There are some events that you can only find in Devon, and the Totnes Orange Races are just once such event. Dates vary for this fruity race, which is held on a Tuesday or Thursday in mid-late August. The date is currently set for Tuesday 19th August 2014.
The history of the Totnes Orange Races
Orange Rolling in Totnes was apparently started by Sir Francis Drake back in the late 16th century. Legend has it that he bumped into a delivery boy on the steep streets of this historic town, and the boy's oranges went rolling down the hill.
It is recorded as a historical fact that Drake did actually visit the town, and a poem was written by the son of the mayor of Totnes. According to the famous rhyme, the boy was visiting his father when he was given an orange by Sir Francis Drake in the street. Perhaps the story evolved from there, or perhaps there really was an orange-spilling accident which led to Drake picking up an orange and giving it away. Stranger things have happened in history, for sure!
The story has now evolved into an official orange rolling day as people race each other, and the aforementioned oranges, down the steep hill of Totnes Fore Street. Although the original one-boy race was held over 500 years ago, the orange rolling races are not quite that old. The story was revived about 35 years ago and is now an annual event organised by the local Elizabethan Society, along with an Elizabethan Market.
Totnes is a quaint historic town to visit, complete with castle, and this event gives visitors an opportunity to join in a fun event. I'm not sure whether you can actually wager on the outcome, as with other races, but the odds have to be pretty long for this unpredictable race!
Orange Rolling in Totnes has TV fame!
Travelling around the UK in a classic Morris Traveller they filmed some of the more eccentric activities that Brits get up to. They probably found plenty to keep them busy in the Westcountry, with its many weird and wonderful cultural festivals!
How to join in the Totnes Orange Races
The Totnes Orange Races are a 450-metre dash from Market Square at the top of the hill, down Fore Street. Once the starter's orders are given, contestants throw or roll their orange down the hill and must continue to kick or throw it and get it over the finishing line. Just to make it more fun, the winner must arrive with an orange, but it need not necessarily be his own!
Unfortunately, the most enthusiastic throwers did not do well, as the ripe fruit splatted on the street and went precisely nowhere. Other fruit did not survive more than a kick or two when I was watching, so this led to competitors trying to take over other people's fruit as they ran. The things people will do for a trophy!
Like all more serious athletics events, there are several races for different age groups. First races start around 10am and finish at 12:30pm. Orange racing can be thirsty work, and once the racing is over there are plenty of cafés serving freshly squeezed orange juice and other drinks as refreshments!
Why not “get the ball rolling” and add a comment to our blog below. Do you think the tale of Sir Francis Drake is true or has it been elaborated to make a good story? We'd love to hear your comments below.