Six years ago I witnessed a sight that stopped me in my tracks.
There I was, cycling on the backroads of South Norfolk when out of nowhere a host of women came hurtling towards me on an array of tractors bedecked in pink.
It was the vivid and widely-loved Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run. I’d heard about it, and in a past life, I had reported on the run for a local newspaper – but I had never seen it in person…it was beautiful, emotional and inspiring all at the same time.
Whilst tractor runs are pretty common throughout agricultural swathes of the English countryside, this caterpillar of pink tractors is rather unique to South Norfolk and North Suffolk.
The train of tractors, from vintage machines to new models with full power steering, wound its way across the district throughout the day. Tractors were decked out in pink garlands, bras, inflatable flamingos, parasols and so much more.
But what really struck me was the enthusiasm and dedication of the woman involved and I knew that they would all have their own personal stories to tell about their experiences of cancer.
Each year, since 2004, around 110 women take to the roads for the run. Whilst some drive their own tractors, most drive machines that have been lent to them by local farmers, landowners, family members or friends. Often with no experience of driving a tractor, they trace a 20-mile route across country roads and field tracks.
The run raises funds for Cancer Research UK’s breast cancer appeal and to date it has collected a staggering £896,000.
Of course, there is an army of people who make it happen, from organiser and founder Annie Chapman to the stewards, marshals, support crew, fundraisers and crowds – to name but a few.
I’ve wanted to take part since that first glimpse of the run and this year is the year it will happen. For the past four years I have volunteered with the group, helping to get press coverage for the event but now it’s time to take to the roads too.
As part of my journey to the day of the run – which takes place on Sunday, July 3, 2023 – I will be writing about my adventures here and in both Suffolk Magazine and Norfolk Magazine each month.
Here is my first diary entry as it appeared in the January edition of both magazines…
As one of East Anglia’s most vivid events races towards a fundraising target of £1m, writer Kate Royall decides to take part in the iconic Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run for the first time…
The sight of tractors busily scurrying along the county’s roads is not unusual. But once a year, a caterpillar of vividly decorated pink tractors winds its way through our roads and villages.
The Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run first geared up in 2004 after organiser Annie Chapman set her sights on what she calls ‘a slightly crazy ambition’ to raise £1m.
Since then, a staggering total of £896,000 has been raised – with every penny donated to Cancer Research UK’s breast cancer appeal.
This year’s run broke the team’s fundraising record for a single year – a staggering £84,000. In 2023 they’ve set their sights on raising the £104,000 needed to smash through the £1m mark.
Many years ago, I interviewed Annie.
I had an hour assigned and four hours later I left inspired by the force of the woman I’d met and enthused about her event. I could have talked with her for days.
Her fundraising efforts have seen her receive a British Empire Medal and earlier this year she was shortlisted for a Pride of Britain Award.
Fast forward a few years and I had moved to a village only a few miles away from Annie. I made contact and offered to help, writing news stories about the run to raise its profile.
Since then, Annie has tried her best to persuade me to take part in the run and I’m sure countless other women have been targeted too!
Each year around 110 women from across the country take part. Many will never have driven a tractor before, but most will have been touched by breast cancer in some way.
Some have taken part since the very start and every year a flurry of new participants join the convoy and take to the roads.
And next year, for the very first time that will include me – Annie is very persuasive.
It’s not only the women taking part that make the event happen, it’s also down to the people who lend their tractors, the land-owners, the many marshals, the collecting crew and countless others who pull together in an extraordinary team effort.
Once I had decided to take part, the idea of sourcing a tractor seemed monumental, but this is East Anglia and thanks to a superb local farmer I now have a tractor in my sights, but I will need some training.
The route, which winds its way through north Suffolk and south Norfolk, is 20 miles long.
It takes in rural roads and farm tracks and there’s even a section called the Brockdish splash! And knowing rural East Anglia, even in July, there will be plenty of mud, water and other motorists to contend with.
I’ll come clean, this won’t come as an entire shock to me. I do live on a farm, and I can drive a modern tractor, but it’s been some years since I’ve driven without power steering and certainly in a vehicle without a roof!
As the event gets closer, I can imagine so will my checklist expand. I need to meet my tractor and get familiar with it, learn to drive it, start fundraising and then will come the enormous task of sourcing pink decorations for myself and the tractor.
As a spectator for many years, I have witnessed the crowd-lined routes. I’ve met the ladies, their friends and families at the picnic lunch which punctuates the route.
I’ve heard their inspiring and heart-breaking stories.
I’ve seen people along the route dressed in head-to-toe pink, cheering, clapping and crying in support – in towns, villages, laybys and gardens.
I’ve seen the houses and businesses bedecked in pink bunting, banners and flags.
I’ve witnessed it all first-hand but being part of the run and driving through the waves of support will be something else entirely.
The run does so much more than raise vital funds, it creates a support network for so many, it brings light and laughter to people at times when there may be little, it raises awareness and just maybe, it makes women check their breasts for anything out of the ordinary.
It certainly did make me check mine. Because of the run I do make those regular checks. I remember one year cycling home from the run to write about it and as I sat at my computer, I checked my breasts and found a lump. It was terrifying but thankfully turned out to be a fatty cyst.
I will be taking part in the run, thinking about the strength of the hundreds of participants that have taken part over the years and my treasured Aunty Betty who died of breast cancer.
But, I will be doing it with a huge smile on my face, hoping not to hold the convoy up or stall the tractor.
Join me as I prepare for this staggering journey and lift the bonnet on how this event comes together.
Donations are already being pledged for next year’s event. To donate please visit https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/kate-royall
The 2023 Ladies’ Tractor Road Run takes place on Sunday 2nd July.
For more information about the event please visit www.ladiestractorroadrun.co.uk