And so the Burghley Horse Trials are once again upon us, a sure sign of summer's end and the onset of autumn. Sponsored by Land Rover the horse trials are arguably the pre-eminent three day event of the year in the UK and this year the sport can boast many of its Olympic heroes that played their part in Team GB's staggering home Games success.
Burghley provides mixed emotions for me. Why? Because for many years I attended the horse trials as a pupil at nearby Stamford School, situated in the centre of the beautiful Lincolnshire country town famed for its medieval history, churches, town fair and, er, public houses. Burghley was a chance to see some top-flight sport each September. It was also the chance to meet up with the High School girls and drink cheap cider bought, under-age, from the local supermarket.
I do recall, vaguely, the likes of Richard Meade and Lucinda Prior-Palmer at work, as well as Captain Mark Phillips and even the Princess Royal, or Anne, as she was known as back then but, as a young teenager, it was as much a social event for me and my mates. However, the grounds of Lord Burghley (think Nigel Havers in Chariots of Fire) also evoke more painful memories because the place was also used for the school's annual cross-country run. Looking back it was only six miles or so long but staged each February when the wind and the sleet blew in from the low level Fens. I managed to throw a sicky twice but after that the teachers were on the look-out, which meant five miserable years of lumbering at the back of the field growing increasingly colder, wetter, muddier and more miserable by the second.
In my final year, for some inexplicable reason, I sprinted from the start and found myself, to my utter amazement, leading the field for at least a third of the course, Eventually runners over took me but I still finished inside the top ten, and promptly threw up. It made teachers ask me what I'd been doing for the previous few years. Thankfully I didn't have to back up this performance as I left Lincolnshire and hit London. Still, each year the thought of the Burghley Horse Trials evoke these two, conflicting emotions - happiness at wild, cider-induced abandon, and utter, sodden misery during the dreaded cross-counbtry run. Enjoy Burghley this time. And remember, it's more fun going round on a horse.