Firsthand Account of a U.K. Ploughing Match

Tractor Tales from Wales

| December 2008

Up until my mid-20s, I always thought ploughing was something a farmer did when he wanted to plant a new crop in his field.

Little did I know that ploughing could also be a competitive sport. I remember thinking, “What? People do that for pleasure?” How far I’ve come: Nowadays I frequently attend ploughing matches and have even competed in one myself.

What to expect at a U.K. ploughing match

I expect ploughing competitions in the U.S. are quite different events to what they are over here in the U.K. For a start, I don’t expect you have quite the same amount of mud we do. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I always imagine dust is more of an issue for you chaps than mud is.

Because the matches here are held during autumn and early spring, they usually fall on the wettest, windiest and most godforsaken days you can imagine. I’ve been to matches where all of the vehicles have to be towed on and off the fields with the help of large tractors, the rain is falling sideways, the end of each ploughing plot disappears off into an atmospheric mist and the ploughmen are unrecognizable under their vast oilskins.

There might be a van selling tea and bacon butties (otherwise known as bacon sandwiches) but that’s about it, because ploughing matches over here aren’t like shows: They are pretty hardcore, and there isn’t generally a great deal laid on to amuse the casual spectator. You might have to be pretty bonkers to enter, and you probably have to be even more bonkers to spend a whole day in the rain watching it happen.

Ploughing match competitors

But don’t get me wrong, that is exactly what I like about ploughing matches – the quirkiness of the event itself, and the dedication of the characters who compete in such events. These things make matches great places to indulge in a bit of people-watching. Personally I think it’s brilliant that for no real reward (at least no real financial reward), people from all across the country go to great lengths to bring their tractors to a muddy field, just to plough.

Often these people have restored their own tractors, spending long evenings after work in the shed, elbow-deep in oil, overcoming some problem or other, just to come out on a cold wet day to play, ahem sorry, to plough. I’m not criticizing: I’m celebrating the fact that people are this dedicated. What a dull world it would be if we all had the same hobbies, and if earning wads of cash was our only goal in life. But at least admit that it is all a little bit eccentric (in the best possible way of course), and accept that, to the outsider, it must all seem rather peculiar, just as it did to me in the beginning.