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Travel

Visiting the UK’s weirdest festivals

@TomTaylorFO

This Country beautifully captured the madness of Old Blighty with the line: “That’s the beautiful thing about living in the village. Everyone comes together on days like Scarecrow Festival and just forgets their utter hatred of each other.” We are a nation of bickering with intermittent bouts of festivals and festivities when all squabbling subsides, and things take on a sunnier disposition… and often a very weird one too.

A paradigm of the madness is that even one of the most ostensibly normal festivals, Reading and Leeds, is renowned on British shores for a certain Poo Girl. If you are uninitiated with the lore of this legend, then the following Daily Telegraph headline will tell you all you need to know without any of the gory details: “Poo Girl survives portable loo horror.”

If that is how watching Coldplay in a large field goes, then what of the many oddities that this peculiar nation chooses to revel in? What of the cheese chasing or hunting a man dressed in sackcloth and a grotesque mask in the pleasant country village? What of the weirdness that turns this disgruntled pug-faced nation into beaming loons? Well, we’re delving into them on our travels below. 

The UK’s weirdest festivals:

The Hunting of the Earl of Rone, Combe Martin

Devon is a strange place. While basking in the beauty of its humble pleasantry, you may well hear a young youth exclaim down the phone, “If I had a face like yours, I’d sue my parents!” I can’t guarantee that same burly adolescent will be there yelling insults every time, but it’s a fitting pastiche of the place all the same. 

In Combe Martin, the county really lets its hair down to its toes once a year for a festival that is utterly mad. As its website states: “Its History goes back into antiquity, and although local legend has it that the Earl is the Earl of Tyrone who fled from Ireland in 1607, comparison of the ceremony with some of its European Parallels indicates that it has its roots in the pre-Christian seasonal rites of the ancient peoples.”

So, what exactly happens? Well, at the back end of May every year, a series of processions take place whereby ribbon-wearing Grenadiers chase down a phantom dressed in sackcloth with a coloured mask that looks like something from a Terry Gillian reimagining of the Sgt. Peppers album cover. This oddball character is routinely pursued, caught, and revived by a Hobby Horse until finally his race is run and he his hurled into the sea until next year. All the while, you scratch your head and wonder, ‘What the hell is this place?’

Cheese-Rolling, Coopers Hill

It is a measure of Britain’s bizarre nature that one of its most extreme sports involves a wheel of cheese. While others ride waves or tackle cliffs, the goons of Great Britain gallivant down a hill in Gloucestershire and try to grab a rolling wheel of cheese. However, that isn’t to say that it isn’t extreme—the festival reached newfound popularity after 15 people were injured in 1993, somehow endearing it to the mad bastards around the world who are into that sort of thing. 

It is very much a Ronseal festival, it simply pertains to rolling cheese down a hill. However, the hill is carefully chosen and the 9lb Double Gloucester has been clocked at 70mph leaving pursues tumbling futilely after it. Often followed by a trip to A&E. What better way to spend a Spring Bank Holliday?

It is a festival that comes with a tagline, “Now come the idiots” as the public follows the so-called pros tumbling down the grassy knoll in the hopes of absolutely nought. Then suddenly, in the still moments between the madness, it dawns on you just how pastoral and pleasant things seem beyond the stupidity. 

Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival, Kettlewell

Part of the beauty of these festivals is that whether they are 1000 years old or in their growing infancy, they may well have been conceived in a pub and then, somehow, an entire village decided, ‘Yeah, I’ll happily go along with Barbara’s batshit idea’. However, in Kettlewell, at least the thinking was fairly wholesome for anything bar crows. 

Every August, the North Yorkshire town of Kettlewell plays host to hundreds of scarecrows. These ‘charming in the daytime / petrifying at night’ creations are scattered across the country village with trails, scouting missions, activities for often terrified kids, and a shed load of beige food goods are all the rage. And best of all, some of the scarecrows on display every year are truly terrible—I mean outside of August you’d be done for fly-tipping your old clothes. These ridiculously rubbish creations are often many visitors’ favourites. 

Albeit there is more of an inherent charm to the proposition than most of the mad nettle-eating and egg-throwing oddities that you can visit in the UK, the question still remains: why? Well, the local Primary School came up with the idea and all the elders of the village simply ran with it. The charm still lives on almost 30 years later. 

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