On the run with the tractor boys

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Easter Saturday was a great day out for me. Equipped with camera, pieces and flask, I decided to follow the Borders Vintage Agricultural Association annual tractor road run.

This event gives owners of vintage and classic tractors a chance to use their machines for enjoyment as they raise money for the BVAA’s chosen charity for 2014.

This year that good cause is the Macmillan Nurses Appeal, selected mainly because many BVAA members have close experience of the dedicated work performed by the nurses and staff.

Well, we couldn’t have chosen a better day for the job – bright, warm sunshine all day from a cloudless, blue sky – now, how lucky is that?

In previous years the weather was not so kind and a 40-mile run beset by hailstorm squalls or persistent rain on an open tractor would not be an appetising prospect.

Coats were soon shed and shortly after 10am we set off from the assembly point on St Boswells Green.

In all, around 50 tractors set off, well spaced out to allow other road traffic to pass safely as the average pace of these older tractors is around 15-20mph, although some can manage a lot more if asked nicely.

On the road, other interests were involved in their own road runs. Lots of motorcycles, although at some stage we encountered a few open-topped cars on their own route. There was a clear respect for each other’s activity and over the distance of the run I did not witness any of the excesses which have become associated with our two-wheeler friends.

As in previous years, the vintage and classic tractor road run uses both public routes and a carefully-planned network of unmade roads and tracks for the outing.

I should point out that all of the off-road sections are on farm roads and tracks where prior permission has been obtained, with scrupulous observance of gate discipline and, at this time of year, anything to do with lambing is given a wide berth.

Obviously, had I attempted to follow the tractors over the rough stuff, my wee Berlingo van would not have got very far, so it was a case of a little intensive map reading of the route to find a spot where I could meet the run.

My first meeting point was near Brotherstone Farm on the Leaderfoot to Smailholm road, and that proved to be an excellent choice. Along with a couple of other watchers, we stood in the sunshine admiring the breathtaking view across to the Cheviots and beyond. A heat haze slightly obscured the view but not enough to spoil it. I always carry a small pocket monocular for distance work and it was good to spy out the land in the hope of spotting the approaching tractors. They soon showed up and after seeing them clatter past, it was time to pop down to Earlston to await them at the lunch stop.

After lunch they took off again, this time crossing the A68 to travel north on the minor road that runs parallel to the main route. At Galadean a swing west brought the run to Bluecairn and a bumpy trip south to Lowood via Housebyres.

It was interesting to sit in the shade at the end of Lowood Bridge for an hour, watching traffic of all kinds as it passed over the bridge. It is clearly the case that some drivers are more than a little casual about the traffic lights there, as amber gamblers were quite common.

To my surprise I saw lots of walkers using the bridge, which offers little in the way of facility to pedestrians. Clearly the good weather had brought out the walkers, joggers, dog exercisers and cyclists on the day, but Lowood Bridge is still a hairy old crossing for anything other than vehicle traffic and something needs to be done.

However, as usual, I digress. After Lowood, the run meandered its way past Kaeside to Bowden by another circuitous off-road route, before a leisurely trundle back to St Boswells Green and a well-deserved finish. The 50-plus tractors covered the distance with only a couple of breakdowns, which is good going for machines, some of which are 60 years old and survivors of a tough farming life.

Actually, the same can be said for many of the drivers, a good indication that both tractors and farm workers had to be hardy souls in the so-called good old days.

When the big cheque is handed over at the BVAA annnual rally in Springwood Park on Sunday, May 18, the Macmillan Nurses Appeal will benefit from a tidy sum.

For me, raising money for them is the icing on the cake – my main pleasure was having a good reason to spend a few hours travelling the byways of the Borders.

I can recommend it to you all.