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Pints & Parkruns: Cotsford Fields

On a cliff edge

By Andy PottsPublished 5 months ago 3 min read

‘Undulating’ is one of the most deceptive words in a runner’s vocabulary. Almost nobody wants to admit to a hill on a route, yet hardly anybody wants to proclaim a course flatter than the proverbial pancake. As a result, parkrun tourists can face mountainous ‘undulations’ one week, before trotting along a flat path the next, wondering where the slopes will start.

Cotsford Fields, though, absolutely nails undulation. A dramatic clifftop path hugs the North Sea coastline and weaves gently up and down. The views, needless to say are spectacular. The clifftop section leads runners south and, on a clear day, runners can see beyond Hartlepool’s headline and the Teesmouth wind farm all the way to the North Yorkshire coast.

Of course, not every day is idyllic. We’re in the north, after all. Wind and rain are a constant threat and it’s possible to get up on a bright sunny Saturday in Durham, drive 12 miles to Horden and run in a horizontal downpour. Consequently, there’s now a winter course that cuts out the muddy allotments and sticks to the paths. It means three times up the biggest hill (total elevation up to 64m, compared with 48m on the more traditional route), but less danger of losing your brand-new Christmas present running shoes in a boggy patch after a winter of seemingly endless rain.

Even in the bleakest weather, though, the transformation of the Durham Heritage Coast is spectacular. Once, these beaches were sought after by Hollywood. Sadly, they weren’t standing in for a tropical paradise: the impact of decades of industrial blight saw this stretch of coast stand in for distant, desolate planets in the Alien movies. Back then, coal was king on this coast and grime, soot and slurry dominated everything.

The tern sculpture is a much-loved coastal landmark.

Today, the pit is gone. It closed in 1987, extinguishing 2,000 jobs overnight. With it went the town’s sense of purpose. Parkrun, which began here in 2018 in clifftop fields looked after by the National Trust, might be a small show of Horden’s resilience. It’s not the biggest event in the region, averaging just 40 runners. But it’s one of the most welcoming and that cliff-top stretch, part of the Durham Coastal Path (and part of the route of the notoriously hilly Durham Coastal Half Marathon) brings a wild splendour rarely seen elsewhere.

Practicalities: before the winter course was inaugurated, there might have been a case for trail shoes in wet weather. Now, unless you’re particularly anxious about running on grass, this is a less urgent need. However, the route is remote. No toilet on site and no café to hand. On the plus side, the road close to the start takes you straight to the beach and there’s a lovely walk into the ancient wildwood of Castle Eden Dene.

The pint

Cotsford Fields is just to the north of Castle Eden Dene, a fantastic patch of ancient wildwood. On the far side of the dene, in Castle Eden village, a business centre calls itself the Old Brewery. Happily, Castle Eden Ale still exists, now brewed in nearby Seaham by an enthusiast. What was once one of the Northeast’s best real ales lives on as a craft brew.

The current operation might be smaller than the original, which was eventually incorporated into the Whitbread mega-brewing business. Given the fate of Whitbread’s breweries, this isn’t necessarily a drawback. Smaller scale means greater flexibility; the Castle Eden range is growing to embrace stouts, IPAs and more under its craft arm. Meanwhile, mass-market blandness is a thing of the past, making this a beer well worth seeking out. The brewery itself is now based just up the coast in Seaham, while Castle Eden Ale is a regular on tap at Durham’s Dun Cow.

First visit: April 2022. PB: 24:17 (Sep. 2022)

Thanks for reading. For more Pints & Parkruns, check out the website.

Some days, a giant metal bird seems to be chasing us!

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About the Creator

Andy Potts

Community focused sports fan from Northeast England. Tends to root for the little guy. Look out for Talking Northeast, my new project coming soon.

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Comments (2)

  • Angie the Archivist 📚🪶5 months ago

    Love reading about it... much more effort required to participate in the event!! "Cotsford Fields, though, absolutely nails undulation. A dramatic clifftop path hugs the North Sea coastline and weaves gently up and down. The views, needless to say are spectacular." Trouble is, I am so busy running that I don't appreciate a lot of the surrounds etc!! Almost need to walk it afterwards. Winter course: total elevation up to 64m is definitely a solid effort! My regular 2 lap course is only 55m gain.

  • Toby Heward5 months ago

    Sounds like a great tourist trap

Andy PottsWritten by Andy Potts

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