Wacky UK

The weird and the History of the London Underground

London, England

These pageant contestants will still cry for world peace and still throw tantrums, just in a wild, wacky and spectacularly creative way. Hosted at the Hippodrome, Leicester Square, this outrageous event brings together a dazzling array of artists, drag queens, performers and freaks from every corner of the world, all vying for the title of Alternative Miss World. Gender, nationality and traditional concepts of beauty are utterly irrelevant. This surrealist art event was launched in 1972 to give the sometimes ‘awfully serious’ Britain a modern, outrageous edge.

Ottery St Mary, Devon, England

Ridding the streets of evil spirits has never been so much fun, thanks to an English tradition spanning back to the 17th century. In this spectacular event, the men, women and children of Ottery St Mary run though the streets carrying barrels which have been soaked in tar and set ablaze. Flames up to ten feet high lick the sky as the locals stagger beneath the weight. The village streets are overrun by onlookers waiting to glimpse the fiery sea of burning barrels.

In particular Yorkshire!

Tourists to the county of Yorkshire are invited to visit the settings of the blockbuster movie “Calendar Girls” with a new leaflet “The Yorkshire Dales – Make a date in Calendar Girls country”. The movie, based on the true story of 11 women, members of the Woman’s Institute, who raised money for charity with a nude calendar, features the countryside, towns and villages of the southern Yorkshire Dales. The leaflet gives visitors information on the film locations such as Burnsall, the scene of the village fete, as well as the surrounding area. It is available from any of the Yorkshire Tourist Information Centres. Website: www.yorkshiredales.org.uk

World Coal Carrying Championships, April 5
Held annually on Easter Monday in the village of Gawthorpe in West Yorkshire, the World Coal Carrying Contest is a test of stamina and muscle. The race involves men carrying 50kg of coal over an uphill course close to a mile long, while the ladies race sees ladies carry 20kg of coal.

The World Coal Carrying Contest dates back to 1963 when a local coal merchant and the president of the Maypole Committee were enjoying a pint of beer together. A friend is said to have burst into the pub and bet that he could race the two with a bag of coal on their backs. Not wanting to let a good idea go to waste, the secretary of the Maypole Committee who was listening to the challenge, decided to set the race for Easter Monday.

Worcestershire Asparagus Festival, April 23 – May 31
Quintessentially British and rather eccentric, Asparagus-mania hits the rural market town of Evesham every year, celebrating the start of the English Asparagus Season.

The festival kicks off with the Great Asparagus Run involving Morgan Cars, Royal Worcester plates and the finest ‘100 round’ of Vale Asparagus. There is also an Asparabus tour, complete with an Asparaguide to highlight the area and to provide an entertaining insight into this majestic green vegetable, as well as an asparagus family – known as Aspara Gus and baby Gus. 2009 saw the introduction of an asparagus reader who tells visitor’s fortune by looking at the vegetables spears. The concluding event, Asparagus Festival Day, is a fun day out for all the family featuring mouth watering cookery demonstrations, asparagus-oriented meals and tastings, a farmers market, local arts and crafts, children’s activities and local ales, ciders and wines.

Annual Nettle-Eating Contest, June 12-13
Each year on the second Saturday in June at The Bottle Inn in Dorset, the annual contest in which around 30 challengers are encouraged to eat more nettles than the current champion nettle-eater takes place. Contestants are given two-foot long stalks of stinging nettles and one hour to eat as many leaves as possible. The winner is the person with the longest length of empty stalk.

The competition stems from a contest between two farmers in the mid-1980s to decide who had the longest stinging nettles, after which a longest nettle night was established. One day, an eager contestant named Alex Williams brought in a nettle over 15-foot long and said if anyone had a longer nettle he would eat his. His nettles were subsequently beaten and he duly ate them giving rise to the annual nettle-eating contest. Today people travel internationally to watch or take part.

World Toe Wrestling Championship, August
First held over 30 years ago, the Bentley Brook Inn pub in Derbyshire hosts the World Toe Wrestling Championships, now a charity event. The feast of foot foolery sees contestants wearing wrestling outfits sit opposite each other on the Toedium and, locking their big toes together, place their feet on a small wooden frame, termed the Toesrack. At the cry of "Toedown" contestants attempt to force their opponent's foot to the ground. The organisers, having big intentions for the sport, applied in 1997 for its inclusion in the Olympic Games. However, to the disappointment of the sport’s fans, it was not accepted.

World Snail Racing Championships, July 17
Ready, Steady, Slow! For more than 25 years, the World Snail Racing Championships have been held in Norfolk, where more than 300 snails slug it out for the title of “Fastest Snail in the World.” Anyone with a snail can enter and a number of heats are held before the grand final. The winner receives a silver tankard stuffed with lettuce. The world record is held by a snail called Archie who completed the 13-inch course (set up on top of a table) in two minutes.

Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race, July (The date is fixed according to the river tides)
Known to be the oldest rowing race in the world, Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race, devised by comic actor Thomas Doggett, first took place in 1715 to celebrate the coronation of George I.

Held in London, the course covers just over four and three-quarter miles (7.24 km) along the River Thames from London Bridge to Chelsea. The boats are crewed by watermen, who have recently completed their apprenticeships, competing for a coveted scarlet uniform silver arm badge that can be worn on all formal and official occasions and is reminiscent of the livery used by early 18th century watermen. The race is watched by crowds of people on London’s bridges as well as from boats moored along the route, while some 15-20 boats also follow the race down the Thames.

Isle of Wight Garlic Festival, August 14 and 15
Garlic ice cream, jelly beans, fudge and beer are just some of the unusual garlic-based produce that can be sampled at the Isle of Wight Garlic Festival. The Garlic Marquee showcases the Isle of Wight’s “Golden Clove”, including the popular oak-smoked variety. There are over 250 stalls and many tempting garlic-flavoured products for visitors to try including banana and garlic, and rhubarb and garlic pickles and chutneys, garlic mussels and other seafood, sausages and bread. The festival attracts 25,000 people and is a two-day event to celebrate the local garlic harvest.

Biggest Liar in the World Competition, November
Held at the Bridge Inn in Cumbria, the World’s Biggest Liar Competition is a very popular contest to find the best “tall-storyteller” and to award the title of “The Biggest Liar in the World.” The ever-popular contest began in 1974 and continues to attract visitors from around the globe. It is held in memory of Will Ritson, a Cumbrian publican in the 19th century with a gift for telling tall stories.

Contestants travel great distances to pit their oral skills against an elite field of fibbers. They must tell their 5-10 minute tall tales in front of the judges and the audience. Subjects vary from those based in reality, to being extremely silly and downright daft. In recent years the audience has learned facts about how the Lake District was formed – not from the ice age or volcanic action – but by large moles and eels. There are also tales of mermaids and kings and of the Pope water-skiing on the back of the QEII.

Flaming Barrels, December 31
On New Year’s Eve in Northumberland from 11.30pm to midnight the custom, dating back to 1819, of men welcoming in the New Year by carrying pans of blazing tar on their heads is still kept alive.

The unique Pagan ceremony is held at midnight with a colourful procession through the town to the Baal fire. A team of local barrel carriers dressed in fancy costumes, balance flaming whiskey barrels filled with hot tar on their heads through the streets to the town centre. The barrels often weigh as much as 30lbs (15kg). The procession is timed to reach an unlit bonfire shortly before midnight, after which each man in turn tosses his flaming ‘headgear’ on to the bonfire, setting it ablaze. On the stroke of midnight, all join hands and dance around the fire, singing the traditional song Auld Lang Syne to welcome in the New Year.

Sport Oddities to try when touring the UK

• More commonly associated with tropical beaches, surfing may not be a sport visitors naturally anticipate enjoying in England, yet Cornwall is one of Europe's top surfing destinations, offering over a dozen beaches, catering to surfing novices and pros alike. For especially adventurous surfers, kite surfing - a fusion of windsurfing, surfing, wake boarding and power kiting, has become a mainstay with Cornwall’s beach crowd.

• At the time of the 2012 Games, England celebrated the 400th anniversary of its Olympic roots – Captain Robert Dover’s Cotswolds Olympicks. Started by Dover, a local barrister, the world’s inaugural Olimpick Games were staged on a Cotswold hillside in 1612. Today the annual event, held at the start of June, attracts thousands of spectators as ‘athletes’ partake in countryside games such as obstacle courses and tug-of-war, in addition to unique sporting competitions such as shin kicking.

• While Olympic track stars may be preparing to sprint towards a Gold medal, lively women are preparing to run through the streets of Olney donning traditional housewife apparel, including a skirt, apron and scarf, for the Olney Pancake Race in Buckinghamshire. The 415-yard dash is held every Shrove Tuesday when women toss pancakes, then run through the town streets before tossing the pancakes again at the finish line. Once the race has finished the town celebrates with a Shriving Service at the local Parish Church where official prizes are presented. The race, which began over five centuries ago in 1445, became an international event in 1950 when the U.S town of Liberal, Kansas, joined the festivities to compete against Olney. The participant with the shortest time is declared the winner, determined during a phone call between the two cities.

• For travellers seeking an adrenaline rush but who aren’t quite ready to jump out of a plane or off a cliff, Bodyflight Bedford in the East of England is the world’s largest indoor skydiving facility. It provides visitors the opportunity to encounter what it feels like to jump out of a plane - but within the safety of a large wind tunnel with wind speeds of up to 180mph which support the body in mid air. Visitors wanting to try BASE jumping can safely imitate the experience at Vertigo, Bodyflight’s thrilling simulated BASE jump. Jumpers are attached to a bungee cord as they climb 125 feet to the top of the wind tunnel tower where they can enjoy the beautiful views of Bedfordshire, before safely “BASE” jumping to the ground. For those preferring water sports, Bodyflight Bedford’s FlowHouse facility offers flowboarding - a mix between surfing, skateboarding and wakeboarding.

Underwater hockey, also known as Octopush, started in the early 1950s as a way to do aquatic aerobic exercise without simply swimming laps. Teams of up to 10 players, each wearing a mask, snorkel and fins as well as a water polo hat, use a small stick to push the puck toward the opposing team’s goal. Similar to tag wrestling, the game requires players to take turns surfacing for breaths of air while working together to push the puck into their opponent’s goal to score. Underwater hockey teams are located throughout England with several leagues including the North East Regional Octopush Club.

• Believed to be England’s oldest traditional tussle, The Haxey Hood Game, held at the start of each new year on January 6, takes place in the unassuming village of Haxey in Lincolnshire. The Haxey Hood is a re-enactment of a chivalrous act that occurred during the 14th Century as tradition is told, when Lady de Mowbray, wife of landowner John de Mowbray, was riding one day when her silk riding hood blew off and was blown across the field. Thirteen farm workers hurried across the field chasing the hood until one of the workers finally caught the hood and returned it to Lady de Mowbray. So impressed that her hood was returned she donated 13 acres of land, a parcel for each of the workers who ran after her hood, with the condition that the chase would be re-enacted each year. Resembling a rugby scuffle, The Haxey Hood has been played for over 700 years.

• For over 150 years, since 1852, Grasmere Sports has been one of the most popular and largest traditional events to be held in the Lake District, with main events including Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling, fell running and hound trails. The hound trails is a competition featuring trained hounds that race after the scent of aniseed over the fells, and in recent years mountain bike races have been held.

Bicycle Polo has been played in England for over a century and was a demonstration sport in the 1908 Olympics held in London. The game is traditionally played on a rectangular grass field, but in the past few years, Hardcourt Bike Polo has become increasingly popular, played on a hard surface such as a tennis court or street hockey rink. Both Bicycle and Hardcourt Bike Polo can be found throughout England, with Sheffield, South Yorkshire, being a recent addition.

• The Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race, the oldest single sculling race in the world, is held every July on the River Thames, from London Bridge to Cadogan Pier in Chelsea, London. It is the oldest organised race in English history, which started in 1715 by Irish actor and comedian, Thomas Doggett in honour of King George I’s accession to the throne. The course runs 7.24 km and is open to six men and women under the age of 26 on the day of the race. The winner is awarded a Waterman’s red coat and silver badge, a tradition that dates back to a ceremony held many years ago in Fishmongers’ Hall at London Bridge.