A Wet Day At Cartmel

It has been something of a high mileage week this week.

It started off relatively easily with some “local” racing at Leicester and Huntingdon but then went long distance later in the week.

Thursday was a day trip to Ayr and regular readers of my musings will be aware that I seem to have been fated when it comes to racing trips to Scotland with either the weather or volcanic ash conspiring to prevent my racing trips in the land of the haggis.

So it was with some surprise I woke on Thursday morning to the news that the volcanic ash cloud had not returned and my flight was still going ahead.

Of course the downside is I had to set off from home just after 05:30 in order to catch my flight and I am not a morning person. The disadvantage at being at the mercy of airlines to go racing is the flights are never at “convenient” times and I was in Ayr just after 09:30 with another five hours to the first race.

Whilst Ayr may be a delightful seaside town, once you have seen it there is little to see again. No problem as I had discovered a lovely gem of a café which serves a great full Scottish breakfast.

Actually to be correct I should say served a great Scottish breakfast, as to my horror I discovered it had become a victim of the recession and had shut down. I did find another café but it wasn’t as good.

It also still meant arriving at the course three hours before the start of the first race, which is a lot of time to kill.

Talking of things not being good the racing itself was pretty dire, with small fields and uncompetitive contests but we cannot expect every day to have exciting racing.

The flight home was strange. I flew with a budget airline, with whom for an additional fee, you can purchase priority boarding. Anyone who has ever flown with a budget airline and had to endure the unedifying scramble at boarding will realise it is a good investment to purchase priority boarding.

The odd thing was when it was time to board there was just me in the priority queue and 117 others in the “other” queue – it was an odd experience, although it did mean I got seat 1A so I could stretch my legs. The flight back was also notable in they had no food or drinks on board – well not quite true as they did manage to rustle up a M&S curry for the captain.

If a day trip to Ayr was not enough then the following day I was heading north again, for more racing. Actually to be accurate I should say we were heading north as this is the one race meeting my wife insists on attending as well.   

For those of a religious persuasion pilgrimages to the Jerusalem, Mecca and the likes are an accepted norm. Indeed it is not unknown for some religious believers to make a pilgrimage to Cartmel Priory, however for lovers of “proper” national hunt racing a trip to Cartmel is as much a pilgrimage.

That nugget of a course in a beautiful Lakeland setting, the course which once visited will be on the come again list for the future.

On last years trip to Cartmel we made a fleeting visit to Morecambe and, on first impressions, it seemed to be a reasonably pleasant place. So we decided to make it our base this weekend.

What a mistake … it epitomises all that is wrong with British seaside resorts. Dare I say it even makes Blackpool look classy. Now bear in mind we were visiting on a Bank Holiday weekend yet on Friday evening when we were looking for somewhere to eat the place was shut. Although there may well have been a clue in our hotel where they announced that dinner is served between 5:30 and 6:00 in the evening – who, in God’s name, has their main meal that time?

Having said that the places that were shut looked more like greasy spoon establishments where the food would be cholesterol laden anyway.

The least worse place, which we eventually settled for, was Frankie and Benny’s.

The redeeming features of the place are the stunning views across the bay and a delightful promenade. It is just a shame that across the road from the prom there is so much dereliction evident.   All in all a very depressing place.

To make it worse there was an unpleasant atmosphere when strolling along the promenade on Friday evening, there seemed to be more than a fair share of obnoxious youths high on booze and/or drugs.

Earlier on I complained of the boredom of having to arrive at Ayr racecourse three hours before racing started, I am now going to seemingly contradict myself and proclaim we arrived at Cartmel seven hours before the first race. Yep we were at the course at 11:00 with the first race due off at 18:00 and we were by no means the first to arrive.

You see one of the tricks at Cartmel is to arrive early, for the afternoon meetings the first arrivals are there in time for breakfast, for the evening meetings it is in time for lunch.

Seven hours seems a long time to kill ….. normally it isn’t but I have to confess this year it was, mainly because it began lashing down with rain from just after 13:00.

Our “ritual” at Cartmel tends to be the same each year.

First priority is to find a decent pitch to park up – this year we had a prime spot besides the open ditch.

Then it is time for a stroll round the delightful village before it gets too busy, always finishing at the delightful village store, home of the famous sticky toffee pudding plus a selection of goodies from their deli counter for lunch.

Then it is back to the track, strolling through the course section, taking in the various stalls and then back to the car.

For me it is then off to the press room to file my first updates and get the latest non-runner and going details, whilst Mrs O sits in the car making her selections for the afternoon.

Then it is back to the car and a chance to feast on the goodies from the village shop, hopefully as a picnic outside but this year in the car, but this year inside a steamed up car as a monsoon, OK heavy rain, lashed down.

Normally it would then be a pleasant stroll to walk off lunch, this time it was put the seats back and have a kip for an hour.

Finally two hours before racing it is back to the press room for me and a “normal” evenings racing commences.

Actually I say normal, however there are a couple of issues with working from Cartmel. Firstly the press room is very small, although luckily very few members of the press actually venture to the course so there is no great demand for the facilities.

Secondly, viewing of the racing is appalling, due entirely to the configuration of the course. There is indeed nowhere at all where the entire course can be viewed and this weekend there was even a “blind spot” with the television pictures.

There is viewing of about 2/3 of the course from the owners and trainers section of the stand, which is OK when it is dry but when raining it is impossible to make any notes as I find attempting to write on papier mache somewhat difficult.

However the mainstay of Cartmel is atmosphere both with the appreciative friendly crowd and, with one notable exception, the camaraderie of those working at the meeting.

I am already counting the days until my next visit.    

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