Devon’s quirkiest festival

The colourful parade

The colourful parade - Credit: Archant

The Blackawton International Festival of Worm Charming started 30 years ago in the small South Hams village

Question: which competitive event features a pickerer, a charmerer and a counterer. Answer: the Blackawton International Festival of Worm Charming - and I can’t believe you didn’t all get that!

Definitely quirky, if not bordering on the downright weird, the festival has become a much anticipated annual event in this small South Hams village, where more than 100 teams converge to take pleasure in enticing earthworms from the ground.

It all started 30 years ago when a local man paused for a ‘comfort stop’ in a field on the way home from a pub lunch with a friend, only to observe an unusual number of worms drawn to the surface. Thus began the whacky tradition of worm charming which has grown steadily in recognition to the point of gaining international status, with recent champions hailing from New Zealand.

Preparations for the big day start just after Christmas at The George Inn – worm charming HQ – when organisers make plans and choose a field for the forthcoming festival. This site remains a closely guarded secret throughout the year until just minutes before the ‘charming’ begins. Chairman Steve Thomas explains: “We do this or there could be a bit of mischief from those trying to cheat and sneak in and bury some worms or dig some up from other plots. You never know what people will do - it’s all about who gets the most earthworms.”

On event day a bus shelter, situated at the top of the village by the Normandy Inn, becomes the official registration point where hundreds of competitors gather (most in fancy dress) to snake their way through the main street, stopping to ‘toast the worm’ led by Worm Master Nat Lowson, and on to the unveiling of the designated pasture. It is here that the hard work begins and old rivalries kick in with stiff competition for the coveted winner’s shield.

Each team of three is allocated a one metre square plot and everyone is allowed a five minute ‘Worming Up’ period, followed by 15 minutes of intense charming where strict rules are administered by the International Judge…no creatures are to be harmed, forking and digging is not allowed and anyone caught cheating is likely to go into the stocks.

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Various methods from the benign to the bizarre are applied to tempt the worms, including playing music, slapping, tapping and vibrating the ground, besides the application of any form of liquid, provided the competitors are prepared to drink it themselves to prove there are no irritants.

And in case you think this unlikely art is about to die out anytime soon, an under 11s class has been added to the festival, for youngsters who are now honing their skills for the future, so it looks as thought the charming tradition of charming will continue for many generations to come!

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