Everybody knows the British are weird.
From Monty Python’s Flying Circus to The Lord of the Rings, the stuff that comes out of their imagination defies expectations and promises oddness and delight. Maybe it’s something they put in their tea?
Well, it doesn’t end with TV, books and films. The weirdness has infected their sports culture, too.
So if you’re travelling to the UK and you want your fix of athletic feats without neglecting your desire for authentic British weirdness, check out this guide to some of the unique events you need to check out.
World Bog Snorkelling Championship
If your image of Wales is of a rainy, muddy swamp, then you’re not far off the truth. But lest ye worry that the bogs of Britain are devoid of entertainment value, make your way to Llanwrtyd Wells this August, where they become the Olympic swimming pools of the eccentric classes.
British Lawn Mower Racing Championship
If it’s got wheels, men will race it – and in West Sussex, that principle extends to the mighty lawnmower. Known as ‘Le Mow’ – a play on Le Mans, the world’s oldest sports car race – the contest sees drivers who’ve probably neglected their own lawns reach speeds of 80kph on a specially-prepared dirt and grass track.
Black pudding is a pretty revolting idea in itself – it’s basically a sausage made of dried pig’s blood. But perhaps we ought to be grateful that the Brits allow the blood to dry before challenging each other to throw it as far as they can.
If you’ve seen The Wicker Man or, indeed, heard about the urban riots that rumble along the streets of inner city England every few years, you’ll be aware of the power of collective madness on those fair isles. So it is that each February, a mass of Cornish bruisers gathers to chase a small silver globe around the highways and byways of St Ives with scant regard for their own or anybody else’s wellbeing. The prize: a silver coin.
If throwing blood sausage around seems pretty uncivilized to you, maybe you’ll prefer to take in the Highland Games equivalent: a tree-throwing contest. Okay, so it’s not quite the whole tree, but you’ll be startled by the muscled trunks of the men who gather to launch the mighty caber, a log of such weight that most of us would struggle to lift the thing at all.
A welly is a Wellington Boot, a long rubber shoe for keeping your feet wet in mucky conditions.
‘To wang’ is to throw something as hard as you can without a care for gracefulness or poise.
Such are the conditions of the World Welly Wanging Championship, which takes place in Upperthong, West Yorkshire, this June.
Number two on the list of elements of the ‘full English breakfast’ that also double as props for a throwing contest, is eggs. Not content with lobbing their black pudding across a field, the people of Swaton are joined by competitors from around the globe for this frequently messy feat of throwing and – very, very carefully – catching.
Shetland ponies are somehow quintessentially British – perhaps because they look like something out of Middle Earth. Every year in December, tiny people (‘children’, if you will) gather to race these strange horses in a gross mockery of the more famous, full-sized Grand National.
Some folk will do anything to impress a woman. Racing from pub to pub with a sheep on their back, for example.
Well, now the tables have turned – 400 years since this contest first began, women have been welcomed to join in (the shift from live sheep to bag of wool has helped matters).
It might look low-key compared to classic American-style full-body wrestling, but once you hear your first toe crack you’ll start to take this one seriously. And then you’ll probably start laughing again. Because they’re wrestling with their toes.
Britain isn’t alone in holding eating contests – indeed, the US might rightfully claim to be the world capital of feats of gluttony. But only the British are silly enough to do it with a (non-) food that actually stings the mouth and throat during the process. If you like your sports masochistic, make your way to Dorset this June for possibly the most stupid sport in Britain.
Have you heard of the game of ‘conkers’? In it, children smash horse chestnuts against each other to see who has the strongest nut and the best technique. All good clean fun. Unfortunately, somebody had the bright idea to do the same with eggs. They even came up with a pretentious name for it: jarping. You might want to wear a poncho if you’re in the front row.
Does your home town have a contest as surreal as these?