Prince Philip: Carriage driving - a sport the Duke of Edinburgh helped pioneer

  • Video report by Hannah McNulty

The Duke of Edinburgh came to the region for many years to pursue his love of carriage driving - a sport he helped to pioneer. 

Lowther near Penrith became a popular place to see him each summer as he battled against some of the top competitors from around the world. 

In 1988 he spoke about his first visit there, some 15 years earlier, when it was initially staged in the spring time.

He said: "The first one - we are talking about it the other night - was in April, 1973 I seem to remember. I went out into the dressage arena which was up there somewhere. I arrived to do my dressage and there was snow on the ground. So they moved it!"

In those early years the Duke's main rival was a local carriage driver, George Bowman from Penrith. Their rivalry became legendary and despite their very different backgrounds they became firm friends.

He told ITV Border: "He brought our sport from nothing up to a world's sport and his presence, he had something magnetic about him. When he walked in the room, he lit up the room."

The Duke of Edinburgh carriage driving on the Lowther Estate. Credit: ITV News

He loved Lowther so much that one year he brought the queen to the event. The Show Director was Robert Benson. 

He said: "He was a great draw for the crowds and helped us enormously and we were also very, very, pleased when the queen came too in 1999. That was a fantastic year and couldn't have been better from that point of view.

"I think he would say that he did carriage-driving as fun and relaxation but I can tell you he was pretty competitive too. He was making, if you like, a private visit, doing something he thoroughly enjoyed and it was great to see him here." 

Things didn't always go to plan - his carriage overturned on the cross country event in 1994 and the Duke and his team could be seen chasing after the runaway ponies. 

Credit: PA

But it didn't seem to put him off. He took part in the Lowther Driving Trials every year except for one between 1973 and 2008, using Cumbrian fell ponies for some of those years. And his connection with the event didn't stop there.

Robert Benson said: "After he stopped driving himself competitively he carried on coming and he'd come and be an obstacle judge or help where he could. That was his love of his particular sport." 

Carriage driving also took the Duke to southern Scotland on several occasions, competing at Drumlanrig castle near Dumfries. While there he explained how he'd become interested in the sport.

Prince Philip speaking in 1988. Credit: ITV News

Speaking in 1999, Prince Philip said:

"I was involved in the start of this, when we first wrote the rules for it.

"I set up the committee that wrote the rules. I got interested in it when it was first starting and went to the early championships and then I was just giving up polo at the time and I was looking round for something else to do and I realised we had horses in the stables, so I borrowed some of those, taught myself to drive, and started competing."

Credit: ITV News

Those involved with the sport were delighted that he stayed part of the carriage-driving world until the last few years of his life. 

For the Duke carriage driving provided an opportunity to relax, well away from his official duties. For the people who saw him it was special to know that he valued spending time in this region so highly.