Friday, 24 June 2011

Luton, UK, 2 Parks Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 4.75 km (3 miles)

For more running routes, see the Route List!

When I flew into Luton, the woman at the Immigration queue asked why I would ever choose Luton itself as my final destination. As she stamped my passport, she shook her head in pity. But it was a work-trip, and Luton was indeed my home-away-from-home for a few days.

Beautiful downtown Luton
Yes, Luton is not a tourist hot-spot: it's a gritty old industrial town whose main industries (hat- and car-making) have long ago crumbled away, although Vauxhall still makes trucks there. The streets are lined with run-down working-class row-houses, boarded-up shops and "To Let" signs hanging out everywhere. And despite the lack of jobs, migrants are pouring in as if the town were the new beacon of hope and wonder for the world.

Many of Luton's wounds are self-inflicted. A gigantic mall was built right in the heart of town in the 1960s, which killed off the other businesses in the town center. And around the mall, boring, sterile parking-houses sprung up, blighting the surrounding neighborhoods.

But the town center is where most hotels are located, so if you find yourself in Luton, as I did, you'll start your running routes from there. Here's a route that I figured out by looking at Google Maps and finding where the nearest parks of useful size were located. I noticed that Wardown Park and People's Park were both within a short run of the center, good for a morning's jog.

So, if you're ready to see a bit more of Luton, let's go...

We'll start out in the square in front of the Luton Council building, with its tall grey tower. The council hall stands in the very heart of town, where George Street meets Manchester Street. Facing the tower, take Manchester Street, which veers off to the right side.

You'll run to the plaza at the mall entrance, where you turn right, going between the new Galaxy Cinema and the library, on Bridge Street. In just a few blocks, the street ends, where you turn left on Guildford Street, going under the railroad trestle (you have to stay on the right side of the street).

Frederick Street, on the way to People's Park (Google StreetView)
When you come out from under the railroad bridge, keep going straight uphill on Old Bedford Road, past the boarded-up recreation center. You'll pass the English Rose pub on the right, and then you can take the first real street after that to the right, Frederick Street (not the lonely little alleyway, Mussons Path, that comes first).

Frederick Street is an old-fashioned working-class English neighborhood of tiny row-houses, full of resilient, no-nonsense people. The street ends at our first park, People's Park. The park is basically a big lawn with a wooded hill at the back. Head straight across the lawn, running uphill, northwards along the path next to the apartments on the left.

Head straight up that path to the hilltop
You will soon be in a beautiful woods on the hilltop. Running straight ahead, the path ends by running into another path, where you turn left and run westwards, downhill into the other giant lawn of People's Park.

The hilltop trail in People's Park
Old Bedford Road goes by on the far side of the lawn. Just cross the street and you'll be in the next park, Wardown Park. Wardown is a much more interesting park, full of everything that any decent park should have: a long, willow-lined pond with an island and lots of swans and ducks, crossed by an old suspension bridge; a nice playground, tennis courts, playing fields, an interesting old mansion-museum, a formal garden and almost every type of tree imaginable, including redwoods.

Wardown Park pond from the suspension bridge
Wardown Park is a long strip of green, stretching north-south, wedged between Old Bedford Road and New Bedford Road. Turn right at the playground and run towards the tennis courts and the mansion, now a museum, or stay along the pond if you prefer. You are now running north. Take a look at the mansion, with its detailed chimneys and the cedars and redwoods surrounding it. Then run past the little parking lot, through the wooden gate into the cricket oval at the north end of the park.

Wardown Park landscape
You can run a lap around the outside of the oval and come back through the wooden gate again. You are now on the return route, going south. This time, stay on the other side of the pond (the west side) and run until the path leaves the south end of the park, along New Bedford Road.

This street is often clogged with cars in the rush hour. A water-filled ditch lines the left side of the street: this is actually the River Lea, which originates here in Luton, and flows on out to the Docklands in London.

Now you just keep running straight along New Bedford Road, and you will soon run under the railroad again and then pass the Galaxy Cinema on your left as the street becomes Manchester Street, taking you straight back to the council building again.

NOTE: I also did a great 2-hour run one evening out to Luton Hoo, an old manor house and estate southeast of town, now turned into a 5-star golfing resort (with room prices up to 900 pounds a night).
Side view of the Hoo with formal gardens
I can't write up a route description in good conscience, though, because it's too hard to get to from the center. I followed Park Street eastwards, under the Airport Way expressway, only to find the road was blocked off by massive iron gates. I was lucky, and a car opened the gates just when I got there and I just ran in behind him. I guess I was technically trespassing, but this is the kind of thing I do when a challenge gets in the way of a great run. When I later tried to get back out the same gate, there was no traffic at all, so I had to head north through the bush and finally found an exit at the Sea Cadets' clubhouse, taking an extra 45 minutes. The right way into the estate is to run way out London Road and turn-in at the main entrance. The Luton Hoo estate is stunning, though, with rolling countryside, woods, fields, mill-ponds, the palace-like house and with gardens designed by Capability Brown. What a great spot to run!
Mill ponds on the River Lea on the Luton Hoo estate

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Lugano to Paradiso Running Route

View towards Paradiso past the pedalos
Click here for route map
Length: 3 km (1.9 miles), terrain flat

For another Lugano route, see Lugano to Gandria Lakeside Route

Here's a short and simple route that follows the most popular running path in Lugano: an out-and-back along the lakeside to the Paradiso neighborhood at the south end of town. This is definitely the place most joggers head to when doing their daily run, and for good reason. The route provides an amazing view of Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains, a tree-lined promenade with boats docked-up along much of the stretch, and elegant hotels along the other side of the street.

The only thing that disturbs the idyll here is the loud traffic along the shorefront street (which changes its name a few times).
Monte San Salvatore dominates the run
There isn't a lot for me to describe here: you just follow the sidewalk along the shore and, at the turn-around spot 1.5 km later, head back again. If you don't have a lot of time to run far, this is definitely the place to be.

NOTE: If this route is a bit too short for you, add a loop through Parco Civico, just 200 meters up the lake from the beginning of the run.

The route starts at the same spot as the Gandria route: in the main plaza, in front of the town hall.

Just like with the Gandria route, you head over to the lakeside, taking the pedestrian tunnel under the waterfront street. But this time, turn right and head along the water as it curves around to the left towards that steep mountain straight ahead, San Salvatore. It looks a bit like Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio, but the dimensions are in keeping with Lugano's much smaller status. But still, it rises about 700 meters from the lake.
Sometimes the path can get a bit crowded
When you go through the tunnel and come up at the lakeside, you'll be able to see the whole route stretching out before you. Right in front of you, you'll see the funny old pedalo boats that are unique to Lugano. They look like 1950s cars.
Some of the many runners on the shore run
You'll also pass the docks where the tour boats stop. There are various routes criss-crossing the lake.

A bit further along the waterfront, you'll pass the bathing house, a very Swiss institution. The mountain lakes have steep banks and few beaches, so the Swiss built bathing houses where swimmers could change and hang out on ring-shaped docks with ladders to the surrounding water.

After you pass the Paradiso boat landing, the promenade ends at Hotel Eden. There is a fountain with an old olive tree which you can circle, and off you go again, back to the center of Lugano.
Olive tree at the turn-around. Monte Bré in the distance