Hotelier Craig Jarvis seeks out new challenges

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Some might think him crazy, others just highly-motivated or brave. I, however, have little doubt Craig Jarvis is all three.

How else could the 54-year-old hotelier so much as consider taking part in ‘the toughest footrace on earth’ or ‘the world’s toughest endurance race,’ let alone complete them and look for more?

That said, the father-of-two has achieved some amazing feats – successful businessman, talented horse rider, adept fund-raiser and accomplished athlete.

“I’m not a natural athlete,” he said, despite having scaled mountains and run ultra-marathons.

“I’m not a good runner or anything like that. It’s your mind-set, a state of mind. I go in and think I don’t need to win this, I just need to finish it.”

His challenges have helped to raise more than a quarter of a million pounds for charity and secured him the privilege of carrying the Olympic torch in 2012’s torch relay.

It’s ironic, too, considering sport was his least favourite subject at school, something he attributes to an emphasis on team games and the associated peer pressure.

He attended boarding schools from the age of seven, including the ‘very draconian’ Nowton Court Prep School in Bury St Edmunds which, he says, forced him to grow up ‘very quickly’.

It was also a bit of an ‘adventure playground’ for Craig, who set up a secret laboratory in the cellar,where he made explosives using chemicals he had taken from science class.

“I wouldn’t put my daughters through boarding school,” he said. “I think the time children get growing up and being with their parents is too short anyway – that’s one hell of an experience not to share with your parents. But, at the same time, it’s a very good experience in teaching you to grow up and look after yourself.”

His decision to start fund-raising stemmed from a desire to race horses – not too much of a stretch for a man from Newmarket who raced motorcycles with his brother as a youth. It culminated in him realising his dream to ride the Grand National course, which he did by taking part in the Fox Hunters’ Chase.

Craig, who now lives in Beyton, said: “I got involved with horses at a late stage and rode at an event called the (Newmarket) Town Plate, an amateur jockeys’ race. I had to lose weight to do it and I thought, if I’m going to do this, I might as well turn it into a fund-raising thing.

“I had friends with children who had Batten’s Disease and they started something called the Rhys Daniels Trust so I did my first fund-raising for that and then it just sort of snowballed from there, and I suppose I got a bit of a taste for adventure.”

Actually, I suspect Craig’s love of adventure started much earlier.

At 20, after a stint as a part-time waiter ignited his interest in the restaurant trade, he left the UK to work in Holland.

“I spent three years there in an amazing hotel that really taught me about the etiquette of fine dining and wines,” he said, adding that he also worked for wine makers in France.

“I did it all there, from working in the vineyards to making wine. Seeing the whole thing through was quite a privilege because they’re quite guarded about their secrets of wine making. I still love the wine from those two regions where I worked (Burgundy and Alsace).”

More recently, Craig’s sense of adventure has taken him around the world, India, Cambodia, even Brazil, and despite almost getting hypothermia, having an unexpected encounter with a jaguar and being forced to confront his worst phobia, it’s clear the negative experiences haven’t put him off.

“When you’re doing them you think what the hell am I doing but when you’re out of it and you look back you forget the bad moments,” said Craig, who battled claustrophobia in a cocoon-like hammock suspended hundreds of feet up while ‘sleeping’ in between days spent running back-to-back marathons through the Amazonian jungle.

It’s not surprising, perhaps, to learn that he’s already in training for his next challenge, the Everest Marathon – billed as ‘the world’s highest trail running event’ – which he plans to undertake in May.

“I’ve run through desert, run through jungle and the next logical thing is to do the Everest,” he said.

Not only will he be raising funds for the Ravenwood Children’s Trust, a charity that Craig founded, but Everest will take on special significance as will be completing it in memory of his friend, Stephen Brown, who died in tragic circumstances in 2012.

“Every so often something comes along that makes you realise how lucky and how fortunate you are,” said Craig, reflecting on his friend’s death.

Five days before Everest, when I imagine most people would be taking it easy, Craig will be cycling the Bury Rugby Club’s 352-mile ‘memorial’ bike ride from Paris to Bury – something he was volunteered for two weeks ago.

I don’t know where he gets the energy, especially considering the work that must be involved in running the Ravenwood Hall Hotel in Rougham and The Black Lion in Long Melford, both of which he owns.

“I have a good team behind me – I wouldn’t be able to have time off if it wasn’t for them,” said Craig, adding that his wife, Julie, was ‘incredible’ and ‘very supportive’.

So this year it’s Everest. Next year is anyone’s guess.

“I think you’ve always got to have something in the back of your mind – it’s a very sad day when you don’t have something to gear you on,” said Craig, staying tight-lipped about other events he may wish to add to his repertoire.

One thing is certain though, he intends to keep up the pace for as long as possible.

by Laura Smith