Tens of thousands visited Crockey Hill near York a fortnight ago for the jamboree of the World Ploughing Championships but tomorrow sees the return to the annual ploughing match season for the 125th Penistone, Thurlstone & District Ploughing Association contest on land farmed by Alex Tue of Tue Farming in Wortley, near Sheffield.
Far from the mass crowds and competitors from around the globe this is an event that long-serving officials, secretary Geoff Simpson and chairman John Milnes, hold dear to their hearts.
John farms at New Chapel Farm in Penistone and took the inaugural World Vintage Ploughing title at Crockey Hill from a field of 24 entries, including entrants from Germany, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, USA and Australia. He ploughed over two days and was trailing Ian Simms from Northern Ireland going into the second day but took the title by nine points.
As a measure of the difference between the two events the number of competitors in that one class will be close to the sum total of Sunday’s more parochial concern, but with no less a competitive edge. John has won at his local association’s match 11 times. He first competed as a nine-year-old before the minimum age of driving a tractor was set at 13.
In a trophy-laden career John won the British title in the young farmers class in 1967 with a Dexter and a Ransome Robin plough and the British Championship at Ipswich in 1972 with a Ford 3000 and a Kverneland plough.
“Ploughing is all about trying to make the best job you can and as straight as you can be. Some days the land that you’re working takes a lot of keeping straight. It’s down to the pull of the ground. At Crockey Hill I knew that the man I was coming second to had the better ground on the first day. I got on some of that the following day.”
Geoff was lured into his secretarial role 28 years ago while he was a cattle feed specialist for BOCM Pauls. He’d ploughed in his homeland of Cheshire as a teenager, including ploughing with a Shire horse and a one-furrow Melotte turnover plough but had never competed in a match until 18 years ago.
“The advice I was given by John was to do the best I could and when I’d finished to be satisfied irrespective of what position I was placed. It’s a tough job ploughing as you’re pitting your brain, ability and concentration against land that can be very unforgiving. Within yards the land can be quite different and you have to allow for that. I qualified for the nationals 12 years ago and came eighth in my class at Peterborough.”
Where Geoff becomes much more effusive is over the prowess and longevity of the Penistone, Thurlstone & District Ploughing Association.
“I only know of one other ploughing match that is about our age, but it’s not all about how long it’s been going. What everyone says is that they enjoy our day. It’s looked upon as serious competition but also a bit of fun. We’re not big and don’t want to be. John has been chairman 25 years and his wife Cath is treasurer.
“There are a number of fantastic ploughmen from our area and there can’t be many others that can boast five who have been either British champions or have competed in the British championships. Geoff Fretwell deserves a special mention. He has reached the conventional class plough-offs at the national more than anyone I know.
“We’ll have around 30 ploughers on Sunday competing in classes for conventional, beginners, vintage trailed, vintage mounted and classic. We never advertise and we still get a number of spectators. This year we’re also putting in a Fergie class.
“We’d like to get more young people involved and we have around seven younger competitors now but it is the vintage classes that are growing with people who remember those days and are wanting to take part. It’s the same at the Nationals and at the World Ploughing Match as we saw at Crockey Hill. People will go and see the horses ploughing and admire the vintage ploughing.
“Ploughing this way is an art and you can get immense satisfaction from what you’ve done.”