Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire is the largest private Catholic mixed boarding school in the UK, and is sometimes referred to as the “Catholic Eton”. It first opened in 1802 and is run by the Benedictine monks of Ampleforth Abbey, the Community of St.Laurence, who can trace their origins back nearly 1000 years to medieval Westminster.
Sport plays a major role in school life and the facilities, including sports grounds covering 2000 acres, could hardly be bettered. They include 14 rugby pitches, football pitch, 4 cricket squares, The Savill Field (full-size synthetic pitch), athletics arena, gymnasium, swimming pool, golf course.
Head Groundsman John Wilkie is Yorkshire born and bred. Born in Filey, he started his career in groundsmanship at Scarborough Cricket Club. He then moved to Darlington Football & Cricket Club where he stayed for ten years. Twenty-eight years ago he moved to Ampleforth College, a place of tranquillity and great beauty, and says he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
John and his a team of four groundsmen and three gardeners are responsible for all the natural and synthetic turf playing areas at Ampleforth College and associated Prep School St.Martin’s Ampleforth.
The variety of sport played at Ampleforth makes John’s job interesting, but he says it can be quite a challenge ensuring that all the sports facilities are available at all times. However, games are rarely cancelled, so he reckons the ground staff get it right most of the time.
Now that girls are also admitted, the addition of hockey, lacrosse, netball, tennis and horse riding to the curriculum has increased the pressure further. Now the girls want to play cricket too, so two more squares are required.
“You can pay a lot more for a lot less”
When we visited Ampleforth in late April John was trying to make up the time lost because of an early Easter and an unexpected cold spell. It had been difficult to get the cricket squares into playing condition for the new season which traditionally starts straight after Easter, however early that may be.
The SISIS Teestar was well employed on the cricket outfield. Purchased four years ago, John is pleased with his choice. He says, “I have used a lot of SISIS equipment over the years and know it to be dependable, and strongly built to take the knocks”. So when he needed a ride-on triple he assessed the Teestar along with several others. The demonstration was impressive, and the price attractive. John says “The Teestar is very good value for money. You can pay a lot more for a lot less. And it’s British made”.
“the exceptionally quiet engine makes the Teestar ideal for schools”
John finds that the Teestar copes well when the grass is longer at the beginning of the season, and he can cut the entire outfield in an hour. He doesn’t find it necessary to box off the clippings, and likes the facility to choose front or rear discharge. The Teestar is very manoeuvrable, and the cutting units are quick and easy to remove and reset. The quality of cut is excellent and a feature that makes the Teestar ideal for schools is the exceptionally quiet engine.
When it comes to scarifying the cricket outfields and squares, John uses a SISIS ROTORAKE TM1000, which he describes as “absolutely brilliant”. He follows up with the SISIS LITAMINA sweeper, and the SISIS AUTO-ROTORAKE fitted with the brush reel is also used on the squares.
He uses a SISIS deep slitter on the rugby pitches. He still runs a 26 year old SISIS AutoTrac tractor and rake – and says that it still starts first time!