Posted: 5/26/2008


      Richard III, last of the Plantagenet kings of England was brought up in the castle at Middleham in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, half way between Ripon and Richmond,and nestling between The River Ure and The River Cover. Believe it or not, but this little village was, after London, possibly the most important place in England for a time. Richard managed the North of England for his brother King Edward IV, before becoming king himself.  There has in fact been a settlement since Roman times and it was mentioned in 'The Doomsday Book' of 1088, as 'Medelia'.

      I arrived on the Wensledale Vintage Tour Bus, called Miss Dorothy,a 1949 Bristol with a Gardner 5 gear crash box, and from the cobblestoned village square walked the steep road up the hill for a few hundred yards to the High Moor, and was passed en route by some horses and their jockeys, and I watched them excercise on the steep racecourse, which goes on every morning, 7 days a week.

     Besides the castle, built in the 12th Century, Middleham is the home to about 500 racehorses, their stables and jockeys and grooms. Within an hour and a half or so are some of the top racecourses in England; York, Wetherby, Newcastle, Redcar, Hexham, Carlisle, Cartmel, Pontefract, Doncaster,Sedgefield,Thirsk, Catterick, Beverley, Redcar, Ripon, Doncaster, Market Rasen for both thoroughbred flat racing and steeplechasing, over the fences. The Moor is common ground and sheep and cows sometimes keep the horses company, which is a worry to those whose safety and living is in the hands of these expensive racers. Something like the sheep and cattle arguments of the Wild West.

    In the village are 4 pubs, all of which I visited: The Richard III, The Black Bull, The White Swan, The Black Swan, and a small village store(selling magazines, including 8 different ones devoted to horses and racing, plus The Racing Post, a daily) and a few tea rooms. It was very windy on the exposed Moor as I watched the grooms and jockeys take their mounts on their daily exercises among the fields of daises, dandelions and buttercups.  In the village I looked at an advertising by the Micky Hammond Stables for good riders who would be well paid with good

 For two centuries horses have grown up and trained here and at the southern end of the village I counted a dozen large horse transporters. It's economical to centre the industry here and transport the mounts to the nearby courses.There is a similar centre down south at Newmarket.  Every year there is a MIDDLEHAM STABLES OPEN DAY, with thousands of enthusiasts having the chance to tour the various stables. Since the idea unfolded in 1994 well over $500,000 has been raised for charities from visitors.

     The first trainer was Isaac Cape around 1765 at Tupgill Stables, and in the next century there were regular race meetings on the High Moor. Some handsome Georgian and Victorian buildings went up and now the two small cobbled squares have been rebuilt with European funding.

     The castle itself is a bit of a ruin, but worth touring, with the largest keep in the North of England. I walked across a field and climbed over a couple of dry stone walls to take a photo from the village football field, with the castle as a backdrop.

      Richard had a fairly short life, 1453-1485 and was a bit of a hunchback. He was made famous in the play Richard III by William Shakespeare, written in 1591 with that famous line" A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse' to his aide Sir William Catesby, when he was unseated at The Battle of Bosworth,in The War of the Roses between Lancaster and York. Despite Catesby finding him a horse, he was killed in battle that day, the very last British monarch to be slain in battle. 1485 was a bad year for Richard. His only son Edward age 11 died in the castle and within the year Richard's 28 year old wife Anne.

     I had a lunch of Cumberland sausages at The Black Bull an 18th Century pub with the castle almost in the back yard, 20 yards away, and watched on the large TV the Leeds United vs Doncaster Rovers  play-off final from Wembley Stadium. Unfortunately The good guys in white from Elland Road lost 1-0 and are destined for a second year in Division 1.

   There are many local trainers at their stables; James Bethell, Karl Burke, Mick Hammond, Kate Milligan, Jedd O'Keeffe, Ann Duffield, John Weymes... and many more.  Leyburn Racing, High Moor Racing, WRB Racing, Rosemarys Racing, organize sydicates and shares in racehorses, while Destiny Racing Club allows  you to be a racehorse owner for the day and receive all the winnings,.