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Experience the unique spectacle of the World Coal Carrying Contest

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Every Easter Monday, visitors from around the UK and further afield flock to the North Yorkshire Village of Gawthorpe to witness the famous World Coal Carrying Contest.

While others around the country are tucking into their Easter eggs, brave men and women in this little village, which lies between Dewsbury and Wakefield, are preparing for a run with a unique twist - the competitors are carrying sacks of coal.

Visitors gather to watch the main event: the men's contest, in which male contestants run almost mile, 1012.5 metres, while carrying 50 kg of coal each. The run starts at The Royal Oak, Owl Lane, from which contestants tackle the mile before being permitted to drop their sacks of coal at the Maypole, which is situated on the village green.

While the female contestants used to have it slightly easier, only being asked to run from the bottom of the village to the Maypole and their sacks filled with just 10 kg of coal, they now run the same route as the men.

When the event began in the sixties, it was considered that women could instead partake in a rolling pin throwing contest. However, this never came about. "It may have been that the men were afraid the women might become too expert, but at any rate the idea never caught on," quips Gawthorpe's website.

The current world record is said to be held by David Jones of Meltham, who completed the taxing course in just four minutes and six seconds in both 1991 and 1995. The fastest time recorded in the women's race was Julia Knight of Meltham who finished in just five minutes, five seconds. Anyone to break these records would enjoy a spot in the Guinness Book of Records, and people come from near and far each year to try and do so, while others just enjoy watching the unique spectacle.

Competitors come from far and near and go to extreme measure to train for the unusual race, with one farmer and former champion admitting to running up and down his fields carrying sack of potatoes. According to the website, "training for the Olympics is very important but no more than training for the Coal Race."

This quirky tradition is integral in the history of the village and reflects its coal mining past, which is typical of many Yorkshire towns. The World Coal Carrying Contest was actually sparked by a minor dispute in the Beehive Inn in 1963 between Reggie Sedgewick, Lewis Hartley and Amos Clapham, a local coal merchant.

The story goes that Mr Hartley burst in the pub where the other two men were enjoying a refreshment, and accused local coal mining merchant Reggie Sedgewick of looking tired, to which gawthorpe.ndo.co.uk claims he replied: "Ah'm as fit as thee.

"An' if tha' dun’t believe me gerra a bagga coil on thi back an 'ah'll get one on mine an 'ah'll race thee to t' top o' t' wood!"

The three men then remembered they had been looking for something to do on Easter Monday and set the contest for that date. It has remained an annual tradition ever since.

A maximum of thirty contestants are permitted to take part in the event, with fifteen postal registrations and fifteen places allocated on a 'first come first served' basis on the day. In addition to the men and women's categories, children can now get in on the fun with races for under nines, under 11s and under 15s.
 

 

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