Weird & Wonderful festivals in the UK

In our last blog, we looked at the quirky traditions of April Fool’s Day.

The April 1st celebrations, however, are just one of a number of strange traditions which are celebrated in Britain each year.

Here are eight other weird and wonderful events.

Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night is held on November 5th all over the country and is a celebration of Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. It is synonymous with a large bonfire and a fireworks display. Guy Fawkes was a member of a group of provincial English Catholics who planned the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

The aim was to blow up Parliament while King James I was inside, and therefore displacing the Protestant rules. Fawkes and his conspirators thought this was necessary to stop the discrimination against English Catholics by the monarchy. The plot was foiled a few hours before the planned explosion with Fawkes arrested and later executed for treason.

To this day an effigy of Fawkes is burned on most bonfires. Families get together and eat traditional ‘bonfire’ food such as baked potatoes, hot dogs and toffee apples. Events are then usually finished with the all-important fireworks. In popular culture, the main character in the V for Vendetta comic book series, which was later made into a film, wears a Guy Fawkes mask.

The use of the masks, with moustache and pointy beard, has been worn internationally by groups protesting against politicians, banks and financial institutions.

World Bog Snorkelling Championships

When you mention snorkelling you automatically think of tropical islands and beautiful reefs. However, on 28th August plucky swimmers will once again return to Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales for the World Bog Snorkelling Championships.The race was first devised in the 1970s as a way to increase tourism to the area.

Competitors have to complete two consecutive lengths of a water-filled trench cut through a peat bog in the shortest possible time. They must wear snorkels and flippers and complete the course without using conventional swimming strokes relying on flipper power alone.

The current World Champion is Haydn Pitchforth who achieved a time of 1 minute 26.75 seconds in the 2015 championships, whilst the World Record was set in 2014 by 33-year-old Kirsty Johnson from Lightwater in Surrey, with a time of 1 minute 22.56 seconds.

Bognor Bird Man

Every year Bognor Regis, a small sea side town in England, attracts hundreds of human birdmen who leap off the town’s pier to see who can ‘fly’ the furthest. Dressed in crazy costumes they crash down to the water below, but not before entertaining the hundreds of spectators who make the trip to see the event each year.

The popular event started in 1971 at the small resort of Selsey, but organisers had to move to the Bognor Regis in 1978 due to safety reasons. 1984 was a historic year when German Harold Zimmer flew 57.8 metres and scooped the £10,000 prize money.

By 1990 the record stood at 71 metres and the jackpot distance was increased to 100 metres. Two years later local man Dave Bradshaw smashed the record with a flight of 89.2 metres, a record which still stands today!

Skipton Sheep Day

The market town of Skipton in North Yorkshire will reprise its popular Sheep Day in 2016.

Sheep and their lambs are given the freedom to run down the high street for a race in July to celebrate the town’s farming history. There are also sheepdog duck-herding trails, cow-milking demonstrations and a giant sheep puppet show!

The town’s celebration of sheep is an annual event. It is unknown when the tradition started, but there is video footage dating back to 1990. Check out a recent ‘Sheep race’ here.

Worm Charming

The UK doesn’t have many snakes, but it has plenty of worms! Residents in the Devon town of Blackawton have been ‘charming’ the slippery animals since 1983.

The tradition was started by two locals on a walk home from the pub and grew into an annual event. Now every year, hundreds of people gather for the International Festival of Worm Charming to see how many worms they can coax from the ground. Participants use a variety of charming methods, including stamping and watering the grass.

Any liquid poured on the ground has to be drunk before to prove it won’t harm the worms! The world record for charming stands at 149 worms which was recorded in 1986.

Straw Bear

UK has some strange festivals, and this is one of the most bizarre. Held on 7th January, in Whittlesea, a small market town near Cambridge, a man or boy wears a straw costume and dances in front of the residents.

As a prize for the level of his dancing he’s given money, food or drink. It is believed the festival started sometime in the 1800s when it was custom on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the first Monday after the twelfth night) to dress a local in straw and call him the ‘Straw Bear’. The tradition declined in the 19th century before it was revived in 1980 by the Whittlesea Society.

The festivities start early in the week, with Saturday the only day the ‘Bear’ makes an appearance, before the ‘Bear Burning’ on the Sunday. This allows a new bear to be created for next year’s harvest.

Cheese-Rolling Races

Cheese-rolling at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire is one of the most famous British festivals, but also one of the most dangerous. Why this crazy race started no-one really knows, but the first written evidence of cheese-rolling was found in a message to the Gloucester Town crier in 1826. There were other interesting activities back then including wrestling for a belt, grinning through a horse’s collar for a cake and even shin-kicking!

The aim is to run, or slide, down a steep hill whilst chasing a rolling wheel of Double Gloucester cheese (Gloucester is a famous cheese producing area of England). The cheese has a one-second head start, so it is rarely caught! The winner is usually the first person to run down the hill and cross the finish line at the bottom where they are given the cheese as a prize.

Health and safety concerns saw the event officially cancelled in 2010, but after local uproar an unofficial race has been held for the last few years The event has become a very popular spectator sport, with more than 15,000 people turning up to watch in 2009.

Knaresborough Bed Race

The entire town of Knaresborough in North Yorkshire stops for the Knaresborough Bed Race every June. Knaresborough’s newly-formed Round Table group started the race in 1966 as a charity fund-raising adventure. They came up with the idea of a time-trial where teams would follow a pre-determined course pushing beds around the town.

One important feature of the competition – the beds must have a person in it! Most teams choose one of their children or the lightest member in their family. Teams race through the old cobbled streets before finishing with an icy cold plunge through a river at the bottom end of the town.

It is now a popular annual event which attracts hundreds of spectators every year.

 

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