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Top 10 Weirdest British Traditions

VO: Richard Bush
Written by Liam Nolan Make way for Weird Britannia. Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’ll be counting down the Top 10 Weirdest UK Traditions. The United Kingdom is crammed with cultural customs, but some are a little bit stranger than others. And for this list, we’re celebrating the strangest of all! Special thanks to our users shanghaiknight20002 and ViolaCello for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 Weirdest British Traditions

Make way for Weird Britannia. Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’ll be counting down the Top 10 Weirdest UK Traditions.

The United Kingdom is crammed with cultural customs, but some are a little bit stranger than others. And for this list, we’re celebrating the strangest of all!

#10: Tar Barrel Racing

On November 5th most of us are content to gather around a raging bonfire, eat charred sausages and watch firework displays. But, for the residents of Ottery St Mary, that’s far too boring. Ever since the 1600s, they’ve celebrated Guy Fawkes night by soaking barrels in tar, setting them on fire, and carrying them into the centre of town as quickly as they can. Fancy giving it a go yourself? Unfortunately, the privilege is only extended to people born in the town, or who have lived there for most of their lives.

#9: Weighing The Mayor

Over to High Wycombe, where the locals are pretty tough on corruption in local government! Ever since 1678, the mayor has been publicly weighed at the start and end of their time in office. The reason? Because if the incumbent had put on weight during their term, the over-eating was traditionally seen to be at the taxpayers expense. Historically, the crowd reacted by pelting the apparently corrupt official with rotten tomatoes and fruit. Nowadays, things are a bit more civilised, and the worst a heavyset mayor can expect is some light booing.

#8: Up Helly Aa

Originating in the 1880’s - as an offshoot of tar barrelling, in fact - Up Helly Aa see’s Shetland Islanders celebrate the end of the festive season with a nod to their Viking history. On the last Tuesday of January, the streets of Lerwick see up to 1,000 torch bearing participants, dressed as Viking warriors, parade through the town. Their final destination is a Viking longship, which is ceremoniously set ablaze. Afterwards, the community comes together to party, with dancing through the night, and what must be a hefty clean up the next morning.

#7: Bog Snorkelling

Wales next, and if you happened to be in the Neuadd Arms in Llanwrtyd Wells one fateful night in 1976, you might have been privy to a conversation between regulars devising the rules for the noble tradition of bog snorkelling. The unusual sport caught on quite quickly, and since 1985 Llanwrtyd Wells has hosted the International Bog Snorkelling Championships. The wearing of flippers and snorkels is compulsory, and competitors are required to propel themselves through flipper power alone. Wetsuits are optional, but a shower before getting in the car to go back home is not.

#6: The International Birdman

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Almost! It’s the International Birdman, and since 1971 budding aviators have been flinging themselves off of piers in West Sussex, in various types of unconventional aircraft, in an attempt to fly the furthest. Originally starting off in Selsey Pier, the competition is now held in Worthing and Bognor Regis, and is divided into three classes. Condor Class, for the accomplished flyers often with hang gliders; Leonardo Da Vinci Class for homemade inventions; and Kingfisher Class, for enthusiastic amateurs in fancy dress.

#5: Jack In The Green

As part of the May Day Celebrations across Britain, which are already pretty strange, a Jack In The Green is the lucky participant of a parade who gets to dress head to toe in foliage and other garlands. Originating in the 16th century, where competitions between local guilds to create the most elaborate garlands got increasingly out of hand, the event fell out of favour in the early 1900s. However, revivals across the UK from the 1970’s onwards mean that the tradition of dressing as essentially a massive hedge is still alive and well.

#4: Worm Charming

If you hear ‘worm charming’ and think of complimenting it’s new haircut, or maybe taking it out to dinner and a West End show, you wouldn’t get very far in our next entry. Worm Charming competitions have been happening in the UK since at least 1980, where contestants try to raise as many worms out of the ground as possible. There are many techniques for this, most of which in some way involve twanging a garden fork to vibrate the soil. And there are world records, too - with a 10 year old girl charming a whopping 567 worms out of the Earth in 2009!

#3: World Gurning Championships

Clearly ignoring their mum’s advice that if the wind changes, their faces will stay that way’, funny face enthusiasts have been gathering for centuries at the Egremont Crab Fair - in order to gurn their way to being crowned World Champion. With gallant gurners donning a horse collar for their performance, it’s a simple premise, really. But contestants go to great lengths to get an edge over their opponents. World renowned gurner Peter Jackman even showed his dedication to the cause by having his teeth removed in 2000, to get closer to gurning perfection.

#2: Nettle Eating Championships

Disproving the notion that English cuisine is bland and inoffensive, The Bottle Inn in Marshwood, Dorset, has been serving up stinging nettles to adventurous competitors since the late 1980’s. A tradition stemming from an argument between two farmers about who had the longest nettles in their field, with one pledging to eat any nettles longer than his, the competition now has dedicated men’s and women’s categories and attracts foliage chompers from all around the world. With past champions eating up to 80 feet of nettles, you need taste buds of steel for this one!

#1: Cheese-Rolling

How much do you love cheese? What would you do to win an entire wheel of it?? If your answer is run as fast as you can down an incredibly steep hill, then get yourself down to Brockworth in Gloucestershire where every year hundreds of cheese enthusiasts hurtle themselves down Coopers Hill after a wheel of Double Gloucester. This health and safety nightmare of an event used to be semi-official and run by an actual committee, but since 2010 it’s taken place spontaneously - to avoid any red tape worries. It’s barmy British eccentricity at its very best!

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