It started as a bit of a daft idea 50 years ago but Knaresborough Bed Race is now one of the most famous community events in the UK with 90 teams scheduled to scoot round the town’s cobblestones and narrow streets this weekend.
Older readers may remember the early days when only a handful of teams entered this spectacular and scenic event.
The beds the teams pushed through the streets of this medieval town tended to be cumbersome old things from the local hospital.
How things have changed now as the event reaches its 50th year this weekend,
The first entry from overseas came in 1975 when Knaresborough’s twin town in Germany, Bebra, sent a team, triggering an international rivalry which has continued to this day.
Most teams continue to be from Knaresborough itself and neighbouring towns such as Ripon and Harrogate.
As the event’s popularity has grown over the year, so has the demand for places.
It’s now massively over-subscribed so, each March, all the would-be teams are entered in a public draw with ‘seeded’ entries selected in advance like the World Cup.
Launched originally by Knaresborough Round Table in 1966, the Knaresborough Bed Race now attracts tens of thousands of spectators and scores of sponsors, helping to generate more than £80,000 for charity each year.
Its remarkable rise has seen the race conquer baking heat and driving rain, though flooding meant the river crossing part of the gruelling two-and-a-half mile circuit has had to be cancelled twice in its history.
Chairman of the Bed Race organising committee Martin Brock said they were very proud of its incredible success.
He said: “For the Bed Race to reach its half-century without a single cancellation due to weather, bureaucracy or changing tastes pays testimony to its enduring appeal
“The Bed Race’s role in the town is remarkable. We have one runner, Bob Chatton, who first ran it in 1974 and has managed to remain fit to take part most years ever since. “
“His daughter, Fiona, started competing from the 1990s and his granddaughter is taking part this year for the first time as a passenger. “
Teams these days tend to build their own lightweight ‘beds’ to push round the course and through the nippy waters of the Nidd.
No longer do the beds carry a ‘glamorous lady’, instead it’s usually a small child enjoying the ride of a lifetime. It turns out it’s easier to push them, too.
Such is the general respect for anyone brave enough to take part that in the two or three weeks leading up to the big day, drivers happily give way to beds on public roads as the teams practice on the course,
Organising the event is almost as challenging as taking part. After their sterling work of the early years, Knaresborough Round Table eventually passed the organiational baton to Knaresborough Lions in the late 1990s.
But the race itself is only part of the fun in Knaresborough Bed Race.
The whole town turns out to enjoy the spectacle and everyone gets involved from sponsors like Picaddilly Motors, which has backed the event for the last 18 years, to bars and restaurants and cafes and, even, Mother Shipton’s Cave.
Henshaws Arts and Crafts Centre at Bond End holds an all-day music festival with a host of local acoustic, indie and rock acts.
The day starts at 11am when the teams start to gather in the grounds of Knaresborough Castle.
At this point the beds are covered in extravagant decorations carefully created by local handymen and dress-makers to meet whatever that year’s theme happens to be.
Appropriately enough, this year’s theme is ‘Popular culture from the past 50 years’.
Once the judging of the best-dressed bed is over, the teams set off at 1pm in all their finery for the parade through the town down the high street to the starting point at Conyngham Hall Fields.
The waiting is finally over. From 3pm it’s a case of pushing and running as fast as is humanly possible up and down those cobblestones, over those slippy grassy banks and into the cold waters of the Nidd before the finishing line.
Castle Ings, Bond End, Nidd Gorge. . . the end of some of the most fun but most challenging miles of anyone’s life.