Weird and Wonderful Local Traditions in the North of England

Morris dancers | © Tim Green / Wikimedia
Morris dancers | © Tim Green / Wikimedia
Photo of Emma Lavelle
21 December 2017

Living in the United Kingdom in the 21st century, it can be easy to forget some of the more unusual traditions practiced around the country. Surprisingly, many pagan and folk rooted traditions, such as May Pole and Morris dancing, still occur in many places around England. There are also many stranger traditions that are still practiced in small towns up and down the country, many of which draw in huge crowds. Here are eight weird and wonderful local traditions that are still celebrated in the north of England.

Scarecrow festival, Kettlewell, Skipton

There are several scarecrow festivals dotted up and down the country, but the celebrations hosted in Kettlewell are perhaps the best known. Every August, residents of the small town create their own scarecrows which are positioned all around the village for visitors to admire. Guests can complete riddles along the way to compete for prizes, popping into the village hall, cafés and pubs for refreshments.

Kettlewell, Skipton, UK


Scarecrow festival | © Barney Moss / Flickr

Yorkshire pudding boat race, Brawby, North Yorkshire

Yes, you read that correctly, this is an actual race with participants competing inside giant floating Yorkshire puddings. Conceived in 1999 by a North Yorkshire resident, the race involves baking traditional Yorkshire puddings that are large enough for a person to hop inside. The giant puds (made with 50 eggs, 25 pints of milk and four bags of flour) are coated in waterproof varnish that is usually used on boats to stop them from going soggy and disintegrating in the water. Five local children then hop inside the puddings and splash around with oars, steering them down the river on a somewhat confusing mission.

Brawby, North Yorkshire, UK

Black pudding throwing, Ramsbottom

Every year on the second Sunday of September, the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships are held in Ramsbottom in Lancashire. This bizarre event dates back to the War of the Roses when apparently the two sides ran out of ammo and started hurling black puddings and Yorkshire puddings at each other. These days, it’s a cause for celebration with many visitors flocking to the town to watch locals throw black puddings at a plinth lined with Yorkshire puds, the winner being declared as the one to dislodge the most puddings.

Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, UK

Egremont Crab Fair gurning competition, Cumbria

Recently celebrating its 750th anniversary, the Egremont Crab Fair is one of the oldest celebrations in the country. Combining traditional and contemporary entertainment, the most eagerly anticipated element of the fair is the iconic gurning competition. This strange spectacle sees competitors of all ages competing to pull the most horrific face in order to take home an award and be crowned the King or Queen of gurn. There’s surely no other event in the world when people purposefully pull such outrageous faces, providing an entire day filled with non-stop laughter that will definitely make your face ache.

Egremont, Cumbria, UK

Nutter’s Dance, Bacup

Every Easter, the Britannia Coco-nut Dancers (known as the Nutters) dance for seven miles around the town of Bacup. This strange tradition of local clog dancers dates back to 1857 when the troupe was first formed, and every year the crowds grow bigger and bigger as more people discover the festivities. The dancers are accompanied by a whipper-in who controls the event and are accompanied by the Stacksteads Silver Band.

Bacup, Lancashire, UK


Nutter’s Dance | © Kezka Dantza Taldea Eibar / Wikimedia

Worm charming, Willaston, Cheshire

People flock from all around the UK to compete in the annual World Worm Charming Championship in Willaston. The aim of the competition is simple: to collect as many worms as possible within just 15 minutes, coaxing them out of the ground by tapping the ground, twanging the ground with a fork or pouring liquid over the grass. Teams of three (a charmer, a picker and a counter) take a small plot of land each and after 15 minutes a winning team is announced.

Willaston, Cheshire, UK

"Worms are the Intestines of the Earth"-Aristotle. "It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as these lowly organized creatures"-Charles Darwin. Vermicomposting is the employment of worms to break down organic matter including food waste into vermicastings or worm manure which is then used as a nutrient rich organic fertilizer for plants. Worm grunting or worm charming are names given to the process of luring earthworms from the ground. Worm luring even takes the form of competitive sport in some areas with the most renowned event being the World Worm Charming Championship of Cheshire, England. Worm charmers drive a wooden stake into the ground and then rub the end with a piece of metal and the resulting vibrations drive worms to the surface by the hundreds. This same basic technique is used by many species of birds and replicates natural vibrations produced by digging moles which prey on earthworms. #worms #vermicomposting #Aristotle #Darwin #Compost #stem #wormcharming #schoolgarden #botany #horticulture #wormgrunting

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Coal carrying, Gawthorpe

Every year, the World Coal Carrying Championship takes place in the small town of Gawthorpe, near Huddersfield in Yorkshire. The race started over 40 years ago when two local coal merchants settled an argument over who was fitter by running a mile with a sack of coal slung over their shoulders. There is now a men’s and a women’s race every year, when competitors run through the streets of the town with the aim of winning the coveted title.

Gawthorpe, Yorkshire, UK

Gravy wrestling, Stacksteads

Have you ever fancied mud wrestling, but wished that you could try it with a tastier substance? The World Gravy Wrestling Championships are held in Stacksteads in Lancashire every August, offering willing wrestlers the chance to dive into a paddling pool of gravy and take down their opponent. At the end of the day, the local firefighters are on hand to hose down the contestants as it obviously gets quite messy.

Stacksteads, Lancashire, UK

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