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Welsh Castles Relay – In the beginning

Back in the last century a determined group of young pioneers set off on an adventure to discover a new , uncharted route to North Wales . Risking everything , not knowing if they would ever return they were the first to blaze the trail that future generations would call The Castles Relay . I have decided to contact all the survivors of that first voyage and collect their memories into the definitive account of how it all began .

L to R : Mick McGeoch , Mark Jones , Jeff Aston , Rob Evans , Chris Ruck(obscured) , Paul Wheeler , Jerry Cleall-Harding , John Thorne , Des Davies , Jeff Wood , Mike Davies .

Castles Relay 82

On the evening of Saturday 17th July 1982 Jerry Cleall-Harding of Les Croupiers Running Club stood in the gateway of Cardiff Castle waiting for the clock to count down to midnight. He was surrounded by a small group of supporters, clubmates, families, friends. On that warm summer evening as the clock struck 12 Jerry set off on a run to Caerphilly Castle. No one who watched him disappear into the darkness that night could possibly comprehend that he was running the first steps of millions that would follow in an event that we had christened The Castles Relay. This is the story of how it all came into being.

Just a few months earlier members of Les Croupiers R.C. had arrived at our headquarters , in the palatial surroundings of the Casino in St Mary Street , for our first AGM. Nothing unusual, a fairly straightforward affair with some discussion of fixtures and our new constitution , but then “any other business“ descended into chaos with any number of crazy ideas for new events being proposed. One of these came from John Thomas who suggested a run to raise money for charity . Another hand shot up , “We could run up Snowdon “ . Out of the darkness someone else shouted out that we definitely needed to do it as a relay . Chairman Dave Walsh looked weary , a veteran of many Cardiff AAC committee meetings he had a tried and tested method of closing down anything that suggested anarchy . “Your idea, you organise it “, he said . At that time, in my day job, I had been working on ways of participating in the forthcoming Year of The Castles. An initiative by the Wales Tourist Board to “celebrate” the building of Henry the Second’s fortresses in Wales. As the AGM was breaking up and people were heading out I grabbed John and put my idea to him. “We could organise a run through Wales touching as many castles as possible. The Tourist Board might be interested”. John rushed back into the meeting but , sadly , by now it was all too late. Life President and casino owner Gordon MacIlroy had already given his annual closing speech, “ The bar is open “ .

That might have been the end but a few days later Jeff Aston turned up at my house with OS maps tucked under his arm and claiming to know where North Wales was. Between us we laid out the maps on my dining table and tried to identify castles locations. Over beer and sandwiches we discussed possible routes. First choice was heading to Swansea and along the west coast to Caernarfon before eventually deciding that we could bag more castles by heading straight up the A470. Then we divided Wales into bite sized pieces of around ten miles each , arranging changeovers at prominent locations on a road map . Some club members might be interested to know that Barry Castle came into the frame at one stage. Imagine - Castles Relay Caernarfon to Barry!

We had the concept but needed more help and so recruited Jeff Wood for his organisation skills. He made the initial approach to the Wales Tourist Board. John Thomas agreed to publicize the event and arranged interviews with radio and newspapers. John Taylor gave us use of telephones at BT Newport Road and company vans for the event together with his trusty lieutenant Graham Ellis as driver. Telecom Land Rovers would follow runners, protecting them from traffic and illuminating the road through the night. I was club captain so my job was to put a team together. Not a difficult problem I thought. This was the start of the running boom. The popularity of the first London Marathon had brought over two hundred runners flocking to join our new club. Surprisingly not everyone was enthusiastic to take part in our new adventure. Some were not able to take the Monday off work after arriving in North Wales on Sunday evening, others needed to be persuaded .

But , as Mick always says ,“history is made by those who turn up“. Twenty-one of our finest took up the challenge and set off on this first continuous relay through the night from Cardiff to Caernarfon with just one instruction – Maintain six-minute miling all the way (oh, and don’t get lost).

On the day everyone gave it their full commitment .Phil Hexter for example - “ A group of us met in the Bluebell (now the Goat Major) before the start of the run, and drank lots of Brain's beer, and watched Dave Moorcroft attempting the world 3000m record in the bar. We then went on to a reception at Cardiff Castle, where we drank several glasses of champagne. Ideal preparation for my leg at around 3 am in the coming morning! Lord Parry, chairman of the Welsh Tourist Board, gave a marvellous and inspiring speech and gave us a message in a capsule to take to the lord major of Caernarfon. We then meandered out to watch Jerry Cleall-Harding majestically start the 1st leg. And in time honoured tradition got into BT minibuses to follow the race.”

John Thomas had the duty of entertaining The Lord Mayor Mr J.P.Dunleavey and Lord Parry at a reception in the Drawing Room at Cardiff Castle . Outside John Taylor was lining up the minibuses and land rovers ready for our trip north . I ran inside , quickly shook the mayor’s hand , then rounded up our party of 21 runners , 8 drivers , 4 navigators plus Western Mail reporter Robert Cole who recorded everything cramped in the lead vehicle for the next twenty hours and thirty eight minutes . John fired up the vehicles on cue and our convoy followed Jerry out of the castle grounds and up the A470 . First task was to get Mel James into position outside Caerphilly Castle .

12:00 Midnight

Stage 1 – Cardiff Castle to Caerphilly Castle

Jerry Cleall Harding Age -29 PB for 10 miles – 53 It was a very warm evening. I remember the reception inside the castle where alcohol was available but sadly I did not partake. Speeches were made then we all trooped off to the gate for the start at midnight. Lord Parry and the Mayor gave me envelopes ( no idea what was inside) which I probably gave to someone else as I'm sure I didn't run with them . After the euphoria of the start at midnight it seemed I ran into immediate silence as it was eerily quiet all the way up North Road, over Gabalfa flyover, onto Caerphilly Road, Thornhill Road and over the Mountain into Caerphilly - hardly any traffic. On arrival I wished the next runner good luck (gave him the envelopes?) then my Dad took me home to LLanishen. I had no idea what happened after that until I went to the club the following Thursday at Sanatorium Road and heard all about the rest of it. Communication then was very different from today! Very proud to play a very small part in this fantastic event run by the best running club " on the planet". Long may it continue .


Stage 2 – Caerphilly Castle to Nelson

Mel James Age 38 PB for 10miles = 56 minutes

At midnight our first runner Jerry (Cleall–Harding) left the Castle for the first leg to Caerphilly Castle. Followed by our back up fleet of British Telecomms bright yellow minibuses . I was to be the second leg runner, running from Caerphilly Castle to the small village of Nelson. It wasn’t my original leg, as the late Jeff Wood had asked me to swap with him as I believe he was concerned that it could be a bit hilly. To be honest at that time, I was just so proud to run anywhere for the club, therefore was happy to swap.

After what seemed like an age, due to my nervousness, Jerry arrived at the castle (Caerphilly) and I was off. The roads were quiet, especially compared to nowadays, but it is still quite eerie running during the night on an unfamiliar route. I seemed to be OK on the route and was relieved to see the Nelson sign.

But what was to greet me, really took me by surprise, from what seemed an age of quietness on the country road leading to Nelson, on approaching the main street, I was met with a cauldron of noise, there seemed to be people everywhere, some cheering, some shouting, some catcalling and some very Brahms and Liszt. I had entered one of the smallest villages in Wales that possessed a night club, (the Queen of Hearts) and as it was about 1.30 am, the night was just beginning for some of them. I think they were just as surprised as us really, as you don’t suddenly find a guy running through your village in the early hours of the morning, followed by a couple of yellow telecom mini buses.


Stage 3 – Nelson to Merthyr ( Cyfartha Castle )

Jeff Wood Age 38 PB for 10miles = 59 minutes

Sadly , Jeff died in 1998 . One of our founder members and popular club chairman . His influence , more than anyone else was the reason for our meteoric rise in the eighties . Great with people especially newcomers . A regular contributor of hilarious tall tales to our club magazine Ace .

02 - 39

Stage 4 – Merthyr ( Cyfartha Castle ) to Beacons Reservoir

Jeff Aston Age 35 PB for 10miles = 52 minutes

Rob gave a detailed timetable to each group with precise route map for each runner .This was all very well but the timings went a bit astray when Jeff Wood got lost in the centre of Methyr and arrived at Cyfarthfa Castle gates several minutes late.

For the runs in the dark we had to run in the headlights of the Land Rover (which was protecting us and carrying the official independent time keeper Rob Cole of the Western Mail and Echo).

I remember disturbing several animals that had reclaimed the A470 in the dark. Frogs just jumped out of the way, rabbits hopped away and sheep generally ran away as I approached.

There was one sheep that did stand its ground and only moved when I was 5-6 feet away! It was just as well that it was dark, as I might not have fancied the climb in daylight! It was also difficult to judge pace in the dark.

When we reached Brecon all Bus 1 runners had done their best and we headed home waiting to hear how the rest of the run had gone.


Stage5 – Beacons Reservoir to Brecon

Mike Davies Age – 36 PB for 10 miles = 57 minutes

Waiting on the A470 alone in running gear in complete darkness with just a wall light shining on the Storey Arms centre building. Stillness, no sounds, only the occasional bleating of sheep, no wind or rain in fact perfect running conditions. Looking back down the road to see if I could see the lights of the supporting vehicle signalling the arrival of Jeff Aston .There it was the slow moving vehicle portraying the unmistakable running style of Jeff Aston. Feeling now the excitement and anticipation of my stage to Brecon and as a Llandovery boy had travelled this section many times by car and knew that this was a fast downhill leg. We touched hands and I was on my way.

Could only see 15 metres ahead with the help of the Landrover lights. What pace was I going? What distance had I covered?

No modern day technology to help in the darkness, just the drone of the accompanying land rover and the slapping of each stride as I pushed myself through the forest section of the A470. Legs seemed to be struggling a little, then with dawn breaking I realized I was going uphill, who said it was all downhill!! Before I realized a sign post for Brecon. Around the roundabout with only 1 mile to go to the changeover. Into the main built up area in day light, no one around to cheer me on, over the bridge crossing the Afon Tarrell, into Newgale Street, Christ College on my right, pushing hard now over the river Avon bridge and finally exhausted handed over to the next runner. A solo night run not to be forgotten.


Stage6 – Brecon to Llyswen

Maurice Prendergast Age – 38 PB for 10 miles = 62 minutes

Fast forward to the event itself. I was to run the leg from Brecon to Llyswen early on the Sunday morning. The leg was nine miles long a good road with an overall climb, but certainly not remarkable in Castles terms. My most powerful memory are my feelings waiting for Mike Davies to arrive at the handover point in Brecon. I was the editor of Ace, our club magazine at the time so I am presenting the piece I wrote in my editorial afterwards as I think it sums up the spirit and emotions the Castles generate.

"I know I will never again experience the atmosphere of that Sunday morning at 4 am as I waited in the Square at Brecon talking in hushed tones to a black dog who was standing in for the civic dignitaries. "RUNNER COMING" crackled over the CB radio and Woody, alongside me collapsed into a gibbering heap. The chill mist of the morning was cut by the hazard lights as the convoy vehicle trying to catch Mike Davies came into view. As Mike dashed towards me for the handover I wasn't sure whether to burst into tears or run. In the event I did my first four minute mile (for about 300 yards).

The weekend of "The Castles" was crammed with many displays of heroics, guts, and ingenuity, but the underlying feeling was team spirit....."

L to R : (obscured) Sean Tresilian , Mike Davies , Lord Mayor of Cardiff , Howard Brown , Jeff Wood , Colin Davies , Rob Evans , Jeff Aston , Phil Hexter , Mel James , (behind) Ted Tapper , Lord Parry , Eddie MacAuley , (obscured)Maurice Prendergast, Paul Wheeler, Mick McGeoch .


Stage7 – Llyswen to Builth Wells

Colin Davies Age – 33 PB for 10 miles = 55

My first recollection was travelling from the start at Cardiff castle at midnight to Taffs Well where a few of us had access to a telephone exchange adjacent to Taffs well railway station.We managed a little shuteye there and then travelled north to the designated hand-over points. The next thing I can remember was I think watching Mike Davies going off on his leg from Storey Arms to Brecon where he handed over to Maurice.

Once again we travelled north, not sure if it was in someone’s car or the back up minibus, to my start point in LLyswen. I seem to remember arriving there at around 4:30 to 4:45 am. It was a beautiful July morning, just light as I warmed up, expecting Maurice in at around 5am. He duly arrived at about that time, we slapped hands and off I went. I felt quite good, my best time for running being early morning as I ran to work every morning at about 6am. My leg, Llyswen to Builth, was 11.6 miles which I covered in 66 something if I remember rightly. I couldn’t have wished for a better leg, 11.6 undulating miles along the picturesque river Wye on a beautiful summers morning was quite inspirational, however, it was somewhat of a relief to see Richard ready and waiting to take over .

I must admit my memory of the event itself is very sketchy from that point. I remember Howard Brown and Phil Hexter running really good legs around mid wales somewhere. The entourage rolled into Powys Castle for breakfast, which was quite chaotic as they were supposed to be expecting us but evidently nobody had told them ! The next thing I remember was cheering Mike McGeoch into Caernarfon Castle at the end of his leg and the event overall. It was all over and we all felt we’d done a good job.

As always on the Castles Relay the real heroes are the helpers . One of the volunteers in 1982 was Graham Ellis who missed the cut for the run but came along as a driver .

Graham Ellis - Transport Age – 37 PB for 10 miles = 61mins

The plan was to have two BT Land Rovers which would follow each runner from the start in Cardiff to the finish in Caernafon providing protection from other traffic. There were also two BT mini buses to provide transport for the runners between the various stages and for support personnel – marshals, timers and drinks carriers etc.

The Welsh Tourist Board were running an advertising campaign “The Year of Welsh Castles” in 1983 and they also had representatives at the castle. They were effectively the first Castle Relay sponsors – we all had special t-shirts , all runners and support received a set of 4 round slate drinks coasters from the WTB – whatever happened to them ?)

I drove one of the mini buses. We left at midnight and made for Caerphilly Castle. I can’t recall who ran the first leg but I do remember Howie Brown running one of the longest legs in the dark through mid Wales however. I don’t think we had any major problems with the runners during the event. We did have difficulties with one of the Landrovers however. It developed a gear box problem and John Taylor arranged a replacement on the Sunday morning. I remember how tedious and tiring it was following a runner mile after mile at around 10mph. Respect to the Landrover drivers !

I think we parked our vehicles outside the castle and went into town for something to eat and drink. Other than drivers, most of those in the group made full use of the pubs of Caernafon !

Later on Saturday evening we drove over the Menai Bridge and on to the Telephone Exchange at Beaumaris. As the building normally had to provide facilities for a maximum of 4 engineers in normal use, use of the kitchen and toilet became interesting if not a bit crowded .

Telephone exchanges in those days were not particularly noisy during the early hours but this one had equipment which “ticked” every second – part of the call timing unit.For some of the others, sleeping became difficult.!

A few tried to get some sleep in the mini buses. Sometime during the night, Howie and others left the building and went into the centre of the village. They came back claiming to have hi-jacked a milk wagon and purchased (I think) bottles of milk for a very early breakfast .

I think we left quite early to drive back to Cardiff. Again the weather was good and we got back to the Capital mid afternoon. All in all, a very enjoyable if tiring weekend which proved the possibility of running such an event and of course the subsequent history of the Castles Relay is testament to that.

L to R :Eddie MacAuley , Phil Hexter , Mel James ,Lord Parry , (obscured) Colin Davies , Paul Wheeler , (obscured) Maurice Prendergast , Dennis Gullidge , Mick McGeoch , Nigel Webb .


Stage8 – Builth Wells to Crossgates

Richard Lenhert Age – 29 PB for 10 miles = 57 minutes

I do remember taking part in the relay but unfortunately I don't seem to have recollections of the leg I ran, which is rather embarrassing, so I'm afraid I'm not being much help. However, If you want to include this as a warning of what happens to runners once they turn 66, you're very welcome.


Stage9 – Crossgates to Llanbadarn Fynydd

Nigel Webb Age – 00 PB for 10 miles = 00

- still trying to locate Nigel-


Stage 10 Llanbadarn to Newtown

Phil Hexter Age - 27 PB for 10miles = 52

My leg was about 11 miles, from Llandbadarn Fynedd to Newtown. I had an inspired run, fuelled by the SA, champaign and a desire to run 'til I dropped for the club.

It was surreal running alone in rural mid-Wales in darkness and silence, apart from the sounds of birds and insects, guided by the lights of the BT land rover.

When I got home I was still so full of adrenaline and Marston's Merrie Monk I went straight out for a 5 mile time trial - 26.10 - as soon as I got home. I wish I could now do the Parkrun in 26.10.

I ran in several more Castles Relays, but never again felt the same camaraderie, excitement and enthusiasm as in the first one. It was an experience of a lifetime.


Leaving Howard Brown to continue the next section with the minimum of support we all decided to head for our free breakfast . Our buses veered off the A470 , straight up the driveway to Powis Castle pushing on in the direction of breakfast . The café was closed ! Without a moment’s pause the buses trundled on towards the Castle and His Lordship’s mansion . No security so the team piled out into the courtyard .

While everyone made themselves comfortable I spoke to Jeff Wood , he had agreed our free breakfast with the Wales Tourist Board so we decided that it would be best to just knock on the front door and see who was home . We walked up the path , Woody pushed the door and I pushed Woody . All of a sudden we were inside , stood in a hallway next to a hound curled up on a carpet in front of a fireplace . A minute or two later the Sixth Earl of Powis turned up clutching the Sunday papers , peering at us , looking puzzled “who were we , how did we get there “? Knowing that Woody was not used to addressing the aristocracy I quickly explained about the free breakfast and the Castles Relay “Oh , I thought that was next week ,” he chortled, “I’ll open the cafeteria straight away” . We were delighted , Lord Powis was really chipper ….. then he saw Ted Tapper ….. !


Stage11 – Newtown to Welshpool

Howard Brown Age – 33 PB for 10 miles = 55mins

Sadly Handsome Howie died in 2012 . Always a tenacious competitor he gave his best in everything he did . Les Croupiers’ first ever ultra distance athlete running 50 miles in Hereford in June 1985 along with Errol Alexis ,then three months later completing London to Brighton in 6 hours 34 mins


Stage 12 – Welshpool to Llanfair Careinion

Mark Jones Age – 28 PB for 10 miles = 57

Unfortunately Mark disappeared shortly after this journey into the unknown . He is yet to return .


Stage 13 – Llanfair Careinion - Foel

Des Davies Age – 32 PB for 10 miles = 61 minutes

Des had such a good time that he is still not certain that it really happened !!


Stage14 – Foel - Mallwyd

Rob Evans Age – 30 PB for 10 miles = 52 mins

Our bus parked up in the middle of the village to wait for the next changeover . While the others fell out onto the pavement enjoying the sun I stretched a couple of muscles and looked up the road for Des . He arrived on schedule , we exchanged greetings and off I went on my first ever Castles Relay run . Straight through the village and soon overtaken by a noisy minibus heading for The Brigands Inn . It was a beautiful summer day but no time to take in the scenery as I concentrated on keeping the pace going .

About half way through my run the land rover overtook me and John “Manic” Middleton jumped out pointing a camera . We both did our best to look like we knew what we were doing . A few weeks later when John had the prints back from Boots he showed me his handiwork . Some really good pics . I would definitely have liked to see them again now but John’s life has been quite varied in the intervening years and his possessions have become scattered across so many parts of the world.

Anyway , no time to rest . At the finish I dived straight into the bus . I was keen to find out how The Army’s finest would tackle the next stage , the toughest part of the relay .


Stage15 – Mallwyd -Dolgellau

Paul McNaughton Age – 22 PB for 10 miles = 52 mins I was late arriving at Cardiff reception as I ran the Churchdown 10 on Saturday in a time of 53.50 , so remember a stiff night in the minibus . Arrived at Powys Castle early in the morning which was a changeover point, only to be hectored by an irate Lord Powys . Scorcher of a day, and recall arriving at the start of my leg at the Brigands Inn and rather wishing my leg was finishing rather that starting there! Set off quickly then realised that there wasn’t much downhill going on – steady climb all the way to the top of Dinas Mawddwy. Recall the minibus passing me with lots of cheers. I also recall passing an old Hillman Minx which was struggling up the steepest part of the climb. Eventually peaking to be greeted by the sight of the team in the minibus eating icecreams from a van at the top. Then the thrilling downhill leg at max pace down to my changeover at the bridge at Dollgellau. Very fond memories of a great weekend with a great bunch of guys.


Stage16 – Dolgellau - Barmouth

Sean Tresilian Age – 26 PB for 10 miles = 59 mins

Abiding memories of the Castles Relay … Apart from the heat, I well remember me suggesting that a reclining Ted Tapper was nothing to do with us but an invading vagrant and I suggested throwing him out of Powis Castle .

As for the matter of racing , I remember it was so hot the tarmac on the road was melting . I am convinced this slowed me down ! On one particular downhill section I could hear the sound of the support vehicle getting louder and louder and looked round to see a laughing Paul ( Boffo ) Kennedy in the front passenger seat .

On completion of my stage I nearly passed out and shouted “…drink , drink !!!” . Mick grabbed me and offered liquid refreshment . Unfortunately it was a two litre bottle of Strongbow .

Other memories… who’s bright idea was it for us to sleep on the floor of a telephone exchange ? Having to cope with the constant clicking makes me convinced I could easily cope with the torture of SAS selection .

The time spent with the boys was truly memorable. A truly unique experience I will always remember . Clicks and all .


Stage17 – Barmouth - Harlech

Ted Tapper Age – 35 PB for 10 miles = 54

I was not to run until leg seventeen which was in the afternoon the following day so along with the other runners I was assigned a place on one of the mini-vans to travel up to Newtown in Powys for an overnight stop and some sleep.

On the way up to Newtown just past Merthyr in the dead of night I can remember the sight of Jeff Aston bathed in the headlights of the land rover running past the Llyn On reservoir. We eventually overtook the convoy and made our way up to Newtown to bed down to sleep.

Powys Castle had promised us breakfast so we arrived bright and early after not much sleep, so, knowing I was running later that day and it being such a sunny morning I walked into the gardens whilst the others were sorting out where we would be eating and lied on a bench to close my eyes. I was spotted on the bench by Lord Powys? He demanded to know who I was as he had been told that I was not part of the run and I was probably a vagrant who had been there all night. After some convincing he was assured that I was indeed part of the run.

We left Powys and joined up with the convoy of cars and vans to prepare for my leg from Barmouth to Harlech which if my memory is correct was a short run of about seven miles. After changing on the bus I alighted and brushed hands with the incoming runner to start my leg of the run which I duly completed to hand over to the next runner

On finishing at Caernarvon Castle we had a short ceremony where we were all presented with a framed picture of Caernarvon Castle donated by the Welsh Tourist Board.

I still have that picture and my Castes Relay vest which I was proud to have worn on behalf of Les Croupiers.

In the years that have followed us there have been many teams competing in the Castes relay, but, all of us that did compete in that first run can be proud of the fact that we were the first ones to complete the Castes Relay.


Stage18 – Harlech - Penrhyn

John Thorne Age – 51 PB for 10 miles = 61 mins

Some years ago, I read that Ffordd Pen Llech in Harlech had been recognised as being the street having the steepest gradient in the world. Learning this fact prompted my recollection of running down a steep road in Harlech at the beginning of my stage in the inaugural Castles Relay in 1982. Whether or not it was Ffordd Pen Llech I ran down, I do not know, but I certainly remember feeling relieved that I was descending the hill from Harlech rather than climbing it. I was also grateful that the relay organisers, acknowledging my seniority, had nominated me to run a short stage of 7 miles. The pilot land rover lead the way on what was a fine day. The mountains of Snowdonia were to the north, Cader Idris to the south and Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea to the west. Running parallel to the coast, I must have crossed the bridge over the estuary before arriving at my destination in Penrhyndeudraeth.

Awaiting me in the car park was the rest of the team including Rob Atkinson who was running the next stage to Criccieth. Rob had driven up from Barry in his own car accompanied by a young lady. I assumed he was combining his duty as a Les Croupiers runner with a romantic weekend in North Wales and had persuaded me to drive his car to Criccieth. When handing over his car keys he warned me that the hand brake no longer worked.

He departed, leaving me with the prospect of stop/starting in a dodgy car on whatever hills there might be on the road to Criccieth

Alone with Rob’s girl-friend and with some embarrassment, due to my natural shyness, I changed my sweaty running gear and we left for Criccieth Castle. Luckily, we did not encounter any hills and arrived safely. I comforted myself that Rob must have really trusted me.

Reflecting on this first Les Croupiers organised Castles Relay, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have been involved in such a unique event.

What made the experience so memorable was the fact that (a) it was a non-stop relay involving night-time running;(b)it was acknowledged that the club was doing something exceptional in promoting the 1983 Festival of Welsh Castles. Notably, there was a reception and send-off from Cardiff Castle hosted by the Lord Mayor and Lord Parry, chairman of the Wales Tourist Board ;(c) we had the opportunity of meeting interesting people on the journey such as the 7th Earl of Powis who, despite being disturbed by South Wales invaders arranged for the provision of a free breakfast;(d)we all received a framed black and white sketch of Caernarfon Castle (although I seem to remember the quality of the drawing was questioned by artistically trained Rob Evans);(e) finally there was an admirable display of the use of telecom walkie-talkie equipment used in communication between mini-buses.

One feature which was very advantageous was that of inviting Rob Cole of the Western Mail on the trip. Running in the early 1980s got rather better coverage in the local papers than today. Rob Cole wrote a weekly article called "On the Run" with Rob Cole, and it worked wonders. Rob was very much the driving force behind the Cardiff Western Mail Marathon, which was held from 1981-86, and which attracted 3000 runners in year 1. Many of our members today have good reason to thank Rob Cole for getting them running in the first place, and a huge number of popular Welsh races were born as a spin-off.

Rob Cole - Sports Journalist , Western Mail and Echo Les Croupiers Running Club completed what must be the longest relay held in Wales in fine style at the weekend . It was a truly magnificent effort by the cub’s 21 runners . Over an untried course , unknown distances and in less than ideal conditions every runner ran his heart out for the club .In every respect the relay was a success . Having travelled with the team throughout the relay I would like to pay tribute to the dedication of all involved and congratulate them on their achievements . For me the outstanding memory at least while I was awake, was the chorus of raucous runners’ voices that went on long into the night as they celebrated their run . It epitomised the spirit with which all the runners ran and helped to take the mind away from the hard British Telecom Exchange building floor we were all sleeping on . Howard Brown may be one of the club’s better runners but he certainly hasn’t got the best voice … that honour must go to Paul “Boffo” Kennedy . If you thought athletes were tee-total you would be very much mistaken , but they all claim to drink only after a race . No wonder they enjoy racing !


Stage 19 – Penrhyn to Criccieth Castle

Rob Atkinson Age – 36 PB for 10 miles = 50 mins

Sadly Rob died in 2004 . An enthusiastic supporter of our new club , a founder member and first club secretary . As was the norm at the time , he was a huge mileage trainer . Running 100+ miles a week gave Rob a marathon best of 2hours 22mins .


Stage 20 – Criccieth Castle to Penygroes

Paul Wheeler Age – 25 PB for 10 miles = 49 mins

I can`t remember exactly where I started from but I went uphill out of town and turned left at the top, the team in vehicles thought I`d gone the wrong way because it took longer than they expected to catch me up, I think it was still light when I ran . I remember the yellow minibuses and Land Rovers, I remember going up the steep hill from Dinas Mawddwy very, very slowly almost like the engine was about to stall .

This is what I wrote in my diary for that weekend:

Saturday – Churchdown 10 : had to rush to get there on time, weather sunny but alright. 26.16 at 5m then eased up to save energy for tomorrow, sprint finish, passed 2 people finished 27th time 56.35. Ran 40m that week.

Sunday - Castles Relay, ran from Criccieth to Penygroes , handed over to Mick, mostly uphill ran hard, faster than I thought 54.02 warm and sunny.

After the event we had a reception at Caernarfon football club, after I think we stayed on Anglesey on a hard cold floor of a BT telephone exchange, got no sleep because of all the clicking, clacking noises all night, travelled back on Monday


Stage 21 - Pen Y Groes to Caernarfon Castle

Mick McGeogh Age – 26 PB for 10 miles = 49 minutes

A time schedule had been prepared for the event, based on an even-pace of 6 minute miling for the duration of the 208 mile course. We were, at one time, as much as 15 minutes behind our goal; however we had decided to put our fastest runners on last, so I was never unduly concerned that we would not achieve our target.

Paul Wheeler ran the penultimate leg from Criccieth to Penygroes and handed over to me. It was a beautiful evening and I was running into the sunset with the magnificent backdrop of Caernarfon Castle. I felt a bit of a fraud because I had only to run a little over 6 miles and most of it was downhill. By now most of the rest of the team were shouting out of the minibus windows at me, so I was hitting it as hard as I could. One additional feature was that the Lord Mayor of Cardiff had given us a Goodwill Message in the form of a scroll, to be delivered to his counterpart in Caernarfon and read out. With less than 400 metres to go Mal Farnham handed me the scroll whilst I was pretty much sprinting. The rest of the evening was spent celebrating in something of an alcoholic haze. None of us could have dreamt of the adventures which would ultimately unfold.

…. And so it was all over . After running for 20 hours and 38 minutes the team finished inside their target by 10 minutes . The Mayor of Arfon read from the scroll amongst wild scenes of jubilation .Some of the locals couldn’t believe it , North Wales hadn’t witnessed such scenes of unmanly hugging since they almost managed to blow up Prince Charles .We needed refreshment .

Colin pointed to a little difficulty - “And so to the evening when we thought a little liquid celebration may be in order. Only one those days North Wales was dry on Sundays. A local came to the rescue and told us that although pubs were shut, clubs were open and that we could enter for a small visitors fee.......problem solved !”

Our collective memory of what happened next becomes a bit vague from here on . There was definitely an elaborate reception/buffet complete with plastic table cloths and a speech from a man in fancy dress , at which we were all presented with commemorative prints of Caernarfon Castle .

John Taylor had kindly arranged for us all to sleep on the floor of a telephone exchange in Beaumaris . More cans appeared. The celebrations continued .The only way for any of us to get to sleep was when elder statesman John Thorne went round thoughtfully drinking everyone’s beer for them .

Our intention until this point had always been to run this route as a challenge for other teams to try and beat . We thought we had set out a pretty strong time and any other club that could find twenty one runners under sixty minutes for ten was welcome to give it a go . However , on the trip back the next morning all the talk was of next year . Fuelled by even more alcohol and some stirring speeches at our stop at Ludlow everyone became determined that this should become an annual race . Over the next forty years the Welsh Castles Relay has become a major athletic endeavour, the flagship event of Les Croupiers Running Club , every year attracting a cast of thousands , runners, marshals , helpers of all kinds . As has been said many times , no one who witnessed what happened in 1982 could have foreseen what was to come .

Acknowledgements Many thanks to everyone who contributed their memories to this . Special mention also to Jeff Aston and Mick McGeoch for fact checking and digging into their archives for extra information thirty nine years after we all thought it was all over .


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