Lining up for the 125th Barnard Run10 Mar 2017
The Houses and Runners troop down to the start
Ribbons in buttonholes looking so smart,
Classrooms decked with colours so gay
And all to commemorate Foundation Day.
The Runners line up, the rest hold their breath
As if ’twere a matter of life or of death.
The timekeeper says 5-4-3-2-1
And off we all go on the Barney Run.
THE memories of Alan Ford, “aged 14½, six years a Barney Boy”, in his poem A Dream of the Barney Run records one of the 124 stagings of the annual race. Familiar to the inhabitants of Barnard Castle, the event sees dozens of mud-spattered young athletes take to the streets and fields around the town each year in February.
First staged in 1892, the cross country run was established to mark Foundation Day at Barnard Castle School and the following summer Henry de Vere Vane, 9th Baron Barnard, belatedly presented a silver cup to the winning house. The cup bears the school arms on one side and those of Lord Barnard on the other and remains a highly prized piece of silverware in the school sporting calendar.
This year, to mark the 125th anniversary, the 12th Baron Lord Barnard, Harry Vane, is due to attend the race, which will see 12 elite runners from each of the Senior School’s eight day and boarding houses compete at junior, intermediate and senior levels, 280 runners in total.
For the first time this year, children from the Preparatory School will also take part in the celebrations, with their elite runners joining the main course and all other children running a loop within the school grounds.
Barnard Castle School opened in 1883 and prior to 1892 held an annual paperchase through the neighbourhood where a lead runner would leave a trail of paper for the competitors to follow.
The school Games Committee decided to replace it with a run that initially was known as The Steeplechase. The rules stated that it be run on the morning of Foundation Day, an annual celebration marking the Bishop of Durham’s blessing of the laying of the foundation stone on November 6, 1883. The course was to be chosen by the Headmaster and be not more than seven and not fewer than five miles, with points awarded to each runner as they came home, one point for first, two points for second and so on.
At the time the school was known as the North Eastern County School and 25 runners from each of the school houses of Durham, North and York took part, with Durham becoming the inaugural winners having the fewest number of points.
The steeplechase course started at the Tees viaduct and headed along the North Yorkshire side of the Tees, across Cotherstone suspension bridge and the railway line, through Flatts Wood and on to the school.
For the second running of the race the course was altered so the competitors avoided the town centre and the finishing line was in the school playing fields.
Subsequent course changes in no way diminished the competitive spirit of the runners, who have always fought fiercely for house honours. Various other prizes are on offer, including the Wilford Cup for the first Year 7 pupil home, but the Barnard Cup for the victorious house remains the one to win.
Each runner is timed, with handicaps where appropriate, so the winner is not necessarily the first competitor over the line.
In the school magazine for 1910-1913, a writer noted: “During the six weeks of training the progress of the runners is watched with eager care, improvements in times are worked out and guarded most jealously, and an air of secrecy broods over the small knots of house partisans which gather to discuss chances.”
The run continued through both World Wars – in 1915 the Games Committee even found time to draw up a new set of rules. In 1916 the race was “run in great discomfort this year owing to the wet weather”.
In 1964 the date of the race changed when the Foundation Day – now known as Founders’ Day – celebrations moved to the spring term, although the run now takes place a short while after the day itself.
The run has provided some shock results too as noted in the school history of 1924: “Northumberland won the Barnard Cup by a good number of points, but to the general surprise R E Allison was the first boy home.”
It is believed the school’s famous rugby sons Rob Andrew and Rory and Tony Underwood, would have qualified for the race. One of the most memorable years, however, was 2011 when the five Carter brothers, sons of a Middleton-in-Teesdale doctor, all qualified for the competition.
Girls first joined the school in 1981 but it wasn’t until three years later that female runners took part. Kim Hamilton was the first girl to run in 1984.
Despite it being the school’s oldest annual sporting event, it hasn’t been popular with everyone. In 1997, an athlete from the girls’ house, Longfield, wrote: “Top tree [the highest point on the course] has come to symbolise all that is unjust.” Happily for her, top tree has had to be felled this year, but its timber will live on in a new base for the Barnard Cup, a honours board and commemorative coasters.
Training in the weeks prior to race day still takes place, including the sponsored fundraiser the Barney Bash, when runners’ recorded times are used to inform selection for the main event. Last year the Bash supported the Brain Tumour Charity after former pupil Kineta Kelsall underwent brain surgery following diagnosis of a cavanoma. This year the Barney Bash raised money for CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young), the charity established in memory of Old Barnardian Alan Lumley who collapsed in the 2016 Wilmslow Half Marathon and died on his 31st birthday.
Last year the school welcomed back Old Barnardian Geoffrey Turnbull, who still holds the record for the senior race, which he set in 1979 with a time of 20.45 mins. Returning to race again last year, he recalled: “I loved the run as a child.”
Now 54, Mr Turnbull is a former England and GB athlete, a sub-four minute mile runner and former Gateshead Harrier. “I don’t know how I managed to set the record as it is an extremely quick time. I was really pleased with my latest time considering I’ve just started running again,” he said.
On Monday, 280 young runners will be doing their best to add their name to the record books.
- The 125th Barnard Run starts at 10.30am on March 13.