Yorkshire's most bizarre Easter tradition

Woman carrying a coal sack on her shoulders in the traditional Yorkshire race

Watch your back! The tough trial of coal carrying demands some stamina - Credit: Philip Smithson

Make this Easter world class by watching – or even competing in – the World Coal Carrying Championships, held at Gawthorpe near Wakefield on Easter Monday.

With a legacy dating back to 1963, this is one of those quirky, Yorkshire events that started out life as a bit of banter and bravado in a local pub. As a coal merchant looked on, a couple of regulars challenged each other to carry a sack of cal to the top of a hill. Seemed like a good idea at the time and the maypole committee adopted it as their unique annual challenge which now attracts huge crowds. 

The perfect Easter Monday pastime? Gawthorpe's tradition of coal carrying draws crowds

The perfect Easter Monday pastime? Gawthorpe's tradition of coal carrying draws crowds - Credit: Philip Smithson

Over its 1Km course, from the Royal Oak in Ossett to the Maypole Green in Gawthorpe, competitors walk, stagger and run with either a 20 or 50Kg ‘seck o’ coil’ on their backs. A good grip – ideally with the sack positioned across the back of the shoulders, fit lungs and strong legs are key if your eyes are on the £150 first prize, but since everyone is eligible to enter, spectacle as well as stamina are cheered on in equal measure. To qualify for completion of the race, the sack must be dropped on the Village Green where the traditional Maypole is situated in the heart of the Gawthorpe.

The current male world record is 4mins. 6secs held by David Jones of Meltham.

The current female record holder for the women’s race is Catherine Foley with a time of 4.25 secs.

Children running in the streets of Gawthorpe

A spirit of fun for all in Gawthorpe at Easter - Credit: Philip Smithson

A series of children’s races also help the whole family to feel involved, with the smaller members of the household tasked with a ‘coil free’ hundred yard dash to the Maypole Green instead.

You can register on the day for the races - from 10am.