Funny faces at Egremont Crab Fair

The Brits are known for being a little eccentric. It’s one of their more redeeming features, and is sure proof of your average Brits above average sense of the ridiculous.

Each year dozens of towns all over the British Isles hold fairs, festivals and sporting events that appear to be somewhat odd to outsiders, and the town of Egremont in Cumbria is certainly no exception.

The Egremont Crab Fair is one of the oldest fairs in the world and it takes place on the third Saturday in September on the Cumbrian coast in north-west England. One of the oddest things about the Crab Fair is that it doesn’t even celebrate real crabs; instead it celebrates a type of fruit which really only works well when made into a jam.

The fair was first held in 1267, to celebrate the generosity of the Lord of Egremont, who gave crab-apples to the poor. These are small and often sour-tasting wild apples. So the fair always starts with the Parade of the Apple Cart, and apples are thrown to the crowds.

There are various sporting events during the day, including Cumberland wrestling, an ancient and traditional local sport. Each wrestler locks his hands behind his opponent’s back and tries to lift him up and throw him to the ground to land face-up.

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 and the winners’ looks are truly gruesome.

Tommy Mattinson of Aspatria is the winner of the most competitions to date, with twelve victories. His father Gordon won ten times. Ron Looney of Egremont won the event eight times. Gordon Blacklock of Thornhill, Egremont has won six times. Wyndham “Taffy” Thomas of Cockermouth was victor on five occasions.

Contestants from Canada, Australia, the USA and Holland have taken part in the Egremont gurning championship, but not one has ever won.

This year’s Egremont Crab Fair, the Crab Fair which doesn’t actually celebrate crabs, takes place on 17 September.

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