The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Duck Dash

Lindsay Neal on a West Moors Boxing Day tradition

Spectators look down as some of the more astute ducks take the tight line around one of the course's early bends

Spectators look down as some of the more astute ducks take the tight line around one of the course’s early bends

Forget turkey – Boxing Day in West Moors is all about the ducks: at least a thousand of them and all of them plastic as the village’s annual Duck Dash celebrates its 30th anniversary this year with organisers hoping for a bumper turnout in aid of the 1st West Moors Scout Group. ‘In our best year we had four races of a thousand ducks,’ says Group Scout Leader Lynne Anderson. ‘Of course it would be lovely to top that, but we always sell at least a thousand and as the prize money is sponsored by a local company, all the money raised from the sale of ducks goes directly to the Scout Group. The Duck Dash is our biggest annual fundraising event.’
A typical Boxing Day Duck Dash in West Moors attracts a couple of hundred villagers and their families to the start point to see the ducks released beneath the bridge at the Mannington Brook off Farm Road. The little yellow racers then twist and turn their way along a half-mile course with cash prizes from £10 to £100 awarded for the first five ducks over the finish line.

The high tech duck collection system at the end of the race

The high tech duck collection system at the end of the race

‘We started the Duck Dash 30 years ago at £1 a duck and the price has remained the same ever since. We’re better value than the National Lottery with a much better chance of winning,’ laughs Lynne. ‘But the best thing about it all is seeing so many friends and neighbours out and about on Boxing Day morning, getting involved. We have hot drinks on the go; we’ve even done bacon butties and hot mince pies before for those that have still got an appetite. It’s quite an event.’
West Moors Scouts have a big year ahead as the group needs to raise funds in order to renovate its HQ, The Hideaway, in Hardy Road. The work required is going to cost around £130,000 and there’s £27,000 in the kitty before this year’s Duck Dash. According to Lynne, that means work can begin to replace the roof or install a car park, whichever one is designated the priority. ‘There’s a long way to go, but we hope we can do it all within about two years,’ she says. ‘Obviously it will benefit the Scout Group and we hope to build a small extension that will give us a training room, but The Hideaway is also important to the village as a whole because there isn’t another similar-sized meeting room at this end of the village.’

The watery equivalent of after the Lord Mayor's show: collecting the strays to ensure that no duck is left behind

The watery equivalent of after the Lord Mayor’s show: collecting the strays to ensure that no duck is left behind

The oldest known record of Scouts in West Moors dates from 1927, although it was suspended for the duration of World War 2 and not reconstituted until 1960. The Group is hoping to celebrate its 90th birthday next year with a major fundraising push and has been seeking advice from Dorset Community Action with a view to applying for grants. It says much about West Moors that its Scout Group has such a rich history and it is not uncommon for former Scouts to return to the group with their own children or stay on as Leaders. Lynne joined up 25 years ago when she and her husband, a former Scout, decided it would be good for their three sons, one of whom, Dave, is now Cubs Leader at West Moors.
Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Scout Leader Steve Leach has been involved for 40 years. ‘It’s still very outdoorsy and there’s lots of physical stuff to do and learn, but Scouting manages to refresh itself every few years and stays remarkably relevant,’ he says. ‘There’s an IT badge nowadays, as well as the traditional one for Master at Arms; Rollerskating now includes Skateboarding, and the Creativity badge recognises that Scouts use digital cameras.’
The youngest members of the organisation, the Beavers, start from the age of six; Cubs range from eight to ten-and-a-half, when they become full Scouts. Girls have been admitted since the year 2000. Adults are also welcome to join as leaders or helpers.
‘Scouting really led the way in safeguarding and training,’ says Lynne who is also the Dorset County Scouts’ safeguarding trainer. ‘When I joined, it wasn’t such a big thing, but since the early 1990s the training has been much more detailed and we take it very seriously. I also think Scouting pioneered equal opportunities. The fact it didn’t take girls until 2000 is more to do with the relationship between Scouting and Guiding than with either organisation being behind the times. If you go back to Baden Powell, you’ll find he was very much about everyone mixing together, which was the basis of the jamborees of course.’
In the same spirit, the West Moors Group places a strong emphasis on family events and Scouts are encouraged to bring their siblings, parents and grandparents to events such as Quiz Night in the New Year and the outdoor games day when Scouts take on all comers at Shove-a-Duck, the West Moors version of quoits: ‘It’s the same game, but it’s just that ducks have somehow become our thing,’ explains Lynne.

The Duck Dash has historically provided valuable funds for activites like Beavers' climbing, but this year the big challenge is to help the Scouts raise £103,000 of the £130,000 required to refurbish the Hideaway HQ

The Duck Dash has historically provided valuable funds for activites like Beavers’ climbing, but this year the big challenge is to help the Scouts raise £103,000 of the £130,000 required to refurbish the Hideaway HQ

There is also a family summer camp, when whole families decamp to the Dorset countryside for a weekend of activities from knotting challenges and nature trails to building catapults and making smores: melting marshmallows on sticks, then eating them between two chocolate biscuits – they get the name from the subsequent calls for ‘summoor’. And just to demonstrate there’s plenty of room for tradition, each day ends with songs around the campfire.
Lynne Anderson again: ‘We’re involved with all the major civic events locally like the commemoration of the start of World War 1 in 2014 and the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations this year. Last year was the first Christmas Tree Festival at the United Reformed Church and we’re involved with that again this year. West Moors is a lovely community and the Scouts are right at the heart of it.’

www.westmoors-scouts.org.uk

Dorset Directory