It started with a few mates from Knaresborough riding a dozen tractors around Tan Hill in 2012.
It is now one of the biggest annual events in the Harrogate district, involving almost 400 vehicles and thousands of well wishers along a 25-mile route.
How did the Knaresborough tractor run become such a beast?
Ramsgill sheep farmer Steve Brown, chairman of the tractor run committee, ponders the question a week after the event’s latest success, which saw 374 vehicles convoy around Harrogate, Knaresborough and Pateley Bridge last Sunday to raise more than £23,000 for Yorkshire Air Ambulance. He says:
“I think it’s a lot to do with the cause. If you work in a rural setting you don’t know when you might need an air ambulance. It’s a cause close to the heart.”
That might explain why farmers and other rural workers get involved, but why do so many people line the route all around Nidderdale? Steven says:
“Where else can you see 400 tractors in a line? I think it’s that simplicity. Plus it keeps the kids occupied for a couple of hours and it doesn’t cost anything.”
Whatever the reasons, the tractor run has become as much a part of local life as the Great Yorkshire Show, the Knaresborough Bed Race and Harrogate pantomime.
How it started
The fun nature of the event belies its sad foundations.
Mike Spink, a member of Knaresborough Young Famers who took part in the early tractor runs, died in a road accident in 2017 after moving to New Zealand six months earlier. Steven recalls:
“Mike was a dairy farmer and a very big believer in the air ambulance. When he died we got together and thought ‘why don’t we make it a bigger event and raise money in his memory?'”.
So what until then had been a bit of fun on tractors around Tan Hill and Whitby each year suddenly became a more serious affair.
Eighty tractors took part in the first event in memory of Mike and next year 134 lined-up. Soon the tractor run had outgrown Knaresborough and the start had to be moved to the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate to accommodate all the vehicles.
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This year’s total was 10 fewer than last year’s record 384 and Steven thinks the total has plateaued between 350 to 400. But the tractor run never fails to surprise.
Not all the surprises are pleasant. This year’s decision to introduce a free livestream, which enabled people to see where the first and last tractors were so they knew when the convoy would be passing, attracted scammers who cloned the tractor run website and urged people to give their bank details. One person lost £1,500 before the ruse was spotted.
There’s also the constant issue of safety, which has put such a big insurance risk on Knaresborough Young Farmers that the committee is increasingly running it as a standalone event. Steven says:
“I always think of the most idiotic thing that can happen and work back from that. We do the best we can —that’s all we can do. Fortunately we’ve never had a major incident but you can never be lackadaisical. Safety is paramount.”
The committee meets about 10 times a year to plan for the event, and its first get-together to discuss the 2024 gathering was due to take place yesterday.
Steven says a “colossal amount” of work goes into planning and trying to work out the best route. The template doesn’t change much but there are always minor improvements and things to consider. Last year the food ran out at lunchtime in Pateley Bridge.
But it all comes together gloriously each spring: excited children jump up and down and cheer and even gnarly old farmers get a tingle as they parade like rock stars down Pateley Bridge High Street or through Markington, tooting their horns to large crowds.
It’s seven hours of pure tractor power with a touch of theatre set against the glorious Nidderdale backdrop and there is nothing like it. Whether it’s the biggest tractor run is debatable but few would dispute it’s the best. Steven says:
“We are led to believe it’s the biggest tractor run in the country. Some have more tractors but they don’t do a run like ours, they just go a few miles down the road.”
You can still donate to the air ambulance on behalf of the tractor run here.