Embracing The Weird And Wacky In Britain

24 October 2015

Overseas visitors are often baffled and amused by British customs: the fact that people will queue for absolutely everything and apologise for things even when it's not their fault.

Then there are those eccentric, time-honoured events engrained in Britain's festive calendar. Here are six of the quirkiest.

Welly Wanging World Championships

Upperthong, Yorkshire

Welly wanging is enjoyed all over the globe, but its spiritual home is Upperthong, a village in West Yorkshire near the Peak District National Park.

Apparently, many years ago, two farmers got into an argument at a village pub, and one ended up 'wanging' (throwing) his wellington boot at the other.

From this spat evolved a light-hearted, but competitive 'sport' that requires participants to chuck their wellies as far as they can (it's similar to javelin, only without the risk of skewering onlookers). The Welly Wanging World Championships takes place annually at June's Upperthong Village Gala.

 Pick your wellington

Flaming Tar Barrels Race

Ottery St Mary, Devon

While the majority of Brits are happy to light a bonfire and watch fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night (November 5), the good people of Ottery St Mary take things to another level.

The streets of this historic Devonshire market town are illuminated by residents carrying wood-and-iron barrels that have been filled with tar and set alight.

There are many theories as to how this spectacular flaming tradition began. Some say it was a pagan ritual designed to cleanse the town of evil spirits.

Cheese-Rolling and Wake

Cooper's Hill, Gloucestershire

Each Spring Bank Holiday (the last Monday in May), crowds flock to Cooper's Hill, a steep, grassy slope on the outskirts of Brockworth, near Gloucester.

Daredevils pursue a rolling four-kilogram wheel-shaped round of Double Gloucester down the hill, with the first person to cross the finish line getting to keep the cheese.

Despite the risk of injury - sprained ankles are a common hazard - this 200-year-old tradition attracts adrenaline seekers from far and wide. Recent winners have come from Australia, the USA and Japan.

 Chasing the cheese down Cooper's Hill (Image: Dave Farrance)

You can also try a literary tour. Literary Inspired UK Holidays

here's another quirky Brit adventure. Trading Hotels For Caves In The UK’s Lake District


World Nettle Eating Championships

Marshwood, Dorset

For most people, it's bad enough being accidentally stung by a nettle. Yet some folk voluntarily scoff them.

The World Nettle Eating Championships are held each June at The Bottle Inn, a thatched country pub tucked 12 kilometres inland from the quaint seaside town of Lyme Regis.

After an hour of frantic chomping, the winner - the one with the most nettle stalks, stripped of their leaves - departs with a trophy, a cash prize and (usually) a swollen and blackened tongue.

World Bogsnorkelling Championships

Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales

Wales wouldn't be on many travellers' bucket list as a snorkelling destination, but Llanwrtyd Wells has a peculiar allure.

Nestled north of the Brecon Beacons National Park, this, the self-proclaimed smallest town in Britain, hosts August's annual World Bogsnorkelling Championships, when swimmers, clad in snorkels, flippers and, in some cases, fancy dress, race through a chilly, murky peat bog.

This isn't the only bizarre event to hit Llanwrtyd Wells. Staged every two years - with the next one in 2016 - the town's World Alternative Games features stuff like worm charming and wife carrying.

 It's time to get muddy

World's Biggest Liar Contest

Santon Bridge, Cumbria

Renowned for its lovely bucolic scenery, the Lake District also has its share of cosy pubs. One such establishment is The Bridge Inn, where, each November, the World's Biggest Liar Contest is held in memory of a 19th century landlord who famously fed customers all sorts of fibs and tall stories.

Before an audience and a panel of judges, storytellers are given up to five minutes to tell the biggest and most convincing whopper they can.

Last year's competition - which included a contestant from Germany - was won by a Cumbrian publican who spun a yarn about a wooden car that wouldn't start.


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Steve McKenna

A regular contributor to some of Australia's leading newspapers and travel magazines, Steve McKenna has visited, written about and photographed more than 80 countries on six different continents. He fears he has an incurable case of wanderlust and is particularly fond of Europe, Asia and South America.