As seen by the volunteer Duck Team
You just have to visit Endcliffe Park on an Easter Monday to see how popular the Annual Easter Duck Race is, organised by the Friends of the Porter Valley. It’s certainly a well-known event locally with many asking well in advance if it would be taking place again this year after a break due to Covid restrictions. We even had ducks bought by people in Chile, Spain, and Australia this year.
For most the event starts at 11am when the stalls open, with the main race taking place at 2pm. But in order to make the duck race happen there is a small army of volunteers who are doing all the setting up and clearing away.
For myself that all starts at 8am when I meet up with Chris Nicholson and Charles Heatley at the FoPV store to retrieve all of the duck launch and finish line equipment. This is then loaded into, and onto, our various vehicles and driven down to Riverdale Road where we unload it.
First, we take the launch tower and rails down to the start line just above Holme Wheel Dam. This is a mesh tower which holds all 2500 ducks over a trap door which is released to start the race. We first used the duck tower in 2015 so we have a well-rehearsed routine now for putting it all together. We follow that by putting the gazebo up for the volunteers who sell ducks from this spot until the race starts, and finally we cordon off the area for safety and a sign to identify the Start Line is strung across the path, so people know what is going on.
We then unload the finish line kit and carry that all the way down to the straight section of river just below the steppingstones. Here we construct another well-designed piece of equipment which not only funnels the winning ducks into a mesh tube so the prize giving team can do their bit, it also prevents us losing all 2500 ducks down the river! Then, just like at the start line it’s a case of a bit of cordoning off and a finish line banner across the river and we get a moment to relax with a coffee at the café.
We are not quite finished then however, at about 11am we still have to get back up to the start line and fill the tower with all the ducks. This creates quite an attraction and people walking down the path often stop to ask what is going on, with them often going on to buy some ducks. We also get a lot of young families having their photograph taken with the ducks before the race and the look of excitement on the children’s faces is one of the highlights for us.
And before we know it the crowds start to gather from about 1:30pm ready for the launch, and we find ourselves pushing the tower out over the river. This is always a very nervous moment for me as I always worry about whether it will work, or worse - drop the ducks before the allotted moment!! Of course, I never have to worry.
One of the main reasons for building the duck tower was to enable young children to have the honour of releasing the ducks into the river. We often ask local schools, Beaver colonies etc to provide a deserving candidate. This year however we weren’t quite so organised on that front so we decided we would look out for someone on the day. This year that turned out to be a five-year-old called Paloma who, after having her photograph taken with the ducks had waited patiently for the start – I just had to ask her to do the honours.
So, with the race started we were off back down to the finish line to catch them all. With the river at ‘normal’ levels this year it took about 25 minutes for the first duck to reach the finish line, but on one particular occasion, with the river in full spate we only had 6 minutes to run down ahead of the first duck. Once the first 40 ducks are safely trapped in the finishing ‘tube’ we lift those up for the watching crowd to cheer before delivering them to the prize team. It’s then time to start scooping up the remaining ducks as they flow down and put them back in the boxes. At some point later in the year a team of volunteers spend hours cleaning them and squeezing out any water, so they are ready for next year.
For us though it’s time to start taking down the banners, tape, and equipment from both the finish and start lines and carrying it all back to the waiting vehicles and on to the store. And after a 9-hour shift, we have finally packed away and that’s it for another year, thoroughly exhausted but rewarded by a great day that has been enjoyed by so many.