Our Object of the Month for July is this set of photographs from the 1980s. These pictures, taken by a ‘Mr Hoare’, show fell runners taking part in the introductory Rydal Round race at Ambleside Sports in the summers of 1986 and 1987. However, there are records of organised sporting events in Ambleside dating back over three hundred years.

There are numerous accounts of events held in Low Wood Bay from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as cock-fighting and bare-knuckle boxing – both these events would be unacceptable today. There are many reports of wrestling contests too, although it’s unclear whether these were linked to larger sporting events in and around Ambleside. Nonetheless, they were popular, and the most significant of these was in 1809 when Professor John Wilson of Elleray (aka Christopher North, friend of William Wordsworth) offered the then huge sum of ‘five guineas and a silver belt’ to the winner of the Ambleside contest.

Annual events were not formalised until the late-nineteenth century, upon Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1886. The sporting event held to mark the occasion was very well received, and sponsorship was quickly embedded into subsequent events. In 1887 the sports commenced shortly after 5pm with prizes from local tradespeople and “a sum of money from the gentry” for the athletes. The events included: wrestling, a one hundred yards flat race, a running high leap, putting the stone, a hop skip and jump, a hurdle race, a fell race, a long leap, and a potato race. In 1892, an appropriate name was initiated by the cycle club: Ambleside and District Amateur Athletic Sports.

However, the beginning of the twentieth century was marred by global conflict, and the Boer War and First and Second World Wars took their toll on the community, meaning the event did not run consistently for decades. The tradition was not fully reinstated until 1945.

That year, the Hound Trailing Association arranged a series of three trails and a boys’ fell race, and a meeting was held afterwards in the Golden Rule pub to restart Ambleside Sports – the committee still holds meetings there today. Since 1946, the sports have been held annually at Rydal Park, although in 2001 it was cancelled, due to the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK.

The Rydal Round race was first introduced in 1984 – participants run 14.5km around the famous Fairfield Horseshoe, no doubt a gruelling challenge in the summer heat. The runners in these photos took on a formidable task!


  • Ambleside Sports website
  • Blackburn, Marjorie, Our Traditional Lakeland Sports: Ambleside and Its Sports, Rosley Books (2000)
  • The Armitt Collection

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