From the weird and wonderful to the downright bizarre
Ever snorkelled through a bog, ate raw stinging nettles or dodged flaming tar barrels? Come to Britain and you can do all 3! Tie in your travels with one of our quirky customs or bizarre events and see a different side of Britain.
Each contestant is required to ‘swim’ 2 lengths (120 yards) of a murky peat bog using a non-recognised swimming stroke in a bid to finish first. Now famous worldwide, this wacky race has spawned mountain bike and triathlon versions.
Every year on 5 November brave souls carry flaming tar barrels through the streets of this Devon village. Opinion differs as to the origin of this festival of fire, but the most widely accepted version is that it began as a pagan ritual that cleanses the streets of evil spirits.
If you’re in Devon over the Spring Bank Holiday in May head to the village of Combe Martin and one of the region’s oldest and oddest customs. Over 4 days, allegorical characters search for the Earl of Rone, finally finding him on the Monday night. He is then paraded through the streets sitting backwards on a donkey, ‘shot’, knocked off his mount and finally thrown into the sea.
Each year human ‘birdmen’ fling themselves off a pier at this seaside resort to see who can ‘fly’ the furthest. Expect crazy costumes, complex man-powered flying machines and plenty of silly fun. A prize of £30,000 is offered for the furthest flight over 100 metres.
Every June a pub-ful of brave contestants race to see who can eat the most stinging nettles in an hour. The contest was born when 2 farmers argued over who had the longest stingers. A third man produced a longer nettle and rashly offered to eat it if longer could be found. When the inevitable happened he kept his word and history was made. Stinging nettles have been used in British cookery for hundreds of years, but here they are ingested raw with their stings in tact.
Join 250 competitors in this mad scramble through the stinking, ink-black mud of the Blackwater Estuary in Essex. Entrants are advised to get a tetanus jab and tape their shoes to their feet and, in January, when the race takes place, temperatures are freezing. Not for the faint-hearted, then, but lots of fun for anyone watching.
Pooh Sticks, the game in which contestants drop sticks from a bridge and rush to the other side to see whose stick emerges first, is a quintessentially British pastime. Invented by Winnie the Pooh, as written by A A Milne, it’s beloved by thousands across Britain and now a world championship honours the phenomenon.
The ‘sport’ of pulling the most hideous face imaginable has been recognised in this part of Britain since 1266 when Gurners first framed their most gruesome efforts in a horse collar. This proud tradition continues today. While not limited to toothless old men, old timers with elastic faces tend to make up the majority of the entrants.
Head to Northamptonshire on the second Sunday in October for the World Conker Championship and see veritable Olympians fight for glory armed only with a nut on a piece of string. Fallen autumn conkers (horse chestnuts) are threaded onto a string and swung at an opponent’s conker in an effort to smash it. Play alternates between players until one conker breaks and the winner’s remains.
The wife carrying competition is the climax of the racecourse’s November Beer and Cider Raceday. The game is thought to have originated as a joke based on a practice where young men publicly carried off the women they wanted to marry. These days the victors receive their own weight in beer.