As an island country, the United Kingdom has an array of diverse and distinct cultures and customs, which can at times be wacky and wonderful. As we approach the summer months, the people of Blighty get ready to celebrate a huge number of festivals, ranging from the colourful and musical to the downright wild and bizarre.
Thousands of visitors head into the UK each year to join the festivities. If you are planning a trip over, arrange your flights to London with these festivals in mind so you can be sure to join in with all the fun.
Stilton: In Stilton, teams of four race to become Stilton Cheese Rolling champions by rolling their round of Stilton Cheese with a piece of wood. The race takes place between the The Stilton Cheese Inn and The Talbot and the finish line is outside The Bell Inn. The teams compete to win the cheese. It is unknown when the race originally started but in the mid 20th Century a local landlord started rolling a Stilton Cheese along the road outside his pub. He said this was an old Stilton tradition. People came to stand and watch and eventually joined in.
Gloucestershire: Forty thousand spectators meet at Coopers Hill to watch a 7lb Double Gloucester cheese thrown down the steep slope chased by dozens of crazy competitors. The winner keeps the cheese. This is great to watch but can be dangerous for those taking part with many rolling head over heels after the cheese. This is a tradition dating back to the 1800s.
The Padstow Obby Oss: This is the oldest festival taking place on May Bank holiday and is held in Padstow, Cornwall. It is thought to be a celebration of spring and may even be an ancient Pagan fertility festival. Thousands of people come to see two Hobby Horses, Old Oss and Blue Ribbon Oss. The locals dress in white with added red to show they follow the original ‘old’ Oss or blue to show they follow the blue ribbon ‘peace’ Oss. Both perform a dance ritual and sing a folk song around the town and the harbour. The festivities take place all day with lots of music and dancing.
Midsummer Bonfires: Huge bonfired are lit one after the other along the hilltops of Cornwall from Lands End to the border with Devon. This is in praise of the sun and the fires are lit on the eve of the longest day in June. It was believed that as the days start to get shorter and the sun starts to get weaker, the energy from the fires will give the sun strength.
The Cotswold Olimpick Games are held between the middle of May and the middle of June in Dover’s Hill, Gloucestershire. The games were started by a local lawyer Richard Dover in 1610 as a way to bring rich and poor together. Events included sledge hammer throwing and sword fighting but the highlight of the games is the shin kicking championship. You will see competitors start to stuff straw down their trousers in preparation for the painful event where they grasp each other by the shoulders before kicking their opponent between the ankle and the knee and take them to the ground.
World Nettle Eating Championship: One of the most unusual festivals has to be the Nettle Eating Championships which take place in Dorset at the end of June. This eccentric competition stems from an argument in a pub between two farmers in 1986. They were discussing the length of the stinging nettles in their field and one of the farmers said he would eat any nettle longer than his. People now come from around the world to eat as many stinging nettles as they can in one hour. The aim is to eat more than the current champion. Competitors can only eat nettles provided by the organisers and can not use anything to numb their tongues beforehand.