A Brief History of the Tetbury Woolsack Races

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Runner | Courtesy of Tetbury Woolsack Races
Sarah Dawson

The Cotswolds is proud to be home to some very strange traditions (cheese rolling, anyone?). The market town of Tetbury is home to the Woolsack Races; a uniquely British event that has to be seen to be believed. Want to know more? We’ll fill you in…

What is it?

In short, the race involves running 240 yards up Tetbury’s famously steep Gumstool Hill, carrying a woolsack on your back. The woolsacks have been custom built by the British Wool Federation and weigh 60lbs for the men’s races and 35lbs for the women’s. It’s all about showing off your strength and fitness as you race up the hill (that reaches a gradient of 1 in 4) and try and beat the competition. Believe it or not, people do this for fun – as well as raising lots of money for worthy causes. It’s definitely not easy, but attracts lots of people keen to take on the challenge – even a few celebrities have taken part.

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When and where does it happen?

The annual event is held on the last Bank Holiday Monday in May, in the picturesque Cotswold market town of Tetbury. It’s free to attend as a spectator and, along with the races, there’s a bustling street fair offering delicious local food, music, stalls and rides. Tetbury is just a stone’s throw from the Royal residence of Highgrove, and the Royal Family have been known to make an appearance from time to time.

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A bit of history…

Tetbury has a long and illustrious history as one of the most important wool markets in the Middle Ages. Right in the middle of sheep country, and on the important route from Oxford to Bristol, Tetbury thrived thanks to the Cotswold wool trade. Although the wool market went into decline in the early 19th century, it is celebrated to this day with the Woolsack Races. The story goes that the races originated in the 17th century, when young drovers liked to show off to the local women by running up the hill carrying a woolsack, and an official race has been going for over 30 years.

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Fancy taking part?

Anyone can register to take part in the race; whether you opt to enter as part of a four-person team or go it alone. There are single sex and mixed teams, as well as a youth team for 14-17 year olds. Entry fees cost from £10-20, with all profits going to local charities and good causes. If you’re up for a challenge, find out more at here.

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