BACKTRACK and Thornton Watlass Cricket Club go right back to 1995, when a letter in The Times supposed it the world’s finest ground.

The immediate proximity of the Buck Inn, indeed the belief that the bar formed part of the bibulous boundary, may have influenced the gentleman’s judgment.

Then there was the spring of 1997 when the electricity board gave them the shock of their lives. Laying cables beneath the village green, which also is the cricket field, NEEB left a damn great pole approximately where square leg might stand.

The column sparked the protest. “We didn’t know it was a cricket ground,” said the electricians, and promptly dug it up again.

Or the glorious events of August 2000 when the club, then in the Nidderdale League sixth division, decided to hold a day/night match in order to mark the millennium.

Under cover of darkness, perhaps, floodlights were obtained from a road construction site. Black mushroom sheets became sightscreens, black bin liners covered white batting pads.

Fireworks illumined every crepuscular boundary. The first, we observed, was so vivid, so unexpected and so clamorous that had Thornton Watlass been 30 miles nearer the sea they would at once have launched the lifeboat.

It was also in 2000 that we addressed the annual dinner – always in the Buck, always second Friday of November, always vegetable soup and best beef – and were able to note that that small and secluded hamlet was served by no fewer than eight buses daily, the last of them at eight minutes to midnight.

Memories being short, or hope eternal, this year they asked me again.

Possibly because they’d heard one of the stories before – Dickie Bird and the dead spuggie, Trimdon and Deaf Hill v Yarm fourths, summer of ’94 – the requested subject was vultures.

Thornton Watlass, tree-lined and tranquil, is a village near Bedale in North Yorkshire. “Vultures” is the team name for the querulous spectators, elsewhere confined to critics’ corner, who home and away circumambulate the boundary.

The encircling gloom, as the hymnist supposed, though it was possible also to recall 1Peter: 5:8 – “Be sober, be vigilant, because the devil your adversary, like a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whomsoever he might devour.”

Insatiably scavenging, vultures have a bad name. Did Watlass know, for example, that in the curious lexicon of avian collective nouns a group of flying vultures is a kettle but that a resting group, sitting on their backsides doing nowt, is a committee?

Or that a group of vultures feeding their faces on a dead goat, which seems pretty much to be their principal occupation, is a wake?

The poor goat’s just dead meat.

Did they also know that the vulture is one of few birds which doesn’t sing, restricting itself to a grunt or a hiss – the players liked that one – or that when overheated, what with all those feathers, a vulture has the ability to pee down its own legs, thus both acting as a coolant and killing all known germs?

The players liked that one even more.

Vigilant if not 100 per cent sober, they might even remember the suggestion that the next dinner be brought forward to the first Saturday in September, that being International Vulture Awareness Day.

Still in the Nidderdale League, reckoned England’s biggest, Watlass will start next season in the second division after successive promotions.

At that level they’re even allowed an overseas player and have suddenly discovered how many agents there are. A collective noun for agents? It seemed wiser not to ask.

It was Sue Day, the cricket club secretary, who’d suggested the night’s theme. “You must know more about vultures than David Attenborough,” she said, kindly, at home time.

She was a Sunderland lass, her uncle Willie Watson, the last of 12 double internationals who played both cricket and football for England.

A Yorkshireman, he won his four football caps while with Sunderland – 211 Football League appearances, 19 goals – and played most of his 23 tests while with his home county, before moving to Leicestershire.

“He was a really quiet man,” Sue recalls. “He’d come around the house and just sit smoking a cigarette and watching television. You’d never have known he was famous.”

Willie emigrated to South Africa in 1968 and died there in 2004. He was 84.

Thornton Watlass have another team in the Wensleydale Evening League, grass roots cricket at its most sublime. Next season they’ll be joined by the boys from Barningham.

Barningham’s a few miles south of Barnard Castle, 99 per cent of the ground in Co Durham and about five square yards in North Yorkshire.

Their application was approved at last week’s annual meeting despite league concerns that it was both too far to travel and in the wrong county.

Our man at the meeting’s delighted. “I’m sure,” he says, “that it was those five square yards that did it.”

Connor Lupton was another “overseas” player, a young Aussie to whom the term “innocent abroad” may apply.

He’d been recruited by Mulgrave, a few miles up the coast from Whitby, stayed as part of a sponsorship deal in a cottage on the 90-acre Raithwaite estate near Sandsend.

They housed him, fed him and did his washing but for the first few weeks he still struggled to acclimatise. “It was bitterly cold off the sea,” recalls Helen Blower, the estate manager.

“He’d wear all sorts of layers. When he was cutting the grass, all you could see was his eyes.”

Sport Mulgrave held their annual fund raising dinner the night after Thornton Watlass’s, the column stood down from standing up because Yorkshire cricketers Adam Lyth, Jack Leaning and Richard Pyrah did a quick question and answer.

Adam’s a Whitby lad, his wife Lily’s first night away from daughter Ruby since she was born 14 months ago. He’s now in Dubai, playing T20. “Being away so often is the only downside,” he said.

Led by 76-year-old retired Sandsend shopkeeper Doug Raine, Sport Mulgrave is a remarkable success story, the community contributing significantly to the £1m cost of cricket, football and bowls facilities now widely used at county level.

“I just thought that if the kids in Leeds and Newcastle could have facilities like this, then the kids around here should, too. It’s amazing how a small community has supported it,” says Doug, awarded the BEM for his efforts.

The Yorkies proved good company. Lyth had also signed a couple of squad shirts, reaching £240 apiece at auction and disproving the scriptures. A prophet has honour in his own country after all.

Tonight we’re at Raby Cricket Club’s presentation, able – like the vulture – to spot a free meal a mile off. It’s a case of what it says in the headline.