Day’s Lock, World Pooh Sticks Championships
Little Wittenham Church, Day's Lock
Several major sporting events are held each year on the waterway. Rowing has the Boat Race, Henley, Marlow and numerous other regattas. Later in the walk I will pass Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham Football Club. Now another major international sporting arena appears, Day’s Lock Footbridge.
Day’s Lock is the venue for the World Pooh-Sticks Championships. If you do not believe me go to www.pooh-sticks.com.
It all started in 1984 when the resident lock keeper, Lynn David, thought it would be a fun way to raise money for his favourite charity, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The event prospered and for the last few years it has been organised by the local Rotary Club of Sinodon with all proceeds going to charity.
The event is usually held on the last Sunday in March, and a worthy cause if you find yourself in the area. There is also a team championship, and in 2007 the winners came all the way from Japan to participate.
There are some things that just have to be done. If I was at Lords I would have to bowl an imaginary ball from the Nursery End, leap and spin in the air shouting my appeal to an imaginary umpire. If allowed onto the pitch at Wembley I would have to swerve up the pitch, aim a kick at the goal and rush towards the stands with arms raised. Here I step on to the bridge and drop a stick into the water, and turn to watch it appear on the other side of the bridge.
World Pooh Sticks Championship
World Pooh Sticks Championship
Dateline: Sunday March 29th 2009
I simply had to return to Day’s Lock the following spring to witness the great event for myself.
It was a good week-end for sport. England beat Slovakia 4-0 at Wembley, Oxford stormed past Cambridge to win the boat race and Jenson Button blasted his way around a Melbourne track to win the first Grand Prix of the season.
All paled into insignificance in my diary because today is the day of the World Pooh Sticks Championship.
A pleasant walk from Dorchester to Day’s Lock and I was among many hundreds of people who had flocked to this small part of Oxfordshire for a day of simple fun. You may imagine it’s all for the kids, and indeed there were children around who all seemed to have brought their cuddly Pooh Bears, Piglets and Eeyores with them for the day. However there is more entertainment to be had from the various happy bands of “nutters” who can only be found in this mad country of ours. There seemed to be crazy teams from all over the place, complete with their logo T-shirts. I even spotted a team proudly claiming to represent Cambridge University, who had a great deal more success (and probably a great deal more fun) than eight of their fellow students had on the same day on the Thames between Putney and Mortlake.
Queuing for the Sticks
The queue to obtain “sticks” from the grandly titled “Keeper of the Sticks” wound through the trees for at least fifty yards by the time I got there. Only having a relatively short time window I reluctantly gave up my chance of World Championship glory and I walked on to watch the team races that were already under way.
It was all reassuringly “low-tech”. Even Ross Brawn may find it a challenge too far to fit a “go-faster” gizmo on a piece of painted stick, although I bet given half a chance he could come up with something that Ferrari would complain about.
Dropping the Sticks
The starter wore the ubiquitous “hi-vis” jacket and bellowed his instructions “Ready…………Steady………Drop!” and four contestants would drop their coloured sticks into the water on the upstream side of the footbridge, then twist around and shout encouragement to their stick as the current moved it towards the finish line.
Finish Line Official
The finish line continued with the low technology, and was made up of a blue rope stretched between the banks, with a finish line judge peering with great concentration along it to enable him to give the verdict awaited with excited anticipation some thirty or so paces back at the bridge. He would consult with his assistant before shouting “Red, green, blue, yellow”, or whatever order the race had finished.
At the end of each race the sticks are retrieved. This operation was entertainingly carried out by six volunteers packed into an inflatable boat. Their task was to reach out into the water and gather the painted sticks for re-use.
Retrieving the Sticks
One member of the “retrieval team” had discovered a novel way of collecting the sticks. Now, what implement would you select for doing this job? I suppose you have automatically said “a fishing net”. Nothing so obvious for this fine fellow. He would lean right over the side of the inflatable and try to hook a yard broom over the stick and draw it toward the boat. This provided us spectators with much entertainment. As he leaned out over the water we would all look on in anticipation….will he….will he………will he? But no, he remained firmly in the boat.
Who won? I don’t know because I had to leave before the end. I suspect very few cared who won anyway. The actual winner does not really matter. The true winners were the hundreds of people who had a day of simple fun in the early-spring sunshine.
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