Podcast Transcript:

Today, we’re diving into the quirky, unusual, and downright bizarre world of British festivals. From the ancient pagan rituals to the modern-day celebrations, the British Isles have a long and proud tradition of festivals that will leave you scratching your head in disbelief. From cheese-rolling to bog-snorkeling, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the weirdest and wackiest festivals that the UK has to offer. Let’s talk about it!

Alright mate and welcome to the Dansensei British English podcast. A podcast for Intermediate and Advanced English learners that want to learn all about British life, British culture and British English. Today we are talking about weird British festivals.

Before we get started, please like, comment and leave a rating wherever you are listening to this podcast and if you want to support the podcast, check out my patreon page for bonus content as well as the study squad community.

Don’t forget you can find the full transcript for this episode over on dansenseienglish.com using the link in the show notes and if you want to download the free vocabulary cheat sheet for this episode, you can get in on the link below, but here are some useful words for this episode.

  • Inexplicable – Something that is almost impossible to explain or understand.
  • Cotswolds – An area in the UK
  • Barrelling – Moving in a way that is so fast, it is almost out of control
  • Arse over tit – To fall over suddenly or dramatically
  • Concussion – A type of brain injury from a hit to the head
  • Mind-boggling – extremely surprising and difficult to understand or imagine
  • Consisting of – to be formed or made up of specified things or people
  • Trenches – a long cut in the ground usually used by the military
  • Whopping – Especially large or great
  • Monastery – Place of residence for members of a religious community
  • Trousers – British English for pants. You know, the things you wear on your legs.
  • Bland – Not interesting or entertaining. A bit boring.
  • Prancing – To move around with bouncy, exaggerated movements.
  • Quirky – having or characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits or aspects.

OK, so let’s get cracking!

The Cheese Rolling Festival

The first weird event that happens in the UK that I want to talk about is the annual Cheese-Rolling festival. That’s right, this weird competition actually happens every year… Anyway, this famous event takes place in Gloucestershire towards the end of Spring and attracts competitors and spectators from all over the world. In 2009 a record 15,000 people attended the event. It has been happening for over 200 years and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Now, cheese rolling festival might sound like a nice relaxing day tasting cheese as it rolls around the table but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The actual event is absolutely ridiculous. The participants gather at the top of the insanely steep “Coopers Hill” in the cotswolds. The finishing line waits 180m away at the bottom of the hill. They are waiting for someone to roll a wheel of cheese down the hill, for some inexplicable reason.

When the cheese is launched, the insane people who call themselves contestants, chase it like a dog chasing a tennis ball. The problem is that the hill is so steep that hardly anyone is able to stay on their feet for more than a few steps before they end up barrelling arse over tit down the hill.

It might not be much of a surprise to hear that there are loads of injuries during this event. Plenty of broken bones and concussions are on the menu every year. I’m not sure what goes through the heads of the people as they are signing up for this thing. Must have a screw loose to want to do this. The worst part is that no one ever catches the cheese. It reaches speeds of 70mph. You’ve got no chance.

So they decided that the winner is actually the person who crosses the finishing line at the bottom of the hill first and their prize, of course, is the bloody cheese that they chased down the hill, which is probably covered in grass, mud, and even some blood by the time they get it home. I’m not sure why you would risk broken bones for a wheel of cheese that I am sure you could just buy from the supermarket, but that’s just me.

If you fancy your chances, the event is available to anyone who wants to give it a go. This means people from all over the world like to try their luck and risk their bodies to win like 7lbs of cheese. What an absolutely insane thing to do with your day. British people are pretty weird, but this is proper mental. How on earth did this even begin and why is it still happening today? I’m sure I will never understand this one.

The Wife Carrying Race

The next mind boggling event I want to share with you today is the annual UK wife carrying race. You heard that correctly. A race that takes place every single year where people run a race while carrying their wife. This weird event takes place in Surrey at the end of March and involves the racers completing a 380m course consisting of hills, trenches and obstacles.

It is apparently a bit more complex than that though. The “wives” must way at least 50kg and if they are less than that, they need to be weighed down with tins of baked beans. That’s right, they have to carry tins of baked beans to make sure it is a fair race. What the hell is going on. Who made this up. It is insane.

My first thought was “why is this even a thing?” which lead me to think that there must be some pretty incredible prizes on offer to make you want to take part in this thing. Nope. The grand prize is a whopping £100 and a barrel of ale for the winners. They also get to represent the UK in the world wife carrying championships in Finland. That’s right, this is just a qualifier for the world championships. It’s mind boggling.

There are some bonus prizes available, such as pound of sausage for the person who carries the heaviest wife and if you happen to come last you get a ceremonial tin of dog food and a pot noodle. This is like a fever dream. It sounds like I am making it up, but this is a real thing that happens in the UK.

This event has a bit of a dark backstory though. Apparently this comes from the Nordic invasion where a monastery was pillaged and the females were carried off against their will. Seems like the perfect thing to celebrate. Apparently though, it was re-introduced in 2008 with a more modern set of rules suitable for the 21st century. You know, like the women had to take part willingly.

Some people have an image of the well educated, upper class, reserved English gentlemen in their head and then they are faced with this reality of what British people are really like and it couldn’t be further from the truth!

Morris Dancing

The last, of many, weird events that I want to introduce you today is the concept of morris dancing.

Growing up, at local festivals and fairs, I would often be met with the sight of a bunch of middle aged men. Dressed in white trousers and shirts, covered in bells and colorful straps, holding sticks and handkerchiefs. To top of this outfit that screams the height of fashion, they would wear a hat decorated with various flowers. Most of them seemed to have grey beards too, but I am not sure that was part of the uniform.

Eventually, the folk band consisting of some fiddle and flute players would start playing some pretty bland folk music and these lads would leap into action. Prancing around and banging their sticks together in a strange, highly choreographed English folk dance. It is hard to explain exactly what this is like, but I always found it very strange as a kid.

The origin of this thing apparently dates back to the 15th century and was born from celebrations to welcome the warmth of summer and mark an end to the cold dark winter that had passed. It has remained a part of UK festivals since then and has evolved to the point where it is quite different in different regions.

It has seen a decline in popularity since the industrial revolution, but you will still see if from time to time at regional events. These days, the uniforms and the music will be different depending on the region and it is now quite common to see more women involved too.

If you really want to see this for yourself, it is most common in the welsh and cotswolds areas and you are more likely to see it in May when a lot of the spring festivals take place. Or you know, you can just look on YouTube and save yourself the trouble of travelling.

This is not really an event as such, but it is something that is pretty weird and quirky that is quite British.

What do you think about These Weird British Traditions?

So there are some very strange British events and traditions that I wanted to share with you today. Even as a British person myself, if find them incredibly weird and hard to understand, so I am sure you feel the same. I hope you enjoyed listening to it anyway. We do have some other strange traditions that I will cover in future episodes, but today’s question is, what is the weirdest traditional event that happens in your country? Head to the comments or send me a message on Instagram to let me know!

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