Had enough of the Olympics already? Swapping running spikes for wellies, Penelope Rance takes a tour of Britain to seek out some more traditional, and downright obscure, sporting challenges
WORLD ALTERNATIVE GAMES
LLANWRTYD WELLS, POWYS
17 AUGUST-2 SEPTEMBER
If you’re well and truly over the Olympics, take a look at this alternative, hosted by Llanwrtyd Wells, the smallest town in Britain. As well as holding the Man versus Horse Marathon and annual Bog Snorkelling competitions, the Welsh weirdos are championing some of the country’s more unusual sports, including wife-carrying and black pudding throwing. The Welsh Government has contributed £50,000 in funding, partly because it’s annoyed that it hasn’t got a slice of the London 2012 pie.
BENTLEY BROOK INN, ASHBOURNE, STAFFORDSHIRE 14 JULY
In the 1970s, George Burgess, desperate to make Britain world-beaters in at least one sport, devised the World Toe Wrestling Championships. His hopes were dashed when a Canadian won the first competition, but the popularity of the events fixed it in the calendar forever. Run along rules set down by the World Toe Wrestling Organisation, entrant come from all over the world. A witty nickname is essential, such as that of regular winner Paul ‘Toeminator’ Beech.
WORLD CONKER CHAMPIONSHIPS
NEW LODGE FIELDS, OUNDLE 14 OCTOBER
Since 1965, the Ashton Conker Club from the market town of Oundle, Northamptonshire, has hosted this nut-cracking event, where hardened horse chestnuts are swung on the end of a 12-inch string with deadly technique by gladiators out for glory and the right to sit on the Conker Throne and wear the Crown of Conkers. Last year, the event attracted visitors from all around the world and raised £21,000 for charities for the blind, a tradition upheld since the first event, devised in the local pub on a day when rain had stopped fishing. Don’t get any ideas about bringing your own hard nut, however – all the conkers and strings are supplied by the organisers.
BOURTON IN THE WATER FOOTBALL
BOURTON-ON-THE-WATER, GLOUCESTERSHIRE 27 AUGUST
Known as the Venice of the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water is a sleepy place, all golden stone and teashops. The Windrush river bubbles down the high street undisturbed. Until, that is, the games begin. The annual Football in the River is loud, splashy and furiously contested by two six-a-side teams from the local football club, Bourton Rovers. In colourful soccer shirts or fancy dress, they set up goal posts over the Windrush bridges. Over a century old, the game is an entertaining, if somewhat soggy, day out.
CILGERRAN CORACLE RACES
CILGERRAN, WALES 25 AUGUST
Among the highlights of the Pembrokeshire village of Cilgerran’s Festive Week are the coracle races, in which locals ply the River Teifi in traditional round boats, paddling under the shadow of ruined Cilgerran Castle. The event is helping to keep alive the art of making these shell-like boats once used for fishing and transport, and is now in its 62nd year. Other activities throughout the week include a horticultural show, football tournament, treasure hunt, carnival and fireworks – so lots of fun for all the family.
WENLOCK OLYMPIAN GAMES
MUCH WENLOCK, SHROPSHIRE 8-21 JULY
The Wenlock Olympian Games are a must for the diary this year. You might think the modern Olympics started in Greece, but its roots can actually be traced to this little Shropshire town, where Dr William Penny Brookes revived the idea of the Olympic Games to activate his community – and it’s been an annual event here for 125 years. There are all kinds of sports, from volleyball and dressage to gliding and badminton taking place in the town and across other sites in Shropshire. On Saturday 14 July, a Wenlock Olympian Games Celebration takes place with street markets, entertainment and exhibitions too. While tickets to London 2012 may be hard to get hold of, Much Wenlock will welcome you for lots of fun.