The Blaydon Race: The history behind Newcastle's traditional running event

  • Lord Mayor of Newcastle Veronica Dunn

The iconic Blaydon Race returns to Tyneside on Friday 9 June with thousands of runners fighting for the title of the King or Queen of Scotswood Road.

The race has become something of a Geordie institution since its inception in 1981, with participants looking to set the best time over the 5.8 mile course.

The original event though was not a running race, but a horse race, dating back to the 1860s.

The 1862 song Blaydon Races by George 'Geordie' Ridley details the journey taken by Newcastle residents 'gannin' alang the Scotswood Road' to watch the horse racing.

It has become synonymous with North-East culture after being adopted by both Newcastle United and Newcastle Falcons before players enter the field.

The horse meetings were originally held on a circular island in the Tyne called Blaydon Island and continued annually until 1865. They were later revived in 1887, but due to improvements to the River Tyne, Blaydon Island had been removed,  the track was moved to Stella Haughs.

No horse racing has taken place since the event was cancelled in 1916 but the modern day running event has restored racing to Blaydon.

The running race was inspired by the famous song and always takes place on 9 June. Participants follow the route set out by Geordie Ridley, starting at Newcastle Quayside before finishing in Blaydon.

Dr James Dewar of Blaydon Harriers was the brains behind the idea, setting up the first race in 1981.

Just 212 people took part in that first race which is a sharp contrast to the 4,700 expected to participate in 2023's event.

The route has been tweaked over the years as road layouts change with the current 5.8 mile course slightly shorter than the original. Runners and spectators have taken to Scotswood Road every year since 1981 apart from a two-year hiatus in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Blaydon Harriers remain the organisers and proceeds from the event are split between the club and charitable causes.

Tradition remains an important part of proceedings with participants encouraged to take part in a sing-a-long of the Blaydon Races before they are set on their way by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle ringing an old brass hand bell that was also used to the original horse races.

Lord Mayor Veronica Dunn will get the Blaydon race underway by ringing an old brass hand bell. Credit: ITV News

Councillor Veronica Dunn will be tasked with the responsibility this year, one of her first public duties since becoming Lord Mayor two weeks ago.

She said: "It is such an honour to be able to do this. This is my city, I love Newcastle and I think all of the runners love Newcastle as well.

"The bell is absolutely wonderful. Its the original bell that was first used for the first race and it is a great thing for the city that it is still in use. It is so important to the history of Newcastle."

The race will get underway on Friday 9 June at 7.15pm with road closures in place from 6pm.

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