Saturday, 22 November 2014

Paris Versailles Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 10.4 km (6.5 miles), terrain: mainly flat with light hills

Paris Running Routes:
Seine island of St. Louis, St. Paul, botanical garden  
Left bank and Luxembourg Gardens 
Paris' green heart: Bois de Boulogne   

Canal St. Martin  
Rock formations of Parc Chaumont  
Seine loop with Champs Elysees and Eiffel Tower  

Seine riverside run 
Bois de Vincennes 
Versailles Palace Gardens 
For more running routes, see Route List

You may have heard that Versailles is the biggest and most spectacular palace in the world. And you may have heard that the palace gardens are one of the landmark examples of European gardening, full of fountains, statues, reflecting pools and manicured hedges. But maybe you haven't heard that the gardens are free, and open to the public every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. And they are actually quite easy to get to, using the Paris public transport network.
Autumn colors in the Versailles gardens
So, if you're in Paris and have time to get to the gardens in time for a run before the park closing time, take my recommendation: just jump at the chance! You will get a close-up view of the palace and then explore the vast gardens to an extent that few of the other visitors can. The gardens are very formal and detailed close to the palace, but get more natural as you head westwards, further away. You will even find yourself running past vegetable fields and sheep pastures at the furthest reaches of the grounds: quite a contrast to the manicured environment around the main buildings.

So, if you'd like to try the Versailles Challenge, just jump on one of the commuter trains of the RER "C" line, heading towards St. Quentin or Versailles itself. The SARA and VICK trains all stop at either the Versailles Chateau station or the Versailles Chantiers station. The two Versailles stations are just a few blocks apart, and a short walk to the palace. The current price from the city is €3.50.
Avenue de Paris, looking towards the chateau
To take on this very contrasty run, get yourself to the corner of Avenue de Paris and Avenue du Général de Gaulle, at the Versailles city hall (Mairie). This is just a block north of the Versailles Chateau station. The tree-lined Avenue de Paris is the main boulevard leading up to the chateau, just two blocks away.

The town itself is elegant and worth a visit in its own right: set up by the king to house government offices and employees, and was the French capital for 100 years. It's a lot like Berlin's Potsdam: a pleasant, planned town created to provide a nice first impression of the king's neighborhood.

Standing at the corner, next to the mairie, turn west to face the palace a few blocks in the distance. Now run the two blocks to the big open, cobble-stoned plaza in front of the palace, now used mainly for parking. Run past the equestrian statue of Louis XIV, who built the palace, and head through the first, ornate metal gate.
Versailles entrance: to enter gardens, run between the 2 buildings on right
Now you run right up to the golden gate, where people buy tickets for the palace tour. There will be masses of tourists milling all over, but don't worry, it won't stay like this for long.

The palace is one of the most opulent buildings in the world, with golden fences and decorations glittering in the sun, and imposing facades everywhere you look.
The palace from the front
So now, turn right and head to the alley to the left side of the ornate chapel, past the building with the inscription "A Toutes les Gloires de la France". Humility wasn't Louis' strong-point.

This is the way into the gardens. Just run through the arched walkways to the gardens on the other side. There is a boarding spot right there for a little train that takes people on tours of the gardens. The people will still be pretty numerous here, but the gardens are so big that even here there is plenty of room to run past them.
The gardens just behind the palace
So now run to the backside of the massive palace, with its three wings. Past the little ponds behind the central wing of the palace, towards the left. There is a wide staircase leading down into the further gardens to the west. We'll basically follow a counter-clockwise loop around the grounds from here.
Overlooking the huge grounds: full of great running trails
There is a great view up there, and you just follow the walkways down past the clipped shrubs and statuary towards the fountains and lake straight ahead.

Next, you'll come to the Apollo fountain at about the 1.5-km mark, with the god driving his chariot horses through the pond. Immediately thereafter, the "Grand Canal" starts, a cross-shaped lake that dominates the park. To run in the gardens means having to run around the lake.
Fountain of Apollo, with Grand Canal lake in background
You could just stay along the shores of the lake, running a cross-pattern, or follow the trails that connect the tips of the cross with each other, in a diamond shape, or loop around the outside of the whole grounds. This route combines a bit of each, but of course, you could do it any way you please. It's all good.

To follow this route, head to the right side of the lake, where the café and the rowboat-rental are. This is the liveliest corner of the gardens, and the most fun place to people-watch. Just watch out for all the bicycles and rental golf-carts that vie for the walkways.
The lake, with boats and café
Run to the café, then -- immediately afterwards -- turn right to head along the Allée de la Reine, a quiet walkway with little woods to each side. You're now heading northwards towards Trianon Palace, the place where the king normally lived: homier and more livable than the gigantic main palace. The main building was used mainly for parties and receptions.
Trianon Palace
When you reach Trianon, just after the 2-km mark, take a look around, then head to the left. You'll now run downhill along the paved path called Allée de 2 Trianons to the northern point of the cross-shaped lake. The walled gardens of Trianon Palace are along your right side, and woods to the left.

When you reach the water, keep heading west directly next to the wall, along Allée de Bailly. The main path is paved, but there is a little dirt path to the right side, next to the wall. The main path later turns to cobblestones and isn't very pleasant to run on.
Allée de Bailly: suddenly fields and woods everywhere
From now on, you will see fewer and fewer people: just a few hikers and bicyclists, and even a few other runners. You won't be the only person to be running the gardens.

You will soon be running out between farm fields and woods. At the third turn-off to the left, where you will see a wooden gate to a horse pasture on the left, turn left onto the Allée de la Ceinture, at the 4-km mark. This is also just before reaching the stone wall along the west edge of the grounds, which you can see bordering the far side of the pastures.
The turn-off onto Allée de la Ceinture, along meadows full of horses and sheep
Now head southwards. Here, you'll also find a dirt path next to the cobble-stoned lane, along the left side this time. You'll head a bit downhill, with the horse pastures along the right side, and woods and vegetable fields on the left. There are also sheep pastures at the little farm buildings along the right, as it starts going uphill again.

You will now come to the western entrance into the park at Grille Royale, to the west of the lake. Now turn left to run through the open lawns leading down to the lake, at the 6-km mark.
At the intersection of the lake
Just follow the southern shore. Run until you reach the intersection of the cross, then turn right to keep following the water towards the south.

Round the southern tip, at the 7.5-km mark, then take the diagonal path to the right, another lane called Allée de la Reine. This time you're heading towards the eastern tip of the lake, at the Apollo Fountain. This avoids the ever-growing crowds along the eastern edge of the lakeside.
Last stretch along Allée de la Reine towards Fountain of Apollo
Once you get back to the eastern tip of the lake, just re-trace your original steps for the last two kilometers. You'll run back eastwards to the palace, head out into the plaza out front, then continue towards the east, along the Avenue de Paris. In 2 blocks you'll be back at the city hall again. Now that was a run with a lot of amazing variety!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Three villages in Cambridgeshire Running Route

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Length 7.3 km (4.6 miles), terrain: flat

By Contributing Editor John Griffith, Social videographer and blogger at

For more running routes, see Route List

Generally speaking I like trails, not roads. But when the roads are country lanes or when there is a mix of road and trail I'm pretty happy. I also generally like to know where I'm going but when you're in a flat landscape it's fun to just strike out with a rough idea of where you're going and just chug round the lanes taking left after left after left (or R, R, R) and hey presto, you end up where you started.  Eventually.  Usually…

The village of Hinxton where I started is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Hestitona. It's also the home of the Sanger Institute – they of the human genome project where DNA was first sequenced so it brackets a whole millennium.  From the north end of the High Street take a left down Mill Lane to see the restored 17th Century mill.

Then join Duxford Rd. and follow your nose over the River Cam (it's a wet ford but there's a bridge for runners and dog-walkers – Labradors are expected to wade) and the main Cambridge to London Railway crossing on to Duxford village.

Glorious autumn day at Hinxton
Duxford is best known for its Air Museum but it to has a history that is known to go back to the 10th century when it was known as to Dukeswrthe meaning "The enclosure of Duc" – we don't know who Duc was but I bet he was teased as a child what with a name like that. The Airfield was active in WW2 and was the home of the famously legless Douglas Bader's Squadron.
Douglas Bader
Jog down Duxford's main St Peter’s St to join Ickleton Rd with a left. You leave Duxford village on this wide road (not too much traffic and a wide grass verge if you prefer the soft stuff). It’s about 1.5m to Ickleton and on this leg you get a good feel for the Cambidgeshire countryside. The views are long and the sky is wide. You can see rain approaching in the distance but it can miss you by miles. Bright pools of sunshine steal across dark, loamy fields and crows scatter as the bird scarers crack.

Into Ickleton, probably the most historic of all three of these pretty Cambridgeshire villages. Too much to write here but one early occupant rejoiced in the name of Alsi Squitrebil so there's another unhappy schoolchild, I'll wager.

Hook the first left as you enter the village and stick to Brookhampton Street which will take you past impossibly old buildings, leaning like cripples, inwards towards each other as if to share their secrets.

Brookhampton Street takes you to back to Hinxton – you'll see Hinxton High Street on your left after only another mile or so where if you have time you should stop for a refreshing pint of “Rusty Bucket” from The Red Lion before heading home.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Newcastle Historic Loop Running Route

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Length 5.8 km (3.6 miles), terrain: hills leading to/from river, total gain of 73 meters

Pictures courtesy of the creative folks at Flickr Creative Commons. Thanks! 

For more running routes, see Route List

NOTE: Newcastle runs with more greenery can be had in the gigantic Town Moor (north of the center) and up the lovely wooded stream valley of Heaton Park and Ouse Burn creek (east of the center).

Newcastle is a fascinating town. It combines a lot of Georgian-era elegance, modern redevelopment, and a revitalized riverfront full of history. One of the main streets in the town center, Grey Street, has been voted as one of the most beautiful in all Britain. And indeed, with its solid line of Georgian-style stone buildings curving down towards the river, it's one of the most impressive you'll ever see. When I first went down that street, I was captivated.

You can see how wealthy the town was in the 1800s, when it was a big mining- and ship-building center, with one company headquarters building after the other filling the town center. Nearby Mosley Street was first in world with electric lights, in 1879. The world's first commercial locomotives were also developed and built here.

Beyond the history, Newcastle is a fun place to enjoy the evenings: the streets are full of party-goers, with women unsteadily navigating the cobblestones in their high heels while wearing just a summer top while anyone sensible buries his hands into his heavy coat.
Grey's Monument, photo by RoCam
We'll start the route in the heart of town, at the base of Grey's Monument. The monument to Earl Grey was erected to commemorate his efforts in reforming the British electoral process in 1832 and making it fairer: certainly a good reason for a monument, if ever there was one! In 1941, though, a bolt of lightning blew Grey's head off, and it had to be replaced.
Inside the Central Arcade, photo by LoveArtNouveau
Along the south side of the monument square is the 100-year-old Central Arcade, a beautifully detailed old shopping arcade.

So, let's head south down Grey Street, running slightly downhill. You'll quickly pass the elegant Theatre Royal on the left. After crossing Mosley Street (it still has its streetlights, so it must have been a good idea!), the street name turns into Dean Street.
The Theatre Royal, photo by amortize
After going through the forbidding, lofty arch of the railway viaduct, you continue running downhill at an even steeper angle, to the River Tyne. The blue-metal Tyne Bridge will be directly beside you on the left, as you pass some interesting old pubs on your right.

Just before the river, on Sandhill, you'll go by the oldest houses in town, on your right side, impressive old half-timbered buildings. We'll run by them later to have a closer look.

Keep running next to the Tyne Bridge until you hit the river, then turn right and run along the quay towards the old red-and-white Swing Bridge straight ahead. Take the stone steps up to the bridge.

NOTE: You could continue running upriver along the promenade for another two kilometers if you want to add more distance and more of the Tyneside atmosphere to this run.

Now cross the Swing Bridge, going under its overhead lighthouse, just above your head. This thing is a beautiful piece of Victorian engineering, built in 1870s. The Swing Bridge rotates around the center to let ships pass, and is hydraulic-powered. 
The Swing Bridge, photo by Plashing Vole
The Romans had built the original bridge here, the Pons Aelius, to aid forays into Scotland to the north. Two stone piers from the old bridge have been discovered on the river bottom.

The Swing Bridge is sandwiched between two much higher bridges to either side: the Tyne Bridge is to the left, and the double-decker High Level Bridge is just upstream (to the west), built as a combined railway- and road-bridge back in Victorian days. There are a few more bridges further upstream to the right.
The Tyne Bridge, with Sage Center and Millenium Bridge beyond, photo by Timo Luege
Cross the swing bridge to the town of Gateshead on the other side, where you hit the 1-km mark, then turn left onto the first street, Hillgate, where it goes under the Tyne Bridge. If the Tyne Bridge looks familiar, it might be because it was built by same people who built the very similar Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Now run directly past the modernistic curves of the Sage Gateshead concert center.

Right after the Sage center, you'll come to the delicate arch of the Millennium Bridge on the left. Cross its curving surface (it tilts upwards when ships come) back to the north side of the river again. This is another fascinating bridge, but with a very modern touch this time.
Millenium Bridge and its graceful curves, photo by Paul McGreevy
Now, turn right (eastwards) to run past a stretch of restored riverfront with nice waterside flats. This part of the run along the north bank of the river follows a bit of the Hadrian's Wall Path. The Wall Path ends a few kilometers east of here, but continues westwards all the way to the west coast. The Roman-built wall followed the bluff just north of you.

Turn around at the point where the path is blocked by a stream emptying into the Tyne, at the 2.5-km mark.

Then run back westwards along the Quayside promenade past the Millennium Bridge and more modern buildings, to the Tyne Bridge again. Run under the bridge, then turn right to head up to Sandhill, with its ancient houses just ahead.
Facades along Sandhill, photo by Paul
Now turn left onto Sandhill and run just past where Bridge Street turns left to go over the Swing Bridge. But turn right between the houses to go up the steps towards the castle above.

NOTE: If you don't want to head up this lonely (but atmospheric) stairway), head back uphill to the railway arch on Dean Street, then bear left onto the street called Side, which also takes you up to the castle.

You come out from the steps at a square next to the castle keep (defensive tower). The elegant Vermont Hotel is next door. This is the 4-km mark.
The castle keep, photo by cowrin
The Norman-era castle is on the site of the old Roman fort, near the eastern end of Hadrian's Wall and guarding the site of the Roman bridge. The railway cuts right through the castle site, unfortunately, behind the keep.

So take a look around and then run around the right side of the keep, and go through the archway under the railway, and you'll come out at the next part of the castle, the Black Gate. Head out through the gate and onto St. Nicholas' Street, continuing northwards towards the beautiful crown-shaped tower of the smallish-but-beautiful cathedral.
The St. Nicholas tower, photo by Cristina Ghita
At the cathedral, turn left onto Collingwood Street. This street is a bit busy, but brings us to more interesting historic stuff.

You'll go past a monument and then another nice old church: St. John the Baptist. Continue on this often elegant street until you get to Cross Street, where you head diagonally up the narrow alley next to the old city walls. Stay on the inside of the wall, running along W. Walls.

At the first round tower, turn right to run onto Blackfriars Court, between some modern row-houses. You'll come out onto Friars Street with its ancient stone monastery buildings.
The western town walls, photo by Carl Guderian
Now turn left to head back to the town walls, and continue running northwards along the outside of the walls in the little park beyond.

At the northern end of the western walls, at the gate to Chinatown, you'll see the massive St. James' Park stadium of Newcastle United ahead. Turn right onto Gallowgate and run by the old graveyard of St. Andrews.

Now continue straight ahead at the big intersection and run through the arch below the modern, blue-glass building, part of a shopping center. OK, this is the ugliest spot on the run, but we're almost done.

You'll now go by elegant old Eldon Square, and then, in a few steps, you'll be back at Grey's Monument. So now it's time to clean up and join the party-goers in one of those great old pubs for a pint or two of Newcastle Brown Ale!