Campaign underway to reinstate raft race

HUNDREDS of people have signed up to a new group which aims to see a reinstatement of Ellon’s raft race.

Wednesday, 17th August 2011, 1:27 pm

The group’s page, ‘Bring Back Ellon RaftRace’ on, has attracted 838 members at the time of going to press, with enthusiasts posting their own photos of races in years gone by.

The organiser - who wishes to remain anonymous - said: “I’d rather keep this all about the raft race rather than who started the page.”

The creation of the page follows years of local speculation over the possibility of restarting the race, which ran between 1979 and 2001. Other significant events taking place in the town - including the Ythan Challenge and the Pedal Car circuit - have grown up in recent years, partially in response to the demise of the raft race, which saw competitors battle their way down the Ythan between Ellon and Logie Buchan.

The event - which became an annual fixture in the town’s calendar - was organised for 22 years by former Head of Ellon Academy’s Art Department, Bill Smith, and attracted competitors from across the north-east and further afield. It was reckoned by some commentators to be the largest of its kind in Europe, pulling in - according to the campaign page - over 200 teams at its height.

Former organiser Bill Smith told the Times that the only reason the event had stopped was due to the expense of a police presence on the day, which would have cost organisers thousands.

“As soon as officialdom gets involved, there will be problems,” he said. “It was going to cost thousands of pounds to police the event - which wasn’t really needed - and we live in an age of crazy health and safety regulation. In the 22 years that we ran the race, there wasn’t one serious accident: all competitors were supplied with life-jackets, and we had a small fleet of rescue craft ready to be deployed in case of emergency. Anyone looking to organise a new race will have to meet a lot of requirements on a number of fronts.

“That said, if anyone else wished to re-start the Ythan Raft Race, I wish them all the best! I might even come along to spectate. It was an iconic event, that generated huge good-will for Ellon and Aberdeenshire, and really put us on the map. People used to travel from long distances to take part and watch from the river banks. It also raised several hundred thousand pounds for both local and national charities over the course of its lifetime.”

Local resident Phil Anderson, who is a member of the Facebook group, told the Times that a revival of the event would be good for local businesses.

“If they brought it back it would certainly be good for the local economy and I’m sure locals would have a fun day out,” he said.