Dating back more than five hundred years, is held on Shrove Tuesday. The course is 415 yards long and is run from the Market Place to the Church at 11.55 a.m. Participants are women who must have lived in Olney for at least 3 months.
Competitors wear the traditional costume of a "housewife" - including a skirt, apron and head covering and must of course carry a frying pan containing a pancake. The winner, on crossing the line, must toss her pancake and she is then greeted by the verger with the traditional kiss of peace.
The race is immediately followed by a Shriving service in the Parish Church when the official Olney and Liberal prizes are presented.
Every Shrove Tuesday, Olney's women have the chance to run the world famous Olney Pancake Race. It is an event which is possibly traced back to 1445 according to legend, though the historians dispute it! The race starts at exactly 11.55 am outside The Bull Inn. Media from around the world come to see our historic even.
A short history of pancakes in Olney...
Olney's famous race is run every Shrove Tuesday, featuring women who have lived in the town for more than 6 months. It dates back to 1445 and it is believed all began with a townswoman late for the Shriving service at the Olney parish church.
The day is significant. Eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, is an ancient tradition. It is the day before Lent; the start of the traditional fast. By giving up dairy products, people marked Jesus' 40 days and nights in the wilderness. So on Shrove Tuesday, stores of dairy products were used up in the pancake mix.
Racing to church - The Olney Pancake Race
For our Olney woman, it was also important to attend the Shriving service before the start of Lent, a time to confess sins before Ash Wednesday. So the story goes, hearing the church bells ring out for the service, our townswoman fled her house fearful of being late. She ran the distance down the High Street to make it to the parish church - still clutching her frying pan and wearing an apron.
Now, the event is still commemorated hundreds of years later in the Olney pancake race. The Olney residents (women) compete in traditional apron, cap, and holding a fying pan with a real pancake. They must toss their pancake once at the start (ouside The Bull Inn) and once at the finish by the church.
The race starts at 11.55am. The Olney High Street is shut, and spectators line the route from the Market Place all the way to Olney's St.Peter and St.Paul church.
For the fastest Olney runner, there's a prize - but there are prizes too for the oldest participant and the one who raises the most for charity. The runners support many causes and sponsorship usually runs into a hundred pounds for both Olney charities and those supporting our links in Africa.
The town of Liberal in the USA runs a race over the same distance on the same day, and the best of Liberal compete with the best of Olney for the fastest time. http://www.pancakeday.net/ is the Liberal site.
When the Pancake Race is over the runners, officials, townspeople and visitors, pour into the Parish Church of St. Peter & St. Paul for the great Shriving Service when several of the famous Olney Hymns are sung.
Competitors place their frying pans around the font and occupy seats reserved for them, and during the service, the presentation of the official prizes from Olney and Liberal USA takes place. There is also an official prize-giving in the evening.
From our archives
The photo montage from our archive captures a unique time when a male Blue Peter runner - a man - was given special permission to compete.
After the races for local schoolchildren at 10.30am (see other report for the photos of their races) many people milled around to buy their pancakes and watch entertainers like the Great Gappo.
There was another attraction in the Market Place, as fans flocked around the Blue Peter crew as they prepared presenter Joel for his big appearance in the main race.
Joel was in character with a long, blond wig, Blue Peter apron and scarf...plus some pink lipstick. The team included the director and camera operators. And surely, for the first time in the history of the race there was a 'pan-cam' - a small camera fitted to a frying pan handle.
Ahead of the race, we asked Joel about the moment he was told he was to run: "I do get some strange challenges on Blue Peter. As soon as they told me about it I thought 'but that's for women' and then the penny dropped what they were thinking'. But I am cool with it. I'm oddly at one with being a woman." Asked about the race itself Joel said: "I have been told I mustn't win - though of course I could. I am amazed at how many people are here in the cold."
The race itself began with the customary false-start to allow the photographers to get their shots before running to the finish.
And then they were off... all 27 racers including a three legged team wearing wings.
Jane Hughes crossed the tape at the finish line by the St.Peter and St.Paul church in 1 minute, 7 seconds followed by Nicky Sallis and then Joel from Blue Peter. He said: "I let the second runner go past me, that's the kind of woman I am."
Jane spoke to many of the assembled reporters from BBC TV, ITV, Bucks TV and Three Counties Radio about her pride in the race: "It's fantastic, with a great community spirit. It brings so many people to Olney and puts us on the map. Winning is fantastic, but it really is the taking part that counts."
Joel meanwhile, in his 'piece to camera' said: "Jane Hughes may have won this year, but next year I'm going to be the flippin Queen!"
120g (4oz) plain flour
210ml (7floz) milk
90ml (3floz) water
HOW TO PREPARE PANCAKES:
Whisk the mixture and leave to stand (ideally half an hour).
Heat the frying pan with a little oil or butter and cook each side of pancake for no more than a minute.
The traditional (and the best?) Sugar and lemon juice.
Children from Olney Middle School and Olney Infants School took part in their own pancake races, on a special course on one side of the Market Place.
Their route was packed with cheering supporters and proud parents.
The races were organised for boys and girls and by age.
All pictures are Visit Olney Copyright.