Some of the quirkiest festivals in Britain

For some reason the good citizens of Britain often enjoy indulging in the bizarre, which they turn into annual festivals.  Following is a few of the festivals that you shouldn’t bear to miss:

25 February 2011
Where: Yell

Yell, the second-most northerly of the main Shetland Islands, hosts its own traditional Viking fire festival, Up Helly Aa, at the village of Cullivoe, on the island’s north-east coast, overlooking the island of Unst. Whether a greeting for spring, or a celebration of the returning sun, the tradition of Up Helly Aa – held by a number of settlements across Shetland during January and February – fills the darkness of a winter’s night from dawn to dusk with fire processions, participants wielding great blazing briars, and always ends up with a party through the night.

When: Easter Monday 25th April 2011 (held annually on Easter Monday)
Where: Gawthorpe, Ossett, West Yorkshire
Time: 12.00 noon at the Royal Oak, Owl Lane, Gawthorpe and finishing at The Maypole on the village green

The World Coal Carrying Contest is a test of stamina and muscle. It is held every Easter Monday and lifts the village of Gawthorpe out of obscurity and into the headlines. The race involves men carrying 50kg (one hundred weight) of coal over an uphill course close to a mile long starting at the Royal Oak, Owl Lane and finishing at the Maypole on the village green. The ladies race follows the same route as the men’s – ladies carry 20 kg of coal. The current world record holder is said to be David Jones of Meltham with a time of 4 mins 6 secs. The World Coal Carrying Contest dates back to 1963 when a local coal merchant and the president of the Maypole Committee were enjoying a pint together. A friend burst into the pub and bet that he could race them with a bag of coal on their backs. Not to let a good idea go to waste, the secretary of the Maypole Committee who was listening to the challenge, decided to set the race for Easter Monday.

When: May 2011TBC
Where: Jubilee Gardens, Ely, Cambs Time: 11 am until 4 pm      

This slithery celebration brings to life the city’s eel traditions with eel tasting, folklore and historical entertainment and displays. The city of Ely is famous for its eels – once part of the local staple diet. These watery creatures are commemorated in May with a day of activities. Look out for the procession with ‘Ellie the Eel’. It’s the annual festival where the good folk of Ely celebrate the humble eel – that slipperiest of fish that gave the city its name!

The festival starts with a procession through the city headed up by Ellie the Eel – a giant version of the snake-like fish created by local school children.

Activities include eel tasting, folk music, pottery making workshops, music and dancing, Viking re-enactments, historical displays, games, craft and food stalls. And, of course – there will be the highly contested eel throwing competition.

When: 3rdJune 2011
Where: Dover’s Hill, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire
Time: 7.30pm

The Cotswold Olimpicks (Olympics) were started by a local barrister Captain Robert Dover in 1612 at Dover’s Hill, above Chipping Campden. The annual event attracts thousands of spectators and features some well-known countryside games such as tug-of-war, obstacle races and wrestling as well as a few bizarre ones – the highlight being shin-kicking. The shin-kicking competition involves two contestants who first fill their trouser legs with straw to help reduce the pain. The players then hold arms and kick each other using steel toe- capped boots until one of the contestants is so bruised that he cannot stand the pain and gives in. The festivities close with a huge bonfire and firework display followed by a torchlight procession to the town square of Chipping Campden where Morris dancing and other entertainment takes place.

The Olympics will be 40 years old when London hosts the 2012 Olimpicks. As hosts of the more senior event, the village of Chipping Campden (pop 2,500) wishes London success in hosting the modern Olympiad and would be happy to pass on any organisational tips.

There are plenty more ridiculous British festivals, which I will share with you some other time.

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