Thursday, 3 December 2020

London Embankment Running Route

Click here for route map

Length 10.7 km (6.6 mi), terrain: flat and easy (gain 48 meters), some steps and loud intersections

One of my favorite places to be in London is along the Thames. The river is the city's streaming heartblood, flowing by as a constant witness to all the great events, people and places that grace its shores. 

View of the Shard with a Thames-side pub crowd

So, for me at least, there is nothing like taking a run along the riverside trails along both banks of the Thames. The embankments are lined with monuments, theaters, wharves, pubs, museums and almost everything that contributes to London's rich culture. And the network of bridges lets you switch from side to side at regular intervals. 

Along the Thames

This running route will explore the city center, passing a lot of the tourist spots that make London such a world-class destination. We'll start out in front of the Houses of Parliament, next to Westminster Cathedral, then cross the river to follow the south bank, past the London Eye, the Waterloo venues of the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the National Theatre, head past the Oxo Tower, the Tate Modern Art Museum with the Millenium Bridge, the recreated Globe Theatre, the replica of the Golden Hinde exporation ship, Southwark Cathedral and City Hall before crossing the legendary Tower Bridge.

Then, running home on the north side of the river, we'll loop through the marina in the old St. Catherine's Docks basins, and return to Westminster by way of the Tower, Custom House, passing St. Paul's Cathedral and Temple Gardens, running through graceful Embankment Park and then back to the start.

There are lots of other sights along the way: this is truly a run to remember, full of Victorian charm. The only downside is that there can be -- and probably will be -- big crowds of walkers in different sections. But 90% of the way will be stress-free, so I think it's well worth it. Otherwise, just slow to a walk when needed, and go with the flow and do a bit of people-watching. 

Oliver Cromwell statue at Parliament

So if you're ready to go, get yourself to Parliament Square, with the statue of Winston Churchill looming cantankerously above, and the main entrance to Parliament across the street. The Big Ben clock tower is right there, and Westminster Cathedral is off to the south, with the undulating Gothic facade of the Lady Chapel facing Parliament (and inside it's even more amazing, with an intricate laticework of stone artistry up in the vaulted ceilings).

Once you can tear yourself away from this fascinating spot, head past Big Ben and across Westminster Bridge to southern London on the other side of the river. We are already beginning some of the great riverside views which will accompany us for the whole run: Parliament itself reflected in the flowing water and the County Hall and the London Eye wheel across the way. Run on either side of the bridge, whatever looks more interesting to you. 

Running towards the London Eye

At the other side, take the steps down to the riverside trail and head northwards right at the riverside. You're now passing the County Hall building, which nowadays houses the aquarium and a lot of tourist attractions. We're following the Queen's Walk.

Now you run under the supports for the Eye, which barely moves in its half-hourly rotations.

And then, at the 1-kilometer-mark, you run beneath the Hungerford railroad bridge, with its modern footbridges added to each side, which connect people to Charing Cross on the other side.

The three theaters now come up as we approach Waterloo Bridge. They offer cafés, free afternoon entertainment in the lobbies and rooftop dining in non-corona times, and are worth coming back for a visit. Various food stands and pubs dot the trail around the square at Gabriel's Wharf

At Gabriel's Wharf

At the 2-kilometer-mark, the Oxo Tower will be visible coming up on the right: it's gone through a few incarnations, first as a power station, then as the Oxo beef-bouillon factory, and now it's a mixed-use place with stores, restaurants, a hotel and flats.

You should also be able to see the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral coming up in the distance across the river. Then you head under the Blackfriars car-bridge and then the railroad bridge.

Now comes the looming edifice of the Tate Modern Museum on the right, with its huge wall of dark bricks. It's another ex-power plant. The modernistic Millennium footbridge connects the Tate to the cathedral on the other side, making both much more accessible to walkers. Nice idea! 

Millennium Bridge, looking towards Tate

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre comes up right after that, with its Elizabethan theater architecture.

Now come a couple of more bridges: Southwark and Cannon Street railway bridge at the 3-km-mark. The trail leaves the river for a few blocks at the Anchor pub, along the narrow lane of Clink Street before you come to the replica of the Golden Hinde. The tiny ship, commanded by Sir Francis Drake, was the first English ship to circumnavigate the world, while raiding Spanish shipping along the way. The resulting treasure was brought back to England, starting the long process of Britain wresting control of the world's seas.

You now continue away from the river for a short way as you circle around the back side of Southwark Cathedral, a beautiful old church from the inside. Right behind it, at the railway viaduct, is one of my favorite markets: Borough Market, with lots of gourmet food to be found, of every variety. I used to work in the area, and it was a great place for lunch, open 6 days a week. And a few pubs line the back side to add a good English ale to the menu.

Now you run up the stairs and cross the busy A3 road at London Bridge, where the soaring knife's edge of the Shard building dominates the skyline. Run towards the bridge, then run down the stairs at the water's edge to the right to continue at the riverside.

Finally back along the water, the skyscrapers of the City of London glitter across the river. In 200 meters, I like to take a quick detour into the Hays Galleria, an ex-wharf where ships once pulled into a tidal-free basin to load and unload. There is a cool, weirdly whimsical sculpture group in the middle of the hall, the Steampunk statue. I'm always fascinated by the strangely British maritime characters.

Then continue running past the HMS Belfast cruiser, an impressive World War II beast, with the medieval Tower of London fortress across the river. We're now passing modern office buildings and the globe-shaped City Hall on the right side, a favorite hangout for all the office workers in the neighborhood.  

The Tower Bridge

And now we've finally reached it: the halfway point, time to cross the river at the iconic Tower Bridge, maybe the most photogenic bridge in the world.

Cross under the bridge and go up the steps to get onto the east side of the bridge, heading across the water. Take a close look at this gem of Victorian engineering, with its Gothic towers hiding the drawbridge-raising machinery, and iron links suspending the bridge below. 

Girl with Mermaid fountain

When on the other side, take the steps down to the ground level and we'll take a short detour to the east, past the Tower Hotel and the Girl and Mermaid fountain to take a quick tour of St. Catherine's Docks. This old dockyard has been restored into a modern marina, but still has its Victorian buildings and boat-locks. It's a quiet, relaxed oasis in the middle of this big city, at the 5-km-mark. 

At St. Catherines

Just circle the first of the 3 basins by running around the right side, past the Dickens Inn and all its flowers, then take the narrow foot bridge, run past the yachts to the Starbucks in the round temple, then head back out to the Tower Bridge the same way that you came in.

Running westwards, head under the Tower Bridge as we pass right by the waterside stone walls of the Tower, another relaxing spot. 

Gate at the Tower

Luckily, the modern buildings just past the Tower have included new foot-trails along the water, so a detour away from the river is no longer necessary here.

We'll soon pass the tree-lined grandeur of the old Custom House, and continue under London Bridge. The next section of the trail passes some waterside pubs, and if you're there in the early evening, they're full of business-people from the City, drinking a few pints with their colleagues after work. 

At Custom House

After passing under Southwark Bridge, you'll have to detour away from the water for the last time, as the path goes around the old harbor at Queenhithe. The quay goes back to Roman and Saxon days, although it just looks like a mudflat now. At low tide, people search the muck for treasures and flotsam. 

People treasure-seeking at Queenhithe

The trail rejoins the river at Paul's Walk, near St. Paul's Cathedral. You'll run under the Millennium footbridge again. 

At Paul's Walk

Back at Blackfriars Bridge, we're at the 8-km-mark. The section ahead is my favorite part of the route. Although we are now up at street-level for busy Victoria Embankment Road, there is a riverside promenade with the winding-fish streetlamps and with monuments and historic ships docked up for the rest of the way.

We'll pass the interesting legal complex in the Temple Gardens across the street, where jurists still (occasionally) run around in their powdered wigs.  

Along Victoria Embankment

Just before Waterloo Bridge, at 9 kilometers, we pass the stone elegance of Somerset House, originally built to bring a variety of Royal Navy offices under one roof, the first dedicated military office building in the world.

When we get to the Egyptian obelisk, Cleopatra's Needle, let's backtrack a few meters to leave the river for a short bit, crossing the street into Embankment Park. This charming slice of greenery has everything you need in a city park all packed into one compact space: monuments, flower beds, benches full of relaxing office workers, the ancient York Watergate, once the bishop's way down to the river from his palace.  

In Embankment Park

Behind the gate, you'll pass the outside seating for Gordon's Wine Bar, a fascinating old bar located in a vaulted-ceiling cellar.

At the west end of the park run right into the entrance to Embankment Tube Station (crowded!) and out the other side to cross Victoria Embankment Road again and to continue westwards under Hungerford Bridge and towards Big Ben.

We'll pass Scotland Yard at the 10-km-mark, and then other government buildings and more war monuments and historic ships.

At the Thames Clipper dock (I recommend you take them to Greenwich sometime!) the steps take you back up to Westminster Bridge, with Parliament and Big Ben right in front of you. Now just run back out to the square to your right and you've finished this amazing run!

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Amrum Island Running Route

Click here for route map 

Length 4.6 km (2.9 mi), terrain: flat but sometimes hard-going through the loose sand, gain of 10 meters

NOTE: If you're staying in nearby Norddorf, you can run along the quiet road through the marsh from the village, or along the dike, further east. This will add 2.3-kilometers in each direction to the run.

Amrum is my favorite German North Sea island: A varied landscape, small enough to easily explore on a bike but with a few scenic villages and sights. There are windmills, the lighthouse, thatched-roof houses everywhere, a long ridge of dunes running the length of the island, wide (often deserted) beaches that seem to go on forever, and strips of woods, heather and marsh. You won't find a big hotel anywhere.

Typical Amrum, in the village of Nebel

And one of the most natural spots on the island is the narrow northern point, the Odde or also called the Nordspitze. The whole peninsula is a nature preserve, with long, lonely coasts to either side. It's a wistful place of hikers, runners, birdwatchers and shell collectors. It's a place to re-learn how to wonder.

Runner along the Odde

Like the whole island, the west coast is lined by a wide beach, and the east coast is swampy, submerging into mud flats (the Watt) that stretch to the next island, Föhr. Guided groups of hikers gather at the start of this route to cross the flats at low tide, walking barefoot and in shorts through the occasional deep trench.

There's also a bird rescue station in the reserve, which can be visited by making a reservation in advance.

But right now, we want to just get out in the wild surroundings, breathe the salty air and bathe in the glory of Mother Nature.

We'll start at the beginning of the preserve, about 2.3-kilometers north of the village of Norddorf. There is a parking lot for bikes there, and a map of the island on a board, a meeting point for guided hikes (Treffpunkt). This is on the eastern side, facing the mud flats. 

The start: bike racks and map

The route itself is simple: just head north to the point, then head back again down the west coast and its wide beach.

A dirt road heads north for the first couple of minutes, but then ends at the water's side. The dunes of the preserve are fenced-in from now on. You just run in the sand, heading north, along the water. You can see Föhr just a few kilometers to the east. 

Along the east shore, with Föhr to the right

I like running as close to the water as possible: it's simpler to run on the wet sand than on the loose, dry sand close to the fence. Depending on the tide, you might be able to run quite a way out on the mud.

Group of hikers walking across the mudflats to Föhr

At about the 1-kilometer mark, you'll pass the bird rescue station, which you can't really see, hidden up in the dunes.

At 2 kilometers, you'll come to the northern point, where you cross the dune and then the wide beach to begin running south. Again, depending on the tide, you might be able to run further out during low tide.

Northern point of the island

This side has a whole different feel from the mudflats: here are waves breaking on the beach, with piles of shells that collect in low spots. This side is more exposed to the wind.

The wide west beach

After 4 kilometers, start watching for the sandy path that cuts through the dunes to get you back to the starting place. There is a green-and-white nature-preserve sign there, and lots of footprints leading you into the dune.

Path cutting across the dunes

NOTE: You could also continue southwards along the beach if you want to get back to Norddorf: you can see the buildings of beachside restaurant at Norddorf Beach straight ahead.

The beach gets more active around here. The Norddorf surf schools drag their equipment out the the water here for classes, which are fun to watch.

Windsurf class for kids on the west beach


Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Schlei Fjord Running Route

Click here for route map

Length 7.2 km (4.5 mi), terrain: a few short ups and downs on a flat trail, gain of 0 meters

It's not well-known internationally, but several fjords cut their way into the northernmost German Baltic coast. And one of the nicest fjords is the Schlei, a 42-kilometer-long inlet stretching southwest from its mouth on the Baltic at Maasholm.

Unlike the steep, mountainous fjords in Norway, those in Denmark and Germany are nestled in sandy hills, dug out by ice-age glacier tongues, or by their melted runoff. The Schlei can seem as wide as an ocean and as narrow as a small river, lined by pastures and woods, dotted by sand cliffs and manor farms.
Along the Schlei

This route follows part of the Schlei's southern shore, along the Schlei Wanderweg, a hiking trail that lines several sections of the inlet.

This running route connects two fjord-side manor farms, Büstorf and Stubbe, near the scenic towns of Rieseby and Sieseby. It follows a very quiet section of the Schlei hiking trail, with several secluded beaches and a lot of nice lookouts over the fjord, then returning on the same trail. It's an inspiring place to be out and about!

We'll start the run at the Büstorf end, as there is a public parking lot there. At the Stubbe Manor end, you have to park further from the trail.
The carpark in Büstorf

So, if you're ready to get going, the turnoff to Büstorf is along the road from Kosel to Rieseby, just a half-kilometer southwest of Rieseby. There is a parking lot for hikers.

Now just continue north on the road the short way to the shore, and from then on northeastwards past the little marina (Wassersportverein Rieseby).

From now on, there are no more buildings or roads until we reach the Stubbe manor. The first part of the trail, directly at the water's edge, is a bit rough, with swampy spots and some deep sand.
Waterside running

It then gets a bit higher and dryer, heading into beech woods and meadows. Out over the water, sailboats cross the glittering reflections.
A little swimming spot

You'll pass a few first secluded swimming spots, and a place where people balance stones into little pyramids.
The stone pyramids

After 1.5 kilometers, for the next 500 meters, the waterside trail starts taking some steep ups and downs, and there is a spot with a huge fallen beech tree blocking the path. To avoid those, you can follow the nicer path as it goes through the woods, parallel to shore, but inland a bit. Or you can take the challenging shore path, which is what is followed in this route map. I like this route best, with more water views, creek crossings and secluded inlets.
Crossing a stream without a bridge

You'll then head back into woods for the rest of the way into Stubbe. The Stubbe farm is beautiful, and you might want to take a turn to the left to see it. There's a cafe there, too.
The gate-house to the Stubbe mansion

This is the turn-around spot. Now follow the same waterside trail back to the parking lot in Büstorf.

Vikings on the Schlei

There are a lot of Viking remains in the area, especially at the west end of the Schlei, near the main town of Schleswig. There is the archeological site of Haithabu (Hedeby) on a little side-arm of the Schlei. Haithabu was an important Viking trading town, where goods were unloaded from Baltic ships and carried westwards over land to the Eider River, where it was again put on boats and shipped out to the North Sea. Some of the Haithabu buildings have been rebuilt on their original locations, and local people reinact some of the village inhabitants, exhibiting their crafts. There's also an interactive museum. Check for more details here.

And starting in Haithabu, a long earthen wall, the Dannewerk (spelled Danevirke in Danish), begins, guarding the land to the Eider, much like Hadrian's Wall did in Britain. It was built to protect Denmark's southern border from Saxons and Slavs encroaching from the south and east.

You can also find several big stones carved with Viking runes in the area, and a few were moved to the Haithabu museum. Enjoy your stay!