The UK’s Most Unusual Festivals

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Vikings in Shetland

Britain has a long and enduring fascination with the weird and wonderful. We will celebrate just about anything – from scarecrows and nettles, to Vikings and Earls. If there’s even the most remote suggestion of a tradition, we will be there with music and booze, ready to make a festival out of it.

If you’re sick of the usual fare of pop music and overpriced cider, take a look at our list of the UK’s weirdest, oddest, strangest, most unusual festivals… Bog snorkeling, anyone?

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(Photo by Green Events)

Bog Snorkeling Championships

Location: Waen Rhydd peat bog, near Llanwrtyd Wells in mid Wales

Date: 30 August 2015

Link: http://www.green-events.co.uk/events.html?id=57

Bog snorkeling has the dubious honour of being so unusual that it has become world famous. Last year, Lonely Planet even named it as one of its top 50 ‘must do’ activities across the world.

The idea is simple – you don flippers and a snorkel and swim two full lengths of the Waen Rhydd peat bog as quickly as possible. The only catch is, well, it’s a peat bog. Visibility is 0% and the muddy water is freezing and filthy. Nevertheless, hundreds of international participants flock to compete in the snorkeling, and hundreds more opt sensibly to watch from the sidelines and enjoy the festival atmosphere in the nearby town of Llanwrtyd Wells.

The Hunting of the Earl of Rone

Location: Combe Martin, Devon

Date: Last bank holiday weekend in May

Link: http://www.earl-of-rone.org.uk

This four-day festival does exactly what it says on the tin – except there is no actual ‘Earl of Rone’. The tradition dates back more than 400 years, but nobody is quite sure how or why it began. Local historians believe that the Earl of Rone was actually the Earl of Tyrone, who fled Ireland in 1607 and was shipwrecked along the Combe Martin coast, where he was hunted by the Grenadiers.

Whatever the reason, it has become an unmissable Devon event, which features four days of music, dance, drinking and, yes, hunting.

One unfortunate man is chosen to represent the Earl, and dressed in sackcloth and a mask. For four days and four nights he is hunted by ‘Grenadiers’, the villagers, a Fool and a Hobby Horse, before he is eventually found on the Monday night, mounted backwards on a donkey, and thrown into the sea.

Nettle Eating Contest

Location: Marsham, Dorset

Date: June 20 2015, June 18 2016

Link: http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/world-stinging-nettle-eating-championship

It’s somewhat inevitable that a nettle eating contest would eventually balloon into a full-blown festival. Who doesn’t want to watch grown men and women stuff their faces with stinging weeds, all in the name of, erm, pride?

The tradition began in The Bottle Inn in the 1980s, when two local farmers drunkenly argued about who had the tallest stinging nettles in their fields.

Now, the nettle eating contest forms the highlight of a two-day beer festival at the village of Marshwood, and people come from all over the world to compete.

Participants have one hour to eat as many nettle leaves as possible, offering up the bare stalks as proof. A new record was set in 2014, when a local man ate 80 feet of nettles (washed down with a good few pints, of course).

Up Helly Aa

Location: Lerwick, Shetland

Date: Last Tuesday of January

Link: http://www.uphellyaa.org

It is billed as the biggest fire festival in Europe, and Up Helly Aa doesn’t disappoint. The day-long festival is a celebration of all things Viking, and involves local men wearing horned helmets and armour (painstakingly created months in advance) before marching through the town.

When night falls, the men light hundreds of flaming torches, which are marched to the harbour and flung into a replica Viking long ship, to cheers from the crowds. As the boat burns, the dancing begins and the ceilidhs have been known to last all through the night.

The Tichbourne Dole in 1671 (Pic by Historic UK)

The Tichbourne Dole in 1671 (Pic by Historic UK)

The Tichborne Dole

Location: Tichborne, Hampshire

Date: 25 March

Link: http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-Tichborne-Dole/

The Tichborne Dole started with an act of charity in the 13th century, and has now become a fully-fledged local festival which attracts thousands of curious tourists.

It all began 800 years ago when a dying Lady Mabella Tichborne asked her husband to promise that he would donate some of his crops each year to the poor. He agreed, but said he would only donate produce from any land that she could crawl over in her dying state. She managed to cover 23 acres before she died, and every year the townspeople are given a handout (or ‘dole’) of free flour in remembrance of her kindness.

The bread is blessed in a religious ceremony, and Lady Mabella is praised, before free flour is distributed among the streets of Tichborne – one gallon per adult and half a gallon per child. Locals collect their flour in plastic bags, boxes, sacks and even pillowcases – the odder, the better!

The Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss

Location: Padstow, Cornwall

Date: May Day

Link: http://www.padstowlive.com/events/padstow-may-day

Forget Creamfields, Glastonbury and Ibiza – the Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss is the oldest established dance festival in the UK. And probably the only one to feature all-singing, all-dancing horses.

Every May Day, residents of Padstow raise the Maypole, and signal the start of the ‘Obby ‘Oss festivities. This involves paying tribute to a terrifying horse mask set inside a 6-ft wide wooden circle, which is worn by a local dancer and paraded around the streets while traditional music is played. A ‘Teazer’ leads the way, carrying a colourful leather pad which is used in a variety of dance moves, and helps the black horse (or ‘Oss’) to capture young women by throwing a black cape over their heads.

Troupes of dancers fill the streets, until the dance ends with the horse in its ‘stable’ – a local pub.

World Toe-Wrestling Championships

Location: Bentley Brook Inn, Fenny Bentley, Derbyshire

Date: 15 June 2015

Link: http://bentleybrookinn.co.uk/toe-wrestling

Another barmy British tradition, toe wrestling has a proud heritage dating back almost forty years. In fact, it is now a registered international sport, and was once optioned for inclusion in the Olympics!

The World Championship is an extremely popular event, bringing professional toe-wrestlers from all over the world, to compete on the ‘toedium’ at the Bentley Brook Inn.

Food trucks, beer brands and local musicians are all keen to get in on the action, bringing a festival atmosphere to this tiny Derbyshire village.

Scarecrow Festival

Location: Kettlewell, Yorks

Date: 8-16 August 2015

Link: http://www.kettlewellscarecrowfestival.co.uk/

If you need a bit of nightmare fuel, arrive in Kettlewell on the first night of the annual Scarecrow Festival. You will be greeted by hordes of life-size scarecrows pinned across the village, just…watching…you…

The Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival sees locals battling it out to produce the most realistic or humorous models, which form the basis of this week-long festival. Follow the scarecrow trail to reveal clues and win prizes.

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