Brian's Blogs

Grotesque Behaviour in the Yorkshire Dales

I’ve only been back in the UK for what seems like less than five minutes, and I’m already thrown into the deep end of UK eccentricities. Drystan and Karen suggest that your favourite blogger join them to witness this year’s Oxenhope Straw Race.

Oxenhope’s what?

Apparently the Oxenhope Straw Race has taken place every summer in the West Yorkshire Pennine village of Oxenhope, for the past 37 years. It was started by two men who made a bet about racing from one pub to the next carrying a bale of straw (of such are English eccentricities born!).

The idea is that teams of two (male, female or mixed) start at one pub – the Waggon & Horses Inn – walk or run 1 mile to the next pub (Bay Horse Inn) where a bale of straw is picked up, and head up to the finish at the Dog & Gun pub , some 1½ miles up a gentle hill, via a couple more pubs. A pint of beer (or half-pint for female teams) is drunk by the teams at each stop.

The ‘rules’ are quite specific: “Competitors should be aware of the following risks involved in this event: The race involves the consumption of beer at each of 5 venues on the route. There is a risk of dehydration during the race, particularly on hot days, if adequate arrangements are not made by competitors for their own refreshment.”

The ‘race’ has gone from strength to strength, raising around £300,000 to date for local charities by the teams who collect sponsorship for completing the course, mostly in fancy dress.

Oxenhope, itself is a small community of around 2,500, centred on a Victorian mill village. But today the numbers have swelled out of all proportion…

The village is close to Haworth, the home of the famous Bronte sisters. But it also has another claim to fame in the making – it lies on the route for the 2014 Tour De France cycle race.

But many visitors come via a more traditional means, as Oxenhope is also the terminus of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, an authentic steam railway which runs along the valley to Haworth and on down to Keighley.

Oxenhope was not in the original plans for the railway, with Haworth being the proposed terminus. However, a local mill owner successfully campaigned for the railway to be extended to Oxenhope, and the station opened in 1867, as the end of the line. It had originally been planned that the railway would be extended into Lowertown, and there is still a road bridge which was constructed as part of the railway to allow for this, though this section never got built.

As with the rest of the line, it was closed in 1962 under the Beeching Axe, but was re-opened when the line was preserved in 1968. Local train rides are put on every weekend for steam fanatics, and there is also a station shop and buffet.

Next the station is an exhibition shed, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, where some of the locomotives, that are not currently being used, are stored.

Also located at Oxenhope, is the railways 'Beer Store'. When the railway reopened, it boasted the facility to serve 'Real Ale' on board trains as a jibe at British Rail, who was unable to do so in its new Inter City Buffet Cars. Because normal cask ale cannot be used on a train (the movement would shake up the sediment in the barrel and result in an undrinkable pint), the beer is stored at Oxenhope and decanted into containers for use on the trains.

But we have not come here for the trains; not today at any rate. Instead we head for the Bay Horse Inn and join a large number of other rubber-neckers.

The race organisers have made a lot of effort to close off the village to traffic …

… and marshalling stations are set up at every entrance to the village diverting the traffic.

Unfortunately it appears no one has told the local bus company which insists on squeezing its vehicles down the narrow road much to the annoyance of everyone.

Though it is officially called a race, in reality everyone is there more for a fun day out; and apart from a couple of die-hards who race to the finish like there is no tomorrow, most of the competitors would rather show off their fancy dress than worry about beating any records.

A large truck has been hired to bring in over 200 bales of straw which are piled up by the side of the road waiting for the runners to pass by…

… while – more importantly – a table is set out with pints of ale which will be slugged back by the competitors as they make their way onto the next pub stop.

Soon the racers start to appear from around the corner. Here are two muscular looking Mini-Mouses (or should that be Mini-Mice?)

Racing nuns are also to be seen throughout the afternoon.

And what’s this? A Saudi knocking back the ale? Hey habibi – I hope you have checked that there are no muttawah around!

Some not-so-glamorous South Pacific maidens check that their coconuts are still in place as they head for the straw…

while a posse of lego-men follow in quick pursuit.

Here come Les Quatres Mousquetaires…

followed closely by a mini-legion of rotten Roman squaddies.

Even Posh and Becks, fresh from their recent trip to China, have made time to pay a visit…

and all the while the cream of British female society cheer them on from the sidelines.

Some of the contestants appear to have a sexual identity crisis, mind you. Not a pretty sight…

And bringing up the rear – in more ways than one, I fear – is a team calling itself the Full Bronte. I think I must have turned soft living in China for the past two years. Could you imagine the Chinese ever doing this? No, I don’t think so!

OMG It’s so gross!
FGS Get me outta here!

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