Travel Talk: Toe-wrestling in England?

From playing footsies as a contact sport to hosting the Olympics? I love the British!

I just realized why 686,000 Canadians visit Britain each year. Obviously for 2012 there are the London Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee, but once the Olympic medals have been doled out and Her Majesty the Queen has been royally feted for her 60-year reign, what’s there to do?

Of course, you can tour The Drawings Gallery at Windsor Castle, watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, or head to Coventry to tour a 1,000-year-old cathedral, or spend a week touring amazing highlights of Wales). But if you’re caught up in the Olympic fervour and would like to witness Britain’s other great sporting traditions, you’re in for a few surprises.

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace: traditional, not-to-be-missed tourist fare (Courtesy: Visit Britain)

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace: traditional, not-to-be-missed tourist fare (Courtesy: Visit Britain)

Some of you who’ve been following this blog for a while will remember how I was gob-smacked last year when I read reports of a cheese-rolling derby in the Village of Stilton, England. That was only the tip of the ice-berg. Here are five slightly off-the-wall (and definitely off-my-radar) “sporting events” popular in the United Kingdom.

Note: wellies, adult-size bibs and cushion-y vests could come in handy. Just saying.

1. Toe Wrestling, Fenny Bentley, Ashbourne. On August 25 the Bentley Brook Inn in Derbyshire will sponsor Ben & Jerry’s World Toe Wrestling Championship. The event was conceived in a pub in 1976 when barefooted rivals locked their big toes together and tried to push their opponent’s digit to the ground. Word has it that a Canadian won the grand prize in the mid-1970s.

World Toe Wrestling (Courtesy: World Toe Wrestling.com)

World Toe Wrestling (Courtesy: World Toe Wrestling.com)

2. Shin-Kicking, June 1, 2012, Dover’s Hill, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. The Olympick (not a misspelling) Games-hosted Shin-Kicking tournament originated in 1612. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the sport whereby two rivals stuff straw into their pants to reduce the pain and bruising.

3. World Coal Carrying Contest, April 9, 2012, Ossett, West Yorkshire Held each year on Easter Monday. To prove their strength and stamina, men carry 50kg bags of coal and women tote 20kg bags of coal up a mile-long course. For me, this would definitely be a spectator sport.

4. World Gravy Wrestling, August 27, the Rose & Bowl Inn, Bacup, Rossendale. Sounds fattening. I’ll quote directly from their publicity bumf, “Teams slide around in lukewarm gravy and attempt to wrestle on another to the ground.”

Gravy Wrestling Championships

Gravy Wrestling Championships

5. Black Pudding Throwing, September 9, 2012, Royal Oak, Bridge Street, Ramsbottom, Lancashire. This Lancashire delicacy apparently includes tripe (cow’s stomach) and elder (steamed cows’ udder). The aim is to throw a black pudding (wrapped in a pair of ladies underwear) at a stack of Yorkshire puddings. Let’s give it up for Rambsbottom.

World Black Pudding Throwing rivals take to the streets of Ramsbottom

World Black Pudding Throwing rivals take to the streets of Ramsbottom

I remember being shocked and bemused some years ago to attend Sleepy Head Day in Finland, when the laziest soul in the house is either drenched in cold water upon awakening or is chased into a lake, sea or other nearby large and cold water body. Personally, I’ll throw my lot in with the Black Pudding Throwing crowd in England. They stick to dry land and head to a pub after the game!

This is definitely the year to visit Britain. For regal or raucous tourist activities, check out Visit Britain or Visit England, the web site for the English Tourist Board.

Reader question: An astute follower of this blog recently asked me about the difference between the terms “Great Britain” and the “United Kingdom.” He, like many, thought they were interchangeable terms. Click here for a quick ‘n’ easy answer!

What’s the quirkiest festival you’ve attended in your travels?