Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Angry Bishop

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 park. 

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.

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