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Weird and wonderful pastimes
Britain is famous for its rich history and quirky traditions so we've put together a calendar of some of the most eccentric annual events to take place on these shores. Welcome to the world of the weird and wonderful.
These contests, festivals and celebrations attract crowds from far and wide and provide the perfect excuse to get away from it all – take the time to explore somewhere you've never been.
Haxey Hood, Haxey, Isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire
One of the oldest traditions in England involves a two-foot long leather tube called a hood. No one can throw or run with the hood and the game finishes when it reaches one of four pubs in the parish. With no official teams and usually 200 participants in the sway, a ‘quick’ game lasts two hours!
St Ives Feast, St Ives, Cornwall
The first Monday after 3rd February is feast day, where one of the highlights is Hurling the Silver Ball. At 10:30 the ball is thrown to the crowds who all hope to be the one holding it at midday for a prize of a silver coin. You’ll have great fun cheering competitors while watching this boisterous game!
World Pooh Sticks Championships, Days Lock Island, River Thames, Oxfordshire
This traditional game (from the much-loved Winnie the Pooh stories) attracts around 1,000 spectators and competitors every year. Not too strange in itself, but made somewhat more so by the fact that many participants choose to don fancy dress for the event. The knockout competition sees teams drop coloured sticks from two bridges, and is held to raise cash for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Cuckoo Day, Marsden, West Yorkshire
Much like the Americans’ beloved Groundhog Day, this event began as a celebration of the annual return of spring. With children’s activities, music, dance and much more, this is definitely a day out for the whole family to enjoy.
World Coal Carrying Championships, Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire
What began as a bet between friends has become a popular annual event. Every Easter Monday a group of muscle-bound men each carry 50kg of coal for almost a mile, in this punishing test of physical ability. Female competitors lug 20kg across the same distance.
Randwick Cheese Festival, Randwick, Stroud, Gloucestershire
This annual celebration of all things cheesy boasts ‘cheese rolling’ as its main attraction. After being blessed, three cheeses are rolled around Randwick Church. One is then cut and shared among the crowds – an ancient tradition thought to enhance fertility.
World Nettle-Eating Championships, The Bottle Inn, Marshwood, Dorset
Not for the faint-of-heart, this attracts around 50 competitors every year, each attempting to eat more stinging nettles than the current champion. Each must consume as many leaves as possible from a two-foot stalk, in only an hour. The contest itself began in the 1980s with a dispute between two farmers. Other attractions include a hog roast, barbecue, real ale beer festival, music and children's entertainment.
World Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling Championships, Waen Rhydd Bog, Powys
This truly bizarre race requires participants to don a snorkel and mask before attempting to cycle along a six-foot-deep peat bog and back – in the fastest time possible. A lead-framed bike is used, with water-filled tyres, and entrants wear lead-weight belts.
World Pea Shooting Championships, Witcham, Cambridgeshire
This annual competition and village fair sees contestants from as far as New Zealand and the USA try their hand at shooting a pea 12 feet, through a 12-inch tube, towards a 12-inch target.
More bog-related shenanigans then, this time with a more international flavour. Every year participants from around the world flock to a Welsh bog in the middle of nowhere to swim two lengths of the peat trench, with the aid of flippers and a snorkel. Spectators are encouraged to join in the fun and get their hands dirty.
World Black Pudding Throwing Championship, Royal Oak, Ramsbottom, Lancashire
In what is possibly the weirdest pastime ever, competitors lob black puddings wrapped in tights onto individual Yorkshire puddings suspended on a plinth 20 feet in the air. He or she who knocks off the most puddings is the winner. Those taking part must stand on a 'golden grid' while they throw, which is ceremoniously paraded through town before the event.
Harvest Festival of the Pearly Kings and Queens, St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, London
This ceremonial event sees The London Pearly Kings & Queens Society gather in traditional costume for a harvest thanksgiving. And it’s all for charity.
World Conker Championships, Ashton, Peterborough, Northamptonshire
This global competition and charity event, by Ashton Conker Club, has been held annually since 1965. Competitors play on eight white podiums on the village green and go through various rounds until the winner is led to the 'conker throne' and crowned with conkers. Guaranteed to bring back playground memories for Dad, this is definitely a fun day out for the whole family.
Carrying the Tar Barrels, Otter St Mary, Devon
The ritual of carrying blazing tar barrels originates from Guy Fawkes' night in 1688. This distance event sees a brave bunch of strapping men carrying specially prepared flaming barrels, each weighing more than 50lbs, on their shoulders. When the heat or weight becomes too much, someone else takes over.
Biggest Liar in the World Competition, Bridge Inn, Santon Bridge, Holmrook, Cumbria
This ticketed event celebrates a legendary local publican who died in 1890 – famous in the region for his tall tales. Contestants come from far and wide to relay their ripping yarns to the gathered masses including a panel of judges.
Great Christmas Pudding Race, West Piazza, Covent Garden, London
This wonderful (if not slightly odd) seasonal event sees teams carrying a pudding on a tray around a 150-metre obstacle course – all in aid of Cancer Research UK. The race, held annually since 1980, attracts big crowds, no doubt due in part to the weird and wonderful array of fancy dress on display.
(6 March 2014)