22 September 1995

Fell racing takes centre

stage here

Sports as well as

farming are integral to the Upper Wharfedale Agricultural Societys annual show at Kilnsey, as Tessa Gates

discovered when she went to North Yorkshire

THE long hot summer broke in Wharfedale on the day of the Kilnsey Show and Sports. The drizzle made little difference to showgoers but it added an extra hazard to the steep slopes of the crag that broods over the picturesque showground and provides a thrilling spectacle at this traditional show.

The crag races at Kilnsey, Yorks, test legs and lungs and most of all hearts, for as race commentator Roger Ingham told the crowd: "If you think it looks steep from here, its twice as bad up there looking down."

The races draw local lads and international athletes and a surprising number of women and girls undaunted by the shin-skinning scree and bone-breaking boulders of the downhill run – or should it be slip – through the notorious "chimney" and all for a top prize of £150. Of course the kudos of winning is priceless, particularly for a local.

Roger has been the showss crag race commentator since 1981 when show chairman, farmer Jim Caygill, thrust the microphone into his hand at the end of a race. Roger had first determined to take part when he was in primary school.

"I was enthralled by tales told by a pal and by seeing a picture of the great Bill Teasdale racing with blood all over his face and running into his socks. He needed 20 stitches and still won the race," recounts Roger. He first tried to enter the race himself in 1958 but arrived after the entries had closed and wasnt allowed to run. The disappointment can still be heard in his voice today.

Roger has enjoyed a lot of success in fell racing and knows what the runners are going through when he commentates at the show, which is held by the Upper Wharfedale Agricultural Society on the Tuesday after August Bank Holiday.

"The crag race is explosive pace-wise," he says. "You need a pole position half way up because it is hard to pass on the scree. It is fearsome coming down! I have had two lots of stitches, a broken wrist and grotesque ankle swellings that took three months to go down but I always finished."

This years main race drew around 90 entries with half-a-dozen top class runners keeping the betting open. Amateurs and professionals race together today with no loss of status, something Roger campaigned long and hard for. "I was banned from 3As events myself for winning 10 shillings when I was 16 but we can see the best of both worlds today," he says.

The first of the shows three crag races (courses differ) is for under-12-year-olds, "the equivalent of two-year-olds in flat racing," Roger tells the crowd. His words of encouragement follow the runners up the fell: "If you cant get round the steep bit close your eyes, youll get down quicker" – and on the run in – "keep coming, never mind looking round for your mum". Martin Swainson of Ambleside came in first to take the Schindler trophy and £12 prize.

The under-14s and under-17s race together and Anthony Turner (Stockport) comes home first in 8min 32sec with David Huff (Threshfield) taking the under-14s trophy in 9min 34sec. "Farm lass" Josephine Riley was the first girl home.

The big race of the afternoon starts with one of three brothers from the local Hawkins family setting the pace. As the runners reach the skyline it is Michael Hawkins, Andy Peace, a joiner from Bingley, and defending champion Ian Holmes from Haworth, with barely a stumble between them.

"I know who my fancy is – but shes not here today," the Tannoy booms. Its neck-and-neck down the infamous "chimney" and the Hawkins fan club is screaming encouragement but suddenly Peace takes the lead.

"This is a nice one… its a Kilnsey classic," says Roger enthusiastically, as the runners vault the wall and the beck and head for the home straight. On the crag other runners are still breaking on to the skyline as Michael Hawkins fulfils his followers expectations and pips Peace at the tape, leaving Holmes to take third place. The winning time is 7min 44sec, the second fastest time ever. But Hawkins neednt feel disappointed, he already holds the record for the course – 7min 35.6sec.

The crag racing seems the highlight of the show to the newcomer but Kilnsey regulars come early and leave late for the show provides a traditional mix of livestock, competitions and entertainment that still has real farmer appeal.

"We have maintained the show on the same foundations it was started on 88 years ago when it was the place for family and friends from all over the dale to meet up," says show chairman of 14 years, Jim Caygill, who farms 401ha (1000 acres) at nearby Rylstone. He is a stickler for time-keeping and likes to keep a busy main ring with no lulls between events.

Livestock classes have grown and changed to reflect local farming and the horse and pony classes are very popular too. Attendance was 13,000 this year, about 2000 short of the crowd that Mr Caygill would expect had the day been sunny.

"We have 10,000-11,000 people who always come no matter what the weather and that proves that we are providing what they want to see by maintaining the agricultural flavour," he says.

Certainly Kilnsey has eschewed the tat of market stalls and fun-fair rides, preferring to stick with crafts, bargain quality fruit and veg and a pretty roundabout for the tots with wooden horses.

There was a record entry (140) in the walking stick classes and the judge, Jack Walton from Middleton-in Teesdale, was spoilt for choice when it came to winners. "There are a lot here I would like to give prizes to but cant," he says, "the standard is very good."

Mr Walton likes to see sticks practical for the purpose for which they are intended. He chose a ladys horn headed walking stick by G Flintoft as the best exhibit of the 11 classes.

Trotting races provide the finale of the show, with sulkies wheeling round the ring like Roman chariots four abreast in the hard fought open handicap final won by Mawston Mikado owned by Miss C Slee, and driven by S Sowerby.

"Kilnsey is a typical Dales show and we intend to keep it like that," says Mr Caygill, adding that the society has a 99-year lease on the showground, thereby ensuring the continuation of the crag racing for years to come.