On New Year’s Day, as 2023 rolled into town I found my phone lighting up as a new message came through.
It said, ‘how about tomorrow morning?’
‘Yes’ I said, with a huge smile on my face.
Come the next morning I was standing in a farmyard about to meet the tractor that will take me on the 20-mile Pink Ladies Tractor Run route in July.
As I starred in wonderment at the spectacularly restored Massey Ferguson I couldn’t thank the wonderful local farming family enough for lending me the machine.
What a show of support. I was delighted but also apprehensive.
Don’t get me wrong, I am as keen as mustard, but the task of driving this spectacular classic across roads and farm tracks is a responsibility – but definitely one worth bearing.
It hadn’t crossed my mind until I saw her (it’s definitely a she!) sitting in the yard, I’d been so caught up in the excitement of taking part that it was only now that the mammoth task of learning to drive it and taking care of this beautiful beast hit home.
It must be a task all the women who take part bear in some shape or form.
It really got me thinking about the scale of the effort that is involved in staging such an event.
Every women has or will take a journey to get to the day of the run – both with their tractor and emotionally.
All the marshals, the landowners, the people who have lent tractors, the fundraisers, the bucket collectors, the support teams – all will have taken a journey to support the run in a vital way.
Whilst many people see the run for a momentary glimpse there are thousands of hours involved across the year.
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 both here and in Suffolk Magazine each month (with occasional guest appearances with Norfolk Magazine!).
So, here is my second diary entry as it appeared in the February edition of Suffolk Magazine…
As the Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run races towards a fundraising target of £1m, writer Kate Royall is taking part for the first time. This month she gets behind the wheel of the tractor that will take her on the 20-mile journey…
Ready, set go! Here she is, the magnificent Massey that will propel me on my journey across rural roads and farm tracks when I take part in the Pink Ladies Tractor Run for the first time.
Propel is maybe not the right word at the moment. As I ungainly clambered on board this beautifully restored Massey Ferguson 152 for the first time I rather tentatively pulled forward, unsure of how to handle such a classic.
As soon as I’d mastered the gear changes, clutch control and lack of power steering (although that still needs some practice) I couldn’t drive without a smile on my face.
As I hit third gear (top gear on this) it was simply exhilarating, I must have been doing all of 12 miles an hour but it felt like 100. With the wind in my hair and a grin on my face I felt like I was truly living life to the full.
I can only imagine how it will feel to drive the 20-mile route through Suffolk and Norfolk in a train of more than 100 decorated tractors as we raise vital funds for Cancer Research UK’s breast cancer appeal. With crowds lining the route and cheering us on, we will all in our own way be soaking up the atmosphere and thinking about the loved ones we hold dear who have been affected by breast cancer – many of whom have lost their lives.
With only five months to go until the big day, practice I have and practice I will. After my first jaunt, I stepped off the tractor and was met with tired knees and aching biceps (oh how we take power steering for granted).
I won’t be the only woman taking part in this iconic event for the first time. Every year around a quarter of the ladies are new to the run. Whilst I hope to master the art of vintage-tractor driving ahead of the day, I know there will be many unknowns in store.
Last year Ebony Ayton took part for the first time. At 19 she is one of the youngest to have done so. She’s grown up with the run which continues to be an integral part of her family’s life, her nan Pam has taken part in every run since it began in 2004 and her mum Jo is a stalwart participant. Between the three of them, and with other pink ladies, they host a whole range of fundraising activities throughout the year.
For 18 years Ebony watched the convoy splash through the Brockdish ford where she helped her dad and grandad marshal the roads. As soon as she passed her driving test she jumped straight on a 1962 Fordson Dexter to join the her mum and nan on the run.
I asked Ebony what it’s like to take on your first run. “I’ve watched the run for years but being behind the wheel is a different experience. I will always take part in it, it’s too much fun to stop and the reasons behind it are always going to be important.”
Pam, 74, fundraises for the run with a plant stall selling homegrown produce and her husband has even taken brides to church on his tractor and trailer for a donation to the Run. I asked her what the atmosphere will be like. “Other than being so enjoyable, it’s also quite an overwhelming day with the amount of spectators shouting and cheering us on.”
And if, like me, you’ve been tempted to take part but need persuading (like I did) follow Ebony’s advice…
“To anyone who is thinking of taking part, don’t hesitate to fill out the form. If it’s a tractor you’re worried about then there’s always people willing to put their tractors forward. And if you’re scared, the support you’re given is like no other and always remember it’s one day of the year for us, that affects the lives of so many others.”
We all think we can reach the magic million-pound milestone this year. As Ebony said to me ‘there is no doubt we will get to £1m, we are all totally motivated and with the incredible support in our community we will smash it’.
I’m proud to be part of this inspiring bunch of women and I will carry on practising with Pam’s words ringing in my ears ‘there’s plenty of people that will always need the benefits of the work of the researchers at Cancer Research UK. We’re all determined to get to £1m, we don’t give up easily’.
Follow my own journey @a_countrylife on Instagram.
The 2023 Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run takes place on Sunday July 2. For more information visit ladiestractorroadrun.co.uk