Here’s a brilliant race report by Terry Welsh on another one of those races in obscure places.
In the little Yorkshire Dales village of Burnsall-in–Wharfedale they have held a sports day around the village green on a late August Saturday since the time of the first Queen Elizabeth. According to tradition, the Burnsall Fell Race was first run in 1870. There has been a ten mile road race there since 1953.
I recently ran the Burnsall Ten for the first time in twenty five years.
I used to run with Pudsey, a Yorkshire club. One of our veterans, Pete Watson, used to enthuse about Burnsall. When I first went there they were selling T Shirts with Pete’s picture on them. He had won the Fell Race seven times and you can see his name on the Burnsall Fell Race winners trophy, which stands in the bar of the Burnsall pub, the Red Lion. The last time I saw Pete he told me that he had to give up running because of arthritis. But he has found a new passion for downhill skiing. He’s in the Alps every winter and now he enthuses about Kitzbuhel.
This year’s race was started by two attractive local celebrities, ladies from the local Women’s Institute who took their clothes off for the famous calendar. In the race we started over the old five-arched bridge and climbed up an awful hill. Then it was a long and glorious road through an eternal Dales dream landscape, a panorama mixing fields originally laid out in prehistoric times, with woodland ,moorland, Embsay Crag, and views over the Wharfe towards Pen-y-Ghent. We ran through the inviting upland hamlets of Hebden, Threshfield and Linton, and the market town of Grassington. The last mile is a soaring downhill swoop in the shadow of Burnsall Fell into the tumult on the Village Green.
I picked up some interesting figures about 2012 and 1986. In 1986 72 runners finished under the hour, there were 18 veterans in the first 100 and 97th place clocked 62 minutes. In 2012, 4 runners finished under the hour, there were 53 veterans out of 74 finishers and 10th place clocked 62 minutes. This year Gordon Booth of Huddersfield became the oldest man ever to finish, with 91 minutes, aged 80. The statistics mean that the likes of Gordon and me can still keep going to Burnsall. But we need to get younger runners on the roads.
After the ten mile race there there is plenty to do. The brass band plays all day. A late local bandmaster asked to be buried at the front of the churchyard so he could hear the band on sports day. The beer in the Red Lion is still as wet and as strong as ever. You can enter the trout fishing competition, the men’s wheelbarrow race or the ladies’ potato race.
Then there is the fell race. A record for the Fell Race of 12.59 was set by Ernest Dalizell in 1912. Only two people have beaten it since. Ernest was killed in World War 1. This year’s winner took 15 minutes.
The Dales around you are, rich with summer life.. You can spot mallard ducks, moorhens, and kingfishers, by the riverbank and eagle owls in the churchyard. In the bushes, beyond the car park, I saw two skulking hobgoblins scrutinizing the crowd.
At parting day everybody gathers on the village green and the band sounds melancholy and uplifting all at once. I imagined the ghosts of all those who had been to Burnsall sports over the centuries, floating by the trees in the churchyard. It may have been chemical, biological, psychological, spiritual or just the beer. But I got this spooky feeling, that my own ghost would be drawn back there in the times to come, maybe still drifting in the August twilight after 400 years.
The band played. The crowd sang the Burnsall hymn, Jesus Shall Reign. Even Richard Dawkins would have joined in. Then the vicar gave the blessing, including ‘May the rain fall softly on the fells until we meet again.’
Next year’s Burnsall Sports will be on August 24th. Go there and your ghost could haunt the village green in the summer of 2413. Make sure it’s wearing a Claremont vest.
TERRY WELSH 60th 1.29.