Sunday, 29 January 2017

A sporting legacy

There's not much motorsport in Orkney, we're not Mull or the Isle of Man. The local motor club does have an autotest championship and there's a motocross club for the two-wheeled scrambling brigade, but that's pretty much it, really.

So imagine my surprise, when I discovered that Orkney had been mentioned in the same breath as the World Rally Championship. It seemed so petrol-headedly preposterous that I had to follow the link. For the 2017 World Rally Championship, the official Ford team will carry the number plates from a couple of cars belonging to the owners of the local Ford garage in Kirkwall. It's a nice bit of publicity, when normally the fastest thing on the road, certainly around here, is the wind.

But, and it's a big muddy but, I was reminded this week that there are plenty of Orcadian competitions which involve engines. Quite large engines. And mud. Plus some huge tyres. Did I mention the mud?

Saturday saw an event very close to home, the East Mainland Agricultural Society's Ploughing Match, which was held at Hurtiso Farm in Holm. The field for the competition was located across the road from Tense Towers, so we had a grandstand view. By 9 o'clock, there were a dozen tractors on site, all rigged for ploughing. Whilst there weren't many spectators, a sizeable flock of Common gulls had gathered, as is usually the case if they spot a tractor and plough. The gulls soon lost interest, however, when the competitors climbed out of their cabs and began a reconnaissance of their allocated plots. 

I have no knowledge of the skills required to accurately drive a tractor (other than having owned several Land Rovers). Neither do I have an appreciation of the intricacies of ploughing or its use as a mudsport, but I know plenty about pitting one's wits against opponents in the muddy outdoors in inclement weather (think orienteering, off road navigational rallying or most Winter birding trips). And before you say that all tractors have air-conditioned cabs, surround sound and GPS, let me say that most interest seemed to focus upon the sole entrant in the vintage category, who was definitely closer to the elements than his fellow competitors.

As the rigs lined up in the morning, it looked as though there was some scruntineering and judging for the Best Turned Out Rig. It was not, as I first thought, a bid to establish a base line for later in the day and the award for the Muddiest Tractor.

The avian crowd assembled in a nearby field. They must've mistakenly thought "A dozen tractors?! Twelve times the amount of food!"

By 10 o'clock, things were underway in earnest, although it was hardly a level playing field (apologies, I couldn't resisit that pun).

An hour later, it was darker, wetter and oh so very much ploughier.

Big respect to the guy in the old tractor which lacked a cab or any mod cons. I cannot imagine the likes of Formula 1 stars such as Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel taking to the wheel in such circumstances, without a good deal of carping.

The event went on all afternoon, with a few families coming along to watch the action before, one by one, the machines trundled back to their home farms. The following morning brought a brighter, sunnier day and, as I wandered along the road, a thought struck me. In these days of corporate logos, sponsorship from big business and the argument over the amateur/professional divide, just how many sporting events do leave behind a tangible legacy on the ground?

05.02.17 update: the results were featured in the local paper the following week...

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