Top 10 quirkiest Cotswold traditions

Cheese Rolling / Photo: Mike Warren

Cheese Rolling / Photo: Mike Warren - Credit: Archant

Britain is home to many an unusual tradition, and the region of the Cotswolds is no exception. Here are 10 of the strangest pastimes from this corner of England, including cheese rolling, duck racing and shin kicking!

Cheese rolling in Gloucester / Photo: Mike Warren

Cheese rolling in Gloucester / Photo: Mike Warren - Credit: Archant

Cheese Rolling at Cooper’s Hill

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. Recent attempts to commercialise and reorganise the Cheese Roll, which dates back to at least the 19th Century, were fiercely resisted by the local community, who saw the proposals by the local council as meddling with tradition.

The treacherous spectacle is scheduled to take place on Bank Holiday Monday, May 25 2015. A high turn-out of spectators and pretenders to the cheese rolling throne is usual, with 5000 people attending last year.

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Next on: May 25

Catching the falling morsels during the St Briavels Bread and Cheese Dole / Photo: Courtesy of the F

Catching the falling morsels during the St Briavels Bread and Cheese Dole / Photo: Courtesy of the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review - Credit: Archant

The Bread and Cheese Dole in St Briavels

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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.

Next on: Whit Sunday, May 24

The Tetbury Woolsack Races / Photo: Kevin Farnham

The Tetbury Woolsack Races / Photo: Kevin Farnham - Credit: Archant

Tetbury Woolsack Races

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 day 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.

Next on: May 25

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Shin kicking at the Cotswold Olimpicks / Photo: SWNS TV

Shin kicking at the Cotswold Olimpicks / Photo: SWNS TV - Credit: Archant

Cotswold Olimpicks & Shin Kicking

Robert Dover’s Cotswold Olimpicks is a unique continuation of early rural sporting events dating back to the 1600s, and will return this year with the usual line-up of eccentric competitive sports. For over 400 years, Shin-kicking has been a perennial favourite of the Games. As its name suggests, the sport involves competitors kicking each other’s shins until either is brought to the ground and is thus the loser.

In earlier times, the sport was more brutal, with tactics used to maximise the damage one could do to an opponent, such as wearing iron-tipped boots. Now, kickers are permitted to protect their shins with straw and must wear soft-toed shoes, although competitors are no less determined to best their opponents. Anybody can register to compete, and a judge, known as a Stickler, oversees proceedings to ensure the rules are followed. Other Olimpick events include the tug of war, dwile flonking, motorcycle scrambling, judo, piano smashing, and morris dancing!

Next on: The next Cotswold Olimpicks, on May 29

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The Eynsham Shirt Race, part of the Eynsham Carnival

The Eynsham Shirt Race, part of the Eynsham Carnival - Credit: Archant

The Eynsham Shirt Race

The Eynsham Carnival is one of the oldest carnivals in the country, and will be returning in 2015 for its 69th 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! For more information, visit: or

Next on: July 4 2015

Football in the river, Bourton-on-the-water

Football in the river / Photo: Ben Birchall [PA]

Football in the river / Photo: Ben Birchall [PA] - Credit: Archant

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 6 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.

Waterproofs are advised!

Next on: August 31 Bank Holiday

Onion eating in Newent

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 2 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.

The Newent Onion Eating Competition

The Newent Onion Eating Competition - Credit: Archant

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Next on: Saturday September 12

Bibury Duck Race

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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The Bibury Duck Race / Photo: Bibury Cricket Club

The Bibury Duck Race / Photo: Bibury Cricket Club - Credit: Archant

Next on: December 26 2015

Surfing the Severn Bore

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:

Surfing the Severn Bore / Photo: Audrey Hudson

Surfing the Severn Bore / Photo: Audrey Hudson - Credit: Archant

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Next on: Usually monthly, but there are particular times of the year when the waves of the bore reach their highest.


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, Somerset and Gloucestershire, with variations in song and tradition from village to village.

Wassailing / Photo: Tony Burt

Wassailing / Photo: Tony Burt - Credit: Archant

An example of a traditional Wassailing song is as follows:

Here’s to thee, old apple tree,

Whence thou mayst bud

And whence thou mayst blow!

And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!

Hats full! Caps full!

Bushel—bushel—sacks full,

And my pockets full too! Huzza!

Next on: Various dates, usually around New Year