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The Weird and Wonderful British – 10 of Their Oddest Traditions

(Last Updated On: March 27, 2024)

England, a land steeped in history and tradition, is also home to some of the world’s most unusual and exhilarating races. Beyond the refined veneer of afternoon teas and the regal pomp of Buckingham Palace lies a penchant for the eccentric and the downright daring. From the steep slopes of Gloucestershire, where cheese becomes a racing object, to the quaint village greens transformed into battlegrounds for toe wrestlers, England’s wackiest races are a testament to the quirky side of British culture. 

These events, often rooted in ancient customs and local folklore, not only provide a spectacle for the amused and the bewildered but also foster a sense of community and continuity. Whether local heroes or international adventurers, participants throw caution to the wind, embracing the unpredictable and absurd in the pursuit of glory or at least a good laugh. Spectators, too, are drawn into the camaraderie and chaos, proving that the appeal of these wacky races transcends borders. 

This guide explores the heart of England’s most peculiar competitions, offering an insider’s view on how to join the fray when to witness the madness, and why these events capture the imagination of all who dare to experience them.

1. Cheese Rolling, Cooper’s Hill, Gloucester

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / ComposedPix

The heart of cheese-rolling, Cooper’s Hill, is infamous for its steep gradient, making the race both exhilarating and perilous. The event, held annually on the Spring Bank Holiday in late May, sees participants chasing a wheel of cheese down a hill with a 1:2 gradient, in a tradition that epitomizes the eccentricity of British folklore. The festival atmosphere is palpable, with thousands of spectators from across the world gathering to witness this spectacle of courage and chaos.

Cheese-Rolling in England is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, centered around the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake near Gloucester in the Cotswolds. This event, arguably one of the world’s most unusual and daring competitions, attracts participants and spectators from around the globe. The premise is simple yet thrilling: a 9-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down the steep hill, and competitors race after it. The first to cross the finish line at the bottom wins the cheese. Despite its whimsical nature, cheese-rolling demands a blend of bravery, agility, and a touch of madness due to the hill’s steepness and the high risk of injury.

2. Bog Snorkelling in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Stephen Barnes

The World Bog Snorkelling Championships, held annually in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, invites participants to snorkel through a 60-yard peat bog as quickly as possible. The event, usually taking place in August, draws competitors from around the globe, all vying to set the fastest time through the murky waters, using only their flippers to propel themselves. The championship is as much a test of endurance as it is a celebration of the quirky side of British sports.

3. The World Gurning Championship in Egremont, England

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / gpointstudio

Gurning contests, where participants contort their faces into the most grotesque or ridiculous expressions possible, are a staple at many English country fairs, but the World Gurning Championship in Egremont, Cumbria, is the most prestigious. Held annually in September during the Egremont Crab Fair, the competition sees a wide array of entrants pushing the limits of facial flexibility, all competing for the coveted title.

4. The Tar Barrel Racing in Ottery St. Mary, England

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Clive Chilvers

Every November 5th, the town of Ottery St. Mary in Devon celebrates Guy Fawkes Night in a unique way with its Tar Barrel Racing event. Brave locals hoist flaming tar barrels onto their backs and race through the streets, followed by crowds of enthusiastic spectators. The tradition, whose origins are lost to history, is a thrilling spectacle of fire and community spirit.

5. The World Nettle Eating Championship in Dorset, England

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / alicja neumiler

Held at the Bottle Inn in Marshwood, Dorset, the World Nettle Eating Championship challenges competitors to eat as many leaves of stinging nettles as possible in one hour. Originating from a farmer’s challenge to see who had the longest nettles (and presumably the best soil), it has turned into a test of endurance and pain tolerance, with participants coming from far and wide to take part.

6. The Wife Carrying Race in Dorking, England

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Harbucks

The UK Wife Carrying Race, taking place in Dorking, Surrey, sees couples navigating a 380-meter course with obstacles, including hay bales and water hazards. The man carries the woman (though the roles can be reversed) in any manner, but the Estonian carry (over the shoulder) is popular. Winners receive the woman’s weight in beer and a chance to compete in the World Championships in Finland.

7. The Great Knaresborough Bed Race, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

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Image credit: Shutterstock / Berents

The Great Knaresborough Bed Race combines the physical challenge of a road race with the creative flair of a parade as teams of six runners and one bed-bound passenger navigate a 2.4-mile course through the historic town of Knaresborough. The race includes sections through scenic countryside and a climactic crossing of the River Nidd. Teams must design and decorate their beds according to each year’s theme, adding a vibrant and competitive edge to the event’s visual appeal.

8. The World Hen Racing Championship, Bonsall, Derbyshire

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Andrew Burch

Held in the quaint village of Bonsall, Derbyshire, the World Hen Racing Championship is a unique event where participants race their hens across a track to see which bird is the fastest. The championship has been running for over 20 years and brings together poultry enthusiasts and curious spectators for a day of family-friendly fun. The event includes various categories and heats, leading up to the crowning of the world’s fastest hen.

9. The World Black Pudding Throwing Championships, Ramsbottom, Lancashire

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Image credit: Shutterstock / lusia599

A culinary twist on the traditional throwing contest, the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships in Ramsbottom, Lancashire, pits competitors against one another to knock down a stack of Yorkshire puddings placed on a 20-foot high plinth, using underarm throws of black puddings wrapped in tights. This event, rooted in the historic rivalry between Lancashire and Yorkshire, draws participants of all ages, eager to claim the title with their pudding-throwing prowess.

10. The Man vs Horse Marathon, Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / gabriel12

The Man vs Horse Marathon is an annual race held in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, where individuals and relay teams compete against horses on a challenging 22-mile cross-country course. The race, which began as a bet in a local pub in 1980, has grown into a celebrated event attracting participants from all corners of the globe. The course traverses rugged terrain, including steep hills, woodlands, and rivers, testing the endurance and agility of both human and equine competitors. The unique challenge of the race and the chance to witness the close competition between man and horse draw a large crowd of spectators and participants each year.

The Bottom Line

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Drazen Zigic

Participating in or spectating these unique British events offers a peculiar exploration into UK culture’s quirky, eccentric, and utterly charming aspects. Each event celebrates local traditions, community spirit, and the British love for a good challenge, from cheese-rolling down a steep hill to snorkeling through a bog or gurning for glory. Whether you’re drawn by the competition’s thrill or the crowd’s camaraderie, these experiences provide unforgettable memories and stories to share for years to come. As you explore these rather odd pastimes, you’ll witness the diversity of British cultural heritage and embrace the joy and humor life offers.

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The post The Weird and Wonderful British – 10 of Their Oddest Traditions was republished on Passing Thru with permission from The Green Voyage.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / EF Stock.

For transparency, this content was partly developed with AI assistance and carefully curated by an experienced editor to be informative and ensure accuracy.

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