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Treasured Traditions: The UK’s Strangest Traditions Illustrated

UK Traditions

The Cotswolds is world-famous for its stunning scenery, cosy cottages and welcoming atmosphere. The Cotswolds is also loved for its quaint and quirky traditions – including its annual cheese rolling event. And it’s not just the Cotswolds that is home to eccentricity, in fact across the entire UK there is a legion of unusual traditions still alive and well.

In our modern world filled with entertainment available at the click of a finger, it’s surprising to find so many bizarre traditions and events continuing to be celebrated in the 21st century.

As we looked into some of wackiest traditions around the UK, including the World Gurning Championships, bog snorkelling and hen racing – we were inspired to create our Treasured Traditions illustrations to depict the weird and wonderful customs and events which make the UK a truly unique place.

Have a look at our illustrations below to find out more about some of the UK’s strangest traditions, which you may never have heard of before.

Cheese Rolling in the Cotswolds

Cheese Rolling

The Cotswolds’ annual cheese rolling event is held at Cooper’s Hill every year, where competitors chase after a 9lb round of Double Gloucester cheese as it rolls down the steep hill with the competitors hurtling behind.

The competitor who is first across the finish lines is the lucky winner of the giant cheese wheel. The event which started for the local community is now a worldwide phenomenon with competitors travelling from around the globe to take part.

The event isn’t all fun and games as the adventurous activity can actually prove dangerous, with the cheese reaching speeds of up to 70mph and multiple injuries having been obtained at the event over the years.

Bog Snorkelling

Bog Snorkelling

Bog snorkelling first started near Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales in 1976 and the World Bog Snorkelling Championship has been held there since 1985.

The sport of bog snorkelling involves completing two consecutive laps of a trench filled with water cut through a peat bog, the competitor who completes the two lengths in the shortest time is the winner.

Adding to the mayhem, competitors are required to wear snorkels and flippers, and no conventional swimming strokes are allowed; the competitors must rely on moving themselves using their flippers.

Dancing Around the Maypole

Dancing Around The Maypole

Dancing around the maypole is one UK tradition most people will have heard of, and maybe even have partaken in as a child.

While you may view maypole dancing as twee, the tradition has actually had a tumultuous history and has been outlawed many times through history due to the changing monarchs and dominant religions.

In the UK the maypole is generally associated with May Day celebrations. The tradition originally involved dancing around decorated trees to celebrate the arrival of spring, but now a pole is used with dancers weaving ribbons around the pole.

World Hen Racing Championship

Hen Racing

The World Hen Racing Championship takes place every year at the Barley Mow Inn in Bonsall, Derbyshire. The obscure race sees hens competing over a 20-yard course, with the hen to finish the course first (and its owner) being crowned the winner.

In recent years the race has become ever more competitive with owners now training their hens for the race.

The tradition dates back over 100 years, with crowds of over 500 locals and tourists descending upon the small village to see the hens strut their stuff.

Weighing in the Mayor

Weighing In Mayor

In High Wycombe, an English town northwest of London, it is tradition to weigh the mayor at the start and end of their term. The custom is believed to be entirely unique to High Wycombe.

It is thought the custom started to ensure that the mayor didn’t ‘live off the fat of the land.’ The event is held in the town’s High Street using huge scales. The event includes a procession through the town from the church with a drummer leading the way.

The mayor wears their regalia when being weighed in, but not when being weighed out, potentially making it easier for the mayor to avoid putting on weight during their term.

Nettle Eating Contest

Nettle Eating Contest

This strange contest is held at the Bottle Inn pub in Marshwood, Dorset every year. The contest sees dozens of competitors line up to eat as many 2ft long stalks of nettles as possible in one hour. Winners eat around 70ft of nettle stalks.

The odd event started over 20 years ago when a local farmer lost a bet with another over who could grow the longest nettles, the loser’s forfeit was to eat a whole nettle stem.

Participants say eating the nettles doesn’t actually hurt as you might imagine, it instead causes a tingling sensation around your mouth.

Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival

Straw Bear

The Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival is held in the town of Whittlesea every January, and dates back more than 200 years.

The quirky festival sees a performer don a whopping 5-stone metal and straw bear costume, while parading through the town streets with a crew of Appalachian and Morris dancers.

The festival was banned in 1909 and wasn’t brought back until 1980. Its revival has proven successful with over 6,000 people attending recent festivals. The exact origins of the obscure festival remain unknown.

Wife Carrying Race

Wife Carrying

The tradition of wife carrying doesn’t have as quaint an origin as you may think. The sport actually descends from the Viking invasion of 793AD. The tradition wasn’t revived in the UK until 2008, this time in a happier fashion.

The rule of competing is that wives must weigh at least 50kg. Any wives weighing below this must make up the weight using baked bean cans.

The annual wife carrying race is held in Dorking, Surrey every March. The winner of the race receives £100 and a barrel of ale, while the carrier of the heaviest wife is given a pound of sausage. The loser receives a compensation prize of dog food and a Pot Noodle.

World Gurning Championships

World Gurning Championship

Gurning is a traditional British expression for pulling a funny facial expression. The World Gurning Championships are a worldwide contest to see who can pull the most ridiculous faces.

The championship takes place every year in Egremont, Cumbria as part of the town’s Crab Fair, which dates back to 1267. That makes 2020 the 753rd edition of the fair.

The World Gurning Championships is the evening highlight of the traditional fair which also includes an apple parade and live entertainers.

Tar Barl Festival

Tar barl festival

The Tar Barl Festival is a unique New Year celebration held in Allendale, Northumberland. The celebration which dates back at least 160 years sees a procession of men parade through the street carrying barrels filled with tar, sawdust and paraffin on their heads. The men dress in traditional guising costumes for the parade, which brings in crowds of locals and tourists to spectate.

The guisers are always men, except for in the 1950s when special dispensation was granted to one woman to join in the parade.

The parade ends in the main square just before midnight where the barrels are thrown on to a waiting bonfire, illuminating the village.

It’s not clear where the origins of the festival come from, with claims the tradition has both pagan and Christian roots.