top from the visitors' center. Usually, after 4 p.m. there are no more restrictions on cars driving up there.
The La Cumbrecita parking lot
This short run has a lot to it: open vistas, quiet valleys full of wonderful pine fragrance, cliffs, amazing vistas and a few (probably dry) streams. So, if you're interested, get yourself to the end of the road, at the Mirador de la Cumbrecita. The little parking lot has its own great lookout, frequented by ravens looking for a free lunch.

We'll follow the main path westwards, towards the Mirador Lomo de las Chozas. The path is wide and easy to follow, and well-marked.

So turn westwards and follow the path. Soon, you'll see another path heading upwards towards Pico Bejenado, but ignore it. After an initial rise and nice lookout vistas to both sides, the trail then goes downhill all the way to the Chozas lookout, at the 1-kilometer mark. The trail will gradually curve northwards towards a rocky point sticking straight into the caldera. 
At Mirador de Las Chosas
Just before Chozas, the trail splits as it goes around the little peak. Just stay on the right side the whole time.

At Chozas, there is a main lookout, and also another small lookout on a side-trail just below the main one. You can get a better view from there, so run out there if it isn't too crowded.

Now turn around and run back around the other side of the peak. Just when the trails rejoin, you'll see another trail heading downhill into the valley to the left (eastwards), with a sign pointing to Mirador de Los Roques. That's the more interesting way back than just retracing our way out, so let's take it!
The trail after Chozas
You'll find yourself heading downhill along a gently sloping hillside, and then zig-zag around a few ravines. There will be various short up- and downhill stretches, too. You'll cross a wooden bridge, then continue heading eastwards.
The wooden bridge
After the two-kilometer mark, you'll see some imposing cliffs in the distance that you are running directly towards.
Heading up the switchbacks
You'll then cross another wooden bridge and switchback your way uphill to a spot where a spring is captured in a pipe.
The waterworks for the irrigation pipe
This is where you'll see the trail split. To the left it dead-ends at the Mirador de Los Roques in just a hundred meters. The other way switchbacks upwards to the La Cumbrecita parking lot. Let's run to Los Roques first, because it's the best lookout of the whole run!
At Los Roques: what a spot!
So enjoy breathtaking Los Roques (right at the 2.5-km mark) and then turn around and follow the trail all the way back to La Cumbrecita, zig-zagging upwards in front of that cliff-face we were running towards earlier.
The uphill way back
In just a while (just 500 meters from Los Roques) you'll be back at La Cumbrecita, much happier that you got to experience this beautiful corner of La Palma and the world. And enjoy the rest of the island!