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A lasting legacy sought for Cape Wrath Challenge


By Mike Merritt

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Scenes from past marathons.
Scenes from past marathons.

IT may be the end of the road for one of the most remote and unique marathons on the planet – but now organisers of a world famous series of races in Sutherland are aiming to cross the finish line with a prize pot for the local community.

The Cape Wrath Challenge wants to leave a lasting legacy of the event by giving away a “significant” amount of money generated from runners and sponsors over the years.

Two years ago the showpiece marathon of the event lost its official status as a road marathon - because of the number of potholes on the route.

It was cancelled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic and was due to end in 2021 after the final event – though that has now been cancelled as well.

But organisers of the race, which attracted around 200 runners and their families every May, say though the event has ended they want to leave their mark.

Organisations or groups within the Durness parish boundary have until Monday (April 20) to submit applications for funding.

The projects must be concentrated on health, wellbeing, sport and community - to comply with the challenge’s charitable purposes - and be from established groups.

“We want to leave a lasting legacy so that what ever projects are chosen we will be able to say that was because of the Cape Wrath Challenge,” said a spokesman for organisers Durness Active Health.

“We want projects that will benefit the widest range of people in the community.

“We have already had a couple of applications and there is no limit to the numbers we can receive as long as the criterion is met.

“There are no plans to resurrect the challenge in the near future but who knows what the future may hold - never say never.

“There is a significant pot of money to share out and we want the community to benefit.”

Scenes from past marathons.
Scenes from past marathons.

Durness Active Health said that over the two decades of the challenge it has raised around £2m for the local economy and various charities it has supported.

When it decided to call it a day, it told competitors:”We want to assure everyone that this decision has not been taken lightly, and Durness will miss what has become a very special week for the village. You have become an extended circle of friends and we hope that you will come and visit us in the future.”

The next planned challenge would also have marked 19 editions of the event, which is a week-long series of runs culminating in the famous Cape Wrath Marathon.

It started in 2001, but was not held in 2002 because of the foot and mouth outbreak and last year due to the pandemic. The last race was run in 2019.

Runners from around the globe have over the years made their way to Sutherland to enter the gruelling event.

However in 2019 the marathon lost its official road status.

Even before the added obstacle of the potholes, The Cape Wrath Challenge Marathon was billed as “a race like no other.”

Climbing to nearly 2500ft runners go through some of the most spectacular and remotest wilderness in the country.

The fact that it is in a bombing range - and runners’ times are stopped to allow a journey across the Kyle of Durness by Britain’s smallest licensed ferry - added to its attraction.

But the Cape Wrath Challenge Marathon was told by Scottish Athletics that it it can longer call itself a ‘road marathon’ after being ruled out by another obstacle - potholes!

The state of the road sealed the marathon's fate.
The state of the road sealed the marathon's fate.

Because the potholes are so deep and numerous on the 11 mile long road up to the Cape Wrath Lighthouse – where competitors turn round for the return leg to the finish - the governing body says there is not now one continuous road surface.

In fact runners would have to weave around the pot holes so much, one said they would end up running more than the official 26 mile, 385 yard distance.

The most north westerly marathon on mainland Britain was no longer officially a road marathon, and had to be run as an “off road event.”

Over the years the event even saw proposals of marriage in the middle of the race and three families fall in love with the area so much they moved to Durness.

David and Victoria Mckeown.
David and Victoria Mckeown.

In 2017 keen runners David and Victoria McKeown got engaged while taking part in the marathon.

David proposed to his wife-to-be at just over the half way point. The couple from Scourie in Sutherland later took their shortest, but their most important journey together... up the aisle to tie the knot.

Related news: End of the road for the Cape Wrath Challenge


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