11 quirky Cotswolds traditions you need to see to believe

Cheese Rolling, Cooper's Hill (c) 1000 Words / Shutterstock

Cheese Rolling, Cooper's Hill (c) 1000 Words / Shutterstock - Credit: Archant

Britain is home to many an unusual tradition, and the region of the Cotswolds is no exception. Here are 11 of the strangest pastimes from this corner of England, including cheese rolling, duck racing and wool sack racing!

1. Wassailing

Where: Various locations around the Cotswolds and surrounding counties

When:  Various dates in January, the Stroud Wassail will be celebrating in Stroud town centre on Saturday January 13

Cider is a popular tipple round these parts, so to ensure we’ve got plenty of crisp, cool cider to drink come summer, a little magic is required.

The ancient tradition of the Orchard-Visiting Wassail, which takes place across the cider-producing parts of South West England, involves drinking and singing to awaken the cider apple trees, ensuring a good harvest in the new year.

Wassailing events typically take place during winter across Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, with variations in song and tradition differing from village to village.

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2. Randwick Wap

When: Saturday May 12

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Where: Randwick, near Stroud

Randwick Wap is a revived ancient festival with a fair, costumed procession and ceremonial cheese rolling. A Wap Mayor and Queen are carried through the village accompanied by various officials before the Mayor is dipped in the pond.

Real cheeses are rolled by the Queen and Mayor down the bank then divided and eaten. Don’t get this confused with the Cooper’s Hill Cheese rolling competition (more on that later).

The procession then makes its way to the field near the Village Hall where there are presentations and entertainment as well as stalls selling a variety of items. For lovers of bread and butter pudding, the unique Wiput Cake on sale at the Wap tent is worth giving a try!

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3. St Briavels Bread & Cheese Scramble

When: Sunday May 20

Where: St Briavels

Each Whit Sunday, a crowd of people assemble outside St Mary’s church in St Briavels, Gloucestershire, to catch bread and cheese as it’s hurled at them.

Some believe the bread and cheese they catch has magical properties; miners used to take these morsels underground to protect them against accidents and people would even stow them under their pillows in order to see into the future.

The exact details of the St Briavels Bread and Cheese Dole’s history are unknown, but some say it dates back to the 12th Century. The tradition is continued today by enthusiastic locals, often using upturned umbrellas as make-shift baskets to catch the edible offerings, and visitors are encouraged to join in.

4. Cheese rolling

When: Monday May 29

Where: Cooper’s Hill, Gloucester

Impossible to omit from this list, cheese rolling is arguably the most famous of quirky traditions in the Cotswolds.

The annual event sees challengers from far and wide tumble with enthusiastic abandon down the near-vertical Cooper’s Hill in an effort to catch the rolling 9lb Double Gloucester cheese.

Although the organisation responsible for organising the “official” Cheese Roll withdrew their involvement in 2010, local supporters still host the event annually with the age old tradition still continuing.

5. Tetbury Woolsack Races

When: The event usually takes place on the late spring bank holiday in May which falls on Monday May 28 this year

Where: Tetbury

The tradition of the woolsack race dates back to the 17th Century when Tetbury was one of the best-known wool and yarn markets in the country. Drovers, whose job it was to move sheep across the land, would attempt to impress local women by running up a steep hill carrying a full woolsack.

The competition continues today, with woolsack races for men and women as well as a street fair taking place on the last bank holiday Monday in May. Competitors, burdened with the heavy sacks of wool, must race across the 240yd course, with Tetbury’s undulating Cotswold hills providing an additional challenge.

Aside from being a fun family day out, the races have raised plenty of money for local causes across the years.

6. The Eynsham Shirt Race

When: Date to be announced

Where: Eynsham

The Eynsham Carnival is one of the oldest carnivals in the country, and will be returning in 2017 for its 71st year.

A particular draw to the carnival, and deserving of inclusion in this list of the quirky, is the eccentric Eynsham Shirt Race, first run in 1958. On carnival day, the brave and feckless assemble in fancy dress, each team armed with a non-motorised vehicle, designed, engineered and built to last the seven furlongs of the race.

The race is essentially an elaborate pub crawl; the competitors must run between seven pubs, one for every furlong, and each of the two-person teams swap pusher and vehicle rider after every quick half-pint en route. The first team to reach the White Hart pub is crowned victorious!

7. Football in the river

When: Monday August 27

Where: Bourton-on-the-Water

Every year for over 70 years, residents of Bourton-on-the-Water have braved the chilly waters of the River Windrush to play a match of football.

Two teams of six players splash through the water, kicking and pulling desperately in an effort to score, with spectators cheering from the river banks.

It’s usually a pretty boisterous affair, although a referee does try to keep things civil, with everybody on and off the ‘aqua pitch’ receiving a soaking. Bring your waterproofs!

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8. Onion eating

Where: Newent

When: Saturday September 8

Newent Onion Fayre is a one day street festival of food, drink and merriment which attracts almost 15,000 visitors annually.

One of the most famous features of the fayre, the Onion Eating Competition, involves contestants competing to consume a raw onion in the fastest possible time.

The eye-watering competition is split into two rounds, one for men and one for women, with onions typically gobbled up like apples in under two minutes. Once the onion is eaten, the contestant has to hold their arms outstretched and mouth wide open for the judges to declare them the winner.

9. Bibury Duck Race

Where: Bibury

When: Wednesday December 26

Every year on Boxing Day, the pretty Cotswold village of Bibury is home to the Duck Race.

During the charity event, thousands of spectators watch from the banks and bridges as plastic ducks bob gently along the River Coln, the tide pulling them towards the finish line.

There are two races as part of the event; one featuring the iconic yellow rubber ducks, the other with realistic ‘decoy’ ducks (confusing to the real ducks wandering about Bibury). The ducks can be sponsored by individuals or businesses and all proceeds go to charity.

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10. Marshfield Mummers

Where: Marshfield

When: Wednesday December 26

Another annual tradition held on Boxing Day, Marshfield Mummers will perform the Ancient Marshfield Mumming Play at 11am in the Gloucestershire town’s Market Place.

The Town Crier takes great delight in introducing the colourful characters to the crowd.

Father Christmas, Little Man John, King William, Doctor Pheonix, Saucy Jack, Tenpenny Nit and Old Father Beelzebub all recite their parts with Christmas cheer before performing a unique three verse song, accompanying each chorus with a dance.

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11. Surfing The Severn Bore

Where: The Severn Bore, Gloucester

When: Various (read more here)

The Severn Bore forms in Sharpness, and moves across the River Severn, typically reaching as far as Maisemore in Gloucestershire. It was first surfed by ‘Mad’ Jack Churchill, an eccentric WWII veteran who went to war armed with a longbow, bagpipes and a broadsword. Since then, surfing the Severn Bore has become a popular sporting challenge, with surfers awaiting optimum conditions each month to take to the waters.

In 2006, Steve King from Gloucestershire set a Guinness World Record, surfing the bore for a distance of 9.25 miles!

Anybody can give it a go, but you should read the guidelines provided by the Gloucester Harbour Trustees beforehand.