Cheviot Goat – Where Did It Come From?
How did the Cheviot Goat come about? What crazy night of drinking spurred on such a mad hatter of an ultra run? As with most things it was an idea percolate and developed over time. A series of incremental steps of people learning their craft, the lay of the land and the people who are on it.
There is no better place to start than at the beginning. The event as you know it is run by three people: Barry Kemp (that’ll be me), Drew Swinburne and Andrew Clark. You’ll know Drew as the one who loves hugging people at the finish line and Andrew, who really, really loves hugging is generally whizzing around dealing with logistics. Some of you will not know that there was a pre-cursor to this event that I ran called the Ingram Trail Run Ultra. Who knew that this dipping of a toe in the Cheviots ultra running water would lead to an iconic event.
Way back in the 80’s when I were a lad, I went with my Dad to collect our first ever dog. It was a long journey from Wallsend to a far off place that had been listed in the local paper as having puppies for sale. The final stretch had a twisting singletrack road and not a building in sight. The farm we eventually reached was Barrowburn, the place you runners will now know as the half way point of the race. There we purchased Jed, the first of 3 border collies in my life (2nd was Jak and current one is Bob), and I gazed in wonder at a place I never knew existed so close to home. These steep sided valleys, a gently flowing river and endless green fields captured the imagination. I always remember the farmer looking us “townies” up and down and saying “I have no idea what you do to even pass the time in the city?” We looked around at the empty countryside.
The farmer in question was Les Tait, father of Ian Tait. Many times we took family camping trips to the Coquet valley but this was always around Harbottle or Alwinton down the valley. It would not be until I was able to drive that real exploration of the area took place. It was during these trips that I met with Ian at Barrowburn and he was never slow in offering a cup of tea and sitting in front of the fire to tell a good story.
Ian has since left Barrowburn. His family had the longest bloodline in the valley but when his kids went on to do other things it was time to move on. This one man supplied so many of the names and details of other farmers, routes to avoid or those not known, endless stories and use of his quad to make route marking so much easier. Ian and his wife Eunice never got involved in the Goat as it was before their time but actually played a major role in laying the groundwork. The farm is now run by Catherine and Scott.
Over the years in the 90’s and noughties the exploration continued and with mammoth walks, runs and a lots of wild camping my knowledge of this vast, open hinterland developed. On quite a few occasions I bumped in to the native Cheviot goats and learned the history of how these animals have been left to just fend for themselves for hundreds of years. Walkers of the famous Pennine Way have been bumping into them for years. Navigation mistakes are easily made on open fellside when there are few markers. As multitudes of people would find out, these are easily made when the mist rolls in. There was very little GPS action in my early days!
As time went by I got to know a lot more of the other farmers in the valley. After getting married and having our first child we bought a static caravan at Clennell Hall near Alwinton. From this base I got to know every single farmer in the Coquet valley and after a few years I wandered why no-one had put on any events up there beyond mountain rescue fundraisers, a downhill race by Northern Downhill and a couple of small fell races. 2015 was the “let’s do it” moment and High Fell Events was started.
For those of you with an eye for geography you’ll know the Coquet Valley is completely different from the Breamish valley. The Breamish valley being where the start/finish of the Goat is and representing about 50% of the course. It was 2016 when the first event was ran from Ingram after spending months knocking on farmers doors, ringing people and generally asking a million questions. Many of those farmers would become key players and supporters such as Stuart Nelson, Ross Wilson, Jamie Wood and so many more. A mountain bike event was first from Ingram followed by the Ingram Trail Run. I didn’t know then that this run would later morph in to what you know now.
The Ingram Trail Run initially was only planned as a follow up to the Clennell Trail Run with a half marathon and a marathon as options. Then looking at the map I plotted a massive route that included both the Breamish valley as well as the Coquet. In short it was going over all the land where I knew the farmers, gamekeepers etc. A very small field showed up for the ultra including local runners Andy Robertson and Gaynor Denton. The route was 80% of what you know now with the only alteration was a turn in the opposite direction at Comb Fell and head back to Ingram via the road. That and it was in summer. The general feeling I had at the end was that the event was logistically hard to organise, a feeling that still holds true.
At the back end of 2016 I’d had talks with a man called Phil Smith, a physio and general all round nice guy who used to be involved in some events himself. He wanted to stick a new events company together with Drew, Andy and myself whereas he was off to concentrate on a new career. My next idea for High Fell Events was a night run at Rothbury which became Cold Brew’s and took on the name of the Duergar but that’s another story.
Drew had been involved in the St Oswalds ultra (now our Pilgrims Ultra) in the first couple of years it had been organised and one of the people taking part was a certain Andy Clark. Small world. These two knew what ultra running events were about and were keen to get some of our own started. The Tyne Trail Ultra came first and we learnt a lot of lessons. When the Ingram Trail Run Ultra came across two issues were identified early on: a) it needed a brand name b) how do we make it different from other ultras?
For point a we ran through all the things that are unique about the area. Something related to the Cheviots? A name about distance maybe? A unique feature? For point b we took up the idea of doing this in winter. We all knew fine well that winters can be fairly savage in the Cheviots and questioned whether this was a good idea. After looking at several other “deep winter” events it was determined that as long as we could endeavour to make it safe that we were good to go. It then fell into place that an animal that could survive the harsh winter would lend its name nicely to the event.
Earlier in the year I’d organised another run through High Fell Events named the Winter Wipeout. This was a deep winter run set in January and took the route of what you now know as the finish of the Cheviot Goat. Ingram to Cunyan Crags, Hedgehope and back down. All we had to do was get across the bogs of Comb Fell and the route would be complete. We had a sneaky suspicions that Comb Fell might attract the odd comment from people who finished. Andy relished the idea of people slogging through the toughest part near the end of the run.
Drew came up with a fantastic brand and designed the website. Within days of launching came an email from Montane that they wanted to be involved. I’m sure many of you will know that Montane is a local company the North East of England and they were looking for an event that could directly relate to and sit alongside other events such as Yukon Ultra, Lakeland 100, Tour de Geants and the Spine Race. The team at Montane were so easy to get on with and the brand was brought on board. They mentioned the fact that it was self navigating as a real plus – they must like making it more difficult as well.
So there you have it, the story of how the Cheviot Goat came about. I could go on to discuss how it’s organised and how it has developed over the years with the hard terrain, amazing marshals, safety teams and cracking farmers but that’s a story for another time. Andy, Drew and I are looking forward to adding to this story with every new event.