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The North District by Charles Bannerman

Although there is evidence for the existence of a North of Scotland Amateur Athletic Association from 1890, athletic activity of any kind in the area until after World War II appears to have been very sparse indeed. Competition amounted to little more than a few sports meetings and Highland Games and there is little, if any, evidence for affiliated clubs until 1947.

Evidence is similarly sparse of cross country running in the North until the immediate post-war decade. This important period saw the reconstitution of the NSAAA (1949), the appearance of open cross country races (1951) and the inauguration of NSAAA cross country championships for Men and Youths (U17) (1953).

Notwithstanding, cross country remained a low priority for the NSAAA which was a semi-autonomous organisation, affiliated to the SAAA but with financial independence, and still principally concerned with the promotion of local summer sports meetings and Highland Games.
However in 1960 the NSAAA did extend the scope of its cross country championships to Junior Men (U19) and Senior Boys (U15), with Junior Boys (U13) following in 1974.

In 1975, "championship" races for Girls (U13), Junior Women (U15) and Intermediate Women (U17) were added, but the status of these events and indeed their successors through to 1992-93 is ambiguous, given that women's athletics in the area at that time came under the jurisdiction of the East Districts of the then women's associations.

In any case, these pioneering women's events were short lived and appear to have fallen by the wayside after one year only, probably as a result of being overtaken by a major change at the end of 1975 which ultimately proved to be history-changing for athletics in the North.
At this point, the NSAAA disbanded and direct control of men's athletics in the North shifted to newly formed North Districts of the SAAA and the SCCU. The implications for cross country were particularly profound since, for the first time, a committee became active which had cross country running as its top priority (along with winter road racing.)

Meanwhile, as an aside, the SAAA North District Committee acted as a de facto continuation of the NSAAA into the early 1980s, at which point major modernisation of other disciplines also became possible.

One immediate effect of the formation of an SCCU North District was to change the status of the men's District Championships from NSAAA to SCCU. Arguably more importantly, this also led to the creation of Men's and Young Athletes' North District Relay championships at Torvean, Inverness on 5th November 1976. (This section of the results archive appears not to become active for a few years more.)
Meanwhile the still small number of North women cross country runners were under the jurisdiction of the East District of the SWCCU and occasionally competed in their East District championships and league. However, at a time when women's endurance running was growing rapidly everywhere, there was demand for more local cross country competition as well. This was soon responded to not only by the North League but also in the form of unofficial "championships" - both individual and relay - which ran alongside the men's events. A similar situation applied in track and field.

And thus it continued - official male North District championships in tandem with unofficial female ones, with East participation an additional option for the women - until 1992 when the four governing bodies amalgamated into SAF. This included an adoption of the former SAAA/SCCU three District format rather than the two Districts of the SWAAA/SWCCU.

It was only at this point that all cross country championships in the North became official and standardised along the same lines as the East and the West.

It is possibly worth noting that accessing "North District" events can incorporate, for instance, a 173 mile trip between Thurso and Fort William, 208 miles between Peterhead and Wick or 153 miles between Ullapool and Fraserburgh and a 3 hour ferry crossing to or from Stornoway - before even thinking about the Northern Isles.

Briefly turning to road racing, the post-war revival saw the appearance of a number of events, almost all point to point on trunk roads such as Spean Bridge to Fort William (10), Inverness to Drumnadrochit (15.5), the Inverness to Forres Marathon, the Nairn to Inverness relay (4 x 4) and the last survivor of this group, Alves to Forres (6) which ran on the main A96 until 1988.

Although these were replaced and extended by other, safer options, the introduction of North District road championships appears not to have taken place until the post-1992 SAF era.

I must acknowledge as an important source relating to the 1950s and 1960s, page 227 of the chapter "Cross Country In The North District" written for Colin Shields' SCCU centenary history "Whatever The Weather" by Walter Banks, Past President of the SCCU and founding father of its North District.