Women go flipping crazy for world's oldest pancake race

8th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Aprons on and frying pans in hand, the womenfolk of Olney charged Tuesday through the English town's picturesque streets in the world's oldest pancake race.

The quirky Shrove Tuesday tradition here dates back to 1445, when legend has it a stressed-out housewife heard the church bells and stormed through Olney's streets, still cooking her pancakes, arriving just in time for the service.

Five and a half centuries on, the custom endures in Olney, a quaint market town on the River Great Ouse in Buckinghamshire, southeast England, and is celebrated on what is commonly known in Britain as "pancake day".

In crisp spring sunshine, the women of the town lined up in the marketplace at exactly 11:55 am, frying pans in hand, aprons and headscarves on -- and 415 yards (379 metres) of sheer exertion and pancake balancing ahead of them.

The 16 runners ranged in age from 29 to 61-year-old Deirdre Bethune.

"It's nerve-wracking," said Deirdre. "This is worse than running the London Marathon because this is a sprint."

The mayor of Olney, Michael Hughes, said the historic race was the highlight of the year, bringing thousands of people into the town and putting it on the map.

"It makes us a little world-renowned place for a moment or two," he told AFP.

"I can't see this tradition ever finishing. I will speak for the whole town on this, we love it.

"We love the history, the fact that we've been here for a long while and we intend to remain doing just this."

With the ring of a bell and a first toss of the pancake, the race got under way and childcare worker Nicky Sallis negotiated the bends of the streets and crossed the finish line first.

"I was just telling my legs to keep going. I feel all right now, it's just my chest and lungs," she said as she got her breath back.

Her reward? A few hundred pounds (dollars, euros), a clutch of prizes, a place in history and the traditional kiss from Ken Noon, the verger of St Peter's and St Paul's Church.

"Somebody has to do it. We spend all year doing our duties and then we get the perk," the sprightly churchman joked.

© 2011 AFP

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