Hidden away in the most seemingly ordinary of countryside villages and isolated of coastal towns are some of Britain’s best kept secrets—unique cultural traditions that can be witnessed nowhere else in the world.
My advice for the whimsical and curious traveller in search of new sights: it’s time to think beyond location. Seek to experience. The most fascinating things can happen in the most unexpected of places, many of which are easily accessible, affordable and perhaps even a short car or boat trip away.
Think eccentric; think outlandish. Make 2008 a year of cultural adventure, and discover some of Europe’s most bewildering and unconventional pastimes…
A guide to some of the UK’s greatest cultural secrets.
1. Annual Cheese-Rolling.
What: A riotous downhill cheese chase.
Where: Cooper’s Hill, near Brockworth, Gloucestershire, England.
When: 26 May 2008.
For centuries, hundreds of fearless competitors have congregated at Cooper’s Hill to hone the forces of gravity in the name of cheese. An 8 lb round of Double Gloucester, to be exact. Combine a few brave and reckless souls, a thousand rowdy spectators, and a 70-degree incline; send the cheese a’ rolling, and you have an outrageously muddy stampede that will change your understanding of ‘sport’ and ‘tradition’ forever. A truly bizarre and fascinating sight, you will be wowed by the brashness of the ‘rollers’, as they hurl their flailing bodies into uncontrolled, plummeting frenzies. Enter the contest if you dare: helmet suggested, and a tinge of stupidity required…
2. Sark Sheep Races.
What: A summertime festival, dedicated to the art of sheep frolicking.
Where: Sark, Channel Islands.
When: 5 July 2008 (provisional).
“Baa baa racing sheep, have you any speed? How close to the finish can your teddy jockey lead?”
It sounds like a children’s bedtime story or even a hallucinogenic dream—the image of floppy stuffed animals strapped to a wandering mass of fluffy bovines. Enter the isolated, vehicle-less isle of Sark—home of 600 people, gorgeous elevated coastlines, horse-drawn carriages and, of course…sheep. Perhaps because of recent attention from the press (the island was, until just under two years ago, the last existing feudal system in the West) the jolly little festival should draw hundreds of adventurous spectators this summer. Join in on the fun to witness the aimless, cuddly creatures as they charge forth… in every direction but the finish line.
3. Carrbridge Chainsaw Carving Championship
What: Not a bloody massacre. A public display of intricate craftsmanship.
Where: Carrbridge Village Sports Field, Carrbridge, near Inverness, Scotland.
When: 30 August 2008.
Once upon a time, people only carved things with hand tools. And once upon a time, chainsaw manufacturers needed to boost their sales with promotional demos. The artists got calluses, the salesmen engaged in crafty publicity stunts, and a few adept, creative folk got inventive. Hence the birth of chainsaw carving, a globally prevalent and very much ‘in’ up-and-coming art form.
This summer is your chance to witness the world’s speediest and most talented chainsaw carvers in the idyllic highland village setting of Carrbridge. Watch in amazement as enormous hunks of timber are transformed into intricate sculptures of giant owls, growling bears, and forest trolls—a truly memorable experience and fascinating way to witness a flourishing tradition.
4. World Stone Skimming Championship
What: An idle afternoon pastime turned competitive sport.
Where: Easdale Island, near Oban, Argyll, Scotland
When: 20 September 2008.
Perhaps some of you yearn to take up a new hobby that doesn’t pose dangers of scrapes, bruises and severed limbs. Perhaps you would also love a weekend getaway to a beautiful island. Why not kill two birds with one (skipping) stone at the World Stone Skimming Championship? Held on the tiny, secluded Scottish isle of Easdale, this light-hearted, jovial contest is open to anyone and everyone wishing to try their luck at an age-old pastime (for North Americans, “skipping rocks”). After honing your new life skill, why not stick around for a bit? With 60 friendly inhabitants, a quant little pub, stunning views of the Atlantic, and an abundance of skimming stones, Easdale is the perfect place to end your summer with a tranquil splash.