Find Britain’s quirkiest traditions and events
Bonkers yet brilliant: that sums up our style. Where else can you parade like a Viking, chase cheeses down-hill, or race in boats made from Yorkshire puddings? From centuries-old dance moves to fancy-dress swims, there are countless ways to get involved. Britain’s quirkiest traditions and events are open to everyone – so grab your friends and join in the beautifully bizarre fun.
With flaming torches and gleaming swords, hundreds of ‘Vikings’ march through Lerwick, in Scotland’s Shetland Isles – before setting fire to a full-size wooden ship. No, you’re not dreaming: every January for over 140 years, Up Helly Aa has honoured the islands’ Norse roots in spectacular fashion.
Dare you enter one of Britain’s most dangerous races? At the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll, contestants chase a giant piece of cheese down a steep 180-metre (600ft) slope – strangely a bone-breaking, hair-raising spectacle. Held in Gloucestershire every summer, this traditional race is thought to be more than 600 years old.
Nowhere celebrates New Year’s Eve quite like Scotland. Known as Hogmanay, festivities sweep the nation for up to three days. But it’s the Loony Dook that comes afterward that will bring you back to earth (or sea) with a bump. On 1 January, Edinburgh locals take a fancy-dress swim in the icy Firth of Forth – and the wilder your outfit, the better.
Every St David’s Day, Welsh people pin a leek or daffodil to their clothes – the national vegetable and flower. Held on 1 March, this centuries-old celebration features parades, parties and festivals in honour of the nation’s patron saint, so be sure to don your petal or veggie badge accessory.
whether you manage a glorious patterns or a horrendous tangle, the art of Maypole Dancing is quite a tradition? British villages mark the arrival of spring by dancing with ribbons tied to a ‘maypole’ alongside what is hopefully an intricate jig to create a colourful woven symbol of unity. Try it for yourself at Hever Castle, Rode Hall and other May Day festivals.
Quirky festivals and events
Maldon Mud Race
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, the event is accompanied by numerous promotional stalls and a charity duck race.
World Conker Championships
Played using the large woody seeds of horse chestnut trees, the World Conker Championships will see competitors smash their way to victory in the picturesque Northamptonshire village of Southwick. Hosted by the Ashton Conker Club, the competition has taken place since 1965 and involves players using a conker threaded on a piece of string to break their opponent’s. Competitors take it in turns to strike, the winner being the person who’s conker stays intact.
Olney Pancake Race
The ladies of Olney in Buckinghamshire traditionally mark Shrove Tuesday by running through the town while tossing pancakes into the air. The Olney Pancake Race dates back to 1445, and participants must have lived in Olney for at least three months to compete. A Shriving Service follows the race, which includes a prize giving to all runners.
World Pea Shooting Championship
The World Pea Shooting Championship sees competitors go head-to-head trying to hit a set of 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. In addition to pea shooting, the event in Witcham, Cambridgeshire, has a number of animal experiences, novelty games and other stalls for those of all ages to enjoy.
World Snail Championships
Ready, steady, slow! Set to return in 2023, the World Snail Racing Championships usually involve around 200 snails and 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 for more than 25 years. Entrants creep 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.
World Bog Snorkelling Championships
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. 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.
World Gurning Championships
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 look forward to watching on as people distort their faces to pull grotesque poses through a horse collar, known as a braffin.
Featured things to do
With morris dancing, folk music and a spectacular flower-filled parade, Hastings’ Jack in the Green Festival celebrates the changing seasons in April/May – a tradition traced back to 1770.Learn more about Jack in the Green Festival
Yes, those boats really are made from giant Yorkshire puddings. Cooked in in a local bakery. Brawby’s Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race has been floating these battered boats for over two decades.Learn more about the Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race
All about Elvis
Shake, rattle and roll your way to Porthcawl. September welcomes the world’s biggest Elvis Festival – for top tribute acts, fancy dress, and over a decade of feel-good fun. Blue suede shoes are optional - but try not to step on them.Learn more about the Porthcawl Elvis Festival
Want to start the new year with a bang? Stonehaven’s fireball-whirling parade sets the streets aflame at midnight – alongside Scottish piping bands, marching drummers and fireworks galore.Learn more about Stonehaven Fireballs
Join the fun
If you plan to visit an event or festival, always check in advance whether tickets are required. Car parking may be tricky on the day, but there are often extra buses and trains to cope with demand. If the event is fancy dress, local people will appreciate the effort you put in – so don’t hold back.