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!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Barranco de las Angustias Trail Running Route, La Palma, Canary Islands

Click here for route map  
Length 9 km (5.6 miles), terrain: rocky, steady climb, gain of 410 meters

The Canaries Islands isle of La Palma is really vertical. There are not many places to run that are even halfway flat. So this is the first of a few La Palma runs that will take you uphill and back, through the island's fascinating volcanic landscape.

This run will take you into the caldera, the huge crater left over from the first volcano that created the island, 2 million years ago. It's the biggest volcanic crater in the world, created when the volcanic mountain collapsed into itself and emptied its debris westwards into the Atlantic waves.
The high trail and the low trail
The caldera is an amazing blend of sheer rock cliffs and peaceful pine woods. There is a network of hiking trails along the rim and down into the crater. This running trail follows the last, not-too-steep part of trail LP 13, which loops within the crater. We will just follow the little stream-like river up into the ravine of Barranco de las Angustias for 4 km, as far as Dos Aquas, where two streams merge tp then flow further through the barranco. The route then turns around and heads back to the start.

NOTE: If you feel up to it, you can follow the whole LP 13 hiking trail, beginning at Los Brecitos lookout, and continuing downhill for 13 kilometers to La Viña parking lot, 4-km after joining into this route. You can't drive up to Los Brecitos, you have to take one of the waiting taxis from La Viña. But this way is more of a hike than a run, with a lot of steep steps and a bit of climbing and a lot more amazing views than this run. I've done this one, also and can really recommend it. Enjoy the hike!

Getting to La Viña parking lot, you need to head to the town of Los Llanos, and get to the northeastern corner of town. Look for signs pointing to Taburiente national park and Barranco de las Angustias. You'll drive up and over a pass, heading down into the mouth of the caldera. The narrow serpentine road La Viña ("grapevine") already provides breathtaking views of the caldera ahead.
Someone carved a face into this cactus near La Viña
The dirt parking lot next to the river places you at the beginning of the gorge. You just have to head northeastwards into the rugged valley.

From the parking lot, just take the trail to the right-hand side of the river. 

In most places you have a choice: either run in the gravel bed of the river or run the parallel trail up a bit higher. Sometimes the two merge, sometimes the trail crosses from one side of the river to the other. But they always stay close together.

Right at the beginning, you'll pass a small banana farm on the left side (the Hacienda del Cura), with its bridge. Don't head up its side-road: stay with the river.

From now on, just watch for trail markers, although they are sometimes a bit hard to see. Most signs point towards the campground, the "Zona de Acampada".
Hikers along the trail
You'll need to jump the stream various points, but because the water flow is normally minimal, it's never hard to find a good spot for that. It's a lot of fun. And if you get your feet wet, so what?

You'll be running past cactus, cliffs, and occasional magnificent views, when you get a glimpse up a side canyon or a view up the barranco.

Just enjoy the general quiet, with the occasional songbird or crow adding their own sounds to the scene. In the afternoon, you'll encounter hikers regularly, coming down from Los Brecitos.

Just past the 2-km marker, you'll pass an overhead viaduct at La Estrechura. Then, a half-kilometer later, walking above the river and with the river to your right, you'll come to an abandoned house on a little hill, the Morro de la Era. Shortly after the house, you'll pass a little dam down on the river below.
Side canyon
Running along the rocky cliffs, you'll be able to recognize pillow-lava, formed underwater and then pushed up here, high above sea level.

At the 4.5-kilometer mark, you'll come to a wide (and probably dry) dam and its buildings along the right side of the river bed. It looks like an abandoned gold mine. This is Dos Aquas, a waterworks that captures most of the valley water and canalizes it into a covered channel.

Just past the dam, the Rio Taburiente merges into the Barranco from the left, at a spot that's difficult to cross, so it's best to turn around and head back home from here. From this spot further northwards, the trail gets steeper and rockier. 

Luckily, everything looks different going the other direction, so you can enjoy the second half of the run, too!