Peculiarly British festivals and events

Closeup of Morris dancer's legs with bells on

Morris dancing is a very old and traditional form of entertainment
Image: Lorna Roberts

We British are famous for our steely reserve, but all around the country, very silly things are happening. Because no matter how seriously we take ourselves, when you scratch the surface of the national psyche, you soon discover that Brits love nothing better than to indulge their natural inclination towards the eccentric, the daft and the downright dangerous.

Fancy letting your hair down? Why not join in the fun at one of the many unusual events taking place across the country. Here are some of Samuel Windsor blog team’s favourites to get you started.

Gloucestershire cheese rolling

Action shot of men running down a hill after a wheel of cheese

Competitors running, stumbling and tumbling in pursuit of a lump of cheese
Image: Dave Farrance (Wikimedia)

Downhill skiing has nothing on cheese rolling for thrills, spills and the potential for broken bones. And it’s cheap too – why fork out for plane tickets, lift passes and outrageously priced accommodation when all you need is a steep hill and 8lb of Double Gloucester?

Chasing a cheese down Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester is a tradition which dates to the 1800s when life was presumably somewhat cheaper than it is today. The number of injuries – 33 is the record – lead to the official termination of the event in 2010, but nobody took any notice, which is why if you fancy risking life and limb, this year’s cheese roll is on 27th May.

Up Helly Aa

Up Helly Aa burning junior galley ship photographed with a viking silhouetted against the flames

Lighting up north of the border
Image: Andrew J Shearer

It’s dark in Shetland during the winter, so what better way to light up your nights than by marching through the streets, flaming torch in hand to set fire to a full size replica Viking longboat? Fire festivals are an ancient tradition on the remote Scottish isles, but in fact the (relatively) restrained modern festival of ‘Up Helly Aa’ was invented by the Victorians in an attempt to stop local youths running amok.

The Total Abstinence Society despaired of the local custom of marking the end of Yuletide by getting exceedingly drunk and dragging flaming tar barrels through the streets of Lerwick and other island settlements. The viking festival was their way of keeping the revelry in check. ‘Up Helly Aa’ is on 28th January 2020 – expect fire, but don’t bank on sobriety.

Man versus horse

Group shot of people racing two horses through a wooded area

Four legs better than two?
Image: Man Vs Horse

Fancy a spot of horse racing? No we don’t mean a day at the races, we mean a day racing horses. Back in 1980 in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells, a local publican overheard a conversation among his punters about the relative abilities of horses versus men to run across rough terrain. The only way to settle the argument – have a man-versus-horse race.

Cross country running might not be everyone’s idea of fun but if you’d like to try your hand at outpacing a horse over 22 miles of rugged countryside, book your spot, head to Powys and prepare to test yourself. It took 25 years for a man to finally beat a horse though, so maybe it’s best just to watch – this year’s event is on 8th June.

Tin bath racing

Action shot of people racing tin baths in a harbour in the Isle of Man

Tin bath racing on the Isle of Man
Image: World Tin Bath Championships

For a taste of nostalgia, why not try tin bath racing on the Isle of Man? An old fashioned concept, you might think such frolics died out with the advent of the modern bathroom suite.

But, it turns out, tin baths still exist and if you’re feeling flush you can buy a brand new one from the Brettell Brothers factory in Stourbridge in the West Midlands. Now all you need to do is paint it up to make it go faster and you’re set. If you fancy a go, you’ll need to head to Middle Harbour Castletown on 6th July.

Olney Pancake Race

Women running down the street with pancakes for the annual Olney Pancake Race

The ladies of Olney race to the church
Image: Olney Pancake Race

Shrove Tuesday sees people from across the country partaking in the ancient sport of pancake racing, but this ladies-only event held in Olney, Buckinghamshire is unique because it is the original pancake race.

Legend has it that on Shrove Tuesday back in 1445, the bell rang to summon the townsfolk to church. One of the parishioners was running late and so legged it to the service still wearing her headscarf and apron, frying pan in hand. And so the popular race was born. In a bizarre twist of fate, the Olney race has gone international with the townswomen racing against the clock over a 415 yard course to beat the ladies of Liberal Kansas, USA.

Egremont Crab Fair & International Gurning Competition

A competitor gurning for first place with a horse collar on

A competitor gurning for first prize at the Egremont crab fair
Image: Egremont Crab Fair & International Gurning Competition

One of the most unusual events in the UK’s calendar of eccentricity, Cumbria’s Egremont Crab Fair features the world famous international gurning competition. The rules of this most ancient of sports are very simple – poke your head through a horse halter and pull the ugliest face you can. The winner is the person judged to have pulled the most impressive “gurn”.

This fair is one of the UK’s oldest, dating back to 1267 when local serfs would get together after the harvest to indulge in some drinking and ribaldry. What began as the perfect way to celebrate the end of back breaking labour developed into a fair – the name comes from the free crab apples which the Lord of Egremont handed out. These days the event retains its traditional flavour with events like Cumbrian wrestling and climbing the greasy pole.

World Bog Snorkelling Championships

Two images of people snorkelling through a bog

Swimming upstream?
Image: World Bog Snorkelling Championships

Apparently there’s not much to keep the townsfolk of Llanwrtyd Wells occupied because, as well as man-versus-horse, the town also hosts the famed world bog snorkelling championships – an event that draws competitors from around the world to plunge into the icy and rather murky Waen Rhydd bog.

Racing against the clock to beat rival bog snorkellers, competitors get into the spirit of the event by dressing in outlandish costumes while bog bank revellers indulge in food, drink and live music. Sound fun? Head to Powys on August 25th 2019.

Wife carrying

Man carrying wife upside for the UK Wife Carrying Race

The Dorking hold
Image: The UK Wife Carrying Race

Wife carrying can be a dangerous activity, which can lead to any one or more of the following injuries: slipped disk, broken legs and arms, limb dislocations, neck and spinal damage, facial injury, skull fracture, hernias, and other sundry injuries and illnesses, and potentially including death. But please don’t let this put you off!

Wife carrying might be the UK’s oldest sport – it was inspired by the viking raid on Lindisfarne in 793 AD. Keen? If you and your partner feel you’d like to indulge your appetite in what must be one of the daftest sports around – the race takes place in March in The Nower, Dorking.

The Blackawton International Festival of Wormcharming

Blackawton Worm Charming festival<br /> 6th may 2019

Will this year’s Devonshire worms resist such good-natured British charm?
Image: International Festival of Worm Charming

When Dave Kelland was on his way back from the pub one Sunday evening in 1983, he stopped on route to relieve himself in a field and was amazed to see worms surfacing. He had, he realised, discovered a natural ability to charm worms. Being somewhat crazy, he decided to initiate the first ever international festival of worm charming.

These days, people flock to the Devon village of Blackawton to try their luck with worms. A noble pastime, the world record set in 1986 was 149 worms. Last year yielded just 16 worms for the winner, but this year organisers are hoping for better things.

Cotswold shin kicking

Two people competing in the Cotswold shin kicking competition

A somewhat painful sporting event
Image: The Cotswold Olimpicks Games

Give a friend a good kicking at the annual Cotswold “Olimpicks”. The shin kicking is the blue riband event at the annual games and involves donning a white coat or fishing smock – to represent the original shepherd’s smock – before grabbing your opponent by the shoulders and kicking him in the shins until he falls down.

The modern contest is a pale imitation of the traditional trial which involved steel toe caps and kicking your opponent until his leg broke. Apparently the locals used to toughen up their shins by whacking them with mallets. Nowadays, it’s strictly soft-toed shoes or trainers and you’re allowed to protect your shins by stuffing handfuls of straw down your trousers…

What’s your favourite outlandish British sporting event? We’d love to hear from you, just head over to our Facebook page and leave a comment.

Posted in Men's Lifestyle.

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