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Strange sports (UK)

The London 2012 Olympics will put British sport in the spotlight, but there are lots of other weirder events happening away in the UK every year. Read on to find out more.

During this year’s Olympics, it will probably be the likes of Usain Bolt in the 100m who grab all the headlines. There might be less interest in sports like the equestrian dressage competition however; a kind of gymnastics for horses where a horse and jockey are rated on their routines. However, that sounds pretty normal compared to some of the other ‘sporting’ events that take place in the UK every year. Some of these, such as the football game which began on Shrove Tuesday in the Derbyshire village of Ashbourne over 1,000 years ago, are traditions stretching back centuries. Others – such as bog snorkelling – were apparently invented 20 years ago in a pub. So if you’re bored of the Olympics this summer, check out our guide to some of the dafter – and often downright dangerous – events in the sporting calendar.

Royal Shrovetide Tuesday Football

Can’t quite follow the offside rule? Well, perhaps you might be better off with the Royal Shrovetide ‘football’ game played at Ashbourne in Derbyshire on Shrove Tuesday, where until recently there were only three rules: that no-one was allowed to kill each other, that you couldn’t transport the ball in a vehicle and whoever ends up with the ball at the end wins. Less a football match than a massive rugby scrum, Royal Shrovetide Football has no teams or goals, and is played along a street where all the shops are boarded up to stop the window being smashed  by hundreds of people all trying to keep hold of a ball for three hours! It’s still less gruesome then when the game began however, as it is rumoured that the ball would originally be the head of someone who had recently been executed.

Cheese Rolling

An altogether different type of ‘cheese roll’ to what you’ll get at a canteen, although you could well end up as flat as a sandwich if you get trampled by the crowds running down Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire after a roll of double Gloucester cheese. Cheese rolling has been a popular tradition for nearly 200 years: so popular in fact that the ‘official’ event had to be cancelled due to fears of overcrowding in 2010.  But there are still a number of smaller cheese-rolling events in the region, where you can watch hundreds of people in pursuit of the cheese and the hope of being crowned winner if they’re the first to pick it up. They must be crackers.

Bog Snorkelling

Talk about ‘bog standard’ – the sport of bog-snorkelling is for strange folk who’d prefer not to snorkel in a clear blue sea, but in a freezing muddy marsh instead. And there are more of them than you might think, since the International Extreme Bog Snorkelling Championships in Llanwrytd Wells in Wales now attracts over 200 participants from across the world every year. The winner is the fastest person to complete two lengths of a 60ft water-filled trench wearing a snorkel and flippers but without using ‘normal’ swimming strokes, with the current world record of 1m 24s set by Andrew Homes in 2011.

Man versus Horse Marathon

Bog-snorkelling has turned the village of Llanywrytd Wells into a place of pilgrimage for weird sports, so much so that it is hosting an Alternative Olympics this year; which features such ‘sports’ as wife carrying, pooh sticks, worm charming and a game of underwater hockey called Octopush. But the Welsh village has also hosted the annual Man vs. Horse marathon every year since 1980, where people compete to see if they can beat a horse and rider over a 22 mile course. The two-legged participants are allowed to compete in teams of three running seven miles each, but even then their four-legged competition usually come out on top, with humans only having ever beaten horses twice in over 30 years.

Toe Wrestling

Since the early 1970s competitors have gone head-to-head – or toe-to-toe – at the International Toe-Wrestling championships, first in Staffordshire and now in Derbyshire. The rules are pretty similar to arm-wrestling, except that the wrestlers are trying to pin their opponents’ big toes to the ground instead. Split into men and women’s competitions, toe-wrestling doesn’t require any intensive training but there is one golden rule – that all competitors must wash their feet beforehand. No-one wants to be knocked out by cheesy feet, after all!

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