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Pints & Parkruns: Durham

On home turf

By Andy PottsPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 3 min read

Durham is a fitting place to start this not particularly athletic journey. As a young child, devotedly following Olympics and World Championships on TV, I’d sneak into the university sports grounds to trot around the track or fling myself into the long jump pit. In my mind, I was Daley Thompson, and no lack of coordination or ability could shake that belief. Later, Maiden Castle formed the backdrop to school cross country runs, which ended any confidence in my sporting prowess.

Today, things are different. University sport is a far more serious activity. The track is fenced off, the field in the middle used by Durham’s fast-progressing women’s football team. My old school is a housing estate, its playing fields taken over by the university. But Parkrun puts the sports centre into public use in a way that was never the case in my childhood. The Durham run, one of the longest established and most popular in the region, starts next to the running track before snaking around the edge of the rugby fields and heading along the riverbanks into the city. There are usually at least 300 runners here, and it’s easy to see why: a relatively flat course, enlivened by fantastic views of cathedral and castle on the final stretch and the peculiar satisfaction of running near water. With luck, you might catch a glimpse of a heron looking for breakfast in Old Durham Beck, testament to how the River Wear has rewilded since I was growing up here.

True, it’s not a perfect idyll: the start can feel cramped, with inconveniently placed trees providing an obstacle for the unwary. In the past, you might have heard first-timers muttering about the harum-scarum scrum, but recent changes are helping to get people starting in the order they’re likely to finish. And, even on the most crowded of mornings, after a few hundred metres everything doubles back onto the riverside path and runners can find their own, comfortable pace long before they reach the noisy bridge (which absolutely lives up to its nickname). Elsewhere on the course, a long stretch on grass can be heavy going after extended rainfall while, on the approach to the city, rowing coaches cycle up and down the towpath, coaxing and haranguing their crews on the water.

Crossing the noisy bridge. Photo by David Case, via Durham Parkrun's Facebook page.

Unusually for a Parkrun, the start and finish are some way apart; on a sunny morning, the stroll back to the carpark is a pleasant warm down, but in bad weather it can prove a damp and chilly trudge. Happily, the café at one of the boathouses is usually opening up in time to offer a much-needed coffee.

Ultimately, any minor quibbles are amply compensated by the views of cathedral and castle on the final stretch – just the kind of uplift needed to steer a weary runner over the line. And, for me, Durham remains home. Not just because it’s nearby – Chester-le-Street Riverside is no further away – nor even because it was my first Parkrun, on a snowy March morning back in 2019. Amid a spot of Parkrun tourism, this remains my most regular venue due to the large crowd that inspires that crucial extra resilience to get me over the finish line.

The pint

Long before Parkrun was even thought of, and well before the craft beer revolution rethought our drinking habits, the Durham Brewery got to work in 1994. Now, more than a quarter of a century on, it’s a consistent source of brewing excellence. Recently, CAMRA presented a Gold award as the ale campaigners marked their 50th anniversary – ranking Durham as one of the top 50 breweries in the country and the prize list currently tops 70 from 27 years of brewing. Personal favourites from the core range include the excellent Evensong ruby ale, the Cloister pale ale and two session beers – Magus bitter and Helles lager – found on tap throughout the city.

Then comes the speciality range. The impy stout is one to savour: dark, rich, complex and available in various shades from whisky to rioja via rum, it’s the perfect reward after a long day when the kids have finally gone to sleep. It’s also worth looking out for seasonal brews. Elly and her team often produce intriguing one-offs, from fruity saisons to subtly flavoured stouts. The brewery itself is in Bowburn, a little further out of town on the road that goes past the university sports centre; bottles are always available in Durham market and at the city’s speciality bars, the Station House, the Hop Knocker and the Holy Grale.

First run: March 16, 2019. PB: 24:03 (July 2022)

Thanks for reading. For more Pints & Parkruns stories, please visit my website.


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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    Andy PottsWritten by Andy Potts

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