King Kenneth's Hill Race

This website is dedicated to all those who have participated in the Ben Kenneth Hill Race.

The History of the Ben Kenneth Hill Race

By Eoghainn MacLachlainn

The history of the Ben Kenneth Hill Race can be traced back to a Sunday afternoon in March 1970.

The Chase.

In the olden days the young men of the island used to frequent the NAAFI bar in Benbecula (the only Licensed premises open on a Sunday) to have a drink on a Sunday afternoon, as they had nothing else to do with their time or money. On this particular Sunday, the Police (who also had nothing better to do with their time either) had set a trap to catch drunk drivers at Daliburgh Crossroads. A car came speeding from Benbecula, seeing the police car waiting at the Crossroads, swerved, skidded, and shot off down to the Daliburgh road to the machair, followed close behind by the Law. The car was eventually found abandoned on the machair with two men asleep in the backseats, but no sign of the driver, who had fled from the clutches of the long arm of the law.

The Idea.

The next day in Daliburgh School, the pupils were full of stories of the car chase and the driver’s escape from the Law. The poor teachers could not understand this Hero worship or the reasons for it.
Three people, Eoghainn MacLachlainn, Fr Andrew Coyle, and Ian Forsyth (woodwork teacher in Daliburgh School) got together and came up with the idea of a hill race to entertain the young men of Uist rather than miss-spending their youth at the NAAFI counter on a Sunday afternoon.

The Prize

A Shield was made in Daliburgh School for the race, along with some brass lapel badges. One big one for the winner and small ones for the other competitors. Monsignor MacKellaig suggested that it should be for the glory of winning that counted, but Fr Coyle donated £20.00 for the winner, (perhaps spent in the NAAFI the following Sunday). There was a worry that the Army personnel, who would be invited to compete, might sweep the boards, and carry of the new shield, so it was decided to award the cash prize to the winner and the shield to the first local runner to finish.

The Route and the Rules

The race would start from the Cal-Mac Pier to the top of Ben Kenneth and back to the finish at the pier, with the runners choosing their own route. After checking out the route it was found that there was three Cairns at the top, the highest being out of site of the pier. The second highest cairn was chosen as the summit for the race as this could be seen from the pier, and the supporters down below could observe the progress of the runners. A metal post was put into this cairn as a marker.
All entrants must be over 16 years of age and in a reasonable state of health.
If preferred, part of the route could be swum, but caution is advised for poor or tired swimmers.

The Day before the First Race

Derek Greenwood who claimed to be a fell runner was practicing for the race, and on reaching to top thought“ Ah! This pole is not in the highest cairn, Id better move it to the highest one”.

The Big Day

Sunday June 7th 1970 at 2.00pm

The big day arrived, it was a lovely day and there was a great crowd of supporters on the pier to watch. There were 12 entrants, some of who were Mike Mason, Iain MacAskill, Charlie Campbell, Derek Greenwood, Roddy Macdonald and Neil Mackenzie. 
Acting on Dr MacLean’s advice, and because of the hot weather, each entrant had to drink a pint of orange squash with salt mixed in with it, at the end of the race, to prevent dehydration.
A rope was stretched across the pier, the entrants lined up, and photos were taken of the very first hill race.
Findlay MacDonald of Boisdale was (as instructed by Fr Coyle) at the summit (the cairn with the pole) to check in the runners. However this could not be seen from the pier as Derek Greenwood had moved the pole the day before.
Most of the competitors followed Poker to the top as they thought he knew the route, but they were beaten to the top and back by Mike Mason, who had swum the short cut, both on assent and descent.

The Winner

The winner of the very first Ben Kenneth Hill Race was Mike Mason who received first prize £20.00 and the big lapel badge, but not the shield as he was not regarded as a local as he had been resident in Uist for approximately only two years.
The shield was awarded to Roddy MacDonald (Poker) as the first local to finish.
Prizes and shield were presented by Christine MacCormick (Kristie Dhomhnaill Iain) of Lasgar and there is a photo of this in Lochboisdale Hotel Bar.

Daliburgh News Letter Sunday 14th June 1970

This is a copy of the Daliburgh News Letter on the following Sunday.
Outside Page    Inside Page    Enlarged Page

The Outcome

The race was regarded as a great success and has been run every year since bar one. (due to atrocious weather conditions)
In the early years the race was run in the month of June but in later years it has moved to the first Sunday in August where it has become a prominent fixture in the Uist Summer calendar.

Note:
Unfortunately over the years some of the records of the past runners have been lost ( 1970 to 1984 ).
So anyone with any information, could help by sending it to me via e-mail to benkenneth@ianbinnie.me.uk