PICTURES: West Buckland School braves historic cross country epic across Exmoor
Most events high up on the moors would have been cancelled in yesterday's weather.
But not The Exmoor – the legendary cross country walk and run that every pupil at West Buckland School, near South Molton, has to endure.
The Exmoor and the harshest March weather go hand in hand together – and when they coincide the result is brutal.
The Exmoor has been cancelled only twice since it was first run out of West Buckland more than 150 years ago, when the river Taw froze in the Arctic winter of 1947 and during the foot and mouth disease crisis of 2001.
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The school prides itself on the race being the roughest, toughest, and longest compulsory school run in England. It doesn't have many challengers.
The race plan seems simple. Walk six miles cross country uphill to the Poltimore Arms – the 13th century inn on the edge of Exmoor which is still not connected to mains electricity.
Runners change out of walking clothes and quick march to Five Barrows, an Exmoor highpoint with stunning views over North West Devon and Somerset. There starts the race proper, a nine-mile cross-country epic back to the school.
This is real cross country running – wet, windy, slippery and certainly not all downhill. The return run features several excruciating climbs – the worst being up the much feared and often-walked "Cleave".
The run has become such a part of West Buckland folklore that former pupils return eager to compete again, and now parents and family friends sign up for punishment. Yesterday's oldest competitor was 89 years old.
"It's a unique event and one I think that the school and the pupils are very proud of," said Berwick Coates, West Buckland's archivist. "The whole school shuts down for The Exmoor day.
"It's important because it's tough, and everyone does it. When the whole school gathers afterwards, the atmosphere is full of excitement and the sense that they have all achieved something difficult." The Exmoor is the only surviving run of West Buckland's cross-country series. Past pupils may have competed in up to 15 runs. They all had names – the Bray, the Beeches, the Tuck, the Leary, the Westacott, the Stoodleigh, the Railway, the North-West, and the Long.