The sleepy village of Grantchester is possibly the least-likely place you’d expect to endorse madcap traditions and frivolous antics. But, come Boxing Day, this picture-perfect village becomes a hive of hysteria as locals gather for the annual Boxing Day Barrel Race.
The race, which involves rolling a whisky barrel along a 100 yard course in small teams, was started in the 1960s and revived ten years ago with great success. Organiser and resident Francis Burkitt explains:
“It started with the local drinkers challenging each other for a bit of fun. I can remember watching it as a child, and there are some great old photos of people doing it in suits and ties… It fizzled out little in the 1980s, then in 2004 we revived it and it’s been going strong ever since.”
The four Grantchester pubs are still central to the race, with each one contributing a team. “The blue t-shirts are the Blue Ball team, red for The Red Lion, green for The Green Man and mustard for The Rupert Brooke,” says Francis. “It’s a relay race, and the idea is to push your whisky barrel over the line first. The fun of it is that they don’t go in a straight line, so people end up wobbling in to each other.
“The Blue Ball ladies are particularly strong. The technique is a closely guided secret, but the key is to go steady. Practicing is strictly not allowed, however, and if anyone is spotted they’re instantly expelled.”
There are several races throughout the day: the men’s race, ladies’ race, open race and a village race, which sees the villages of Grantchester, Barton and Coton, Madingley thrash it out for the title.
“About 1000 people usually come; it starts at noon on Boxing Day, lasts about 45 minutes, then everyone goes down the pub.”
Entries are full for this year, but spectators are always welcome. “The meadows fill up with people who’ve walked or cycled in to watch, and it’s just a really popular event,” says Francis.
“It works brilliantly because it’s Boxing Day, everyone’s been indoors all day yesterday and they’re feeling a bit fat, they’re probably fed up with the family… And this is a great way to get out, get some fresh air and cheer on their neighbours.
“It’s bit of harmless, pointless fun on a winter’s day and a wonderful community occasion. The victors don’t get anything except a plastic medal, which costs about 16p, and the honour of winning.”
Watch what happened at last year’s race: