The UK is full of weird and wonderful traditions. After watching Gloucester’s Cheese-Rolling and Wake festival (a must!), I’ve been inspired to check out some other strange traditions that are knocking about. Here are 6 unusual UK events to add to your list…
1. Up’ Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland
Taking place on the last Tuesday of January every year, the local men put on horned helmets and stride through the streets with flaming torches before setting fire to a replica Viking Ship. In true Scottish fashion, the burning of the ship is followed by a ceilidh. This is Europe’s largest fire festival and is meant to be a spectacular sight. I’ve always wanted to visit Shetland so this has to be number 1 on the list.
2. Bognor Birdman, Bognor Regis, Sussex
Each year human ‘birdmen’ throw themselves off a pier at this seaside resort to see who can fly the furthest. All the flying machines have to be man powered, although plenty try their luck in silly costumes. With a £30,000 prize for the winner, needless to say some people take it very seriously. Growing up watching ‘Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines’, this has been something I’ve wanted to see for a long time.
3. Hunting of the Earl Rone, Combe Martin, Devon
Annually in May each year in the small Devon village of Combe Martin, the residents re-enact an old manhunt that dates back over 400 years. Dressed in sackcloth and a mask, the hunted man will run through the streets pursued by beribboned Grenadiers. Once in a while, the Grenadiers will catch and kill the man. A Hobby Horse will appear from the crowd to miraculously revive him and the chase continues. The chase ends at the sea where the man is thrown in until next year! It sounds totally weird and right up my street!
4. Nettle Eating Contest, Marshwood, Devon
Back in Devon again. The Nettle Eating contest is similar to the food stuffing competitions in america, only the food isn’t something tasty like chips and burgers, it’s nettles. The contestants have to eat as many nettles as they can in the space of an hour. That has got to hurt! Taking place in a little old pub called Bottle Inn this contest is part of the charity Beer Festival. Similar to Cheese Rolling, I imagine this would be a great event to watch with no intention of joining in.
5. Annual World Worm Charming Championships, Willaston, Cheshire
How to you attract earthworms from the ground? By worm charming of course! Taking place in July this ‘World Championship’ sees competitors line up in 3×3 metre areas to try and catch as many worms as possible. The competition was set up by a local, Tom Shuffflebotham, who in 1980 caught 511 worms in only half an hour. There are 18 rules that the charmers have to follow including: music of any kind can be used to charm the worms out of the ground, no drus can be used and water is considered to be a drug!
6. Straw Bear Festival, Whittlesea, Cambridgeshire
Since the 1800’s it has been a custom in Whittlesea for local farm-workers to dress head to toe in a huge straw outfit and to be led around the town dancing while being accompanied by musicians. In return the farm-workers will receive food, beer or money. The straw outfits resemble the dancing bears which were led from town to town in medieval times, hence the name Straw Bear. The purpose of the custom seems a bit unclear but it’s great that it’s been kept alive.