Castle And Islands 2018 Race

Castle And Islands 2018 Race (3)

Sunday, 08 July 2018 16:40

Ashington Hirst Running Club

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Coquet Yacht Club Castles & Islands Challenge 2018

Stu Haddow & Maxine Todd

January, a chilly Druridge Bay Parkrun, I see a poster… ‘Runners Required’, ooh that looks interesting, I consider myself to be a bit of a runner. I read the brief… complete 4 runs, Alnwick Castle to Amble Marina, via Warkworth Castle, a run around Holy Island (Lindisfarne Castle), Seahouses to Bamburgh Castle and back to Seahouses then Newton to Dunstanburgh Castle and back to Newton, travelling by boat in teams of 4 to 6 with a minimum of 2 runners per leg. You can run all 4 legs or a combination of the crew covering all legs. Hmmm, that sounds different, who would do that with me??I complete my 27 minute Parkrun and get straight on the blower to my ‘Running Wife’, Maxine Todd.
“Oooo”…. she says…. “But it’s my husband’s birthday”
“You get a t-shirt”…. I say
“I’m in”…. she says
Fast forward 5 months and there we are, lugging rucksacks, sleeping bags, clothes, food and beer down the pontoons at Amble Marina to our boat ‘Spirit of Toranto’, a 30ft sailing boat skippered by another Stuart I used to go to school with, his friend Kris and a deck helper called Chris. Poor Maxine, 4 sweaty men and a boat. It was the first time I’ve seen her quiet; she was obviously unaware what she had let herself in for!
 
Registration took place in the Coquet Yacht Club clubhouse, the rules were all explained, we knew the routes as I had researched them many times, using old Strava data, maps and even a quick recce run of one I was unsure of. We paid some attention to the briefing but were more concerned about trying to get a picture of ‘wor Brenda Blethyn’ who was filming the latest series on Vera in the boat yard next door. Then my wonderful (real) wife drove us up to Alnwick Castle for the start of the run, at 37 weeks pregnant, I begged her to keep her legs crossed, I feared the embarrassment of having a rescue helicopter collect me from Holy Island to get to the imminent birth wouldn’t be good!
 
Running Leg1 Alnwick to Amble
A lovely evening to start a run, not too hot but concerns over the lack of wind in preparation for sailing. All we could do was our part and leave that to the experts to figure out. We departed Alnwick at 1830 to a rapturous applause from 6 spectators, possibly American tourists who thought the 24 participants may have been elite athletes? The route took us towards Warkworth as the crow flies, so mainly owa the fields! Maxine had been advised to wear long tights and had messaged me several hours before about concerns over nettles. “Nee way” I said (regretfully), as I thought I’d be a sweaty mess. Long pants would have been a good idea! We took it steady; I’m not the fastest but knew we had a long journey ahead so kept a little in reserve, we could see most of the pack in front of us throughout and knew there were a couple behind. 4 mile in and in the middle of a field, I managed to find a hole, the one that Maxine had merrily skipped over and didn’t think relevant to tell me, I went [email protected]$e over t*t. Dusted myself off and carried on like a trooper. “It’s not a race Maxine” I said… “It’s a challenge”… “Sniggers”! We circumnavigated Warkworth Castle, running around the moat, only a mile from here, champion, almost there, I wonder if Vera is still on? And she was. Running through the boat yard, a mock up crime scene, Forensics, PC’s, Detectives, cameras, sound, lighting (you know I’m partial to TV / photoshoot work), and there she was, dressed in traditional attire, long khaki Mack and Barbour Brier Trench Hat (thanks google). Cheers from the production crew and actors as we run through, I shout.. “Brenda, I love your accent”… “Cheers Pet” is the reply with a strong Northumbrian twang. I’m over the moon! And here we are, all aboard the good ship ‘Spirit of Toranto’
 
8.9 Miles / 1hr 22mins
Sailing Leg 1
We head out of Warkworth Harbour under engine power (allowed in the rules), a few hundred yards out of the mouth is ‘Sewer Buoy’ where sailing must commence, it’s literally all hands on deck. There is pulling of ropes, flapping of sails, words being shouted like “Port”, “Aft”, “Main sail”, what on earth does it all mean? Maxine and I sit quietly out of the way watching Stuart, Kris and Chris do their stuff to get us underway. A clockwise loop of Coquet Island before setting a northerly course then it’s time to get out the beers. A motto of Stuart’s boat is #acanamananhour… I’ll let you work it out but myself and Maxine managed to refrain ourselves with only a couple of beers, knowing we would have around 4 hours until our first scheduled stop of Holy Island
We had retired to the bunks to rest our legs and let the chaps get on with sailing. Around 2200 there were grumblings and discussions from up top, the wind had gone, basically we were heading north on the tide alone. Kris had an idea, make Seahouses the first stop, we run whilst the wind is calm, back on the boat 2 hrs later and the wind should begin to pick up. A make or break decision. We were happy to go for it.

 
 
 
 
 
Running Leg 2 Seahouses to Bamburgh
2305 and we are ready. Because we have to anchor quite far out of Seahouses harbour, Kris suggests he rows us ashore for this one. The most bizarre experience, 3 people in a 4ft dinghy, life jackets and a flare our only comfort with ½ a mile of black ocean between the boat and the slipway. Kris explains if you fall in the life jacket is self-inflating, before turning to Maxine and saying “But you’ll probably be deed anyway”… nervous laughs…
A 20 odd minute row into the harbour, I now know what it feels like to be ye’ olde smuggler, arriving under the cover of darkness. We quickly ditch the life jackets, Maxine rings out the sea water from her bed socks, leaves them on the wall to ‘dry’, on with the runners and off we trot towards Bamburgh, finding the path down to the beach (a rule of this leg to stay on beach). Conditions are reasonable, sand is okay but there are several rocky outcrops to navigate, difficult during the day, even more so at midnight by torchlight. We can see a light behind us, gaining ground so assume someone has had the same idea to do this leg. Upon reaching Bamburgh we must circle the castle, looking for a way over the dunes, I know there is a path but can’t find it so we head up a sand dune, a leg sapping decision and we are passed by the team behind who find said path 20 meters along the beach from us… bugger! We see the marshal at the castle gates, give him our details and off we go back along the beach. Much the same as the outward run, conversations of getting cramp whilst stuck in the 4ft dinghy take precedence, Maxine never thought of it until I mentioned it… Oops!
 
We return to Seahouses by the same route, still going at a reasonable pace and notice that the wind has picked up a little. On reaching the slipway we find Kris has had fun, the tide came in when he was ‘enjoying some refreshment’ (#acanamananhour) and our dinghy floated away with it! Luckily retrieved for our return! Back to the ship. Oh and the bed socks… yep still on the harbour wall at Seahouses.
 
6.9 Miles / 1hr 16mins
 

Sailing Leg 2
This time, off to Holy Island. By wind or by tide it must be the next stop, and the sailors must navigate Staple Sound which is a point between Inner and Outer Farne or Inner Sound a point between the mainland and Inner Farne, we retired to the bunks to grab a snooze. We told Kris to give us a 20 min warning for getting ready before reaching Holy Island. I haven’t a clue what time it was or where we were but remember that cramp I joked about, what could be a worse place than in a 4ft dinghy .. hamstring cramp whilst in a sleeping bag!! There was some mad hoping and some choice words, my mother would be ashamed.
 
Running Leg 3 Holy Island
We were woken by Kris, “Right 20mins”, up we shot, a quick tinkle in the vacuum toilet… interesting, running clobber on, life jackets and flare in hand. This time it was just me and Maxine in the boat. A couple of hundred metres to row but tough rowing. Very tidal and a lot of rocks. As we row in, about 10 metres from the boat “Look a seal”… I say… “They’ve got herpes on their teeth you know” Maxine says….. Rowing becomes more frantic!
 
We eventually make the slipway, tide was brutal, we got stuck in an eddy, with water from rocks going out and tide coming in. The marshal on the slipway is impressed, “You’ve obviously rowed before”.. He says, “Well you know, now and then” I modestly respond! Off with the jackets and away we go. 0330 in the morning, light now. Our route takes us past the priory and into the village, it’s so quiet. A slight miss calculation and we are in a cul-de-sac of houses, I can see the road we need to be on, “Howay”, I said… “You ever been garden hoping?”… Memories I have as a disrespectful youth growing up in Warkworth. We ‘leap’ over a couple of fences and try to contain our giggles as people have their bedroom windows open. The route takes us along the causeway towards the old lighthouse at the North of the Island, about 3.5 miles and our first checkpoint, Maxine advises me that she thinks she may be chaffing, there appears to be sand in places sand shouldn’t be! We inform the marshals of the sand issue and our disappointment that they haven’t got the bacon on for us, to be fair it was 4am and we did have to wake them up! We continued back along the causeway. “Eee the tides coning in” … explains Maxine, “Them next lot (Sanda Sund) will hopefully get wet feet”… We chuckle as the high tide laps the roadway! Its cross country from here to the most Eastern tip of the Island and a big monument that looks like a sail. Hard to find the paths through the dunes and we end up a little further away on the eastern beach, a good mistake to make as likely one of the most remote beaches in Northumberland, we see a few trainer prints in the sand so must be on the right track! Sunrise… pink skies, wow, we are lucky and these few moments make the trip worth it. However the moment becomes a bit weird when Maxine starts singing “It’s coming home, It’s coming home”. Tiredness has really set in so we begin to belt out ‘3 Lions on a Shirt’, to lift our spirits, one of the most magical times to share with a friend. We also wonder what ever happened to Ant & Dec’s song ‘We’re on the Ball’?? We make it to Emmanuel Head and turn west towards the impressive Castle, prominently perched on a rock, so close yet so far, about 2 miles away! It’s a long slog along the coastal path when we get to the castle I turn to see 2 figures in the distance. “Those buggers from Sanda Sund”… I say, “Ah the sheep will get them”… Maxine says as we pick up the pace and get accosted by 20 sheep wondering what we are doing at this ridiculous hour! We return to the slipway, the 2 runners behind have spurred us on. The row back to the boat is a bit less frantic but Mr Seal pops up to say goodbye. I don’t intend to catch herpes so row a little quicker…
 
7.3 Miles / 1hr 31mins
 
 
Sailing Leg 3 
Shattered.. back on the boat and Kris straps us in, some form of sheet contraption that should stop you rolling out of bed, it’s not comfortable but we do manage to grab a few z’s. It’s a bit rough this time though, the area between Inner and Outer Farne is known and Staple Sound, tides can flow against each other here and we are rocking, a few crashes as we navigate through. Again Kris advises he will give us 20 mins or so notice before getting to Newton Bay for our final run. The end is in sight! 
 
We are woken as we pull into Newton Bay, use of that vacuum toilet again before Maxine and I jump into the dinghy whilst the yacht is still moving, with the hope of a ‘slingshot’ towards the beach, it’s a row of about 400m but we are promised a bacon sarnie on return.
 
Running Leg 4 Newton to Dunstanburgh
We arrive on the beach and see the marshal for our start time. This is going to be a slog. Only about 4.5 miles but it’s painful, we have a fair few miles in our legs and it’s hard to get going, especially as the sand is very soft, we can’t seem to find any hard ground. We battle on and it’s more of a run walk this time. We know there are at least 2 other teams to run this route still so morale is good. We have a good idea where we are placed, I’ve worked it out to be around 8th or 9th and am happy with that.. It’s not a race, it’s a challenge!. It’s a leg sapping haul to the impressive ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, we have to go up to the gates and see the marshal. We are comforted by the marshals words “Don’t worry, no one has ran up that hill so far guys”! We turn around and head back with a bit more of a spring in our step, knowing we only have 2 mile to run. We pass a couple of teams on the beach and everyone is in good spirits, the enormity of the task is beginning to hit us now. We have been very lucky to take part in this and are proud of our achievements, we also know there is beer and bacon on the boat for us! A quick chat to the marshal and a fist pump between Maxine and I… “We’ve done it big lad”… Maxine exclaims, “Wey aye pet”.. I say, “It’s been a canny run”! We climb into our dinghy for the last time, 400m or so to row to the boat, tired and slightly delirious a thought springs to mind, “The owl and the pussycat went to sea, in a beautiful pea green boat”! A poem that I was later told could be heard from the beach as we rowed away, much to the amusement of the marshals at Newton.
 
4.5 Miles / 1hr 2mins
 
 
Sailing Leg 4
The final sail, it’s breezy, choppy and a long slog back to Amble. But, we’ve done it and we have a beer (or 3) and a bacon sarnie. We arrive back to Amble around 1330 and cross the finish line just outside the harbour. Kris radios the club house.. “Coquet Yacht Club, Spirit of Toranto crossing the line in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1”. A small cheer from all on-board.
 
It takes a while for the chaps to get the sails down, Maxine and myself put our stuff away and tidy up a bit below deck, we will have to wait until 3pm to enter the harbour due low tide, but it’s a good excuse to have a chat with the team and open the bottle of Gin!!
 

 

 

Spirit of Toranto
 
Crewed by Stuart, Kris & Chris with runners Stu and Maxine
 
Sailing Time 13hrs 56mins (6th position)
 
Running Time 5hrs 11mins (10th position)
 
Total Race (Challenge) Time 19hrs 07mins (9th position out of 12)

 

A fantastic experience for all involved. Would I do it again? At the time I said no, on reflection I probably would! Would I recommend it as a run? 100% yes, if you get the chance it is a fantastic challenge.
 
A huge thank you to Stuart, Kris and Chris for looking after us and to Phil Tickner and all at the Coquet Yacht Club for organising this great event.
 
And from the bottom of Maxine and Stu’s hearts a huge thankyou to the wonderful Hirsties and our family and friends for the love and support we received before, during and after this challenge x
#acanamananhour
 
 

Castles & Islands from the First Timers Perspective

 
When the emails came round in December I quickly identified two workmates who volunteered to take part, and I rashly entered the C&I. As they say Act in Haste, Regret at your Leisure.I didn't really know what it involved, until Peter Hammond, issued his dire warnings at the into meeting.
 
So, I had committed myself, and Diana to an all night ordeal. The week before involved a lot of planning, and worrying. So the tides were carefully worked out, the Admiralty Tidal Atlas duly marked up with the various hours (although it did prove to be a complete work of fiction), and the weather forecasts kept a good eye on. The food was organised, flapjacks were baked, parkin, spag bol...We had taken our runners for a little cruise round Coquet Island the weekend before, and we anchored off Hauxley, we inflated the dingy, and they had a little practice row.
 
How would it go? Would we get the runners back in the 24 hour limit?
 
So the big day duly arrived, and we went to the meeting. What, did we really have to do Seahouses and Newton only under sail? Anyway, as is usual with pre-voyage nerves, there is nothing like starting. I took my runners up to Alnwick and we went back to the marina for a quick supper.Then the first mistake happened. The runners came back before we were ready, what followed was a mad scramble to get Me-Mo from her berth and get her off, hopefully with nobody noticing the panic. So we were off, and there was a good wind to take us round Coquet Island and only a couple of tacks and then it was downwind. Now for the second blunder. Diana had already asked me about the spinnaker pole but I had misunderstood. This was our first raise of the season and I had forgotten to look at the pole in my annual maintenance. The pistons were blocked with salt. So the skipper rushed into the cabin and emerged with hammer and WD40. Worried looking runners made a comment about things not looking too good. So we were probably the last to get our kite up, but up it went and we were off. What followed was the most glorious and memorable spinnaker run. Who can ask for a better way of spending an evening watching the sun set over the beautiful Northumberland coastline with the water bubbling under the hull? It was fabulous. As the sun gradually went down the wind did ease quite a bit, but it also steadied as it often does at night and it was even quite warm.
 
My plan had always to be to get through Staple sound on the way up to Holy Island, and we found we were there in plenty of time, the north going stream was just beginning to ease, and it was getting quite dark, but we could hear the birds even in the dark. We must try a night in the kettle some time. The Spinnaker was dropped on our approach to Holy Island. I'm not one who would normally choose to enter an unfamiliar harbour in the dark, but as it happened the two sectored lights made it a piece of cake, and the engine was duly started after rounding Triton, the runners scrambled to blow up the dingy, the hook was let go, and they were off on run no 2. Time for lie down.
 
Later, the tide started to flood, and the runners really had a fight to get back to the boat. They just managed it. So, now for Seahouses...
 
The Seahouse leg included a beautiful sunrise over the Farnes, and we tacked really close to Inner Farne, the runners were resting down below, but the two sailors had the full wildlife experience. I even managed to get a few photos.
 
We got to Seahouses in good time and letting off our runners didn't prove to be too difficult. It was easy to anchor just off the pier head and we both managed to get a bit of rest while the runners were away. This was clearly the hardest run, the runners reappeared exhausted and needing feeding up. Another mistake, I thought that because it was only a short way to Newton we could leave the dingy inflated under the boom. I hadn't accounted for the huge tide. It took us the best part of 3½ hours to go 6 miles. Having the dingy inflated proved to be positively dangerous as the jib sheets decided to catch on a mast cleat on a couple of tacks which required an urgent trip to the mast, involving climbing over a slippery dingy.
 
Getting the runners off under sail at Newton was no problem, but the wind had by now got up, and leaving the anchorage under sail wasn't going to be easy. The isn't much space and hitting a rock didn't appeal. The runners had a bit of a struggle to get back to the boat. Although we were the last to leave Newton by a long time, at least an hour I guess, we had a great sail back to Amble. We had a lovely F4, not too much of a sea, and absolutely ideal conditions for a Contessa. We took a more inshore route than the other boats, and I think we got a lift from doing this, and we only needed an occasional tack to keep us off the land. I recon we must have gained at least 45 minutes on the boat in front on the last leg.
 
The run up to the finish line was fantastic, a final short tack and then eased sheets powered us over the finish line, a great sail and we didn't even get wet. Amazing for a boat sometimes likened to a submarine with sails. Other than that it was a memorable experience, a real highlight of the year, and the icing on the cake was that our runners came second, even though they were newbies too.
 
So, in summary a great event, which must take a huge amount of organising. Thank you everybody.
 
I think my lovely helmswoman has agreed to do it next year, already, despite strong reservations expressed beforhand.
 

 

Monday, 02 July 2018 18:36

Lene Sono

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CASTLESAND ISLANDS CHALLENGE Northumberland, 15 & 16 June 2018


Although not a genuine member of Northern Fells RC , I see myself as having a connection since I was a “member” before it was a proper running club, and I continue to take an interest even when competing against it for CFR. Thus I am on its mailing list and so received an interesting message from Natalie: runners wanted for the Castles & Islands Challenge. This is an annual event, although I had not previously heard of it. It is hosted by Coquet Yacht Club in Amble. It’s a very different type of team race as it combines the disciplines of sailing and running. Now, I am not a sailor at all (think “Swallows &Amazons” level of knowledge). Teams can include up to six people, two of whom must be runners. Each stage has a series of checkpoints which can be visited in any order. With 30 miles of running, and an approximate sailing distance of 55 miles, depending on weather, winds, tides, and the chosen order of checkpoints, the challenge is for the teams to complete both running and sailing stages within 24 hours of the start at 6.30 pm. Runners must run in pairs and finish each stage together at all times. This sounded like a very interesting event, like no other I had tried.

There are various other rules, such as having to go through both Staple Sound and Inner Sound - which will mean little to those who do not know the area, and to whom I would say: go there as soon as you can! In my opinion Northumberland is the best of all counties including Cumbria (sorry).

The race takes in the five castles of Alnwick, Warkworth, Lindisfarne, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh, and the islands of Coquet, Farne, and Holy Island (Lindisfarne) on the Northumberland coastline. Northumberland is very dear to me as I passed many of my childhood summers on its beaches, and even though I have since travelled the world I still believe them to be the best beaches on the planet. So the location of the event was a big attraction.

My team sailed on Lene Sono, a 45 year old yacht which belongs to the Ocean Youth Trust North, a charity which introduces kids to sailing: http://www.oytnorth.org.uk. Skipper John Williams had sailed Lene Sono up from North Shields the day before, otherwise both boat and race were new to all of the team: crew Tom Lowrie and Callum Doyle (a teenager who had learned to sail with OYTN); runners Liz Gray and me: as the only two runners we would both have to run all stages. Liz and I had never before met each other, or the sailors, until just before the event started, so there was a lot of trust on everybody’s part. We had no expectations, just hoped to finish in the 12 hours which would expire at 18:30 on Saturday evening.

At Amble marina Liz and I had a quick introduction to the boat, how to operate a modern lifejacket, and what to do should Man Overboard occur. I was a bit worried about (a) being seasick - they say there is always a first time, and (b) my dodgy knee holding up - but my kit included plenty of Ibuprofen, a support bandage and even running poles.

Run 1:Alnwick to Amble. A motley crew of 13 pairs was transported to Alnwick. We assembled at the castle gatehouse on a sunny evening,
and ran ten miles along footpaths and across fields to the coast. The views over the sea to Coquet Island, and to our first target of Warkworth castle, were stunning in the evening light, and the fields beautiful with healthy crops of green wheat and barley, wild flowers round the margins. The ground was dry to the point of cracking so the running was much easier than it often is on such terrain, no mud at all.

Disappointingly I was unable to take photos because Liz was running so fast I had to put all my efforts into trying
to keep up. At the start: Alnwick castle gatehouse, with Liz Gray
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
At Warkworth we had to do a complete circuit of the castle before continuing. Arriving atAmble boatyard, through which we had to pass to reach the Coquet Yacht Club and then the marina, we saw a number of police vehicles, security guards, and police officers. Blue and white tape cordoned off a murder scene! The security guards allowed us to run through the murder scene - an episode of “Vera” was being filmed so no forensics were compromised. Quite surreal.
 

We dashed along the pontoons to Lene Sono. There followed a wonderful trip around Coquet Island as the sun set. Added interest when the (I am told, old-fashioned) rainbow-coloured spinnaker failed to deploy correctly and everything got quite exciting. As I braced my feet on the gunwale, leaning out the other way just like real sailors do on the telly, I mused that this was not what I had been expecting, I’d rather had visions of a G&T on deck between runs. A replacement kite was soon hauled up and everything calmed down. I had time to spot seals and puffins. At about 10.30 pm the skipper served spaghetti bolognese, the first of a number of meals eaten at rather odd times. Liz and I tried to get some rest, although sleep was problematic with the unfamiliar noises of sails and sea. The noises following “Ready about” soon became familiar. From time to time various unintelligible orders were given. Then there were the seal noises -what a racket! We must have dozed though, because suddenly we got a two minute warning:
 

Run 2: Holy Island. First we had to get to the island by climbing off the boat into the world’s smallest inflatable dinghy. I sat in the bows (if a round dinghy can be said to have such things) with my knees up to my ears, Callum practically in my lap, from which position he rowed us ashore, Liz acting as cox giving directions. I think it was about midnight; certainly all this was achieved in the dark. A marshal took our numbers, we ditched our lifejackets, and enthusiastically ran off into the blackness, only to end up in somebody’s garden. Fortunately it did not take long to find the causeway along which we had to go to reach the old lighthouse on The Snook and another marshal. The seal colony’s cries made a strange otherworldly sound; no wonder there are so many folk and fairy tales featuring these animals.

Then things got problematic. We were supposed to do what amounts to a circuit of the island, which sounds easy: keep the sea on your left and you can’t go wrong. Well, yes, but what with inlets, impassable rocks, and so on, that would take hours, especially by head-torch. With hindsight I should have approached this section as an unknown fell race: work out a route beforehand and write the bearings on the map. Instead we took a likely route into the dunes and spent a while running up and down sandy and grassy banks in what felt like only approximately the right direction. Occasionally we saw other runners’ torches but they were no help at all. Tiring of this, I pulled out my compass, but of course had no idea where I was starting from. Fortunately Liz got a GPS point on her phone (apologies to fell-running purists here, but we were obliged to carry a mobile). Thus we were able to locate Emmanuel Point where there is a huge maritime navigation pyramid, phew, that helped. From here it seemed quite a distance to the castle but at least we were not required to run right round it due to major building works in progress.
 

After nine miles we were back at the dinghy. Later, I found out that another team had rowed off into the dark and got caught by the tide; their yacht had to sail off and pick them up. The benefit was that, in order to prevent this happening to us, Lene Sono came as close inshore as possible, reducing the damp and chilly dinghy ride. My tip for anyone trying this race: take more dry warm clothes to wear on the boat than you think you will need. By now Liz and I were pretty tired and managed to doze, although every now and then the boat’s energetic tacking threw us around
 
in our berths. Apparently we managed to overtake at least four boats on this night leg, which pleased the skipper as most of the other yachts were a lot more modern.

All too soon there was a ten-minute warning.

Run 3: Seahouses to Bamburgh castle. Relatively short, just under seven miles, but surprisingly difficult and tiring due to the soft sand. The tide had just turned and was going out, leaving a very narrow but slowly increasing gap between the sand cliffs and the sea, and we used this where possible, then picked up a narrow path through vegetation which took us to the castle rock. The situation of this fortress is dramatic and, running south back along the deserted beach, we saw it lit up by the sun shining from beyond the Farne Islands. The view was magical and will live long in my memory even without photos. It was a real privilege to be doing this at 4 am with no-one else about.
 
 
 
Callum was asleep in the dinghy when we got back to Seahouses but put in another heroic effort getting us back to Lene Sono. The senior crew were of course able to eat, drink and sit about whilst we were away; but they were ready to leap into action as soon as we were back on deck. It was too light to get any sleep by now and we were counting down to the last leg, so we had ham and cheese sandwiches for breakfast.

Run 4: Low Newton-by-the-Sea to Dunstanburgh castle. This has been my favourite castle since I was five, and remains so even though getting to it was a trial on this occasion. Our feet were damp already so it wasn’t a big deal to wade ashore towing the dinghy, and there is a lot of water running across the sandy beach anyway. Then you scramble over the round black
 
rocks of the Whin Sill to reach a path bordering the golf links. A few early-morning golfers looked at us oddly.
 
 
 
Dunstanburgh Castle

Up to the gatehouse, where I noted that it now costs £6 to get in, as opposed to the 6d I remember. Of course this was long before opening time, but there was no chance to climb the fence and look around. “Everybody’s tired by the time they get here!” chortled the marshal. “She isn’t!” I said, indicating Liz who was itching to get away. She had
been demonstrating great patience throughout as there was no way I could run at her pace (she admitted to being trained up for a triathlon next month). I more or less shuffled back to Low Newton; my bad knee caused no problems at all, just the general age of my joints was making itself felt, together with the lack of training - eight months since I had run this sort of distance. However, the final section was now a little shorter since the tide had turned and we could cut off part of the bay. On the other hand, we had to tow the dinghy out past some rocks before we got back in.

Having finished the land part of the race Liz and I could get rid of the wet running gear, and of most of the sand, and put on dry clothes.

“A bit of a squall coming!” I must admit to enjoying the next couple of hours as we whizzed along in “bumpy” conditions, the boat constantly at 40 degrees to the horizontal. I was very hungry - I had completely lost track of time, just knew it was a bit odd to be eating tuna rice with veg. I managed two helpings! Unfortunately Liz turned pale green and had to lie down for the rest of the voyage.

Wonderful views of Dunstanburgh were not spoiled by the rain showers or the need to hold on tight. I had a huge smile on my face.
It was impossible to know how we were doing in terms of the race -because various types of boat are involved there is a complex handicap system which might puzzle even Andy Bradley. We crossed the finish line at 14.16, four hours in hand, then had to wait a bit for the tide to make it possible to get back into the marina, after which my first stop was the CYC shower, closely followed by the CYC bar.

“Awesome” is not normally a word that features in my vocabulary but it has to be applied to the Castles and Islands Challenge. It was an amazing experience. I felt very safe and confident in the crew, John in particular has decades of experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed the sailing sections; my running mate was supportive although she could have achieved much better times with a more evenly matched partner; the marshals were cheerful even in the wee small hours; the scenery was totally stunning; and the other runners were friendly and encouraging. It was also an exhausting experience, we all found it tough to stay awake in the bar long enough for the post-race barbecue to be prepared.

For those who are interested in the results, well, the “corrected” handicap
 
times are incomprehensible. was 8th in the sailing stakes.
 
However, I am told that apparently our yacht Our running time was 5 hours 57 which was only 44 minutes longer than the winning team’s time. Our overall position was last but not by much, and less than three hours behind the winners :)