Roll up! Roll up!
ife with fantastical folklore and ludicrous legends, it’s no wonder England has some weird, wonderful and downright freaky traditions. To the casual observer these rituals are just another feather in the country’s decidedly whacky hat. But behind these bizarre practices, there’s a fascinating history that rural communities are keen to preserve.
A good place to get a taster of these unusual customs is a village fete where you can enjoy Morris dancing and a Punch and Judy show. Morris dancing , a folk dance popular since the 16th century, requires grown men to swirl handkerchiefs, thwack batons, and jangle bells as they complete rhythmic steps to music. If that wasn’t a strange enough sight, you have characters like the Fool to contend with who torments the crowd with a bladder on a stick.
Then there’s Punch and Judy. Although these characters have their roots in Italian culture, they have been entertaining everyone from Samuel Pepys to peasants since the reign of Charles II. A common sight at traditional seaside resorts such as Weymouth in Dorset and village fetes, the hooked-nosed Punch is the puppet everyone loves to hate.
Some traditions are specific to a region or even one village. For example, Whittlesea Village welcomes in the agricultural year in January with the Straw Bear tradition where a man, covered from head-to-toe in straw, waddles from door to door dancing along to a band – a terrifying sight indeed. On Bonfire night in Devon's Ottery St Mary watch as locals forget health-and-safety and carry blazing tar barrels through the streets, a tradition that dates back to 1688.
And it’s not just the locals that embrace these whacky customs. People from across the world come to take part in bonkers events like the World Nettle Eating Challenge in Dorset and the Gurning World Championships in Egremont, Cumbria where, since the 13th century, contestants have been sticking their heads through a horse collar and pulling the ugliest poses their rubber-faces will allow. So what are you waiting for? Get your quirk on.
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