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
Read 1287 times Last modified on Sunday, 08 July 2018 17:49