Looking for Wonderful and Weird Things to Do in Glasgow? Try the Moffat Sheep Races
Everyone knows that Scotland is home to some of the most brilliant, fun and weird traditions out there – and they are usually inspired by healthy dose of Scottish tradition. For example, the world-famous Haggis Hurling Competition is said to be based upon the custom of Scottish women tossing haggis across a river to their hard-working husbands at the fields, rather than wasting time to walk over to the bridge, while the annual coal-carrying race in Kelty is believed to mirror the habit of miners in the surrounding area running home after a good day’s work at the mines, carrying a piece of coal for their household needs.
Of course, Glasgow, a true pioneer in both respecting tradition and knowing how to have fun, could not be missing from that definitive list of wonderfully weird traditions, as reported by The Scotsman. Enter: sheep racing.
Combining the Traditions of Horse Racing and Sheep Rearing
Britain has a longstanding tradition of animal racing – with horse races being the most prominent. Horse racing is believed to be the most popular spectator sport behind football and races like the Royal Ascot do not only contribute significantly to the British economy, but they are important events for the global sporting industry. Horse racing is part of our heritage and Glasgow seems to be proudly representing Scotland: according to vegasslotsonline.com, horse racing is the preferred gambling activity in the area – as opposed to London, where sports take the top spot. It is perhaps a little less surprising then that it is in Glasgow that the unique blending of the love for horse races and the importance of sheep in the local economy has produced this interesting result of fun and festive sheep races.
Rather, a little bit further away from Glasgow: in the small spa town of Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway, home to roughly 2,500 residents and a little over than an hour’s drive from Glasgow. The town and its economy used to be intertwined with sheep rearing as it was once a crossroads for the wool trade. Evidence of this dependence on the animal is the giant stone sculpture of a ram on top of a sandstone fountain with several springs offering water to passers-by and animals. The local rugby team are known as “The Rams”, taking their nickname after the statue.
The Ram, situated in the Market Place near the Edinburgh end, was carved in 1875 by William Brodie, a Scotsman – who also carved the statue of famous Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh – and was given to the city by William Colvin, a businessman, as a tribute to the wool trade and its significance for the town. In a wider sense, it also underlines Scotland’s close relationship with sheep. As the BBC notes, Scotland has more sheep than people: in 2013 alone, 6.57 million sheep were registered on roughly 14,800 farms, while Scotland’s human residents amounted to 5.3 million people. And Moffat is the perfect example of that special association.
Woollen Jockeys and Rosettes for the Winners
The Moffat sheep race started in 2012, probably initially devised as one of those completely crazy ideas, but was quickly embraced by locals. It is a truly festive and fun day, traditionally taking place in mid-August, on a family-friendly day complete with a local farmers’ market and general festive nonsense, including entertainment by stilt walkers and jugglers. Locals frequently dress up in a racing theme, often as sheep or jockeys, to add to the humorous tone of the event. Several sheep are set free to race down the High Street for a small distance covering the butcher’s to the tea shop, with crowds cheering and enthusiastically supporting the competing animals. If the sheep feel inclined to stop racing and gallop about, they are gently encouraged by young boys who run along the contenders and make sure that everything runs smoothly.
Perhaps the funniest bit about the seriously entertaining event is that the sheep run complete with jockeys: hand-knit woollen dolls which are secured on top of each individual sheep add to the professionalism of the whole thing – unless, alas, they fall over as it sometimes happens. Several races are held and the winners of each round are pitted in new qualifying rounds, until the winner is proclaimed. What do they get as recognition of their racing skills? A very special rosette to commemorate their big win and bring honour to their owners – usually local farmers, as the area is still home to several farms situated on the surrounding hills.
Moffat Sheep Racing Popular with Tourists
The event, which since 2014 has been on the calendar of events that are part of Homecoming Scotland, is a big boost for tourism in the area, as hundreds of people flock into the city for the weekend and line up along the specially designed course to join in the fun. There is also a lot of betting going on for fun, as spectators place (pretty randomly) their wagers on the sheep they are convinced is going to win. Visitors usually combine the sheep racing experience with a fishing trip to the nearby River Annan or a hiking and walking trail along the incredibly beautiful Moffat hills or the Southern Upland Way, the famous footpath that connects Scotland from one coast to the other – or a visit to Glasgow, if they happen to be from outside the area. And of course, they get a taste of the celebrated Moffat toffee, a traditional boiled sweet concoction unique to the town.
Yet the sheep races are not the sole interesting attraction happening in the town: in 2017, the town hosted the World Gold Panning Championships, with participants from more than 20 countries attending. Competitors panned sand and gravel to discover gold in a specially designed pool – and the fastest among them were crowned winners. For first-timers, there was even a special course on how to perform this once vital task.
It seems that Moffat has a flair for organising extraordinary activities – and this tendency, coupled with the locals’ hospitality and the scenery, makes it a worthwhile destination for a day trip.