Sunday, 23 July 2017

Madrid Cañada Trail Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 8 km (5 miles), terrain: hilly, gain 113 meters

Madrid running routes:
Madrid Old Town Sights route
Madrid Parque del Oeste route 
Madrid Parque del Retiro route

Madrid Casa de Campo trail run 
Madrid Rio Manzanares route
Madrid Cañadas trail run
For more running routes, see Route List.

NOTE: In the summer, Madrid is hot, normally around 35C degrees or even higher. Mornings are coolest and the best time to run, but even on hot evenings it can be doable, because often a strong breeze comes along in the evening, making things feel cooler.
The north side of Madrid is known for its modern suburbs and high-tech office parks. Lots of international companies have set up shop there, so you might end up hanging out there yourself.

But running past office buildings and malls might not be what you were hoping for in your time in Madrid. That's where this route comes in: exploring a section of Spanish countryside, with its rolling hills full of local plants and animals, grazing sheep, little farmsteads. A real trail run, and all that right on the edge of the suburbs.
Running group just leaving the cañadas
This route heads off from the new Montecarmelo neighborhood, with its own Metro stop (Line 10, "Montecarmelo"). So it's easy to get to.

The area is known for its little vineyards and orchards. Nowadays it is mainly used as meadows for sheep and horses, criss-crossed by dusty foot trails, the cañadas. This route follows those cañadas, historic cattle-drove roads through the hilly grasslands.

NOTE: The route is not well-marked. We'll follow the yellow arrows for the Camino de Madrid pilgrimage trail for the first few kilometers. But after that, there are no further waymarkers or road signs out along the cañadas. But if you watch the direction of the sun, and on the hill crests you look for the 2.5-km high peaks of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains to the north and the skyscrapers around Chamartin train station to the south, you'll find good orientation points.
Head this way from the Metro station
Getting to the start: The neighborhood of Montecarmelo is a new, planned suburb served by Metro line 10 at the northern edge of Madrid. Get out of the Metro and, once outside, turn around to face the other direction, north.

Now, head north on the sidewalk through the narrow square from the Metro station until it ends a couple of blocks later at a wall, across Av. del Santuario de Valverde. There is a cemetery behind the wall. 
The cross along the Camino de la Cañada
Turn right and run the few meters to the next cross street and turn left to continue northwards along the east wall of the cemetery on the left, with basketball courts on the right. This dusty dirt trail is called Camino de la Cañada, and is used by lots of walkers, mountain bikers and runners.

Follow the trail as it heads downhill, past a cross marking the beginning of the Camino De Madrid pilgrimage trail towards Santiago de Compostela.

Mountains line the horizon to the north.

The trail seems to end at a popular red-painted asphalt track for bikers and pedestrians. But you need to continue straight down the steep embankment towards the railway and the M40 freeway ahead in the valley.
The tunnel under the freeway
The trail curves downwards to the left and then turns right to go under the tracks and freeway, at the 1-kilometer mark.

When you come out on the other side, you are suddenly in another world: little farmsteads and meadows along hillsides, with rutted, dusty trails winding between them. Follow the yellow arrows for the Camino De Madrid trail.

After 100 meters, at a fenced field, take the right-hand trail as it splits, which is still called Camino de la Cañada. There is a yellow arrow pointing the way. We'll later return from the left-hand trail.
Waymarker for the Camino de Madrid
Now just follow this trail for two kilometers. Go under the power transmission lines, heading straight north.

Head gradually uphill towards the rolling hilltop meadows, amid grazing sheep. A couple of other trails will merge from the right side.

Enjoy the beautiful stretches of Spanish plant- and animal-life. The fields are full of pale thistles that look like miniature Atomiums, broom bushes, grasses, thorn trees. I saw a harmless snake, rabbits, hawks, doves. Listen to the locusts chirping. I saw a shepherd with his border collie watching over a big herd of grazing sheep.
Rabbit holes in the arroyo
There are also a couple of horse ranches in the area, so you might encounter some riders. But mainly, it's mountain bikers and runners out here.

At the 3-kilometer mark, you'll see a valley beginning to your left side, stretching to the southwest. That is the Arroyo de Valdecervero. Turn left onto the trail that heads down into the valley. At first, there is no real stream-bed in the valley, but as you continue, you can see it form. Follow it as the gulch gradually gets deeper, full of raspberries and rabbit holes.
Along the arroyo
There are trails along each side of the gulch. Take your pick. You'll see the transmission lines again as we run towards them in the distance.

Just before the 5-kilometer mark, at the first major crossroads with another wide trail, look for a little fenced farmstead off to the left, up the hill to the south. Turn left there.

NOTE: Don't worry, you can take any turnoff to the left to get back, actually.
Turn and follow this trail up past the fenced-in farm
Head up and over the hill, passing the party pavilion of the farm and then more fenced-off areas. At the top of the hill, when you come to the power transmission lines, take the trail to the left. You'll be able to see Montecarmelo across the valley, past the freeway.

You'll then pass a fenced-in orchard on your right side, as well as some old cement gateposts on the left. Just continue downhill as you pass the 6-km mark.
The gateposts and orchard: keep going straight!
You'll see Montecarmelo ahead, past the motorway. There is a long, white building with two black glass stripes of windows to the left of the way we came.

You'll also see a line of trees down in the valley: another arroyo, the Arroyo del Monte, but this one is lusher, supporting a thick growth of trees and other plants.

Turn left at the arroyo and follow the path eastwards. You can clearly hear the nearby freeway to the right. The path will wind along the arroyo for a while.
Along the Arroyo del Monte
When you come to a ruined farmstead, you'll see a fenced-off field. This the first fenced-off field that we saw right after we entered the area. At the end of the fence, turn right and follow the same trail that we came in on, going under the freeway at the 7-km mark, and then to the left up the hill, all the way back to the Metro station.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Mülheim Ruhr River Running Route

Click here for route map  
Length 6.5 km (4 miles), terrain: flat

NOTE: You could also follow the east bank of the river, and it's beautiful too, just a bit less nature and more town.

Everyone likes a comeback story. And this route traces one of the great comebacks of our time: a polluted river in one of the most industrialized spots on the planet is now lined by nature preserves and full of wildlife.

I'm talking about the Ruhr River, which gives its name to the Ruhr Region, the heart of Germany's industrial heartland. It's the most densely populated area in Europe, once full of coal mines and steel mills.
A bit of paradise in the middle of the Ruhr
Most of those old factories have closed now, and the area -- like similar ones in industrial countries all over -- has been fighting for its economic life since then. But the recovery has been pretty successful, and the river has been cleaned up.

Mülheim, located along the Ruhr between Duisburg and Essen, bears witness to this comeback. You can run along both banks of the river and enjoy nature the whole way.

This route follows the west side of the river from the town center, southwards to the Ruhrstrand park in Saarn.
Start in Müga Park
We'll start the run in the Müga Park, a beautiful oasis just across the river from the little basin of the town harbor. Müga sits on reclaimed land, once used for railway sidings, and next to the old castle, Schloss Broich, originally built to defend the area against Norman Viking raiders. Maybe take a look at the castle before you take off on the run!
Schloss Broich castle courtyard
So get yourself to Müga, just north of the Schloßbrücke (Castle Bridge). Close to the river, you'll see a little square fountain pond, our starting point. Now turn south and run out of the park with the river to your left, past the Stadthalle event center.
Paddle boats at the Mülheim harbor
After running under the bridge, the path turns into a boardwalk skirting the river, then continues along a paved path, the Gerbersteg.
To your left, you can already see the paradise-like wetlands in the middle of the river, where water trickles between countless little green islands.

There are a few apartments lining the path here on the right, with a great view.

The path ends at a wooden footbridge that leads to an island in the river. Cross the bridge, towards that big stone pumphouse that houses hydro-electric turbines over a dam.

Bridge to the pumphouse
At the pumphouse -- also the 1-kilometer mark, turn right and continue southwards along the narrow island.

NOTE: Maybe take a look at the neighboring island, the Schleuseninsel, just behind the pumphouse: here's the Wasserbahnhof (Ferry Station), where river tour boats tie up, and there's a great biergarten located there under the shade trees at Franky's bar. This is the place to go any evening with nice weather!
Tour boat at the Schleuseninsel
The island is covered with a mixture of fields, ponds and woods. Across the river, you'll see a few little riverside restaurants and kiosks.
Along the island trail
After another 800 meters, the island ends, and a bridge over a dam will lead to the right to get back to the west bank of the river.  
The dam crossing
Now, at the 2-km mark, continue southeastwards past more woods and meadows. This is one of the most natural parts of the run, with a little wetlands preserve off to the right side.

After the 2.5-km mark, the trail splits, with one part heading over to an island-like peninsula, the Ruhrstrand. Follow that trail to the right.
When you see the car bridge passing overhead at the beautiful half-timbered village of Saarn, turn around and head back to town following the way you came (or maybe cross the bridge and come back on the trail along the eastern bank of the river!).

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Dublin Phoenix Park Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 14.2 km (8.8 miles), terrain: a few short hills, gain 90 meters

Dublin Running Routes:
Georgian Heritage  
River Liffey 

Phoenix Park
Dun Laoghaire coastal run 
City Centre loop   

Howth Cliff Walk trail
See the other running routes here!

Phoenix Park is one of those places that every city needs: a big, green oasis full of gardens, sporting facilities and endless trails that wind their way through hill and glen. With playgrounds, flower gardens, a zoo, a fort, a castle tower, palaces, sports fields, ponds and monuments, it provides endless highlights and lookouts and spots to have fun. This is the place where Dublin goes to relax and play in nice weather. 
Trail in Phoenix Park
NOTE: This run is a bit long, so if you want to reduce it to 10 kilometers, just take a bus or tram to Heuston Station, right near the park entrance and begin there. The bus lines 25, 37, 39 and 69 all head west along the south shore of the River Liffey, and then cross the river to get to the park. Or take the Red Line LUAS tram to Heuston.

Phoenix park is diagonally bisected by a road, Chesterfield Avenue. The smaller, northern half of the park is filled with a lot of big things that are in the way of a good, free run: the Dublin Zoo, the Irish President's mansion, the visitor centre and its parking lots, and the polo grounds.

So it's better to head to the southern part of the park, where you can choose from a wide variety of dirt- and grassy trails and paved walkways.
Ha'penny Bridge, looking towards the run
So, if you find yourself visiting memorable Dublin, get yourself to the pedestrian Ha'penny Bridge, which crosses the River Liffey right in the heart of town at Temple Bar.

We'll follow the south shore on the way out, and the north on the way back. So turn west and head out along Wellington Quay along the south shore of the river. To avoid most pedestrians, stay on the sidewalk directly next to the water.
Along the Liffey
This is a busy street, and a main bus route, so it won't exactly be quiet. After you pass Winetavern Street, you'll see the domed Four Courts courthouse across the river.

A few blocks further west, you'll pass the James Joyce House, at 15 Usher's Island. Ireland honors its writers and poets like few other lands.

And two blocks further, you'll see Croppies Acre park and the National Museum of Ireland behind it, across the river (we'll run there later). The huge Guiness brewery is just to your left side.

At the brewery, we're almost at Heuston Station, so keep to the right and cross the river at the bridge, at the 2 kilometer mark.
Park entrance
Now continue westwards along Parkgate Street, heading uphill right to the park entrance. After passing the round Criminal Courts of Justice building, you'll see the stone park  gates to the right, so head up through them into Phoenix Park along Chesterfield Avenue.

I said we'd stay along the south side of Chesterfield, but let's make a great exception right at the start: there is a little gate into the Peoples' Garden on the right side, let's head in there. It takes us away from the street and puts us right into one of the prettiest spots in the park.

Just run straight along the sidewalk into the garden, passing flower beds and fountains.
Peoples Garden
In half a kilometer, you run past a pond on your right side and then cross a little side-street. Continue straight into the next section, which has a little valley. Head up towards the left, to the café, actually the Tea Rooms.

After passing the tea rooms, at the 3-km mark, you'll come to the next cross-street, with the red ticket office for the Dublin Zoo on the far side.

The zoo will block our progress, so let's turn left and cross Chesterfield Avenue and continue southwest on the little street past the cricket fields. The street winds past a pond and then ends at an army sports club.
Where the sports fields begin: keep left and run towards the woods!
When the pavement ends, run straight out into the sports fields. Stay to the left edge of the hurling fields, avoiding trampling them. Head towards the woods on the left side, and you'll connect into a trail heading northwest. You'll probably begin to run past herds of grazing deer. They are all over this part of the park.

Stay on the trail, which is parallel to and above a bigger, paved bike/running trail in the little valley to the left.

Eventually, your trail will merge into the paved one, after you get views of the Irish President's mansion way off to the right, Áras an Uachtaráin.
The Papal Cross
You'll soon cross a car road, Acres Road, where you'll see a gigantic white cross towards the southwest. Follow the path towards the cross, at the 5-km mark. The Papal Cross was erected to commemorate a sermon on that spot held by Pope John Paul II.

We are now running through vast open fields called the "Fifteen Acres", with vistas in every direction. Off to the south you can see the faraway Wicklow Mountains.
The Fifteen Acres, with view of the mountains
Continue running westwards through the lawns. You'll pass the US Ambassador's mansion on the right side.

Follow the trails westwards and you'll come to a crossing of two small roads, Furze Road and Upper Glen Road. Cross the road on the left side and then head down into the valley to the left, along a dirt path.
Glen Pond
You'll come down to Glen Pond, and probably some fishermen, at the 7-km mark. The trail then curves to the left, heading uphill to the south, and connecting into Upper Glen Road.

Cross the road and continue southwards along the dirt trail that runs parallel with the street. Eventually, though, St. Mary's Hospital will block your way, at the 8-km mark, and you'll have to turn right to get back to Upper Glen Road again.

As the road heads downhill, take the first little road to the left, just below the hospital, and that connects into Military Road. This road has very little traffic, so follow it eastwards as it continues downhill, then winding around a few small valleys. We're running along the south edge of the big lawn where we were running westwards earlier.
The Magazine Fort
Eventually, the road will lead you to an old fort, at the 10-kilometer mark. The Magazine Fort was used to store gunpowder, and the older walls and towers were extended with 20th century additions.

Just past the fort, you must go down a steep hill, where you continue eastwards along Wellington Road, heading uphill again. When you reach the top of the hill you'll see a huge obelisk to the right. Cross the road and run past the monument, erected to memorialize the Duke of Wellington.
Wellington Monument
Run past the monument and then keep left and you'll return to Chesterfield Avenue again, across from the Peoples' Garden, where you then exit the park.

Head back towards Heuston Bridge, but instead of following the way we came before, keep to the left and follow Benburb Street to the left of the little triangular park, at the 12-km mark. Follow the tracks of the LUAS tram line, which runs here, parallel to the Liffey a block away on the right side.

A block later, you'll come to a bigger park, Croppies Acre, where Irish rebels ("croppies") from the 1798 Rebellion are buried. The park has been upgraded in the last years and you can now go into it and run parallel to the street.

The Irish National Museum is to the left, with art and design objects.
Along Benburb Street
Continue along Benburb all the way back into town. This northern part of Dublin has a gritty reputation, but there have been some recent upgrades to make life there more attractive. A couple of squares have been fitted out with playgrounds and places to sit.

At Smithfields, you'll see one of those squares, at the Jameson Whiskey distillery, at the 13-km mark.

Later, when you cross Jervis Street with Wolftone Square, you'll run past the new Jervis shopping mall. Right at the mall entrance, you'll see a little pedestrian street turning south to your right, Millennium Walkway.
Along the Liffey boardwalk and the Ha'penny Bridge
Run down the walkway, lined with little restaurants and cafés, until you reach the Liffey. Cross the riverside street, Ormond Quay, and turn left to follow the boardwalk over the river the one block back to Ha'penny Bridge.

Now that was one long and scenic run!