Sunday 30 July 2017

Penrhyn parkrun

This was the second parkrun I had visited during our stay in Wales during the summer of 2017, the first being Conwy parkrun just seven days earlier. Our main reasons for being in Wales were to climb Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and for me to run the Snowdonia Trail Half-Marathon (click the links for those blogs).

Our accommodation was only 2 miles away from Castell Penrhyn (Penrhyn Castle), and we had a fabulous view of it from the road outside our cottage. It sits atop a hill just outside the village of Llandygai which was developed by the 1st Baron Penrhyn of Llandygai as a model village for his estate workers.

the view from our cottage / gatehouse

On the day of the parkrun I had half-planned to jog to the venue, however my legs were still a little sore from the week's adventures, plus the main road doesn't have a pavement and I was a little nervous about running in the road with vehicles approaching at 60mph. I reluctantly used the car instead.

Upon arrival I entered the 45 acre estate grounds via the impressive Gatehouse and drove along the long meandering driveway as it passes through woodland. The estate is owned by The National Trust and appears on my list of National Trust parkrun Venues. The spacious car park is found at the end of the drive. The first set of toilets can be found at the far end of the car park with further toilets found in the castle itself.

castell penrhyn

There is usually an entrance fee to access the castle and grounds, but those attending parkrun can park and enter the grounds without charge. The nearest train station is Bangor which is about 3 miles away and there are local buses which will help you to complete your journey to Penrhyn Castle.

After climbing the twisty, meandering path from the car park, the striking Norman-esque castle came into view. It's worth pointing out that while Penrhyn is referred to as a castle, technically it isn't one at all. It is in fact a country house for which a license to crenellate (license to fortify) was granted in 1438.

to the start

The current building was designed by Thomas Hopper and built between 1822 and 1837 with only a couple of internal features from previous buildings being kept. Such was its status that it even had a visit from Queen Victoria in 1859 who slept on a custom-made one-ton slate bed.

Walking around to the front of the building with its grand multi-turreted architecture, you'll more than likely find some runners and volunteers mingling around. On the day I visited there was a film crew here filming 'Alfie's Army' where Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas is training a group of 17-21 year olds to run the Cardiff Half-Marathon.

the start courtyard / archway

The 5k event that I was here to run, Penrhyn parkrun, first took place on 15 November 2014 and its attendance figures have grown from under a hundred to the current numbers which hover somewhere around 200 - it's also worth noting that the attendance figures seem to bounce around quite a bit. For example, the week I visited (event 135) there were 230 participants but a week earlier there were 304 and before that 205. I suspect the jump was down to extra runners in the local area for the aforementioned half-marathon.

The run itself takes place entirely within the castle grounds and is made up of two clockwise large laps (Cylch Mawr) followed by two clockwise small laps (Cylch Bach). Underfoot is a mixture of tarmac and gravelly farm track type paths - I used my road shoes, but in winter trail shoes might offer a little more traction when not on the tarmac.

part of the large lap

As 9am rolls around the runners make their way around to the courtyard on the western side of the building. Here the first-timers briefing and then the main run briefing take place. The start (Cychwun) is formed within the gate to the courtyard and its only about 4 people wide so the start is very congested while everyone filters through.

One thing you will not find in the courtyard are runners with dogs because they have a separate start line which filters into the main body or of runners as the route turns and passes the front of the castle. Since I visited, this venue has introduced a limit on the number of dogs, and as a result dogs must be booked in in advance (usually via facebook, but contact the event team if you need more info). Also as you work your way around the course you will be treated not only to views of the castle from every angle, but also out to the Menai Straits and across towards the mountains of Snowdonia.

the course

The large lap is about 1.5km in length and goes via the east side of the castle. The general theme is downhill for the first 500 metres which then switches to about 800 metres of undulating / gentle climbing once past the walled garden. The remaining 200 metres are flat. The second large lap begins with the runners turning left upon reaching the main castle gate at the front of the building and again passing the east side of the castle.

With the two large laps complete, the runners take a right hand turn upon reaching the main castle gates and run along the west side of the castle for the remaining two small laps. These start out flat but have a steeper drop which meets the larger lap outside the walled garden. It is then followed by the same long incline back around to the end of the lap. The signs for the laps are only in Welsh so just remember Cylch Mawr is for the large lap and Cylch Bach for the small ones.

towards the end of each lap (large and small)

Whether you are at the front, the back or the middle of the pack you will encounter plenty of other runners/walkers as the multiple lap course means that lapping is inevitable. When I visited all other runners were considerate and passing worked out fine with no need to break my pace in order to filter through.

With the four laps complete, the finish (Gorffen) can be found within the main entrance archway at the front of the castle. It's the perfect end to a picturesque run, but do be careful as the surface underfoot changes to cobblestones as you cross the finish line. Barcode scanning took place at the end of the finish funnel inside the main courtyard.

part of the small lap / tail runner

The undulations get harder each lap and by the end you'll be glad that you can have a break from running! If you're going to stay for coffee, the coffee shop in the castle is open for parkrunners afterwards. I had to check out of my cottage by 10am so sadly didn't have time to stay. I did manage to have a quick peak in the walled garden, and would have loved to stay for longer.

If you were planning to make a day of your time here, you'd be able to wander around the grounds taking in the stunning views, various gardens including a Bog Garden, adventure playground and an outdoor gym.

gorffen / finish

If you wanted to go inside the castle you could explore the 'ostentatious cathedral-like interior' which was possible due to the former owner's wealth which came from ownership of the Penrhyn slate quarry - to this day the biggest in Britain, but once the largest in the entire world.

Inside you'll also find a vast art collection, Queen Victoria's slate bed, a collection of dolls and the Penrhyn Castle Rail Museum which features a number of locomotives which were used on the Penrhyn Slate Quarry narrow gauge railway as well as many other engines from around the country.

one of the views / details

The results were processed and I got my results text message later that morning. I had recorded the run using my Garmin and the GPS data can be viewed on my Strava profile, right here: Penrhyn parkrun 135. Also, you can view my #relive video of the course on YouTube, here: Penrhyn parkrun relive video.

The main Penrhyn parkrun course page describes the run as 'one of the most beautiful and picturesque runs of North Wales' and it's difficult to argue with that. The castle is a stunning sight from every angle, but to have views out to sea and of the mountains of Snowdonia on top of that makes this a real treat of a venue.

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