Most of the counties of Britain have an ancient custom or traditional festival at some time during the year, many have more than one. Below are some of the more unusual British customs and traditions. s
trange and funny
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Cheese Rolling

This event takes place in different parts of the country, usually on the Spring Bank Holiday Monday. A round cheese is rolled down a hill chased by competitors. The winner is the first person to grab the cheese. It is a spectacular to watch but hazardous to take part in, with many competitors ending up with broken arms and legs.

Coopers Hill near Brockworth - last weekend of May (Spring Bank Holiday Monday)
Coopers Hill is the most famous Cheese Rolling Site. The custom originally ensured the villagers' rights to graze sheep on the hill.
Men and women hurtle 200 yards down a near vertical slope in pursuit of a seven-pound Double Gloucester cheese. Photos

Ranwick First Sunday in May (Spring Bank Holiday Monday)
Ranwick is a small Cotswold village, south of Stroud. Cheese rolling takes place there on the first Sunday in May. After being blessed, three cheeses are rolled, anticlockwise around Randwick Church. One of these is then cut up and shared out amongst the crowds. Eating of the cheese protects ones' fertility and ensures future generations of "Runickers" - the local name for villagers.

Ide Hill Near Sevenoaks Kent - (Spring Bank Holiday Monday)

Well Dressing

The custom of well-dressing is popular all over Derbyshire. The wells are dressed with large framed panels decorated with elaborate mosaic-like pictures made of flower petals, seeds, grasses, leaves, tree bark, berries and moss. Well-dressings are beautiful and delicate and take a lot of work to make, and yet they only last for a few days.

The Well Dressing above was created by Stretton Handley Primary School.
Junior children from the School contribute to the Brackenfield Well Dressings every year.

If you visit their Well Dressing pages, you will see photos of how they made the above picture.

Find out more about Well Dressing

Straw Bear Festival

At Whittlesey, on the weekend following Plough Monday the first Monday after Twelfth Night ) a straw bear is paraded around the town attended by a host of dancers and musician from all over the country. The bear is a man covered from head to foot in a straw costume.
During the 19th century Straw Bears - men or boys clothed in a layer of straw - were a familiar Plough Monday .

Takes place Whittlesey, Peterborough

Image on right ©Common Ground

Haxey Hood - 6 January

THE HAXEY HOOD is a bizarre ritual carried out each Twelfth Night (Old Style Christmas Day) in the village of Haxey in Lincolnshire,near the Nottinghamshire border. According to legend it was on Twelfth Night that the wife of sir John de Mowbray was riding on horseback across the fields near Haxey on the Isle of Axholme , when a sudden gust of wind blew her large black silk hood. Thirteen Labourers in a nearby field gave a chase to rescue it, vying with one another to return its graceful owner . She was so grateful that she donated a piece of land on Westwood hill, just outside the village, for an annual enactment of the gallant recovery of her hood.

At 2 p.m. the church bells are rung and down the street in procession comes the "Lord" and his eleven "Boggins" together with the "Fool". The "Lord" wears a red coat and top hat covered with flowers and he carries a stick made from thirteen willow wands and bound thirteen times. At the church gate the "Fool", standing on an old mounting block, makes his traditional speech of welcome to the waiting crowd.

The "Lord" then leads his officials and the people to the highest ground in the parish where the "Boggins" form a large circle. He then calls on a distinguished visitor to throw the first "hood" in the air.

Further Information

Maypole Dancing

Maypole Dancing is the great tradition of May 1st.

On May Day, teams of dancers perform intricate patterns whilst circling the pole. The ribbons interweave as they make their way down the pole with a very decorative result.

Sweeps Festival

Sweeps Festival, Rochester, Kent.
(Spring Bank Holiday Monday)
This occurs in the first weekend in May. A May Day Celebration.

The festival owes its roots to age old traditions. Sweeping chimneys was a dirty but necessary trade nearly 300 years ago.

Sweeps Festival is said to be the largest gathering of Morris Dancers in the world. Notably, the only true English day where you can join in and listen to the music.

See the photos

Tar Barrel Burning

The custom of men welcoming in the New Year by carrying pans of blazing tar on their heads is still kept alive in Allendale, Northumberland, on New Year's Eve. The "carriers", dressed in fancy costume, balance on their head the end of a barrel filled with inflammable material. The procession is timed to reach an unlit bonfire shortly before midnight, then each man in turn tosses his flaming "headgear" on to the bonfire, setting it ablaze. On the stroke of twelve, all join hands and dance around the fire, singing Auld Lang Syne.

Guy Fawkes night (5th November),
Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its Tar Barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17th century. The annual event involves people racing through the streets of the town, carrying flaming wooden barrels of burning tar on their backs.


Thought to be Britain's biggest fire festival and torchlight procession.A thousand years after the Vikings invaded Scotland, the people of Shetlands remember the Vikings with a festival.
Every winter they make a model Viking Longship. On Up-Helly-Aa night, at the end of January, the Shetlanders dress up in Viking clothes and drag the ship through the town to the sea. They sing Up-Helly-Aa songs before tossing their burning torches onto the ship and creating a massive bonfire. They do this because the Vikings put their dead men in ships and burned them.

More information

Hurling the Silver Ball

A Handball Game
Hurling is one of the oldest forms of a ball game and still takes place at St Ives in Cornwall, England, on the first Monday after February 3rd.

The game is played in the town's streets and on the beach. The game starts at 10.30 am and the person holding the silver ball at noon wins.

Bread and Cheese Throwing

Whit Sunday Evening
After the evening service at the church in St Briavels, Gloucestershire, baskets full of bread and cheese are thrown from a wall near the old castle. Everyone scrambles to grab as many pieces of food as they can.

Find out more

Blessing the Throats Ceremony

St Etheldreda's Church, London
February 3rd St Blaise's day

Two candles are tied together, lit, and touched on to the necks of people suffering from sore throats.
St Blaise saved a child from choking to death on a fishbone and so is patron saint of throat sufferers.

Bottle Kicking and Hare Pie Scramble

Easter Monday - Hallaton in Leicestershire. The story goes that a woman was saved by a hare running across the path of a bull on Easter Monday hundreds of years ago. As a token of her appreciation, she bequeathed a piece of land to the rector. The sole condition to this bequest was that the rector have a hare pie made to be distributed to parishioners together with a large quantity of ale every year.

The Hare pie (replaced now by a beef pie) is still produced at the church gate at 13.30 and pieces are hurled to the good natured mob who then make a procession led by a bronze sculpture of a hare on a pole up the hill to a spot where bottles are blessed, before the start of a rugby-like mass football game between Hallaton and nearby Medbourne. The aim is to get bottles (three small iron-hooped wooden barrels) across the goals - streams a mile apart - there is no limit to the numbers on each side.

Bacup Nutters Dance

(Easter) Holy Saturday - Bacup near Rochdale, LancashireClick here to visit the official web site for the Nutter DanceThe Nutter Dance is a form of Morris dance. One main difference is they blacken their faces. This probably came about because of the mining connections. They wear hats like turbans decorated with rosette and coloured feathers, black jersey, red and white kilts, white stockings and shining black Lancashire clogs.The dancers dance their way through the streets following a tradition that takes them from boundary to boundary of the Town. They tap out rhythms on wooden discs or 'nuts' fastened to their palms, knees and waist. This is thought to represent the protective cover worn on the hands and knees when crawling along narrow passages in the mines.

More information

Clowns in Church

On the first Sunday in February there is a church service held every year at a Holy Trinity Church in Dalston, East London, where the congregation is comprised almost completely of CLOWNS.Clowns appear in full motley and slap for the Grimaldi Memorial Service, to which the public are warmly invited.The Clowns transferred to Holy Trinity in 1959. It is here that the occasion has grown to its present proportions; the Church packed to bursting point and the proceedings covered by all the media. The event really came into its own when in February 1967 Clown Smokey succeeded in gaining permission for Clowns to attend in full motley. Clowns from all over the World, irrespective of religious convictions, attended in full "slap" (make-up and costume). They give thanks for the gift of laughter and honour the "father" of present day Clowns, Joseph Grimaldi. After the Service it is traditional for the Clowns to entertain the public in the adjacent school.

A summer celebration was also inaugurated by the residents of Islington. This occurs during the children's half term (either the last week of May or the first week of June). The date also coincides with Joey's death and burial, but is far from a gloomy affair; the sun usually shines on a festive outdoor occasion, full of fun and laughter.

Turning the Devils Stone

On Guy Fawkes night, the villagers of Shebbear in Devon turn over a large stone under an ancient oak tree. The Stone is a large rock weighing about 1 tonne, and is not made from local stone. No-one is sure how it comes to be there.

The legends include tales that the Stone has been moved away from Shebbear a number of times, but it mysteriously keeps returning. Another legend says that this is because the Devil is under the stone and would escape if the stone is not turned.

Swan Upping

Each year a group of herdsmen, including The Queen’s Swan Marker dressed in a red costume, and Swan Wardens of the Worshipful Company’s of Dyers and Vintners head up the River Thames in six rowing boats from Sunbury to Abingdon marking swans along the way according to their ownership. In a tradition dating back to Edward IV’s reign, when he sold the swans for money, they are captured to determine their ownership by the marks on their beaks and then their offspring are marked accordingly. Swans belonging to Dyer’s get one nick in their beaks, the Vintners two notches and the Queen’s remain unmarked. You can watch the action from the towpaths along the river course.

For more information and photographs of Swan Upping click here

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