Travel: Putting your feet up in Northumberland

The beach at Alnmouth, Northumberland. Picture: Contributed

The beach at Alnmouth, Northumberland. Picture: Contributed

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HEADING away with her running friends for a coastal race, Alison Gray finds her holiday cottage perilously comfortable

First there was Paula Radcliffe. An inspiration to amateur long-distance runners everywhere, she remains a heroine, not least for her world marathon record of 2:15:25 which has stood since 2003.

And now there’s Jo Pavey, who raced into our hearts last year after she won the 10,000m gold medal at the 2014 European Championships in Zurich, ten months after giving birth to her second child, to become the oldest female European champion in history at the age of 40 years and 325 days.

These amazing women give us 40-something runners hope for our own athletic careers, such as they are.

The highlight of last year’s calendar for my running buddies and me was our summer fixture, the Northumberland Coastal Run. Organised by the Alnwick Harriers, the 14ish-mile (depending on whether the tide is in or out) route starts on sand from Beadnell Bay following road, footpath and track, keeping runners as close to the sea as possible, before the Chariots of Fire glory finish on the sand at Alnmouth.

We were not going for a personal best, we were running in this race for the simple joy of being in the fresh air and sharing time with friends. Each of my running buddies has two young kids apiece, and the opportunity for two hours of uninterrupted chat is rare indeed.

There are no mile or kilometre markers along the fantastically scenic route, although an hour or so in, there is a welcome hand-painted sign that reads, “about halfway”. Later on there is an even better one that says “about two miles to go”.

As someone who has yet to work out how to operate her digital watch, this low-tech approach is most appealing.

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The run is the diary event that gets us all together, but our race recovery plan doesn’t involve an ice bath in a wheelie bin, like Paula and Jo.

We’re more interested in a picnic on the beach and then scampi and chips in the beer garden of The Horseshoes Inn, a wonderful pub a short stroll from our fab house for the weekend.

We set up base camp in Rennington, a small village ideally located for the run, four miles from Alnwick, and three miles from Craster.

Our luxury self-catering holiday cottage called The Shrubbery had everything: the opportunity for endless Monty Python references, a big telly in a sitting room for the little girls to perform Frozen in front of, a bar in the kitchen for the big girls to sip glasses of prosecco in front of, and a fully equipped barbecue on the patio for the boys to drink beer in front of. I guess it’s kind of obvious how our race build-up progressed.

One of four newly built stone properties located in the centre of Rennington, The Shrubbery isn’t actually clad in any foliage at all, but has bucolic views over a communal green and the church beyond.

The cottages are incredibly high-spec with wooden flooring, sleek bathrooms and log burners in the comfortable sitting rooms. We visited in July, but this is a year-round destination, and I could imagine nothing finer than being ensconced in a tweedy armchair with the fire on and a book in my hand on a chilly winter’s afternoon.

There is plenty to do locally if you are not minded to sign up for the race.

Rennington is just three miles from Embleton Bay, which with the dramatic backdrop of the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle and miles of pristine sands is considered to be one of the best beaches in Northumberland. You’re also close to the spectacular beach at Bamburgh overlooked by Bamburgh Castle, and the other must-visit in the area is Alnwick Castle and Garden.

In fact, there are no fewer than ten castles within a half-hour drive from the cottages, and a wonderful selection of gardens including those at nearby Howick Hall, rated as one of the top five coastal gardens in the country.

As elite athletes focused solely on our event, and due to the carb-loading that preceded it, we didn’t manage to take in as many of the attractions as we would have liked, despite the fact that they were right on our doorstep. We’ll just have to plan a return visit.

Entries for this year’s race opened on the stroke of midnight last night. So maybe we’ll see you on the start line.

• The Shrubbery, which sleeps eight, costs from £600 for a short break and from £820 for a seven-night stay. Crabtree & Crabtree Lettings, 42 The Square, Kelso TD5 7HL; tel: 01573 226711, www.crabtreeandcrabtree.com. Crabtree & Crabtree can also provide extra services including homemade meal delivery, wine delivery and cooks if required. See website for full details (www.alnwickbarriers.co.uk)

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