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Ten Weird & Whacky British Sports

I am not a sporty person, but I find the whacky British sports fascinating in that they highlight some of the eccentricity of the British.

Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling, just one of the many weird sports popular among the British.

Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling, just one of the many weird sports popular among the British.

Weird Sports: The Eccentricity of the British

I am not a sporty person. My family and I don't watch sports on TV, and we never go to sporting events. In fact, from my list below the only sport I’ve watched in person was the ‘World Gig Racing Championships’ in the Isle of Scilly while on my honeymoon.

So sport is a subject that I would not normally write about it; but when it comes to things like ‘Pancake Racing’ on ‘Pancake Day’, cheese rolling and worm charming, they are the kind of the whacky British sports that perhaps highlight some of eccentricity of the British!

Order of Preference

The order of preference below is by no means an indication of which sport is best under any criteria; it’s just ordered in my own personal preference of what appeals to me, with the most whacky being listed first.

If you think differently, you can vote in the poll at the end.

1. Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling

What is Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling?

An annual ‘International Event’ where a 9 lb round of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down Cooper’s Hill, a precipitous 200 metre slope, with a gradient of 1:2 (1:1 in places), sometimes reaching speeds of 70 mph.

Competitors’ race down the hill to catch it and the first person over the finish line at the bottom wins the cheese.

Origin of the Event

Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling, which dates back to medieval times, was originally a local annual event held by the village of Brockworth, Gloucestershire.

When is the Event Held?

Traditionally, the event was held on Whit Monday, but these days it’s an international event held on Spring Bank Holiday. The Spring Bank Holiday being the “secular replacement” for the old Whit Monday holiday.

2. Worm Charming Championship

What is the Worm Charming Championship?

The worm charming championship is where each team of three competitors are given 3 metres square (9 square metres) of grass, where they have to entice as many worms to the surface as they can within ½ hour without digging the ground. This is achieved by making as much noise and vibration as possible to simulate the effect of rain.

To date, the world record is held by a 10-year-old who (along with her team mates) raised 567 worms during the Championship in 2009.

In Traditional British Style, no worms are hurt during the Championships and are given their freedom after the event.

Origin of the Event

The event was started in 1980 at a local school in the town of Willaston, Cheshire and has since become an annual International Championship.

Although, since 1984 Blackawton, a small village in Devon also holds their own Worm Charming Festival twined with a ‘Real Ale Beer Festival’, every early May Bank Holiday.

When is the Event Held?

The Worm Charming Championship is held every year on a Saturday in June at Willaston County Primary School in Willaston, Cheshire.

3. Pancake Racing

Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) is the only day in the year that Brits eat pancakes, so in Britain ‘Pancake Racing’ and ‘Pancake Tossing’ is a major annual event.

What is Pancake Racing?

Pancake racing is where on pancake day local residents race against each other (as individuals or in teams) down the road in their village or town to the finishing point, carrying a pancake in a frying pan; and involves tossing (flipping) the pancake at some point during the race.

Origin of the Event

Pancake racing appears to have originated in the town of Olney, Buckinghamshire in 1445.

When is the Event Held?

The event is held in villages and towns throughout Britain on Pancake Day, which is Shrove Tuesday.

British vs. American Pancakes

Unlike the American pancake, the British pancake is made without baking powder; it’s then fried in a large frying pan, and tossed to cook the other side.

Consequently, the British pancake is large and flat, and needs to be eaten while still warm, usually flavoured with a sprinkling of lemon juice and sugar to taste; albeit, I never add sugar to mine, I just flavour it with some lemon juice.

Pancake Tossing

I don’t personally participate in or watch pancake racing, and Bristol (where I live) being a large city doesn’t run the event. Such events tend to be more common in the smaller communities, like towns and villages; albeit, there are some pancake races held in parts of London.

However, where I do excel is in pancake tossing, an essential part of cooking British pancakes.

Every pancake day, my wife mixes up a batch of batter in the afternoon, and then come tea time (evening meal) I cook the pancakes (one at a time) and toss each one in the frying pan while cooking it.

4. Gig Racing in Cornwall

A gig is a rowing boat of six oarsmen/women that is highly suited for sea travel in the treacherous waters around the coasts of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, England.

What is Gig Racing?

There are 29 Gig Racing Clubs around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly who compete with each other throughout the year in a series of regular calendar fixtures; and then compete in the World Gig Racing Championships held on the Isles of Scilly every year.

The Championship Gig Races involves racing between the islands of the Isles of Scilly.

There are several categories in the Championships, the longest race being 1.6 nautical miles between St Agnes and St Mary’s, and the shortest race being 1.1 nautical miles between Nut Rock and St Mary’s.

St Mary’s is the largest island in the Isles of Scilly’s, with a population 1,800.

Origin of the Event

Dating from the 1700s, originally teams of local residents on the Isles of Scilly and in the coastal towns and villages of Cornwall would compete with each other to be the first to reach sailing ships trying to navigate the treacherous coastal waters of Cornwall. The pilot of the gig that was first to reach the sailing ship would win the lucrative contract to board the ship and pilot it safely into harbour.

Today, the tradition is kept alive through the sporting event of gig racing.

When is the Event Held?

The Main Championship is held on a May Bank Holiday each year.

This happened to be when we were on our honeymoon in the Isles of Scilly (many decades ago), when we were staying on St Mary’s (the biggest island in the Isles of Scilly), and then taking a boat trip to a different island each day. So with the place normally being quite tranquil, watching a load of gigs race across the sea between the islands during the Championships added a bit of entertainment.

5. World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Wales

What is Bog Snorkelling?

Bog snorkelling is where competitors with a snorkel and flippers negotiate, without swimming, two consecutive lengths of a 55m (60 yard) water-filled trench cut through a peat bog.

Origin of the Event

The first World Bog Snorkelling Championship was held in 1985, at the dense Waen Rhydd peat bog, near Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales.

When is the Event?

The World Bog Snorkelling Championship takes place annually every August Bank Holiday at the dense Waen Rhydd peat bog, near Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales.

6. The World Tin Bath Racing Championships in the Isle of Man

What is Tin Bath Racing?

Competitors race a 400m course in a tin bath, and the first to reach the finish line, or get the furthest without sinking, is the winner.

Origin of the Event

The first annual World Tin Bath Championship took place in 1971.

When is the Event Held?

The Championship is an annual event that takes place each July in Castletown Harbour on the Isle of Man.

7. World Snail Racing Championships

What is Snail Racing?

It’s where two or more snails are placed in the middle of a circle, usually measuring about 14 inches, and the first snail to reach the perimeter is the winner.

Origin of the Event

Snail racing takes place in various parts of the world, but most predominantly in the UK. The annual "World Snail Racing Championships" originated in Congham, Norfolk, England in the 1960s after the founder (Tom Elwes) witnessed the event in France.

When and Where is the Event Held?

The event is now held in various towns and villages across England, including the "Grand Championship Snail Race" every May, which began in 1992 at the annual Medieval Fayre in the village of Snailwell, Cambridgeshire, England. To start each race the words “Ready, Steady, Slow” are always used.

8. Welly-Wanging

What is Welly-Wanging?

The basic rule is to throw a wellington boot as far as possible. Wang is a word in the Yorkshire dialect that means throw.

Origin of the Event

It appears to have originated in the West Country (South West England) in the 1970s, but has now become a popular activity at village fetes throughout Britain, and in many countries across the world.

9. The Black Pudding Throwing Championships

What is this Sporting Event?

Yorkshire puddings are placed on a 7.6m (25 foot) high plinth, and each competitor hurls three black puddings to try to knock down as many Yorkshire puddings as possible.

What is a Black Pudding?

A black pudding is a type of blood sausage made from pork blood, pork fat and oatmeal. It’s a food that is common throughout northern England, but (like the haggis) is not very popular in southern England because we southerners tend to be rather squeamish about that sort of thing!

What is a Yorkshire Pudding?

A Yorkshire pudding (an English dish) is a batter made from eggs, flour and milk, which is baked in the oven and traditionally served hot with the Sunday roast along with veg, roast potatoes and gravy.

Origin of the Event

Revived in the 1980s, it’s a sporting riff off of the warring factions between the House of Lancaster and the House of York during the ‘War of the Roses’ in 1455 e.g. to be a food fight symbolic of the civil war with the black pudding representing Lancashire and Yorkshire puddings representing Yorkshire.

When and Where is the Event Held?

The World Black Pudding Throwing Championships are held annually, on the second Sunday of September, on the street outside ‘The Oaks’ (pub) in Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, England.

10. Haxey Hood Game

What is the Haxey Hood?

The Haxey Hood is a leather tube that represents a silk riding hood upon which this historic game is based.

What is the Haxey Hood Game?

It’s a series of historic rituals that starts at 12 noon, with the main event starting after 3 pm. The main event being over 200 local villagers pushing and shoving each other in a scrum formation to try to push the haxey hood into one of four pubs in either the village of Haxey or the village of Westwoodside; the time to achieve this is usually between 2 to 4 hours.

Origin of the Event

The game dates back to the 14th Century.

According to local legend, it was originally a silk riding hood that in the 14th century Lady de Mowbray lost in the wind while on horseback between the villages of Haxey and Westwoodside. As legend goes, the farmhand who found it was too shy to hand it back, so he handed it to another farmhand who handed the riding hood back to Lady de Mowbray.

Lady de Mowbray thanked the farmhand, who handed it back and said he acted like a Lord, while she called the farmhand who actually found it a fool.

Lady de Mowbray was so amused by the chase of her riding hood that she donated 13 acres of land to the local villages on the condition that the villagers re-enacted this chase each year; over the centuries this re-enactment become known as ‘The Haxey Hood’.

When and Where is the Event Held?

This event takes place on the 12th day of Christmas each year; starting from the pub where the Haxey Hood end up the previous year in either the village of Haxey or the village of Westwoodside, North Lincolnshire, England.

Your Favourite British Whacky Sport

Other Weird and Whacky British Sports

  • Egg throwing: Every June in the village of Swaton, Lincolnshire; origins as early as 1322
  • Dorset Knob Throwing: in Dorset, England. The Dorset Knob is a hard, dry savoury biscuit.
  • Caber Toss: Scotland; where competitors toss a 19 feet 6 inch (5.94 m) tree trunk weighting 175 pounds (79 kg) on end.
  • Lawnmower racing: originated from Ireland in 1973, and now held across England during the summer months.
  • Hen racing: World Championship held for over a century in the village of Bonsall, Derbyshire.
  • Conker Fights: A very popular and long standing British tradition practiced by school children across Britain every autumn; when the conkers fall from the trees. The World Conker Championships has taken place every October near the town of Oundle, Northants since 1965.
  • Shin-Kicking: The Cotswold Olimpicks (not a spelling error) dates back to 1612 at Dover’s Hill, above Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, England; and Shin-Kicking is just one of the major sporting games at this annual event.
  • Face Gurning: Part of the Egremont Crab Fair (one of the oldest fairs in the world) which takes place on the third Saturday in September, in Egremont, Cumbria, England. The Egremont Crab Fair ends with World Gurning Championships. Crab (as in Crab Fair) is in reference to the sour crab apple that commonly grows wild in Britain, not the sea creature.

© 2020 Arthur Russ