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Charity ambassador takes on ultramarathon pilgrimage, ending in Durham Cathedral on St Cuthbert’s Day

21 March 2019

On Wednesday 20 March 2019, Dr Mark Calder finished the 3rd ultramarathon of his year-long 14 ultramarathon pilgrimage challenge, raising vital funds for Embrace the Middle East; a charity which provides support to Iraqi refugees so that they can begin to rebuild their hometowns in the aftermath of war. 

The 14 routes will take Mark to sites associated with ancient saints in Scotland and the North of England, comprising 1725 miles, the distance from Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut to Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to Cairo and back to Baghdad – the capitals of the countries in which Embrace the Middle East works. 

The latest route was chosen to pay homage to St Cuthbert. Beginning on 17 March, Mark has ran between Melrose in the Scottish Boarders and Durham Cathedral via Lindisfarne, arriving at the Cathedral on 20 March at 6.30pm, where he was met by the Bishop of Durham, The Right Reverend Paul Butler, to celebrate the Festal Evensong on the saint’s day itself. 

This challenge is a huge undertaking for Dr Calder, who usually divides his time between working for the charity and teaching at Durham and Stirling universities. Mark said: ‘I love running and the sense of freedom I get from it. Late last year, I started to think about my journey and how this contrasts with the much more traumatic one taken by people in northern Iraq.

‘The fact that I am able to do these ultramarathons isn’t something that I take for granted, however it’s motivating to think that my journey will go some way to create a better, happier ending to the desperately sad story of displacement and loss in Iraq.’

The Bishop of Durham, The Right Reverend Paul Butler, said: ‘Mark's ultramarathon pilgrimages are not just feats of endurance. They bear witness to the courage of the Iraqi’s that Embrace the Middle East are helping and to the legacy of Cuthbert and his fellow northern saints with their examples of sacrifice and self-giving. Perhaps, most of all, they bear witness to the connection between these two stories. Inspired by the saints, and by Mark's efforts, we can be part of changing the story in Iraq, from turmoil and loss to homecoming and peace. I'm grateful to Embrace the Middle East for making this connection real for us, and wish Mark every blessing and all strength as he takes on this challenge.’

Durham Cathedral encourages members of the community to pray for Mark and for the people of Iraq as he runs the rest of the pilgrim routes throughout 2019. 

For further information about Mark’s challenge or to support him, visit