Friday 17 February 2023

NEHL Thornley Hall farm race report


It is the cross-country season and you would expect to face grey sky’s some mud, and with numbers turning out significantly less than the norm. However, the penultimate Start Fitness North East Harrier League fixture of the season at Thornley Hall Farm bucked everything as the sun shone continuous throughout the day, muddy sections were at a premium and once again over 1,000 athletes turned out to contest a tough and testing course laid out by the organising Blackhill Bounders club. So, all-in-all, a great day’s sport with many talking points over coffee and cake – or a bacon sandwich from the chuck wagon – once everyone’s efforts were over.


Another huge field faced the starter and it was new Tyne Bridge signing Lucy Crookes who shone like the sun leading throughout the contest. The former Leeds City athlete took the bull by the horns despite being sidelined for the past three years through injury and quickly established herself at the head of affairs. At the completion of the first of two circuits Crookes was over two minutes clear with Rachel Pullan (Sunderland Strollers), Tynedale’s Charlie Pinkney, Emily Scriven (Jesmond Joggers) and Gosforth’s Jo Denholm her nearest rivals.


Taking full advantage of her five-minute buffer Crookes continued to cut out a lone furrow as she set out into the country for a second time. All the while behind her Morpeth pair Jane Hodgson and Catriona MacDonald were cutting back the deficit after giving the leader a five-minute start. However, the gap was so great it was no surprise that Crookes, whose last outing was in the 2020 Northern Cross-Country Championships in Bedale where she finished in ninth place, entered the final field alone where she crossed the finish line in 25min 32secs as Hodgson worked her way through from her five-minute handicap to finish runner-up in 30:00 and was rewarded with the quickest actual time of the day of 25:00. 

Tynedale’s Pinkney crossed the line six seconds behind Hodgson to claim the third-place award as MacDonald came home in sixth place with the second quickest actual time of 25:23, nine seconds faster than the race winner. A delighted race winner was all smiles after her victory saying: “I didn’t really know what to expect after being out for so long so that’s why I ran from the slow pack.” Crookes added: 

“It was a really tough course, it had a bit of everything and I’m pleased to come through unscathed.” 

Long after picking up her winner’s medal, Crookes was spotted doing what all do and that was warming down as the senior men’s race got under-way. Despite Crookes leading Tyne Bridge to team victory on the day, Morpeth still head Division One though it’s all to play for in the final fixture in Alnwick as only three points separate the two clubs going into the final fixture. A rejuvenated Tynedale move up into third place one point ahead of North Shields Poly with Jesmond Joggers two points further back in fifth spot. 

While there’s huge interest in seeing who will be crowned champions that’s also the case at the other end of the table. Jarrow and Hebburn look as though they could well be relegated after gaining promotion last season. However, the second club who could face the drop is uncertain as only four points separate Elswick, Elvet, Heaton and Wallsend. All four clubs will be calling on as many of their members as possible to make it to Alnwick on March 4.

South Shields have almost secured the Division Two title with Durham City favourites to join them in promotion while in a relegation scrap Birtley are currently at the bottom with only three points separating Ponteland, Gateshead, Saltwell, Low Fell and Claremont.

Sunderland Strollers are clear at the head of Division Three with Blaydon and Stocksfield Striders vying for the second promotion place 


Though not as convincing as the senior women’s race it was a gun-totape victory for Blyth’s Ellis Hetherington who led throughout the three undulating circuits.

Thanks to a five minute 20 seconds start Hetherington took control in the early stages and after completing one lap had a 15 seconds lead over a group which included Durham City duo Alex Aldridge and Dan Jenkin, Gateshead’s Joe Wales and Connor Braithwaite of Tyne Bridge with Tynedale’s Allen Dean not far behind. Going into the final circuit the positions remained the same and it was Hetherington who broke the tape to win in 34:15. Wales proved the strongest over the final lap to cross the line 31 seconds adrift of the winner with Aldridge coming home in third place.

Behind the leaders an intriguing battle for the quickest on the course was unfolding as Tyneside-based Jarlath McKenna (Bristol and West) and Birtley teenager Chris Perkins worked their way through the near 500-strong field with nothing to separate the pair until midway through the final lap. And it was the experienced McKenna who proved the stronger to cross the line in seventh position, one place and nine seconds ahead of his main rival. While it was McKenna’s third time this season as quickest on the course it can’t be emphasized too greatly how well Perkins had performed over a testing six miles, a run which will greatly enhance his long-term aim on the track when summer comes along.

Morpeth, with their fourth victory of the campaign, are well clear of Tyne Bridge at the top of Division One while at the bottom it looks as though Newcastle clubs Elswick and Heaton are favourites for relegation. Durham City, with their third success of the season, are clear at the top of Division Two with Houghton, Low Fell, Saltwell and Jesmond Joggers fighting it out for a move up while any two from South Shields, Gosforth, Blaydon or Ponteland could find themselves down a division for next season. Tynedale head Division Three clear of Blyth with Alnwick and Washington currently in third and fourth place respectively. 


Despite giving away a 2:30 start it proved no problem for Charlotte Dillon (Durham City) and Houghton’s Anna Pigford who finished in first and second place. Dillon, the Northern XC silver medallist came home well clear of Pigford who just got up on the line to relegate Gateshead’s Sophie Johnstone into third place. Iona Johnstone (Gateshead) was second quickest under-17 on the course behind Dillon while Tynedale’s Jess Sails was second fastest under-20 behind Pigford. With one fixture to go just six points separate the top five teams with Gateshead on 12 points, Gosforth 14, Durham City 16, North Shields Poly 17 and Elswick on 18.


Morpeth’s William De Vere-Owen made light work of a 2:30 handicap to claim victory by 14 seconds over Elswick’s Adam Robinson with De Vere-Owen’s team-mate Bertie Marr posting the day’s second fastest time to finish in third place. Blackhill Bounders’ Tom Slane was third fastest crossing the line in fifth place behind Rory Letts of Sedgefield. Morpeth. Who have come out on top in all five fixtures so far naturally head the team interest with just one point separating Elswick, Durham City and Birtley in the race for the runners-up spot.


Despite an extended handicap of 1:40 it had no bearing on the result with all three medallists defying the penalty. Victory went to North Shields Poly’s Anna Johnson who had a five-seconds cushion over Tynedale’s Ania Stobbart at the line with Heaton’s Mary Parkin just getting the better of Tyne Bridge’s Ruby Colver close to home three seconds behind Parkin.

Tynedale are well clear at the top of the league with North Shields

Poly in second place ahead of Elswick, Durham City and Tyne Bridge.


Alnwick’s Liam McDonough left it late to defy his 1:40 handicap to haul in Liam Whitelaw (Tyne Bridge) only getting the better of his main rival close to home. North Shields Poly’s Elijah Fahey crossed the line in second place but was disqualified for running from the wrong pack which meant Whitelaw moved up into second position with Morpeth’s Dan Burrow receiving the bronze award. Second quickest on the course was Blaydon’s Jamie Lonergan when finishing in sixth place 26 seconds adrift of McDonough.

Morpeth head the team stakes on 10 points with North Shields Poly second, Durham City third and Tyne Bridge fourth.


Tynedale’s Emilia Stobbart beat off the chasing pack with ease taking full advantage of a 1:40 start over the fast pack. Stobbart had 41 seconds in hand as she crossed the finish as Houghton’s Kathryn Pye proved quickest on the day to finish in second place four seconds ahead of fellow fast pack runner, Birtley’s Niamh Phillipson. Prudhoe Plodders, led home by Martha Thomas in sixth place, were team winners on the day as Gateshead are well clear at the head of the table ahead of Gosforth, Elswick, Birtley and Durham City.


Noah Williamson (North East Project) also made light work of a 1:40 penalty to come home eight seconds clear of Morpeth’s Michael Leeson with Ashington Hirst supporters celebrating as Jamie Dunn completed the one-two-three a further six seconds adrift. Second fastest on the course was Wallsend’s Kasper Pearson in fourth place with North Shields Poly’s James Sturman third quickest one further place adrift. Blaydon are well clear at the top of the league with Sunderland in second place ahead of Tynedale and North Shields Poly.


Once again it was a Birtley one-two in the now established ‘Try Cross-Country’ with victory going to Poppie Phillipson who had nine seconds in hand at the line over team-mate Izzie Hall, Isla Coker (Phoenix Flyers) completed the podium places in third place finishing ahead of Millie Robson (Elswick) and Chester-le-Street’s Isla Ford Hutchinson.


Another outing, another victory for North Shields Poly’s Noah Penfold. Quickly away from the gun the youngster was never headed as he crossed the line in 5:13, 11 seconds clear of Henry Engelhart (Phoenix Flyers) with Elswick’s Kallen O’Neil a further six seconds adrift in third place, Alnwick’s Finlay Waugh and Tynedale’s Lloyd Vincent couldn’t be separated time wise in fourth and fifth place respectively.

*THE Start Fitness North East Harrier League is indebted to Blackhill Bounders and to Stewy Bell in particular, for hosting another superb event at Thornley Hall Farm and to all the marshall’s he managed (threaten) to round up on the day. A huge thanks also go out to Jon Taylor for allowing the league to use his land and facilities, it’s greatly appreciated. Without the first aid team and your technical officials the day would not go ahead so to everyone who had an input in making it another successful day, thank you.



Photos - Stuart Whitman Photography

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