The Top 7 Weird British Sports And Competitions

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Posted: February 9, 2024

Updated: February 9, 2024

Every country has it's own weird sporting events. But somehow the English excel at strange spectacles.There's no shortage of weird British sports and activities. Everything from barrel rolling to man vs horse races and snail racing thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately you can't officially wager on any of these events. But that shouldn't stop you from have a great time as a spectator, or, if you're ip for it, taking part.

Britain is renowned for its contribution to the world of sports, having birthed many globally beloved pastimes. Cricket finds its origins in Britain, while the first rules of football were penned in Cambridge. Rugby emerged from the fields of Rugby School. Tennis, although historically rooted in France, saw its modern incarnation born in Birmingham. The list extends to include table tennis, badminton, bowls, golf, netball, curling, squash, and rounders – all originating within Britain’s borders. And then we come to a selection of weird British sports that are hidden gems for those who enjoy playing them.

One might wonder whether the British possess a knack for inventing remarkable sports, perhaps aided by the expansive reach of their former Empire. Yet, it appears that while some sports took time to gain traction, many emerged solely within certain regions, often seeming peculiar to outsiders. Indeed, a sport like cheese rolling may appear odd until it garners widespread popularity.

Afterall, initially the notion of kicking around an inflated pig’s bladder hardly sounds thrilling, yet football now captivates roughly half the global populace. It also has the attention of the biggest and best sportsbooks, such as Bet365 SportsbookIn this Gamingzion.com article, we delve into a selection of weird British sports and traditions that dot the UK landscape.

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Weird British Sports – Barrel Rolling

Annually held on Boxing Day in the village of Grantchester near Cambridge, this event features a relay race in which participants propel traditional beer barrels ahead of them, albeit emptied of their contents. Manoeuvring these barrels proves to be no small feat, given their often irregular shapes; rolling them at speed demands considerable skill to maintain control.

In Ottery St Mary, Devon, a yet more perilous barrel-related contest unfolds, where team members carry tar-soaked barrels weighing up to 30kg on their backs and shoulders, further complicated by the barrels being set alight. While Grantchester’s barrel rolling tradition spans back to the 1960s, Ottery St Mary’s version traces its origins to the 17th century.

Nettle Eating

The stinging nettle, a common presence in the British countryside, delivers an uncomfortable sting upon contact. While cooking nullifies this sting, the idea of consuming raw nettles might seem unappealing. Yet, at Dorset’s World Nettle-Eating Championships, participants embrace the weird British sports challenge of devouring as many 2-foot stalks of nettles as possible within an hour. Surprisingly, last year’s victor remarked that the experience is less painful than anticipated, hinting at a potential rapid immunity to the stinging sensation.

weird British sports
Picture Source: Flickr

Originating from a wager between farmers regarding the length of their nettles, this event emerged only a few decades ago; since then, it has attracted a diverse array of competitors, including those hailing from as far as Australia.

Weird British Sports – Poohsticks

Conceived by A.A. Milne within the pages of his beloved Winnie-the-Pooh children’s series, poohsticks is a whimsical game of chance. Two players position themselves on one side of a bridge, each armed with a stick. Simultaneously, they release their sticks into the water below, hastening to dash to the opposite side of the bridge. The winner is declared as the one whose stick emerges first. While some claim there’s an art to selecting the swiftest current, scepticism persists among most participants.

According to online gambling news in the UK, poohsticks boasts its own championship, an annual affair in Oxfordshire drawing approximately 1,500 spectators. Originating in 1984 as a modest fundraiser for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the event was initially organised by a local lock keeper. Since its inception, it’s a weird British sports event that has grown into a significant spectacle.

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Man vs Horse Marathon

Can a human outpace a horse? While conventional wisdom might favour the nag, the Man vs Horse marathon in Wales challenges this assumption. Covering over 21 miles of rugged terrain (slightly shorter than a standard marathon), the weird British sports race deliberately avoids even ground to prevent undue advantage to the horse. Despite this, human runners have triumphed over their equestrian competitors only twice in the event’s 26-year history.

On both occasions, scorching June temperatures seemed to favour the runners, somewhat reducing the horses’ natural advantage. Despite the odds stacked in favour of the horses, human competitors have trailed the fastest equine finishers by a margin of no more than 20 minutes in recent years.

Weird British Sports – Snail Racing

Attempting, albeit often fruitlessly, to organise snail races is a common pastime among young children wherever snails abound. However, in Britain, when it comes to weird British sports, this simple amusement has been elevated into a full-fledged, albeit kitschy, competition. The World Snail Racing Championships take place in Congham, Norfolk, a characteristic choice considering such events are typically hosted by small villages in rural locales.

weird British sports
Picture Source: Flickr

With a tongue-in-cheek assertion, Congham proudly claims to be to snail racing what Newmarket is to horse racing. Snails participating in the event are adorned either with numbered stickers or, in some cases, their shells are painted with flags, before embarking on a 13-inch course. The current record stands at 2 minutes, achieved by a snail named Archie in 1995. Last year’s champion, Herbie 2, completed the course in 3 minutes and 25 seconds.

Weird British Sports – Gravy Wrestling

Some British competitions may appear as if they were concocted by a random word generator or a particularly imaginative child. One such example is the World Gravy Wrestling Championships, where participants, often adorned in fancy attire, engage in wrestling matches submerged in 1,000 litres of gravy. The slippery nature of the gravy necessitates padded rings to prevent mishaps.

Judges evaluate the two-minute bouts not only on wrestling prowess but also on the entertainment value provided by the contestants. Moreover, the loser of this weird British sports match faces a barrage of additional gravy. Like many events of its kind, gravy wrestling is a relatively recent phenomenon, having been established just a decade ago, often serving as a platform for participants to raise funds for charitable causes.

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Worm Charming

Worm charming, the art of coaxing worms from the soil using vibrations to simulate rainfall, has long been employed to procure fishing bait. However, in the USA, Canada, and particularly the UK, this weird British sports activity has evolved into a competitive sport governed by strict regulations. Contestants are allotted a 3×3 metre plot of land and must entice as many worms as possible within a specified timeframe.

Two prominent worm charming events take place in the UK: the World Worm Charming Championships in Cheshire and the International Festival of Worm Charming in Devon, with the former being notably more competitive. In 2009, a remarkable feat was achieved in Cheshire when 10-year-old local Sophie Smith set a world record by charming 567 worms from the ground, surpassing the impressive benchmark of 511 worms set in 1980, which prompted the establishment of the Championships in the first place.

Although all these weird British sports events are technically competitions, they are not yet big or profitable enough to garner the attention of the top online sportsbook sites in the UK. Betting websites like Bet365 Sportsbook tend to stick with events that are better known and therefore attract more attention from sports bettors around the world. 

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