Not the Olympic Games: 5 odd sports in Great Britain

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Has Olympic fatigue set in already? Whether you’re travelling to the UK for Olympic season or giving sports fans a wide berth, you’ll find plenty of weird ways to break a sweat. Try one of these traditional British folk arts or strange sports during your visit:

1. Wellie wanging

Yes, you read that right. This English invention sees participants hurling their waterproof boots as far as possible, or launching them directly from their feet. Impossible to do with any grace, this is also a great way to dispose of mud-caked gumboots after one of the UK’s notoriously swampy summer music festivals. The sport is freestyle, whether your wanging technique is one-handed, two-handed or between the legs (no snickering at the back).

Do it: learn more about wellie wanging and its origins in the village of Upperthong here – this is also where you’re most likely to find some fellow wangers.

A young woman prepares to throw a pink Wellington boot as an audience looks onWelly Wanging 3 by Annie Mole. Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY 2.0)

2. Morris dancing

This much-mocked folk art form is experiencing a revival and you could join in the fun. The appearance of female dancers in an art form often considered a male pursuit is hardly the greatest of England’s feminist victories, but it’s certainly brought the joys of ‘the Morris’ to a wider audience. Styles vary according to the different regions in England: Yorkshire Morris dancers jive with longswords, dancers in The Cotswolds wave handkerchiefs, and the northwest of England follows a more military style.

Do it: gents can don tassles and dance a jig with the Westminster Morris Men in London, who welcome nimble, bell-jangling novices every Wednesday (www.westminstermorris.org).

3. Zombie shooting

The global zombie epidemic is only getting worse, with crowds of the walking dead everywhere from Stockholm (Facebook page) to Sydney (www.sydneyzombiewalk.com) – the boldest brain-eaters are even hitting London’s social scene (www.amygrimehouse.com). It’s never been more urgent to prepare for the war against roaming corpses so thank heavens for England’s zombie shooting academies, where you can build the skills to hold your own against a horde of the drooling undead.

Do it: Zed Events (www.zedevents.co.uk) can arrange for you to battle some seriously scary enemies in an eerie abandoned manor house near Manchester in northwest England, or at a Zombie Shopping Mall in Reading (25 minutes by train from London).

4. Caber-tossing

Requiring considerably more upper body strength than wellie wanging, tossing the caber is more than a bad euphemism. This Scottish sport isn’t for amateurs, as it involves throwing a huge and heavy wooden pole (nearly 20ft long and up to 80kg) and getting points based on whether you have flipped the pole to land in a straight line.

Do it: this one might be better left to the professionals but you can see Highland Games in action all over Scotland – check here for a map of destinations: www.shga.co.uk.

A muscular man wearing a green kilt bends down to pick up a huge pole while sports fans look on from behind a barrierHefting the caber by Erik Fitzpatrick. Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY 2.0)

5. Toe wrestling

Get your socks off, get your socks off, honey. Since its humble beginnings in England’s Peak District in the 1970s, barefoot wrestling is slowly growing in popularity. Players try to pin each other’s feet flat onto the ground (while avoiding any unfortunate whiffs).

Do it: this is one sport where you could make a name for yourself – the hosts of 2012’s Toe Wrestling Championship in Derbyshire are inviting contestants to apply. Take up the challenge here.

Need more weird sports?

  • Shin-kicking isn’t the best way to make new friends, but this contact sport experienced a renaissance when the Cotswold Olimpick Games restarted its centuries-old competitions in 1951. Learn more.
  • The infamous pastime of cheese-rolling is more of a seasonal affair. Rock up to chase a cheddar in Gloucestershire during the spring bank holiday – see more details with our festival guide.
  • So the British summer is more rain than shine, but that means perfect conditions for bog-snorkelling. Learn more on this messiest of watersports with our tips.
  • Times were tough during the industrial revolution, when smoke-stained Englishmen had nothing better to do than play quoits, where metal loops are thrown onto spikes.

Anita Isalska is a writer and editor based in Lonely Planet's London office. Follow her on Twitter @lunarsynthesis.