From gravy wrestling to bog snorkelling, to chasing trains and bashing conkers, Britain is home to an array of weird and wacky festivals all year round. These quirky events promise plenty of laughs and entertainment, and often can’t be found anywhere else.
Watch on as more than 200 snails slug it out at the World Snail Racing Championships, or you can take aim at the World Pea Shooting Championship – these are the eccentric festivals that can add an extra dimension to your trip to Britain.
The World Pea Shooting Championship returns to the Cambridgeshire village of Witcham every July, when competitors go head-to-head trying to hit a set of putty targets with maple peas. Innovative peashooters are welcome, with past winners using laser sights in addition to their 30cm long blowpipes. If you want to enter you’ll need to hit the target – comprised of three circles of putty – from 3.5 metres away, and if you’re a top scorer you’ll progress to the championship final. In addition to the pea shooting, the event has a number of animal experiences, novelty games and other stalls for those of all ages to enjoy.
Ready, steady, slow! Around 200 snails regularly compete in the World Snail Racing Championships that are part of the Congham Fete, near King’s Lynn, in Norfolk. The region is an ideal breeding ground for snails and has hosted snail racing every year in July for more than 25 years. Entrants race over a 13-inch course in the fastest time possible, with a Snail Trainer to the World Championships watching over proceedings to ensure fair play all round. Find yourself a snail to participate, or just watch on as the molluscs slide off in search of glory.
Celebrate the gastronomic wonders of garlic at the Isle of Wight Garlic Festival, an event dedicated to the famous cooking ingredient! Hosted at the multi-award-winning Garlic Farm in Newchurch, on the Isle of Wight, in August, the festival offers you the chance to sample an array of different products, including garlic beer and the Ultimate Bloody Mary! If you’re feeling brave you can partake in a ‘heat challenge’, biting into mild flavours before getting your teeth into the most fiery clove, the Vampire Slayer! It’s an opportunity to test your taste buds while enjoying live music, arena entertainment and plenty of fantastic food!
As the name suggests, this event allows you to race against the Talyllyn Railway, as it covers the journey to Abergynolwyn and back. Found in the heart of picturesque countryside in mid-Wales, the preserved narrow gauge railway runs for 7.25 miles and the races cover all types of terrain, testing competitors to their limits. Held in August, Race the Train includes several different courses and challenges, including the main race that is just over 14 miles long. If you don’t want to participate, you can opt to sit aboard the race trains to watch the action, although tickets must be purchased in advance.
Dive in at the deep end with a visit to the annual World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales. Taking place at the Waen Rhydd bog on the outskirts of the town, competitors take the plunge to snorkel two lengths of the bog – around 110 metres – as quickly as possible while swimming doggy paddle and keeping face down in the water. Attracting competitors and spectators from around the world, you can enjoy live music and an array of food, drink and craft stalls in addition to the snorkelling action in August. For those who want to test themselves, a Bog Triathlon runs the day before the main event and includes an eight-mile run, 12-mile cycle and 60-yard bog snorkel. If you fancy taking part, registration closes seven days before the event gets underway.
Taking quirky to the extreme, the World Gravy Wresting Championships sees contestants in hilarious fancy dress wrestle in gravy for two minutes to be crowned World Gravy Wrestling Champion! Held at the Rose ‘N’ Bowl in the village of Stacksteads, Lancashire, in August, judges score the bouts based on fun wrestling moves, exceptional costumes and how much the competitors make you laugh.
Established in 1267, Egremont Crab Fair and Sports features an abundance of traditional and bizarre events, including the stand-out World Gurning Championship. Found on the West Cumbrian coast, a matter of miles from the western fringe of the Lake District National Park, you can watch on as people distort their faces to pull grotesque poses through a horse collar, known as a braffin. The fair, held in September, includes a craft marquee, equestrian events, dog shows and plenty of fairground rides, as well as live music, meaning there’s no shortage of entertainment.
Up to 350 competitors flock to Easdale Island, near Oban in Argyll, Scotland, for the World Stone Skimming Championships in September each year. Only naturally formed stones made of Easdale slate can be used and you’ll need to bounce your stones at least twice for your go to be deemed a valid skim. Anyone of any age and skill can enter, although places are limited.
Played using the seeds of horse chestnut trees, the World Conker Championships sees competitors smash their way to victory in the picturesque Northamptonshire village of Southwick in mid-October. Hosted by the Ashton Conker Club, the competition has taken place since 1965 and involves players using a conker, threaded with a piece of string, to break their opponent’s conker. Competitors take it in turns to strike their opponent’s piece, with the winner owning the conker that does not break.
Wassailing is an ancient custom that involves singing to apple trees to promote a good harvest and to scare away evil spirits that might be lurking. Popular at orchards in the cider-producing parts of England – namely Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire – modern celebrations often involve drinking lots of cider and blessing the trees by pouring the drink on their roots. Traditionally celebrated on Twelfth Night(around 6 January), a growing number of official wassailing events are taking place each year.
The ladies of Olney in Buckinghamshire mark Shrove Tuesday each year with the Olney Pancake Race through the town. A tradition that dates back to 1445, women must have lived in Olney for at least three months to compete and a Shriving Service follows the race, which includes a prize giving to all runners. The day also includes a children’s race, the chance to tuck in at celebrity chef breakfast sessions and to try your luck in several raffles.
The annual Maldon Mud Race sees around 300 competitors complete a 400 metre dash over the muddy bed of the River Blackwater in Promenade Park. Taking place at low tide, the runners – often kitted out in fancy dress – have to make their way to the opposite bank of the river and back again. In addition to the main race in early May, the event is accompanied by numerous promotional stalls and a charity duck race.
This quirky pastime involves throwing dry savoury biscuits, called Dorset knobs, as far as possible! Taking place at Kingston Maurward College, competitors underarm throw three Dorset knobs each, with the furthest throw counting as their entry. Other attractions at the Dorset Knob Throwing event include knob eating, knob painting, guess the weight of the big knob and knob darts. Organisers are yet to reveal if the competition will return in 2020 or 2021, so you may need to wait for your go!
Celebrating the Cotswold village of Tetbury’s past as a major wool producer in the 16th century, the Tetbury Woolsack Races are a test of strength and fitness, as competitors carry a sack of wool up and down a steep hill. The annual event, held over the late May Bank Holiday each year, can trace its origins back to the 17th century and sees men and women cover a course of 240 yards while carrying their woolsack. Men lug a 60lb sack, while women carry a 35lb one, cheered on by huge crowds. As well as the races, there’s also a street fair featuring food and drinks stalls, a funfair, musical entertainment and a host of other performers.