Escape to the country (in the heart of East Belfast)

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Since my friends have started having beautiful, squishy babies we don’t get to catch up as often as we used to so today when I met up with my friend Catherine we were able to kill two birds with one stone. As the nights begin to draw in earlier we are determined to at least try and stay healthy this Winter. With this in mind we ventured to Tommy Patton Park in the heart of East Belfast for a run around and a natter.

East Belfast is famous for many things. It’s the home of the Titanic and the dockers who built her. The Chronicles of Narnia author, C.S. Lewis, lived in Sydenham and George Best used to play kickabout in Cregagh before he signed for Man United. The most recent recipient of Belfast’s ‘Freedom of the City’, Van Morrison also hails from the East and his roots are referenced throughout his catalogue of music. What it’s not so well known for is its parks and green spaces but in truth, they are a well kept secret and a haven for local wildlife.

If you are a keen birder head to Victoria Park where you’ll see majestic swans cruise the lake with geese, ducks and a few moorhen for good measure. Each Saturday morning local athletics club Orangegrove AC hosts a free, timed 5k run in the park as part of the international Parkrun movement. (For those of you who – like me – can’t manage to make the official Parkrun at 9am on a Saturday morning but care to know the course, 3 laps of the lake equals 5k.) There’s also a play park for the kids, football pitches and some skating ramps if you fancy trying something a bit different.

Belfast City Council and Connswater Community Greenway have been working to regenerate the park and improve the facilities for visitors and as such it’s turned into a bit of a building site of late forcing Parkrun to relocate for a few weeks.

Poised and ready for action Poised and ready for action

As usual I woke up too late to make it to the relocated Parkrun but met up with Catherine a little later in the day to give it a go. From the Holywood Road you can’t see much of the park but inside it’s very family friendly boasting a play park with a big rope climbing frame, swings and slides. Once inside it was as if we’d been transported to the middle of the countryside. As we ran around the flat trail – along with our trusty sidekick, Robert De Niro – we couldn’t have felt farther from the city. The path winds through the trees and is bordered by unkempt patches of grass, popular with wet noses, runners and cyclists. It was a great chance to catch up, get a bit of fresh air into our lungs and muck on our shoes.

When I first laced up my trainers I could barely run the length of myself but over the years, (and thanks to a friend who cajoled me into join a wee club called Orangegrove), I’ve slowly but surely improved. Some people believe the speed you run the race is all that counts but I can say with certainty that, for me at least, the craic’s at the back and you should enjoy where you are running if you can. Of course if you are able to run like lightning and still appreciate the view more power to your elbow! If you are looking for a brief escape from city life why not head down to one of the parks near you? You might be surprised by what you find there. And if you can drag yourself out of bed early on a Saturday morning take a race down to Parkrun. You can run or walk and it’s a great chance to test the water a bit and see if running is for you. There’s no maximum finish time so if you fancy taking it slow and walking round then that’s cool. The events are run entirely by volunteers with a passion for people and the running community so do give it a go. You might find a running buddy there if you’re lucky! If you are in East Belfast – and I am entirely biased in saying this – call down to Victoria or Tommy Patton Parkrun for the craic, the coffee and the best brownies in the city for afters!

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