The Magna Carta doesn’t specifically mention Cartmel races, but without one of the charter’s key instigators, our seasonal festival of picnics, funfair and horseracing probably wouldn’t exist.
William the Marshal, described
by one thirteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury as “the best Knight that
ever lived”, was a supporter of the embattled King John before becoming Regent
(administering the state on behalf of Henry II, who was too young to do so
himself) in 1216. In addition to reissuing several copies of Magna Carta, to
which he was a signatory, he founded a Priory in Cartmel.
It was the monks from the Priory
who first started racing on the peninsula. There is a document, somewhere in
the vaults of York Minster, which records a visit paid to Cartmel by the Bishop
of York. Having crossed the sands of Morecambe Bay on foot, the Bishop was
mightily displeased to discover that there was no reception committee – the
monks having bunked off to enjoy a day of sports, including races, on the nearby
Today the link between Cartmel
Racecourse and Cartmel Priory remains as strong as ever and the vicar, the
Reverend Nick Devenish, holds an additional responsibility as Chaplain to the
Races. Each year, on the Sunday of the August Bank Holiday weekend, the Priory
hosts a special service to celebrate the races – after which Nick Devenish
blesses a racehorse outside the main porch. The congregation has been swelled
in recent years by racegoers who have journeyed from afar to visit the races –
a different type of pilgrim from those that accompanied the Bishop across the
bay, but pilgrims none the less.
And next weekend, Saturday 26th
September and Sunday 27th September, the village will be celebrating
its connection with William the Marshal – hosting a series of events including
a “living history” medieval encampment, tournée and fayre. There will be archers,
sword fights and a “grand melee”, which sounds a bit like the forthcoming Rugby
World Cup, but with weapons.
The Magna Carta 800 event also
features a flower festival inside the Priory and a son et lumiére (projected
light show and music) at dusk within the Priory grounds. Tickets for the
Tournée Field can be bought on the day or booked in advance. Up to two children
will be admitted free with each adult. The son et lumiére can be viewed
by everyone free of charge from Friday evening until Monday evening.
We’ll be joining in with the
Magna Carta celebration on the basis that it has helped to inform this week’s
tip. After all: The Magna Carta strengthened the authority of William the
Marshal. William the Marshal founded the Priory. The Priory gave a home to the
monks. The monks gave us the romantic heritage of the races. And it is the
romantic heritage of the race that suggests to me that Jack Dexter is finally
going to get his head in front in the Ayr Gold Cup on Saturday.