Putting the North into North Oxford

July 2014: While many Fives players were idling away their summer holidays on Mediterranean beaches or Caribbean cruises, a small group of North Oxford EFC players, plus guests, embarked on a mini Northern Fives tour, taking in three different codes of Fives in three beautiful locations - Rossall, St.Bees and Sedbergh.

The magnificent seven - Gareth Hoskins, Karen Hird, Carl Rennie, Stefan Nowinski, John Reynolds, Paul Bowden and Ashley Lumbard - started with an afternoon at the seaside, taking in a stroll down the promenade in the sunshine towards Blackpool to check out the local ice creams. Never have a group of people been so easily identifiable as a sports team on tour. The eight Rossall courts have been familiar territory in recent years for those lucky enough to play in Howard Wiseman's Rossall schools tournament. For those unfamiliar with these unique hybrid courts, they are essentially Winchester Fives courts with no back wall. Having won the battle with the forces of H&S to allow us to play despite the scaffolding on the roof, several singles and doubles matches were played. with all agreeing that Rossall Fives is a splendid game. The singles "championship" match between John Reynolds and Carl Rennie produced some scintillating rallies (CLICK HERE for an example) and reduced John to a worrying state of exhaustion after each point.

A beautiful summer's evening provided spectacular views of the Lake District on the way up to St.Bees and after an evening meal and a quick midnight reccy of the courts, the second day started with an energetic walk - with a lengthy pitstop - up and over St Bees Head. After lunch - those curious about how you win 11 Kinnaird titles should ask JPR about the revolutionary pre-match dietary habits that make up the lunch of champions (clue: it involves beer, lardy cakes and bubblegum-flavoured ice crush drink. Oh and a pint of milk.) - we embarked on a series of matches on the world's most northerly Eton Fives courts. If you have never made it all the way up to Cumbria to play at St.Bees. you should. The setting is spectacular and the three courts in good nick, apart from the slight design flaw and blocked drain that resulted in the appearance of a back court moat after a short shower. Rarely, if ever, can the courts have been simultaneously graced by two national champions, and our presence was noted with some pleasure by several locals, including recently retired St Bees Master-in-Charge Huw Lewis.

Reynolds continued to live at the cutting edge of culinary science, ordering the world's first ever self-spilling pint back at the bar of the Queens Hotel, who also generously provided some of the more memorable music practice facilites of musical maestro Carl Rennie's career. Apparently buckets, mops and piles of toilet rolls do not provide the greatest acoustics ever. How different the Sydney Opera House could have been if they did.

Anyway, the final day of the tour involved a stop at Sedbergh School, just off the M6 in Cumbria, for some Winchester Fives, some traditional Cumbrian weather and one final pub stop before the group went their separate ways - Karen off to the Old Trafford test match via a trip to a sandstone quarry in the Dales with John to look at potential Fives court floors, Gareth down to the Superleague final at Westway and Paul off to visit the new HM at Wrekin. Truly a group of Fives obsessives.

The trip was a short one but an absolute delight, with the opportunity to see some different places, play on some unusual courts and have a go at some different sorts of Fives. We would all heartily recommend it as an itinerary to anyone.

Our thanks go to Lee Hodgetts at Rossall, Huw Lewis and James Davies at St.Bees and Jon Liddiard at Sedbergh for allowing us to use their courts.

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