We are gathered on this glorious June afternoon for a truly historic event; the inaugural summer term Hazlegrove School snail race. It is our intention to test their mollusc mettle, to pit snail against snail, and see who will emerge victorious. Will it be this brown fellow, found late last night amongst the flower beds? Or this plucky underdog, prised from the lid of the water butt this very morning? Expectations are high, and the outlook… slimy.
The athletes take their places on the starting line, a small coloured star attached to each of their shells. With their eyes (or whatever it is they have) fixed on the prize of a leaf of lettuce and a juicy tomato, these snails are highly motivated and raring to go. Our racetrack is an A4 piece of paper with 3 lanes drawn on, and the sides folded up to prevent them going too far wrong.
The crowd is silent in anticipation as we give the countdown; 3, 2, 1… GO! The crowd go wild with encouragement from the sidelines. And they’re off! Except, not really. There isn’t much movement to speak of, unless you count the twitching of a tenacle or two. Could it be that the jubilant crowd and fever-pitch atmosphere has put them off and given them cold feet, or cold ‘foot’ at any rate? Perhaps they have shell-shock (ahem).
But what’s this? Red snail starts to get the idea. He begins to crawl at literally a snail’s pace in the wrong direction towards the edge of the paper. It’s a start, at least. At this point our commentator (a large wizard puppet on the hand of a Year 8) loses his cool and starts shouting at the other competitors to pull their weight and get going. This does the trick, and we see a sudden flurry of movement from the far lane. Blue snail quickly establishes itself as a contender and races into pole position.
The crowd’s affections instantly change, and now poor old Red is reduced to a figure of ridicule as he lies forlorn at the side of the track. Only Gold snail can now put up any kind of a fight. But with Blue only an inch or so from the finish line, he has his work cut out if he wants to earn a bite of the winner’s lettuce leaf. The wizard begins a chant: ‘Gold! Gold! Gold!’ and we all join in.
However, there are no certainties in snail racing. Just as it seems Gold might have it in him, he comes a cropper and pauses to eat some of the paper racetrack. Blue seizes his opportunity and limps to the finish line, exhausted but clearly pleased with himself. He tucks into his spoils of salad and tomatoes, while all around the crowd celebrates with wild abandon.
‘I know he could do it!’
‘I never doubted him for a second’.
The clock is stopped at 4 minutes and 34 seconds. We stage a podium prize giving, with the winner and runners-up hoisted onto matchboxes. We cannot wait for next year’s race. Already plans are afoot for an extension to the track, and the addition of obstacles and hurdles.
More fun and much less hassle than horses or dogs, snail racing offers something for everybody. And of course, there is never any need for a slow-motion replay. Happy trails!
Snail racing is an excellent activity for children that requires little in the way of setting up. The only tricky bit can be finding the snails in the first place. Comb your garden or school field the night before, or early in the morning, and you should turn up a few. Keep them happy in a bowl with some lettuce and come race day, they will provide enormous entertainment and ask for very little in return.
We raced ours in straight lines, but an alternative method would be to put all the snails into the middle of a circular track and see which one makes it to the edge first. Inspiration from Stephen Moss’s Bumper Book of Nature. You can download track templates and banners from the Woodland Trust here.