Blame it on the dreary weather, the self-deprecating humour of the Brits, or their outlandish love of wacky races, but when it comes to bizarre events, few countries can hold a candle (or should that be large cheese? See below) to Britain. From conker championships to gravy wrestling, the nation has a Peter Pan-like obsession with never quite growing up.

Pulling a face to win a prize is one of Britain's best-known and bizarre events © Getty Images
Pulling a face to win a prize is one of Britain's best-known and most bizarre events © Emma Wood / Getty Images

Loony Dook

When: New Year’s Day
Where: South Queensferry, near Edinburgh

Ach, what do ye mean it’s cold? No hardy Scot would bat an eyelid at the thought of shivering their bits off in the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth. The proof is the Loony Dook, or ‘daft dip’, on New Year's Day, when the weather is often dreich. Around 1000 ‘Dookers’ kit themselves out in fancy dress costumes for a parade down to the water to the skirl of bagpipes. The tradition harks back to the 1980s when a couple of friends did it to banish their Hogmanay hangover. Buy tickets ahead, check in on the day, wear shoes and bring a change of warm clothing. You’re going to need it.

Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling

When: late May
Where: Brockworth, Gloucestershire

All right, we get the love of cheese, but hurling yourself after one down an insanely steep, muddy hill? Cue Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling, where scores of costumed folk do precisely that. There are bruises, sweat, tears, screams and sometimes a few broken bones as they lunge after a 9lb wheel of Double Gloucester which whizzes along at speeds of up to 70mph. Apparently the fun dates back to pagan times but was first officially recorded here in 1826. The reigning champion for the past four years is Chris Anderson, a soldier who – get this – only likes cheddar.

Chasing a cheese down a hill is taking very seriously in © Christian Kober / Getty Images
Chasing cheese down a hill is taken very seriously in Brockworth © Christian Kober / Getty Images

Maldon Mud Race

When: early June
Where: Maldon, Essex

‘It’s tougher than childbirth,’ gasps a woman, as she drags herself on all fours through the thick, briny mud to the shore. Maldon, on the River Blackwater, is best known for sea salt, but for race competitors it’s the mud they’ll remember. What began as a pub dare back in 1973 has become the country’s most glorious mud race, attracting some 15,000 spectators and 300 competitors. The latter rock up as Vikings, jesters, hippos, ballerinas, Fred Flintstone – you name it. Some take five minutes, some more than an hour to clear the 400-yard course. Tips from the pros? Get a head start and avoid the churned-up mud like the plague.

Welly Wanging World Championships

Where: Upperthong, West Yorkshire
When: mid-June

Anyone who knows the hills and dales of England’s Peak District appreciates a good pair of wellies (rain boots). At this annual event in the humorously named village of Upperthong, the idea is to throw yours as far as you can – this is what’s known as ‘welly wanging’, with single-handed, hammer-throwing style (two hands), between the legs and backwards over-the-head techniques. Standard-sized wellies are provided and there’s to be no tampering with the boots or excessive run-ups to the 10ft course.

World Gravy Wrestling Championships

When: late August
Where: Stacksteads, Lancashire

Gravy is normally the stuff you pour over your potatoes at Sunday lunch, but those at the Rose ‘N’ Bowl in Stacksteads get more Bisto than they’d bargained for at this August Bank Holiday event – 20,000 gallons to be precise. Sixteen male and eight female contestants get down and dirty in the arena. It’s not as easy as it looks: keeping your balance and getting a firm grip on your opponent is tricky when they’re slippery (and potentially delicious). During the two-minute battle, points are awarded for costumes, comedy effect and gravy wrestling ability.

Why just wrestle when you can wrestle in gallons of gravy? ©
Why just wrestle when you can wrestle in gallons of gravy? ©

Llandovery Sheep Festival

When: late September
Where: Llandovery, south Wales

Will you wager on Bara Brith, Bleatwood Mac or Dolly Baaarton? Llandovery’s sheep race – a crazy sprint along the high street with teams racing fake sheep on wheels to the Market Square – is full of ovine puns. The former drover town on the edge of the Brecon Beacons has a blast at this annual gathering, with events from sheep dog trials to live sheep shearing, and stalls selling locally reared meats and fleeces. The highlight, however, is the aforementioned race, with each team comprising one ‘jockey’ and two ‘shepherds’. On your marks, get set, baaaa…

Bog Snorkelling Championships

When: late August
Where:  Llanwrtyd Wells, mid-Wales

In some countries, snorkeling means diving into seas of sapphire blue. On the wild Welsh moors, it means greasing-up, sticking on a novelty hat, throwing on a snorkel and jumping into a turbid, tea-coloured bog. Yeah, we knew you’d be up for this one – as are the hundreds who come from all over the world to Powys to participate, dressed as unicorns, superheroes, galleon ships and the like. The rules are to negotiate two lengths of a 60-yard trench in the peat bog without using conventional swimming strokes. Braving the bog is not as easy as it seems.

One bog + some people with snorkels = classic eccentric British event © Emma Wood / Getty Images
One bog + some people with snorkels = classic eccentric British fun © Emma Wood / Getty Images

Gurning World Championships

When: September
Where: Egremont, Cumbria

As silly faces go, these are quite something. Apparently the tradition for gurning – contorting your face in ridiculous, scary or grotesque ways – dates way back to the origins of the Egremont Crab Fair in 1267, perhaps because of the faces locals pulled when they bit into the sour crab apples handed out by the Lord of Egremont. And the tradition stuck. Today, champion gurners come from all over the world to this Cumbria fair to poke their heads through horse collars and give the crowds their winning gurn, false teeth and all.

World Conker Championships

Where: Southwick, Northamptonshire
When: mid-October

For the uninitiated, conkers are the fruit of the Horse Chestnut tree which, for some Brits at least, are seen, along with a length of string threaded through them, as weapons to be used against all contenders in bonkers conkers fights. If you’re one of those Brits, or just someone with a liking for tree fruit and competitive whacking, get yourself over to the Shuckburgh Arms in Southwick on the second Sunday in October. As autumn leaves fall, so too do the conkers. Thousands of them are collected for this out-and-out battle of sideswipes and straight-down smashes. A lot is down to luck – the hard nut often wins – but the rules are simple: no tampering with the string, each player takes three strikes, the game is up after five minutes. The winner is crowned ‘King Conker’.

You don't have to be chest-NUTS to enjoy a game of conkers but it helps © Pete Bower
You don't have to be chest-NUTS to enjoy a game of conkers - but it helps © Peter Bower

More Madness

  • British & World Marble Championships ( Don’t lose your marbles at these Good Friday championships on Tinsley Green, West Sussex.
  • World Stone Skimming Championships ( Skim a winner at this contest on Easdale Island, near Oban in Scotland. Distance (not number of bounces) matters.
  • Coal Carrying Championships ( Strapping lads and lasses carry weighty sacks of coal (50kg and 20kg respectively) at these Easter Monday races in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.
  • UK Wife Carrying Championships ( Husbands carry wives speedily along a treacherous, boggy course in Dorking, Surrey, every April.
  • Bognor Birdman ( Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Crackpot flying contraptions hit the saucy seaside resort of Bognor Regis in August.
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