10 Quirky traditions that make us proud to be British!
We Brits are known to be an eccentric race of people, the list of quirky traditions we like to observe below just goes to prove this is true.
WORLD RECORD PIE FIGHTS
In summer of 2016 more than 1,000 people got ‘pie faced’ and broke a world record for the largest shaving-cream pie fight. The 1,186 people taking part exceeded the 869 holders of the previous record. The fight took place at the annual Another Fine Fest in Ulverston, Cumbria, held in honour of comic actor Stan Laurel, who was born in the town.
To get into the hallowed halls of Guinness World Record Breakers, strict rules had to be observed. The words ‘Shaving Foam’ had to be written on the can (they used Asda Ocean Breeze shaving foam) and rules on counting everyone accurately and providing different forms of evidence to verify the Record Attempt had to be observed. To keep people entertained while all the registration and counting went on there was a three-hour playlist of pie-related tunes including Pie of the Tiger, American Pie & I Can’t Help Myself Sugar Pie. An update to this in June 2018 Ulverston attempted two more world record breakers – the biggest game of musical statues and the most people wearing conical shaped hats!
Bog snorkelling is a quirky event in which competitors must snorkel 110m through trench in a peat bog as fast as they possibly can. As the name suggests, competitors must wear a snorkel and flippers to complete the race, with the added difficulty of not being allow to use conventional swimming strokes. Created in 1976, bog snorkelling in Llanwrtyd Wells become a world championship in 1985, and is currently practiced in Wales, Australia, Ireland and Sweden.
The practice of Wife Carrying – a race hosted annually in The Nower, Dorking, in which men carry their partner along a hilly 380m course – has a significantly less jovial history than the modern event suggests. Dating back to the Viking invasion of 793 AD, the race evolved out of the Nordics’ rampage, in which a monastery was destroyed and local women were carried off against their will. It was only in 2008 that the tradition was revived in the UK – albeit with a whole new, 21st century set of rules (principally that women participate willingly). The conditions of competing? Wives must weigh at least 50kg – and those lacking in kilos must make up the weight in the equivalent of baked bean cans – and must wear a helmet, and competitors must complete the course (beset by hay-bale hurdles and the occasional cold-water hazard). The prizes? £100 and a barrel of Pilgrim ale for the winning couple, who will go on to participate in the world championships in Finland; a pound of sausage for the carrier of the heaviest wife, and mini-kegs for the runners-up. The losers can look forward to receiving a ‘ceremonial’ tin of dog food and a Pot Noodle.
If there’s one quirky tradition in the UK that harks back to ‘the olden days’ more than any other, it’s definitely Morris dancing. No village show or folk festival in the UK is complete without the presence of a band of Morris dancers. Picture a group of men or women, dressed in old-fashioned clothes, with bells jingling on their legs, holding sticks or handkerchiefs, and dancing rhythmically to simple, traditional music played on a fiddle or accordion, and you get the idea. In fact, that description probably doesn’t do it justice, so view this YouTube video for an example. Though the earliest known written mention of Morris dancing dates to 1448 (the record of a payment of seven shillings made to a group of Morris dancers by the Goldsmith’s Company, in London), it may have started much earlier than this. These days, six main styles of Morris dancing survive, and they’re named after the regions in which they originate, such as Border Morris and Cotswold Morris. It’s English historical eccentricity at its finest.
Nobody is quite sure when the quirky tradition of cheese rolling at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire started, but it’s definitely hundreds of years old, possibly even pre-Roman, and in its present form it is thought to have been going since the fifteenth century. A cheese is rolled down the hill, and competitors chase after it, trying to keep up with it and, theoretically, catch it. This inevitably leads to competitors tumbling over each other and sustaining injuries of one sort or another. Traditionally, a 9lb Double Gloucester was used. In recent years, health and safety fears have put the event in jeopardy, but the locals are so proud of their tradition that they have ensured that the event continues to go ahead.
You’d be forgiven for visualising clawed crustaceans at the words “Crab Festival”, but this name actually refers to crab apples. The Egremont Crab Fair in Cumbria dates from 1267, when King Henry III granted the fair a Royal Charter; it’s one of the oldest fairs of any kind in the world. Its programme features a number of weird and wonderful English events – notably the Parade of the Apple Cart, which kicks off the proceedings – but topping them all is the world-famous Gurning competition. A common rural tradition, gurning competitions involve contestants attempting to distort their faces into the most revolting, bizarre expressions they possibly can. It’s a far cry from the natural beauty for which the Lake District region, in which this festival is located, is better known!
Stone skimming involves throwing a flat stone in such a way that it bounces repeatedly off the surface of a body of water. Nowhere is this concept more widely embraced than on the Hebridean island of Easdale, home to the World Stone Skimming Championships. Started in 1983, the championships see 350 contestants using specially selected throwing stones made of Easdale slate, with the prize going to the person who can get their stone the furthest (with a minimum of three bounces).
Held in June each year, the quirky Nettle Eating Contest takes place at the Bottle Inn in Marsham, Dorset. It was started off in the 1980s by two farmers and was originally a competition to see whose stinging nettles were the longest. One of the farmers brought in a nettle measuring 15ft, and boasted that if anybody had a longer one, he’d eat his. You can probably guess what happened next; and thus, the World Nettle Eating Championship was born. Given that nettles have a sharp sting, we can’t imagine that the competition is much fun – but people come from as far afield as Canada to take part, and the 2010 winner managed to eat a staggering 74ft of nettles. Rather him than us…
From one bizarre set of championships to another: the World Conker Championships are held each October in Ashton, Northamptonshire. Started in 1965, but celebrating a practice much older than this (the first written mention of this traditional game is from 1820), the Conker Championships began after a group of fishermen decided to have a conker competition instead of going fishing, because the weather was too bad. Conkers are the nuts of the horse chestnut tree, beautiful gleaming brown things that fall from the tree and emerge from their spiny green case in the autumn. When hardened and attached to strings, they can be smashed with sufficient force from one’s opponent’s conker, which is the objective of the Conker Championships. Contestants compete for the title of “King Conker” and “Queen Conker”, and the spectacle draws in thousands of visitors each year.
BIGGEST LIAR IN THE WORLD CONTEST
Will Ritson was a popular publican at Wasdale Head in the nineteenth century. His tall tales to visitors included how the local turnips were large enough to be hollowed out to be used as sheep sheds. Another was story was how he’d crossed a golden eagle with a foxhound to breed dogs with wings to fly over the drystone walls!
The quirky annual ‘Biggest Liar in the World’ Contest judges who should follow in Auld Will’s footsteps. Past winners include comedian Sue Perkins. Lawyers and politicians are banned from entering. Find our more at Santon Bridge Inn.