Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Conwy parkrun

Conwy is a medieval walled town in North Wales the sits on the west side of the River Conwy. It has a population of just under 5,000 while the extended Conwy County Borough is home to around 120,000 in total. The name comes from the old Welsh words 'cyn' and 'gwy' (chief / water) which was the original name of the estuary/river.

rspb wetlands / friends

The most prominent feature of the town is undoubtedly Conwy Castle which was constructed between 1283 and 1289 along with the 1.3km long town wall which is still largely intact. These features of the town have been given special status and protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The castle was built under instruction of Edward I of England who was on his conquest for the principality of Wales. The land was formerly home to Aberconwy Abbey, but the monks were moved onto Maenan by Edward to make way for the castle's construction.

start area

On the opposite bank of the River Conwy is the Conwy RSPB Nature Reserve. However, until the 1980s the land that makes up the reserve was part of the estuary (under water for a thousand years). The construction of the Conwy bypass (A55), which was the world's first submerged tube tunnel, lead to the land being reclaimed and after some discussion as to what should be done with it, it was decided that a nature reserve would be the best way forward.

As of 10th January 2015 the nature reserve has been the base for Conwy parkrun - it is worth noting that not one single step of the run takes place within the reserve, but the RSPB have been kind enough to support the event with free use of the reserve car park (also has bicycle parking) and access to its cafe and toilet facilities. The closest train station is Llandudno Junction.

opening 700 metres

The meeting point (and start/finish) for the parkrun is at a gate which is right on the waterfront, not far from the main entrance to the car park. The course is essentially an out-and-back along the estuary footpath. Underfoot is mostly a loose gravelly surface which can hold onto water after rain so could be a little splashy. It's also entirely flat apart from a small section where the course passes over a footbridge.

We visited this venue on the same weekend as the 2017 Snowdon Trail Half-Marathon which I had entered, and my friend Adam had done the same. We decided to have a fairly relaxed run around the course together, which worked out beautifully as it was also his 100th parkrun. Once we had listened to the first-timers briefing and the main briefing, it was time to get going.

conwy castle

The course heads west along the riverside footpath for approx 700 metres before reaching the footbridge over the railway line. It's a bit twisty and has a few blind bends - fortunately the parkrun organisers have a couple of mirrors that they place on the bridge to help with the corners. On the other side of the footbridge the course dives under the main road via a short tunnel.

Now directly opposite Conwy Castle, the runners leave the footpath and head along through the gardens directly towards it - it really is an incredible sight.

last part of the out / turnaround

To the left are three bridges - The Conwy Suspension Bridge [1822-26] with its castellated towers that match the castle, and the railway bridge [1846-8] which is a wrought iron tubular bridge are both Grade I listed structures. Finally there is the modern-day [1958] road bridge.

After a few hundred metres the runners meet a marshal and are directed onto the lower path to head back towards the the riverside path (this little diversion is not repeated on the return leg).

the way back

Back on the footpath, the runners continue to head west (or maybe north-west) along the estuary. The A55 runs adjacent to the path here until it goes underground via the aforementioned tunnel, which is where the runners meander around to the right and then left.

The railway track runs adjacent to this next section of the path and it gets a little narrower. There can be quite a lot of two-way running traffic here, so it is important to keep to the left. The turnaround point (2.9km) is found just behind the Deganwy Marina in the shape of some cones and a marshal.

tunnels and bridges

Heading back on the left, it wasn't long before we bumped into my wife and daughter who were also running and we exchanged some high-fives before getting on with the job in hand. If you glance across the river to Conwy you may be able to spot a tiny red building - this is 'Quay House' and is the smallest house in Great Britain.

We decided to put in a quicker last kilometre and after heading back under the road and over the railway bridge, we were left with the remaining 700 metres to the diwedd (finish). Once across the line we had our barcodes scanned while still in the finish funnel and I headed straight back out onto the course to find my wife and daughter.

the final stretch / finish

Once all of us had finished we made our way over to the siop goffi (coffee shop) in the RSPB reserve to check out the wildlife and for some breakfast. If you eat meat you can have bacon or sausage in-a-bap. However if you don't eat meat you'll be looking at some toast or a teacake. They had beans on the menu and when I asked for beans on toast, the lady just shook her head and said 'no hot food until 11.30' which I thought seemed like an odd policy considering the bacon and sausage baps on offer.

UPDATE: Since I originally posted this blog, Conwy RSPB have been in touch and have let me know that as of 29 July 2017, vegetarian sausages (Linda McCartney - so should also be vegan) will be available as part of the post-parkrun breakfast offerings. Thanks to the RSPB for taking my comments on board and making the change.


Anyway, I had recorded my run using my Garmin and the GPS file of the course can be found online, here: Strava - Conwy parkrun. The results for event 130 were online shortly after we left the cafe and there were 364 participants which was a new attendance record. Usually this venue attracts just under 300 participants each week. You can view the Relive video of the course via YouTube, here - Conwy parkrun relive video

We followed the run with a fantastic day out in Conwy, and it was a pleasure to run along the bank of the river and in the shadow of such an impressive castle!

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