Tetbury Woolsack Races
PUBLISHED: 11:33 16 December 2010 | UPDATED: 17:08 20 February 2013
A new literary festival, events to celebrate food and music and, of course, the famous Woolsack Races – all factors in Tetbury becoming a very user-friendly town.<br/>Words by Katie Jarvis; pictures by Annna Lythgoe and Shaun Thompson
Getting the sack!
If you happen to come across your local vet with a huge sack of dog food on his back, running up a ferociously steep hill, dont assume the worst. Instead of imagining a broken-down car, a canine meal crisis, or even a fit of spring madness, think May; think Tetbury, think in training for the Woolsack Races.The George Veterinary Group, which has a clinic in the town, has scooped first prize in the mens team section for two years running. And they may well enter this year, on May 31.
For the uninitiated, the races date back to the 17th century and were probably started by young drovers showing off to their girlfriends by running up and down Tetburys steep Gumstool Hill, carrying weighty woolsacks on their backs.
Vet Iain Hunt isnt sure his clients are quite so easily impressed. No they probably think were mad, he admits. The thing about being in this job is that I can use bags of dog food to make up the weight of a woolsack; we find a nice steep hill, and then we get training. Iain and his teammates vets Ed Bailey and Gethin Roberts are an impressively sporty trio. Between them, they play rugby, football, tennis and golf plus Eds an endurance athlete who runs marathons.
But even so, the challenge of racing 240 yards up and down a one-in-four hill, carrying a 60lb woolsack on your back, is not for the lily-livered. Its not easy. I have run both uphill and downhill legs in my time. Uphill is fairly hard going; downhill is not so hard on the legs but, danger-wise, its more high risk.
Err so why do it? Its great fun, of course! Tetburys Mayor, Cllr Stephen Hirst, agrees whole-heartedly. Fromthe sidelines.
I have tried lifting a woolsack with someone else, he says, cautiously. But as for entering, No thanks! Hell be one of the 7,000 or so who flock to cheer on the competitors on each year, as well as enjoying the fun fair in the Chipping, the street entertainment, stalls (more of them than ever), and spending the money that goes to charity.
Were still supporting local charities, but our main beneficiary this year is a departure from the norm: its Help for Heroes, he says. Its so much in the headlines and, although its national, we sadly just dont know who is going to be struck down next.
He may not face quite the perils of the woolsack racers, but being Mayor of Tetbury is no safe option either. Especially when its your job to oversee slightly controversial plans. The latest which will be in place in early May is to pedestrianise the road behind the Market Hall. Certainly, the majority of people who turned up to the public consultation thought it a good idea and the council is providing more parking spaces in and around the Market Place to compensate.
Change is always a problem, but I think Tetbury is becoming a more user-friendly town, where traffic is managed better and parking is improved which is good news for businesses, Cllr Hirst said. Its always a question of balance: between cars and pedestrians; between old and new. Tetburys appeal has to remain fresh, while havinga great regard for the heritage of thetown centre.
As if personally to punctuate his point, hes stepping down as Mayor on May 14 after five hard-working years in the job time to recharge the batteries; but hell still be on the council putting yet more plans in place for Tetbury to flourish.
We want to ensure there are lots of town events to stimulate visitor numbers, he says. At the moment, we have a new book festival and the Woolsack Races in May, our food and drink festival in September, and the music festival in October. Were also looking at other events perhaps an antiques fair and a fashion week; a package for the whole year.
Indeed, dont miss out on the first of those mentioned: this months new literary festival organised by the towns Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, featuring writers such as Susan Hill, Meg Rosoff and Katie Fforde.
Tetbury Woolsack Races take place in the town centre on bank holiday Monday, May 31, from 9.30am-5pm, with races from 1.30pm; www.tetburywoolsack.co.uk For more on the 1st Yellow-Lighted Book Festival, visit web.me.com/bookfestival