Rural English pastimes that are not The Hunting of the Earl of Rone
August 24, 2017 9:37 AM   Subscribe

While the upper classes have tea pursuit and riding crop rumpus, we can choose from toe wrestling or hen racing in Derbyshire, wormcharming in Devon, gurning in Cumbria, pancake racing in Buckinghamshire (women only), egg throwing in Lincolnshire, black pudding hurling in Ramsbottom, bottle kicking in Leicestershire, pooh sticks (previously) in Witney, and bun throwing nearby. Sadly, ancient sports such as shin kicking are dying out. But there's also a variety of pub games such as Aunt Sally and Dwile Flonking or stinging nettle eating (vomiting is forbidden), or nurdling in Rutland. And not forgetting tin bath racing, or tar barrel racing (video) and, of course, the Haxley Hood (explained in 1967) in Lincolnshire and the Cornish national sport of hurling the silver ball. [post title]
posted by Wordshore (17 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Number of Words until Wordshore™ Post Identification: 3.
posted by zamboni at 9:49 AM on August 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

Nice list, but I think you missed out elver eating. And, relatedly, Severn bore riding.
posted by glasseyes at 10:08 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Silly Millennials and their fondle slabs! Just LOOK at all the fun we'll have in the post-apocalyptic future once the power grid is permanently destroyed!
posted by briank at 10:10 AM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

From that first link, one is amused by this terribly English description:


Six contestants kneel on the track with their bottoms in the air. Another contestant with a riding crop must whip them. But they are prevented from doing so by two fetishists who try to take the blows from the riding crop themselves.

posted by Wordshore at 10:13 AM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Can we do that Hunting of the Earl of Rone thing? Only with Trump? And IRL?

I particularly like that last bit...
posted by evilDoug at 10:45 AM on August 24, 2017

Let us not forget the Kirkwall Ba'.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:49 AM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

What? No Gloucester Cheese Rolling?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 12:16 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Let us not forget the Kirkwall Ba'.

Thanks; I will include in a forthcoming post on Rural Scottish pastimes.
posted by Wordshore at 12:28 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Because not everyone has time to follow each link and I do, a breakdown of the events listed above:

Toe wrestling - though I expected this to be a colorful name for a kind of olde-tymey folk wrestling, nope, it’s “like arm wrestling but with feet.” Toes interlocked with your opponent, a battle of toejam, fungus, and willpower. This is clearly the fruit of late-night drinking and thinking. “Ye know, we arm wrestle with our hands…why don’ we leg wrestle with our toes? Take off yer boot, Willie, I got an idea!”

Hen racing - exactly what the name says. Hens, racing. As I recently attended a pig race, I can’t rag on this.

Wormcharming - the act of summoning worms to the surface of the earth. Though this sounds like it was made up as part of a Mark Twain story, apparently this is a real thing. Images of Bugs Bunny dressed as a sexy female worm to lure the male worms out won’t leave my head despite my knowing that earthworms are hermaphroditic and therefore Bugs wouldn’t need a disguise at all to be sexually appealing to them but that’s the result of a childhood of old-cartoon watching, so there ya go.

Gurning - making weird faces. I appreciate that the Cumbrians have made this a competitive sport, so the people who didn’t listen to their parents when they were children and whose faces “stuck that way” have a competition of their own.

Pancake racing - women run down the street holding a frying pan, each pan holding a pancake. I’m not sure if the racers have to flip the pancakes as they run or not. This is not a race of self-propelled pancakes, and this disappoints me. Come on, Britain.

Egg throwing - an obvious one, saved only by the fact that the page linked to in the post shows a guy wearing a shirt saying “OFFICIAL TOSSER.” Well played, sir. Well played.

Black pudding hurling - normally I’d make a “hurling = vomiting, how apt” joke here, but the description of the event makes it sound twenty kinds of awesome: ”Bespoke black puddings about the size of a fist and swaddled in women’s tights are the ammunition. A pile of perfectly crisp and light Yorkshire puddings is the target. All throws must be underarm. It’s a peculiar contest, playing on the centuries old grudge between the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire. It’s well attended, with crowds numbering in their hundreds – not least because it’s run outside a local pub, the Royal Oak. With only three throws, contestants try to knock down a pile of Yorkshire puddings on top of a 20ft plinth. Local legend says the contest has its roots in the Wars of the Roses and the tradition was revived in the 1980s.” Oh hell yes.

Bottle kicking - an organized riot involving rabbit pie and two villages fighting over wooden pony kegs. From Wikipedia: There are virtually no rules to the bottle-kicking, except that there is no eye-gouging, no strangling, and no use of weapons. Each bottle [wooden pony keg] is tossed in the air three times, signaling the start of the competition. Each team tries to move the bottles, on a best-of-three basis, across two streams one mile apart, by any means possible. The contest is a rough one, with teams fighting to move the bottles over such obstacles as ditches, hedges, and barbed wire. Broken bones are not unheard-of, and emergency services are generally on standby. Now that sounds like a proper English country sport, god dammit.

Pooh sticks - a gentle and sweet game of dropping sticks into a stream as Winnie the Pooh did in his stories. Broken bones and drunken riots are less likely than at a bottle kicking event, but hope never dies.

Bun throwing - Per the link: “Bun Throwing is the iconic, 400 year-old tradition which is unique to Abingdon-on-Thames. The event is a cross between a ceremony and, well... a bun-fight. Bun-Throwings only take place when the Town Council votes to hold one to mark a royal occasion so in recent years there have been two on the occasions of the 2011 Royal Wedding and the 2012 Jubilee. Councillors in full ceremonial robes climb to the top of the County Hall and chuck around 4000 currant buns down at the chanting crowds filling the market place below.” As this sounds suspiciously like a "sport" wherein aristocrats amuse themselves watching peasantry fight each other for scraps, I believe this event merits an eloquent retort.

Shin-kicking - two dudes grab each other’s collars and then kick the their opponent’s shins until one guy falls down. Some sports are clearly born out of drunken fuckwits engaging in drunken fuckwittery. This is one. I would totally have done this in my early twenties.

Aunt Sally and Dwile Flonking - the title of my favorite erotic novel, yes, but also two pub games. “Aunt Sally” involves throwing sticks at a small block, trying to knock it over. “Dwile Flonking” involves teams of people flinging a beer-soaked towel at each other using sticks, scoring points based on where the sodden towel hits another person. The rules are insane and terminology moreso. It also needs to be the name of a sex position. Something vigorous and more than a little depraved. MeFites, get to work.

Stinging Nettle Eating - eating stinging nettles, duh. Man, what a comedown after Dwile Flonking.

Nurdling - throwing pennies at a small hole in a pub bench, trying to get ‘em into the hole. The obvious progenitor of basketball.

Tin Bath Racing - canoe racing, using tin tubs decorated wackily as the boats. -sigh- Whatever. It’s no shin-kicking.

Tar Barrel Racing - running through the streets carrying a flaming tar barrel on your shoulders. As there is a limited number of these burning barrels, people fight over them. See, now that’s a solid fucking tradition. It’s the seventeenth century equivalent of a heavy metal song.

Haxley Hood - what looks like a mass ritual invented at a Renaissance Fair (it includes a Lord, a Fool, and eleven “Boggins,” all it's missing is an Elf Prince and an enchanted sword) followed by a giant sorta-rugby match with four teams and the end goal is to get the titular “hood” to a pub. This is either the greatest event ever or the dumbest. Possibly both.

Hurling of the Silver Ball - another “mob of people fight over moving a small object and call it a sport.” This time it’s a small silver-plated wooden ball, and it varies from town to town in Cornwall. A cursory glance suggests it’s less insane than Haxley Hood or Bottle Kicking, though I could be wrong.

The British Isles: a land of deep and abiding strangeness. I must come back for a visit soon. Maybe carry around a burning tar barrel and throw black pudding at things while I'm there.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:26 PM on August 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

Oh, just admit it: half of these were created last month just for this post.
posted by ocschwar at 1:35 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

According to QI shin kicking only ends when one participant exclaims: "Sufficient" thereby withdrawing from the contest.

The black pudding throwing one is september 10th this year fairly close to my father in laws house. I should check it out.
posted by koolkat at 1:48 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

No, they are all true!!
And there are lots more that aren't mentioned.
There are several "ball games", one at Atherstone where I live. It is an open game with no predetermined sides. It starts at 3pm and finishes at 5pm and is played "in the streets".
"There is only one rule: players are not allowed to kill one another. Whoever is able to hang onto the ball at the end of the game not only wins the game but is allowed to keep the ball as well."
posted by Burn_IT at 3:55 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Let us not forget the Kirkwall Ba'

Thanks; I will include in a forthcoming post on Rural Scottish pastimes.

I wouldn't exactly call it a rural Scottish pastime. Kirkwall is the largest municipality in Orkney!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:14 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

What? no mangold wurzel hurling?
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:32 PM on August 24, 2017

I'm not sure about the others, but the tar-barrel running in Ottery St Mary is genuine (as is the name of the town). A schoolfriend of mine came from Ottery, and her brother ran regularly. They have a series of runs for men, women and children of different ages. There haven't been any deaths or serious maimings in recent years, as far as I know.

Several of these games, including shin-kicking, feature in the Cotswold Olimpicks (the spelling is important), which have been going since 1612 and now feature the World Shin-Kicking Championship.
posted by Fuchsoid at 5:07 PM on August 24, 2017

You are ignoring the pure endurance sport of ferret legging. Do any of you have the stamina to put a ferret down your tied trouser pants and endure its desperate desire to escape for five hours? Get insight into this sport of Yorkshire from the King of Ferret Legging, Reg Mellor whose interview from Outside Magazine is fun. I would leave it to your discretion to search for videos of said sport on either youtube or Vimeo. All I can say is, the universal penis mind at the strength of something called a "land piranha".
posted by jadepearl at 5:22 PM on August 24, 2017

What? No Gloucester Cheese Rolling?

I was surprised Wordshore left this out, since I learned about it in the first place from his previous post in the blue.
posted by LeLiLo at 6:19 PM on August 24, 2017

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