Weird Britain: The UK’s 12 Strangest Sports Competitions

Here’s a look at 12 of the Alternative Sports that take place across Britain from our friends at Visit Britain.

1.) Cheese Rolling

A passion for cheese is a must for this annual event, which involves daredevils hurling themselves down the steep, grassy slopes of Coopers Hill, near Gloucester, in pursuit of Double Gloucester cheeses. There are downhill races throughout the afternoon including ones for men and for women. The race starts with the master of ceremonies rolling a 7- 8 lb (4kg) Double Gloucester cheese down the hill. Dozens of competitors run, roll and somersault down the hill after it. It’s impossible not to fall over due to the rough uneven slope with a 1:2 gradient. The winners take home the cheeses as well as a few cuts and bruises.

The event is very popular with international competitors, and nothing deters them – hot, cold, wind, wet or any other combination of British weather – in fact, it all adds to the sense of spectacle. Hundreds of people gather to watch this unique event, which dates back to medieval times. Common theories about the origin of cheese rolling include the idea that it began as a pan festival celebrating the onset of summer, while others maintain the festival is related to ancient fertility rights and hopes for a successful harvest.

2.) Shin-Kicking

The Cotswold Olimpicks were started by a local barrister, Captain Robert Dover, in 1612 at Dover’s Hill, above Chipping Campden. The annual event attracts thousands of spectators and features some well-known countryside games such as tug-of-war, obstacle races and wrestling as well as a few bizarre ones with the highlight being shin-kicking. The shin-kicking competition involves two contestants who first fill their trouser legs with straw to help reduce the pain. The players then hold arms and kick each other using steel-toe capped boots until one of the contestants is so bruised that he cannot stand the pain and gives in. The festivities close with a huge bonfire and fireworks display followed by a torchlight procession to the town square of Chipping Campden where Morris dancing and other entertainment takes place. The Olympicks will be 400 years old when Britain hosts the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

3.) Swamp Soccer World Championships

The rules of swamp soccer are similar to regular soccer, with a number of exceptions. Each team has just six players, a goalkeeper and five outfield players, with unlimited substitutions. Games last for 24 minutes total and costumes are allowed.

4.) Face Gurning

The Egremont Crab Fair – one of the oldest fairs in the world – takes place on the third Saturday of September on the Cumbrian coast in North West England. The events end with the World Gurning Championships where contestants compete to make the most grotesque and silliest facial expressions possible. ‘Gurning’ is the name for such face-pulling. It is thought the sport comes from the faces the locals made when they tried to eat the sour crab apples. Contestants frame their face with a horse collar known as a braffin.

5.) Haxey Hood Game

Every January, the parish of Haxey goes a little crazy for the day. They play a mad game called the Haxey Hood and have been practicing this ancient tradition since the 14th century making it the oldest local tradition in England. To the spectator, this event is like a rugby scuffle, this is called the sway, in which a leather tube (that represents the hood) is pushed to 1 of 4 pubs where it remains until the following year’s game. It is a tradition that dates back to when Lady de Mowbray, wife of landowner John De Mowbray, was out riding one day and her silk riding hood was blown away. Thirteen farm workers in the field rushed to help and chased the hood all over the field. It was finally caught by one of the farm workers, but being too shy to hand it back to the lady he gave it to one of the others to hand back to her. She thanked the farm worker who had returned the hood and said that he had acted like a Lord, whereas the worker who had actually caught the hood was a Fool. She was so impressed by this act of chivalry and the resulting chase that she donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year. This re-enactment over the centuries has become known as the “Haxey Hood.”


6.) Husky Racing

The park land surrounding the house, built for a visit by Henry VIII in 1541, will host 400 dogs competing along a timed route, pulling sleds and their owners. The imposing country house sits amongst rolling Lincolnshire countryside that is surrounded by formal gardens, extensive woodland and a 50-acre lake, which provides a stunning setting for the race.

7.) Annual Nettle Eating Contest

An annual contest in which around 30 challengers are encouraged to eat more nettles than the current champion nettle-eater. Contestants are given two-foot long stalks of stinging nettles and have 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 as to who had the longest stinging nettles. A longest nettle night was established. One day, a contestant called 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. Now people come from all over Europe to watch or take part.

8.) Man vs. Horse Race

The race, which has up to 500 entrants competing each year, is run over 22 miles of mixed and very hilly terrain including farm tracks, bridle paths, forestry roads and open moorland. The Man vs. Horse Race was the brainchild of local man Gordon Green, at the time when he was landlord of Neuadd Arms, after a discussion over a pint about the relative merits of man and horse.

The race has been run each year since, continually attaining new levels of entry and challenges. It took 25 years before a man finally beat a horse, when, in 2004, Huw Lobb won in two hours and five minutes, finishing two minutes before the fastest horse. Do you prefer your horse racing to be of the actual horse variety? Then check get ready to bet on Kentucky Derby.

9.) World Bog Snorkeling Championships

The World Bog Snorkeling Championships are an international sporting event which takes place annually on August Bank Holiday in Waen Rhydd peat bog on the outskirts of the smallest town in Britain, Llanwrtyd Wells in Powys, Mid Wales. The aim of the championships is to swim two lengths (about 115 meters) of a peaty, murky trench, which has been dug out of the Waen Rhydd peat bog, in the quickest time possible. Competitors wear snorkels and flippers. Wet suits are optional but strongly recommended. Snorkeling across the smelly and dirty bog is popular with hardy individuals from all over the world. Competitors come from as far afield as Australia, America and Europe as well as from Britain for the pleasure of taking part. The snorkeler with the fastest time wins a small cash prize. Organized by ‘Green Events,’ the novel event was originally thought up by a local pub landlord, Gordon Green, in 1986 in a bid to boost tourism to the area.

10.) International Worthing Birdman

The Birdman is a flight competition for human-powered flying machines held each summer in the picturesque seaside resort of Worthing on England’s south coast. Many flyers take part to raise money for charities; others design complex machines to aim for the distance prizes. A substantial prize of £30,000 is offered for the furthest flight in excess of the challenge distance of 100 meters. The event attracts contestants from as far away as Germany, Switzerland and America. The Birdman competition started in 1971 along the coast in Selsey and then spent 29 years in Bognor Regis before relocating to Worthing in 2008.

11.) The World Gravy Wrestling Championships

This saucy event takes places as part of the Pennine Lancashire Festival of Food & Culture. The World Gravy Wrestling Championships take place on the second Bank Holiday in August. The teams competing for the title slip and slide about in luke-warm gravy. Team members win points for pinning the opposition down in the gravy. This event was started in 2007 and brings out the crowds in force to laugh at the proceedings. The winners will receive the glittering trophy and wallow in fame, if not fortune.

12.) Carrying Tar Barrels

On Guy Fawkes Night, there is the ritual of carrying the blazing tar barrels, which dates back to 1688. Men carry the flaming barrels on their shoulders until the weight or heat becomes too much for them and another person takes over. This carries on until the barrels start to break up and then they are allowed to burn out. Preparation of the barrels and coating them with tar starts early in the year and some can weigh over 50 pounds (22.68 kg). A gigantic bonfire over 30 feet (10 meters) high forms an impressive background to the occasion together with a fairground and many other attractions.


Read More at Anglotopia


  1. avatarSumMary says

    The Dirty Dozen Cousins to Jackass.

    Perhaps it’s a little known fact that the Mayflower sailed not only to pursue religious freedom, but to escape an Insanity Plague?…for which no cure has been found in 400 years. The virus continues to mutate.

    Pardon me whilst I don my braffin for gurning practice and skipping off to fill my metal, nettle kettle. And only 10 more to go!

    Thanks, Jonathan, for the collection. Priceless.