World Famous Grasmere Sports
One of the highlights of the Grasmere calendar is the world famous Grasmere Sports.
Set in a natural amphitheatre the surroundings for Grasmere sports are awe inspiring and the fells provide an ideal setting for fell racing and hound trails.
Earliest photos of the sports are by William Baldry who was also the village schoolmaster. He became the official photographer for the sports committee in 1872 and remained so for 20years. This is all the more amazing when you realise the first known photograph of the Lake District was taken by a customs officer, John Marsden in 1852 only 20 years before.
Apart from records of horse racing in the early 17th Century first records of sports in Grasmere occur in 1852. These took place on the Moss. Next records are 1865 where in conjunction with the annual sheep fair they were held on Hudson’s Field which is near the Wordsworth Hotel (formerly the Rothay Hotel). The sports then moved to Pavement End to a field still known as “the old sports field”. Next Broadgate meadow was used and finally in 1919 the “shed field” which is the current home of the sports was used for the first time.
The arrival of “Lordy” the late Earl of Lonsdale, a great sportsman and keen wrestler was a real spectacle. The Earl’s house party would travel from Lowther Estate in a fleet of bright yellow and black Rolls Royce across to Ullswater, over Kirkstone Pass and on to the sports field parking near the grandstand. It was a great social occasion as well as a sporting event. Nowadays it is not just Westmorland folk who come to enjoy the event but people from all over the world, some to watch, some to compete.
Grasmere folk optimistically say the weather is “allus fine for sports” however come rain or shine it still carries on.
The highlight of Grasmere Sports has to be the Senior Guide Race. This is an event that has to be seen to be believed. From the sports field across the road, up Brackenfell to the summit of Butter Crags and back down in 12mins. 21.6 seconds. No wonder Joss Naylor tried to urge the organisers of the 2012 Olympics to include it. When the first runner appears back in the field the band play “Hail the conquering hero”, well deserved.
The Guide race was first introduced in 1868. The current record was set by Fred Reeves in 1978 and Rob Jebb came very close in 2008 missing it by 10 seconds. The atmosphere in the sports field was electric. Anyone who beats the record will get £500 pounds from Pete Bland but so far his money is safe.
One can only have total respect for these athletes. I have never been able to make my mind up whether it is best to watch from the field where a swarm of little ants thunder up the fell, or at the top to cheer everyone on.
Another popular event is the Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling. From time immemorial Grasmere lads had “wrestling bouts” annually after the Rushbearing.
To start the competitors must “tek hod” by linking their fingers together behind the back of their opponent. The match is decided by the best of three falls.
In former times the winners were awarded leather belts which were greatly prized possessions. Now the prizes are cups and cash payments. One condition of entry as a wrestler is the correct “fit-up” – “a plush seat-piece” and a white vest. Some of the costumes are highly embroidered and one of the most amusing things are seeing the judges inspecting embroidered bottoms to award the prize for neatest costume!.
More recently called Grasmere Sports and Show to appeal to a wider audience, the sporting events will always be at the heart of it.This year children’s races for 5-10year olds are being re-introduced after a lapse of nearly 10 years and the organisers are always looking for something new to thrill the crowds with. Mountain Biking was introduced in 1995 and is a popular event. Hound Trails, Dog shows, Paragliding, have all been seen at the show. This year there is to be (weather permitting) a display by the RAF Falcon’s Team and Mountain Rescue demonstration with a Sea King Helicopter. Stalls with all manner of goods, Craft tents, Grasmere Sports has it all. And of course you can get a hand stamp and leave the field anytime to explore Grasmere Village.
My father in law is now well into his 90’s however he was telling me the other day about travelling to Grasmere Sports from Barrow in Furness when he was a toddler. It is his earliest memory, he describes travelling in a pearly white coach with a canvas roof. It had been raining heavily and with a childs curiousity he poked the roof and water flooded over the sides soaking everyone!. And yes he will be visiting the show again this year, probably one of the few who can remember seeing so many.
Grasmere Sports 2011 will be on Sunday 28th August