WHO SAID THE BRITS WERE CRAZY?
By ‘The English Rose.’
I know we celebrate Valentine’s Day this week and a lot has already been said about this day many times before, this time I thought I would have a change and give you a little insight into some of the weird and wonderful customs you could only find in the UK!
I have been searching our unusual customs for you and have come up with dozens. I will put some of them into the months when they take place, then maybe, if you ever get over here for a holiday you could get to see one or more of them? I know every country has its own peculiar customs, but I believe that the UK has more than many, it is only a small island but we have a wealth of wonderful and strange happenings throughout the year. Some of these customs can be downright dangerous, but there are still always plenty of participants.
JANUARY sees a strange tradition only held in St Ethelreda’s Church in London, called ‘Blessing the Throats,” where two candles are tied together, then lit and held to the necks of anyone who has a sore throat. Don’t know about you, but I think the fear of the flame burning my neck would be enough to cure me!
FEBRUARY. In Leicestershire, the Friday after Ash Wednesday is known as ‘Nippy Hug Day’. This is where men have the right to demand a kiss from any woman they fancy. If the woman refuses, the man is entitled to nip her butt! Ouch!
MARCH. In Surrey, there is a custom which dates right back to 793 AD when the Vikings wrecked a monastery and carried off the local women. It has since been commemorated by a ‘Wife Carrying Competition.” The men have to carry their wives along a rocky course for 380 metres. Wives must weigh at least 50 k and wear a helmet, as they can get carried in some precarious positions! The World Championship for Wife Carrying is held in Finland.
APRIL. Each Easter Saturday in the small town of Bacup (pronounced bay-cup) in Lancashire, a group of men known as ‘The Nutters’ paint their faces black, dress up in fancy costumes and clogs, and dance round the boundaries of the town.
MAY. Well of course we have May Day! And the Maypole dance which is said to be a tradition heralding the arrival of Spring. This month sees the annual Cheese Rolling Competition in Gloucestershire, where a 7lb ‘wheel’ of cheese is rolled down a perilously steep hill with a crowd of crazy people chasing it. The fastest competitor wins the cheese. This is a very dangerous ‘sport,’ the hill is extremely steep and every year there is a variety of broken bones, but still there is no shortage of competitors!
JUNE. How about this for stupid. A Nettle eating contest! Yep, they eat fresh nettles! The one who eats the most in a given time wins. The contest is part of the Dorset Nettle Fair, where there are many products made from nettles on sale. Nettle beer anyone?
JULY. The arrival of Summer means there are many Fairs and Fetes all over the country and some have their very own signature ‘sports.’ For instance, in Derbyshire they often indulge in a spot of toe wrestling. In the village of Congham in Norfolk, they have the World Snail Racing Championships, a circle of damp cloth is laid out and the snails have to make it from the centre circle to the outer one. The winner receives a pewter tankard filled with lettuce! And on the Isle of Man, in the World Tin Bath Racing Championships, the contestants have to paddle a tin bath across the harbour.
AUGUST. In the picturesque village of Kettlewell in Yorkshire, each year they hold a Scarecrow Festival. Life-size scarecrows in many guises are displayed all over the village. The last Monday in August is a Bank Holiday and in Wales it is celebrated by a Bog Snorkelling Championship. The entrants have to swim 2 lengths of a muddy peat bog, wearing flippers and a snorkel, the fastest wins.
SEPTEMBER. At Abbot’s Bromley in Staffordshire, 6 men in costume, each wearing a set of deer antlers, follow a ten-mile course around the village, dancing to the music of an accordion. In Gloucester, they hold an Onion Eating Contest, everyone is given a peeled 7 oz onion (about the size of an apple) first to eat it all wins. Have you ever heard of GURNING? Held in the Lake District, this ever popular competition is held as part of the Egremont Crab Fair which dates back to 1267, making it one of the oldest Fairs in the world. Gurning is where the contestants put their heads through a horse collar and pull the ugliest face they possibly can. Locally, this is called ‘gurnin’ thro a braffin,’ This contest is so popular it is often televised country wide. They say the best ‘gurners’ are the people who have no teeth! The title of Crab Fair is not because crustaceans are involved, when it first began everyone was given crab apples, these days apples are still handed out but they are far more edible.
OCTOBER. On the first Sunday at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, they hold the annual ‘Pearly Fair.’ This dates from 19th century when a young man wore a suit covered in pearly buttons to raise money for charity. It is thriving today with dozens of ornately costumed ‘Pearly Kings and Queens’ strutting their stuff through the town. In one town in Wiltshire they hold a Mangold Hurling Championship. Contestants stand with both feet in a basket and throw a mangold/manglewurzle (a member of the beet family) at another mangold which is named the Norman. The one who get closest to the Norman wins.
NOVEMBER. In Ottery St Mary in Devon, birth place of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Kubla Khan’ among others) they hold the annual Tar Barrel Races which date from the 17th century. Men and women race through the streets carrying barrels on their backs which are filled with tar and set on fire. The audience try to get as close as they can to the barrels without getting burnt! I guess there are lots of injuries that day.
DECEMBER. Yes, we have Christmas of course, but there is also the Peter Pan Swim in the Serpentine River in London. The name comes from 1864 when JM Barrie (author of Peter Pan) presented a cup to the winner. Dozens of people, many in fancy dress, plunge into the icy waters and swim 100 yards. Often they have to break the ice on the river in order to swim.
Okay, there’s a short list of some of the more peculiar customs we have in the UK which have been passed down through the centuries. I wonder if any of you can come up with anything as strange as some of these? I look forward to hearing about your oddities!
Oh, and just before I go, as a little nod to old Saint Valentine and not another oddity (I don’t think!) My story – ‘Hearts and Red Ribbons’ (by Gil McDonald) is a sassy, sweet Valentine’s adventure, available from Amazon right now! I think you’ll enjoy it, take a look.
Thanks to everyone for dropping by (and special thanks to Livia for that gorgeous cover!)