On a crisp and sunny autumn morning, following a trail linking three Glasgow parks marked only with flour and chalk, more than 40 members and friends retraced the footsteps of our predecessors to mark 125 years of Bellahouston Harriers. A multi-terrain route led runners from Bellahouston Park over grass fields, up muddy trails and along leafy pavements to the finish within Queen's Park via the beautiful surrounds of Pollok Park.
The run was a rough approximation of one taken precisely 125 years previously by club members in what is the Harriers' first known recorded event. The five-mile handicap on 5 November 1892 was detailed two days later in an edition of the Glasgow Herald.
According to the report in the newspaper, two 'trail layers' marked a route from what was then Ibrox station, passing through Bellahouston home farm, Birnie's estate and Dumbreck. Runners soon set off behind in quick pursuit. An extract read: "The pace throughout was very hot, the leaders passing and repassing each other time and again."
Harriers member Iain Morrison, who has been collating information about the history of the club, was inspired by the report of this 1892 'paper chase'. Following some detailed planning and organisation, Iain set out with just a piece of chalk and bag of flour and marked a route for a five and a half mile handicap race for the class of 2017, ably assisted by Mike Freshour.
Starting from behind the Palace of Art in Bellahouston Park, five packs of runners set off at five minute intervals, taking up the dual challenge of running and navigating. Each group was armed with basic maps of the route - kept top-secret beforehand - and advised to follow the flour and chalk markings Iain had left. The rules were simple - stay in your groups until entering Queen's Park at which point it would become every man for themselves to the finish line!
Iain's route led members past familiar landmarks on regular running routes, such as the ski slope in Bellahouston Park, Mosspark Boulevard, the club's base at Cartha Queen's Park Rugby Club, Pollok House and the flagpole at the top of Queen's Park. Less familiar was the way in which Iain linked the various landmarks together with an imaginative and meandering mix of soft trails and off-road cross country sections.
"With a suggested finish for the 2017 event at Queen’s Park, it became possible to design a route that went through some important locations for the club as well as give a flavour of the paper chase format," Iain said.
According to Iain, paper chases were originally undertaken in English public schools, before becoming more widespread in the 1880s or so onwards. The early ones in Scotland were often associated with the universities and professional classes before the formation of clubs helped introduce them to more working-class communities.
Club records show that most paper chases of the past began from a hostelry, and that there would normally be a social after - often a high tea followed by drinking into the evening.
In a similar vein, the runners and volunteer marshals in the class of 2017 congregated in Queen's Park Bowling Club, across from the finish on the grass in the park, to round off the day with bacon rolls, teas, coffees and a celebratory 125th anniversary cake.
Tom Keenan, club president, said: "Today was the most enjoyable club event for me since I became president. We are so fortunate to have Iain as a club member who delivered an exceptional course for us to run - retracing the steps of previous club members. We have a great history and should be proud of this. We also have many members who help the club on a regular basis. Exciting times lie ahead."
Image courtesy - Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
Thank you to Stuart Miller for his excellent article and congratulations to all at the Harriers.