CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

An a-peel-ing event in Totnes!

PUBLISHED: 09:30 11 August 2014

You must still be in possession of an orange as you cross the finish line

You must still be in possession of an orange as you cross the finish line


There’s some fruity fun to be had in Totnes this month, as DELIA PEMBERTON reveals

The Police Challenge is a heated contest between police officers and local business peopleThe Police Challenge is a heated contest between police officers and local business people

Venture into Totnes on Tuesday, 19 August, and you’re likely to encounter a strange – not to say rather alarming – sight.

Don’t worry about how to find it. The noise of cheers and shouting will draw you to the town’s steep High Street, where the first thing you’ll see is a torrent of oranges pouring down the hill, swiftly followed by a stampede of people in hot pursuit.

The Totnes Orange Races take place each year on the morning of the third Tuesday in August. Introduced in the 1970s as a way to attract more visitors to the town during the school holidays, they are run over a 450-metre course, starting at the top of the High Street and ending in front of the Royal Seven Stars Hotel at the foot of the hill. The rules are simple: each participant is given an orange that they must chase and kick to the finishing line.

The Town Crier announces the start of each race, and mayhem then ensues as the runners charge downhill, jostling for position while trying to control their speeding fruit. Many an orange is reduced to pulp in the process, adding slipping and sliding to the mix of hazards involved. The rules state that to qualify for a place you must still be in possession of an orange as you cross the finish line, so if yours has perished, you must commandeer someone else’s, however unscrupulous your tactics may be!

Fruity tales

The Totnes Orange Races were inspired by tales involving local hero Sir Francis Drake. It’s said that once, while visiting the town, the great man bumped into a delivery boy carrying a basket of oranges, sending the contents rolling down the High Street. In Tudor times, oranges were still a rare and costly import, so there must have been quite a scene as bystanders scrambled to catch the precious fruit.

Nobody knows if this story is true, but a poem by Robert Hayman, son of the town’s mayor and late Governor of Newfoundland, relates how, in 1579, he met Drake in Totnes High Street.

That encounter was especially memorable because Drake presented the lad with ‘a fair red Orange’ which young Robert was ‘right glad’ to recieve.

Town Councillor Judy Westacott is Chairman of the Totnes Elizabethan Society, which hosts the event. “The Orange Races are the highlight of our season,” she says. “There is great rivalry between locals and visitors, and over the years our race winners have come from all over the world.”

There are races for all age groups, from the under-fives to the over-60s, but the most prestigious is the Police Challenge, a heated contest between police officers and local business people.

Last year’s winner, Sergeant Helen Gerig of Totnes’ neighborhood policing team, says the race is a “good fun event”, giving officers the opportunity to engage with the community. That said, it’s no doddle: “I had really aching feet last time – and I always strap my hat on!”

Anyone is welcome to participate, so why not join in this August? All you need to do is turn up.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Tue, 16:33

With breathtaking beaches, rolling countryside, stately homes and unique villages, it’s no wonder high-profile film productions flock to Devon - how well do you know the movies that have set up camp here however?

Read more
Tue, 15:17

Whether it’s on our beautiful beaches, in our magnificent moors or within our stunning stately homes, film productions are constantly setting up in Devon. Here are 16 that you might not know used the county as a filming location

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

From angry spirits to headless horses and ghoulish monks, Devon has more than a few supernatural stories to get your skin crawling. We have picked 11 haunted places in the county

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October is the perfect time to discover the joys of Exmoor. Jennette Baxter of Visit Exmoor suggests five great ways to enjoy autumn on the moor

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From sandy beaches and lighthouse-topped cliffs to views of the Jurassic Coast, the Devon coastline offers many perfect locations for a seaside walk. We pick 10 of the prettiest routes to take

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take our quiz to find out how well you really know Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the weather starts to warm up and the Devon countryside beckons, LIZZIE JANE of the National Trust in the South West offers plenty of walk ideas for you to try. Whether you want a relaxed Sunday stroll or a more strenuous hike, here are 10 walks across Devon (and beyond) to help you escape the crowds and head off the beaten track

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The South West Coast Path is celebrating 40 years by calling on people to help raise £40,000. To show their support, teams from Devon’s top tourist attractions are preparing to take to the trail. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more

Read more
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Away from the hustle of places like Woolacombe and Ilfracombe, North Devon is peppered with tiny coves, empty beaches and wooded walks leading to secluded bays that feel a million miles away from the tourist trail. BECKY DICKINSON reveals her pick of the best kept secrets on the North Devon coast

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

As part of her regular series where she visits Devon’s best places for 24 hours, Lydia Tewkesbury has this time been to Sidmouth

Read more
Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ranging from rocky and windy walkways along the South West Coast Path to the sandy beaches on the picturesque coastline, the district of North Devon is one of the prettiest coastal areas in the South West of England. In no particular order, here are 10 of the prettiest villages in the district of North Devon

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

In Devon’s towns and cities there’s an awful lot you can do in just 24 hours. For her regular feature, Lydia Tewkesbury travels to see what you can do in a day in Kingsbridge

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Villages in Devon are some of the prettiest in the South West. From beautiful little hamlets on the outskirts of the moors to seaside communities, we pick 10 villages in Devon you need to visit

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search