Top 5 Strangest British Traditions

English customs

One of the best known features of the great people of Britain is our long-standing loyalty to traditions, regardless of how strange they may seem. And while afternoon tea drinking and fish and chips at the seaside are still social norms, there are some traditions that are best left in the past. We had a bit of fun researching some of the craziest English customs so we thought we would share it with you. Have a look at a few of the strangest British traditions.

Gurning in Lake District

This tradition is so strange that I’m still not even sure what it is. Let’s start at the beginning: In the 13th century a noble Lord of the Manor gave away crab apples. Somehow, they moved from crab apples to gurning; a rubber-faced skill that requires contestants to put their heads through a horse collar or braffin while creating the ugliest face possible. If you visit the Lake District in September you’ll have the privilege of not only seeing this, but also witness grown men and women throw crab apples into the Main Street, climb on greasy poles and take part in pipe smoking contests. Yes, you read correctly, this is one tradition still going strong.

Pulling faces The tradition of gurning

Cheese Rolling at Cooper’s Hill

Thankfully, no cheese was harmed in the making of this tradition. Plenty of humans were though. The annual event, held on the Spring Bank Holiday at Coopers Hill features a number of young men rolling down a hill chasing cheese off a cliff. The steepness of the hill and the uneven surface ensures that their efforts are never in vein - they’ll have the chance to prove their skills to many people by showing them their scars. Most of the men sustain injuries, from sprained ankles to broken bones and concussions. It’s not unusual for a convoy of ambulances to head towards the local hospital carrying a number of passengers who have been harmed in engaging in what is perhaps the most ridiculous tradition I’ve ever come across. They don’t even give a reason why they do it!

Cheese rolling Rolling down a hill

Well-Dressing in Derbyshire

The origins of well-dressing dates so far back that it can’t even be found in history books. Some say it was started by the Celts, while others argue that it began even before that. The tradition - where people decorate wells, springs or other water sources with pictures of growing plants or trees - is popular all over Derbyshire. Large framed panels are draped in elaborate mosaic-like pictures made of flower petals, seeds and moss. Although it takes a long time to make, it only lasts a few days. After the well-dressing is put up (usually next to the well) a short outdoor service is held to bless it. The long standing tradition continues to this day.

Dressing wells Well-dressing is popular in Derbyshire

Kissing Friday in Leicestershire

I’m sure that up until the 1940s many young schoolboys looked forward to the Friday after Ash Wednesday. According to Traditional Festival Celebrations, in the past, schoolboys were allowed to kiss girls without fear of punishment or rejection, a custom that lasted until the mid 1940s. Of course, with the rise of feminism, many women realised how ridiculous the tradition was. In Sileby, Leicestershire, this day was known as Nippy Hug Day. Men could demand a kiss from a woman of their choice. If they were rejected, they had the right to pinch or louse the woman’s buttocks, presumably mimicking the pinching of lice. Err, yeah, definitely one tradition that should be buried under rocks in the middle of the ocean.

Reluctant kissing Nippy Hug Day

Brambles Bank Cricket Match in Brambles

This tradition is still in its infancy, having only being born in the early 1950s. That doesn’t make it any less strange. Once a year, the sea between Southampton and the Isle of Wight subsides for an hour and reveals a sandbank - just enough time to hold a cricket match. Members of The Royal Southern Yacht Club at Hamble and the Island Sailing Club on the Isle of Wight wait for the bank to appear and race out to stamp in the stumps, grab their bats and take to their soggy pitch to engage in a game of cricket. There are many spectators and the The Bramble Inn is erected for an hour to serve drinks to players and spectators. If you’re passing by in a boat, it will probably look like a group of people playing cricket in the middle of the sea - an oddity all on its own.

Cricket in the sand Cricket on the sea
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Caelyn Woolward

Caelyn Woolward

Having lived in the same house for 18 years, Caelyn decided it was time to pack her bags and head out an adventure. The trip took her to the tiny place of Grahamstown in South Africa where she majored in Journalism and English at Rhodes University. Fresh out of university and having lived the student life for the last four years, she is slowly adapting to working at Essential Travel under the guidance of senior writers. She finds comfort in the smaller cities of the world nestled away in Europe, Africa and South America.