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Pints & Parkruns: Herrington Country

Jogging along with Radical Jack

By Andy PottsPublished 12 months ago 3 min read
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A Hallowe'en run at Herrington Country Parkrun. Photo courtesy of the event's Facebook page.

Running beneath Penshaw Monument is more fitting than many might expect. The mock Grecian temple that dominates views from Herrington Country Park commemorates a man nicknamed Jog-along Jack in his lifetime. True, that soubriquet stemmed not from Jack Lambton’s commitment to pounding the future pavements of Washington New Town, but from a typical throwaway comment that an English gentleman “might jog along comfortably enough on £40,000 a year”. That was in 1821; in today’s money it would be close to £4 million.

Not exactly a working-class hero, then, despite his other nickname, ‘Radical Jack’. Lambton was an ambiguous figure. On one level, his political efforts helped pave the way for the 1832 Reform Act, a key plank in establishing our parliamentary democracy. On another, he was entirely a man of his time, accepting the immense privilege of aristocratic heritage as a matter of course.

His monument is now a much-loved feature of the north-east skyline. High on a hill that forms part of one of the region’s more brutal half marathons, it looks down over the former site of Herrington Colliery. When it closed in 1985, it had 980 staff and the biggest spoil heap in the North-east coalfield, a real-life monster to rival the Lambton Worm of local legend. After the miners’ strike – whose side would Radical, Jog-along Jack have taken? – the former mine was redeveloped into Herrington Country Park. Almost all of the groundwork on the land was carried out using materials from the old colliery, returning industrial blight to nature. And, where nature moves in, parkrun is often quick to follow. Herrington got its own event in summer 2019 and, despite the long hiatus during the pandemic, has established itself as a big run with more than 200 participants most weeks. Despite the run’s size, the volunteer team does a great job of keeping it friendly and welcoming.

The good news for runners is that the steep slopes of the old spoil tip are long gone, with much of the shale repurposed into making the paths that we run along. It’s a road-shoe route in all weathers, unless you’re inclined to cut a corner across the grass on a wet day. The two-loop parkrun course is undulating, sure, but there are none of the terrifying climbs that characterise the likes of Blackhill or Hamsterley, nor the seemingly endless inclines found at Jubilee or Hackworth.

A sun-baked finish in the amphitheatre at Herrington Country Parkrun.

In addition, there’s a lakeside stretch – always a bonus for me, since somehow running beside water just feels better, whether it’s river, lake or sea. Best of all, in the windswept north-east, much of the route is sheltered. Just watch out for the swans, who tend not to show much interest in sharing the lakeside path with anyone else. You’ll pass them twice, just after the start then on the way to the finish in the park’s outdoor amphitheatre. There’s ample parking nearby, and the Penshaw Farm Shop just over the road does a fine bacon sandwich for that all-important refuelling.

The pint: Herrington Country Park is in the city of Sunderland, where beer was long synonymous with Vaux. That town centre brewery gave the place a distinctive hoppy smell, and its logo long adorned the shirts of the football team. The brewery’s closure in 1999 was a bitter blow, but happily its signature brews live on. The Maxim brewery, based in Houghton-le-Spring, just round the corner from the park, takes its name from the Double Maxim brown ale (Wearside drinkers will assure you that this is incomparably finer than its more famous Tyneside cousin, especially since the latter is no longer brewed in Newcastle). That, plus a stronger remix of the same called Maximus, established the reputation and they’ve gone on to recreate other staples of the Vaux range. Sunderland fans who grew up with a Samson logo on the red-and-white stripes can now enjoy the beer at the Stadium of Light and hope that the team might one day recover the highs of the Peter Reid years.

First time: Oct. 30, 2021. PB: 24:31, Oct. 2022

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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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