The Wacky Side of the Cotswolds

Here's our unofficial countdown of the Cotswolds' top 10 wackiest events...

10. Morris dancing in the Cotswolds

The Chipping Campden Morris Men performing in Moreton-in-Marsh. Picture by Julia Lindop
The sight of a group of men dressed in costume wearing hats adorned with flowers and ribbons, with garters around the legs with bells attached dancing to music with handkerchiefs or sticks might be rather an unusual one for many visitors to the Cotswolds.

But to local people, Morris dancing is just a part of everyday life, as the Cotswolds is a popular centre for this peculiarly English tradition which dates back centuries.

Very little is known about the origins of Morris dancing, but as a ritual and a form of pleasure, it is known to date back at least to the 15th Century and is perhaps much older. 

Morris dancing has been traced all over the English Midlands and further north, but it is particularly associated with the Cotswolds, where the most evolved form of Morris was, and still is, to be found.

Here it is performed generally by six men and a musician, accompanied in most cases by a fool and sometimes a beast. The men wear a colourful costume or "kit" often based upon white, the old sacred colour.

101 Reasons to Love the Cotswolds

9. Aunt Sally

Prime Minister David Cameron has a go at Aunt Sally at the first world championships held at the Charlbury Beer Festival.
Aunt Sally is a throwing game dating back hundreds of years that is played in British pubs and fairgrounds with a long tradition in the Cotswolds.
Even British Prime Minister David Cameron has tried his hand at the game during a visit to the first Aunt Sally World Championships held at the Charlbury Beer Festival in 2011 where it has taken place every year since. 

Aunt Sally is played primarily at pubs in a clutch of English counties, including Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire. Pubs from across the north Cotswolds enter teams in the Chipping Norton Invitation Aunt Sally League or the Wychwood Aunt Sally League. 

The Chipping Norton League was formed in the 1960s and is still going strong today. It currently supports three divisions with 23 teams and over 200 people taking part in league and cup competitions each year, with games played outdoors on summer evenings. 

Dating back at least as far as the 17th Century, the game is played by players throwing batons at a stubby white wooden skittle known as a doll. 

The modern rules of play for Aunt Sally sees two teams of eight players throwing six sticks each per leg. The game is played over three legs, or 'horses' and the largest number of dolls scored per team wins each leg. 

Although Oxfordshire is regarded as the centre of the Aunt Sally universe, the first three world championship titles all went to "outsiders" from the same Cotswold village in Gloucestershire.

101 Reasons to Love the Cotswolds

8. The Bibury Duck Race

Nice weather for ducks? The scene at the 2008 Bibury Duck Race.The annual Bibury Duck Race is one of the Cotswolds' more unusual traditions, pulling in the crowds from far and wide.

Each year on Boxing Day, the picturesque village is transformed as hundreds of spectators from near and far gather along the River Coln, which runs through Bibury. 

At 11am thousands of plastic ducks are released to race down the river in a unique spectacle comprising of two races.

The first race sees 150 decoy ducks float down the river, which as well as being a great spot of festive fun, can raise thousands of pounds for charity, as spectators can sponsor a duck for £10 each. 

The second race involves more than 2,000 yellow plastic ducks being unleashed upon the river, with spectators being able to sponsor these for just £1 each, with prizes guaranteed for the first 20 ducks and the final duck to cross the finish line. 

The Bibury Duck Race is organised by the village cricket club. Although its history is sketchy, the family-favourite tradition dates back a good few decades at least.

101 Reasons to Love the Cotswolds

7. The Randwick Wap

The 'Mayor' gets a soaking at the Randwick Wap.
A series of springtime events in the village of Randwick, near Stroud, culminates in the Randwick Wap, a revived ancient festival that includes a costumed procession, the 'Mayor' getting dunked in the village pond, and a ceremonial cheese-rolling.

The traditional event dates back to the Middle Ages and was revived by Randwick's former vicar, Rev Nial Morrison, in 1972 and has steadily grown to become one of the region's leading annual events, attracting visitors from as far away as Canada, the USA and Australia.

The Wap is now held each year on the Saturday following the first Sunday in May. Proceedings begin with the "Mayor making" at the village war memorial at 1pm, presided over by the town crier. 

The Mayor-elect is presented with a chain of office by his predecessor and the Wap Queen is then crowned, and they are both anointed with water. 

The Wap Mayor and Queen are then carried through the village accompanied by various officials including a Mop-Man.

101 Reasons to Love the Cotswolds


6. Tetbury Woolsack Races

A different kind of sack race takes place in Tetbury each year.
The Cotswold town of Tetbury celebrates its wool heritage each May with a gruelling event that date back hundreds of years.

The Tetbury Woolsack Races is traditionally held on the Whitsun, now the Spring Bank Holiday Monday at the end of May.

The event sees runners carrying sacks of wool up Gumstoll Hill, an extremely steep street in the centre of Tetbury, watched by hundreds of spectators. Many of the competitors come from local rugby teams or the British Army.

The woolsacks are 60lb for men’s races and 35lb for women’s. The original course of 280 yards ran from the Royal Oak to The Crown, but since 1999 a shorter course of 240 yards has been run.

It is thought that the races originated in the 17th Century by young drovers showing off to local women by running up the hill carrying a woolsack. The woolsack races are complemented by a street fair featuring a funfair, music and roving entertainers.

An official race day has been going for more than 30 years with world records entered in The Guinness Book of Records

As well as proving an extremely popular family day out, the event has raised a considerable amount of money for local causes.

The 2015 Tetbury Woolsack Races take part on Monday, May 26. 

101 Reasons to Love the Cotswolds


5. The Pudding Club, Mickleton

Just desserts: A mouth-watering selection at the Pudding Club at The Three Ways Hotel in Mickleton.The Pudding Club was launched at The Three Ways House Hotel in Mickleton, near Chipping Campden, in 1985 with a mission to preserve the Great British Pudding.

Since then it has become something of a Cotswold institution, featuring on TV and radio and in numerous newspaper and magazine articles.

Every Friday evening, visitors from home and abroad descend on The Three Ways Hotel, situated in the pretty north Cotswold village of Mickleton, to experience this slightly eccentric institution.

After a choice of three modest main courses, the main business of the evening begins when seven traditional puddings are paraded with ceremony and cheers of anticipation.

Well known favourites such as Sticky Toffee can be found among more unusual desserts such as Sussex Pond and Lord Randall’s Pudding. Guests then relax with coffee and tea while casting their vote for Pudding of the Night.
The Pudding Club has featured on the BBC’s Food and Drink and Holiday programmes as well as receiving dollops of additional media coverage.

Over the years The Pudding Club has attracted visitors from as far away as Japan, Australia and America who have read about it or seen it on TV.

The Pudding Club also has a fun website which features, among other things, a WikiPUDia of Puddings and a PUDcast of news and events.

101 Reasons to Love the Cotswolds

4. Tetbury Wacky Races

Fun at the 2014 Tetbury Wacky Races.One of the wacky vehicles in the Tetbury Soapbox Derby.Not to be confused with the Tetbury Woolsack Races held on the Spring Bank Holiday Monday at the end of May, the Tetbury Wacky Races take place on another hill in the town on the early May Bank Holiday.

The event is a ‘Soap box Derby’ with three categories - adult, junior and the best themed kart. 

In 2014, the winning kart was a mocked up tank to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. 

More than 20 karts had two runs down Chipping Street, along Cirencester Road, with a tight hairpin down towards the finish at Millennium Green.


3. Football in the River at Bourton-on-the-Water

Everyone has a splashing time at the annual football in the river match at Bourton-on-the-Water.

One of the Cotswolds' most quirky and iconic events - a game of football in the River Windrush - takes place in the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water on August Bank Holiday Monday each year.

The usually calm river, which is six to 10 inches deep, is invaded by two teams of players from Bourton Rovers Football Club battling it out for victory in the annual Football in the River match. 

The traditional match dates back more than 100 years and attracts hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators who converge on the river's grassy banks in the picturesque Cotswold village to watch the match, which attracts media attention at home and abroad,

Goalposts are set up in the river with the pitch approximately 50 metres long by 9 metres wide. The game is usually about 20 minutes each half, depending on the temperature of the water.

There is a qualified referee in charge and proper football rules apply. The players attempt to score as many goals as possible and the only difference is that the match is played in the river.

101 Reasons to Love the Cotswolds

2. Shin-kicking at the Cotswold Olimpicks

Shin-kicking is one of the undoubted highlights of the Cotswold Olimpicks.Shin-kicking is a combat sport that involves two contestants attempting to kick each other on the shin to force their opponent to the ground.

It's arguably the biggest attraction at the Robert Dover's Cotswold Olimpicks, held annually in the early summer at Dover's Hill, just outside Chipping Campden, which draws thousands of spectators.

Shin-kicking originated in England in the early 17th Century and has been described as an English martial art.

It was included in the 1951 revival of the Cotswold Olimpicks, which now features the World Shin-kicking Championships.

The matches are observed by a referee, or stickler, who determines the match score in a best of three competition.

Steel toe caps are now banned, and the use of straw is allowed to pad shins.

101 Reasons to Love the Cotswolds


1. Cheese Rolling at Cooper's Hill - 'the Grandaddy of Weird Sports'

The annual cheese-rolling event at Cooper's Hill takes the biscuit for the wackiest event in the Cotswolds..An annual event which sees competitors hurtling down an extremely steep hill in pursuit of a 9lb round of Double Gloucester cheese has a strong claim to be the wackiest event in Gloucestershire.

The Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is held on the Spring Bank Holiday at Cooper's Hill, near Gloucester, and hundreds of spectators gather each year to watch fearless competitors race to be the first over the finish line at the bottom of the hill and claim the cheese as their prize.

Although the event was traditionally for the people of nearby Brockworth, it has become increasingly popular and now attracts competitors from all over the world.

Indeed, in 2013, a 27-year-old American and a 39-year-old Japanese each won one of the four races.

The growing number of spectators are also in some danger as cheese can reach speeds of up to 70mph, enough to knock people over.

Due to the steepness and uneven surface of the hill there are usually a number of injuries, with competitors often needing hospital treatment, so a number of ambulances attend the event.

Indeed, cheese-rolling was once described by a spectator as "20 young men chasing a cheese off a cliff and tumbling 200 yards to the bottom, where they are scraped up by paramedics and packed off to hospital".

The Cooper's Hill Cheese-rolling has been brought to the attention of millions of television viewers over the years through a variety of media.

The Irish comedian Dave Allen visited the event during his 1970s series Dave Allen At Large and the Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling was prominently featured in the first episode of the Channel Five series Rory & Paddy's Great British Adventure in 2008, where it was described as "the grandaddy of weird sports" by presenters Rory McGrath and Paddy McGuinness.
© Loving The Cotswolds. 2021.