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Image © Will De Freitas via Flickr

Top 5 Weird and Wonderful Rural Town Traditions

3 July 2019 | Maisy Farren

What do you get when you take away consistent 4G signal and the ability to book an Uber? In a land where Deliveroo drivers are a mere myth and you can literally be in the countryside within 10 minutes? You get strange, age old town traditions that are maintained over the years and inexplicably attended by everyone in your local area, despite the fact that all the main roads have been closed since 7pm the night before. Check out our round-up of the most entertaining and endearing small town traditions across the UK.  


Image credit: Copright © Andrew Hawkes 2019 via The Great Knaresborough Bed Race via Facebook
Knaresborough Bed Race 
North Yorkshire
 
Part fancy dress pageant and part gruelling time trial, this town tradition has been a North Yorkshire favourite since its birth in 1966! The steep and cobbled medieval town of Knaresborough (4 miles from Harrogate) provides a beautiful backdrop to this insane 2.4-mile race course, ending in a refreshing dip in the freezing River Nidd. Despite Yorkshire’s famously cold winds and unreliable summer weather the race has never been cancelled and the show goes on come rain or shine. The name of the game? Completing the race course on a custom made and extravagantly decorated bed. The show kicks off in the morning where contestants meet at Knaresborough Castle in full fancy dress with their decorated bed. Prizes are awarded for best dressed teams and the team who make first place are tasked with leading the parade throughout the town. More awards are given for most entertaining team in the parade. Fun and games completed, here’s where the true competition begins. Beds are stripped of their decoration and the timed race begins. This challenging route sees six team members and one passenger (atop the bed) hurl along steep Knaresborough streets, ending with a tumultuous 20-yard swim through the flowing River Nidd. The best of the best complete the course in 15 minutes and slower groups should expect to see it complete within 30. Competition is rife and residents of the nearby area come out in their hundreds to cheer the teams on, creating a buzzing day out in Knaresborough town centre.


Image credit: Skipton Sheep Day via Facebook
Skipton Sheep Day
North Yorkshire 
 
Staying in North Yorkshire? Just 26 miles down the road from Knaresborough is the charming tourist market town of Skipton. As the ‘gateway to the Yorkshire dales’ it’s no doubt that a lot of the local industry comes from sheep farming. The name Skipton is, in fact, derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘Sceap Tun’ meaning ‘Sheep Town’. Ok so you’re with us, they bloody love sheep. Once a year the town shut down their high street and celebrate sheep. The road fills with food trucks (preferably not those selling lamb), funfair rides and arts and crafts stalls, offering local wares to buy and things to see and do for visiting tourists. They also fill the street with pens, featuring not just sheep but also llamas and alpacas, meerkats and pygmy hedgehogs and tortoises and snakes. There’ll also be an exhibition of birds of prey. Don’t worry though, the sheep still take centre stage throughout the course of the day. The Sheep Show sees a temporary platform host a range of educational and exciting sheep-based shows, including sheep shearing demonstrations, sheep with dreadlocks and dancing sheep. Expect to come away with an extensive knowledge of how your jumper was made. Always taking placing place in early July, the weather is often clear and sunny, making the day a strangely charming day out. 


Image credit: alexander darlington via Flickr
Dorking Wife Carrying Race 
Surrey 
 
Much like Eurovision or the Olympics, it’s important that we send the best of the best to represent us in worldwide competitions. So, before couples fly out to The Wife Carrying World Championship held every year in Finland, it’s important that we have our own race here at home. The race is over a 380m course, featuring 15m of ascent and 15m of descent. The rules? One person must run the race whilst holding their ‘wife’ in one of many recognised holds (bridal, piggy-back, fireman’s lift, Estonian hold, Dorking hold). The ‘wife’ doesn’t have to be a woman, nor do they have to be married to the runner, but they must be over 18 and over 50kg. Any contestants weighing less than that must carry a rucksack full of tins of beans in order to achieve the minimum weight limit. The course is a treacherous one, where obstacles are thrown in your way and spectators are encouraged to splash racers with water pistols… you might also get a bucket of water in the face. It’s also held in late winter/early spring, so don’t expect to have the weather on your side either. What prize could possibly be worth this arduous task, we hear you ask. Well the contestants who come first win a barrel of local ale and money towards their trip to the Word Championship in Finland. Racers who come last win a Pot Noodle and some dog food, whilst the most elderly racer wins a tin of pilchards and some Bovril. This year’s winners got a little bit more than they bargained for, however, when at the end of the course the racer went down on one knee and proposed to his metaphorical ‘wife’. The strangest romantic story we’ve heard all day. 


Image credit: Will De Freitas via Flickr 
Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling
Gloucestershire
 
This world-famous 40-year-old race is a lesson in not only perseverance but community spirit and sticking it to the man. Due to serious injuries this event was officially cancelled in 2009, no longer being organised by the local council. However, it refused to die, and each year on the Spring Bank Holiday people from all over the world gather to roll that cheese, regardless of the lack of local council endorsement. To compete you must race a 7-9-pound round of Double Gloucester to the bottom of the hill in order to win the cheese (and the glory). This cheese, however, can reach speeds of 70mph in its hurtle towards the finish line, and has been known to take out competitors and seriously injure many. No one realistically catches up with the breakneck cheese, but the first across the finish line wins it anyway. A remarkable number of competitors actually don’t make it past the finish line, and in 2005 races had to be delayed as the local ambulance service delivered injured competitors to the hospital in waves. In 2014 a female contestant broke her neck and injured her spine yet returned three years later to take on the challenge again. In 2013 the local police force informed the cheesemaker Diana Smart (then 86) that she would be held responsible for the injuries sustained at the event providing she continued to supply the festival’s cheese rounds, causing the cheese to be replaced by a lightweight foam version which was actually caught mid-race! Obvious disclaimer: don't try this at home. 


Image credit: Mark Drane via Flickr
Hebden Bridge Duck Race 
West Yorkshire 
 
Back in Yorkshire (why so many of these weird things happen in Yorkshire we just don’t know) and the annual duck race is offering impressive prizes. Not just a duck race, the day is a family friendly celebration day situated in the beautiful town of Hebden Bridge, and offers entertainment, charity stalls, food trucks and live music. This Easter Monday tradition is a grand day out for kids and grown-ups alike, offering heaps of stuff to do for all the family. The main event is the duck race, over 10,000 rubber ducks are launched into the River Calder, racing from St George’s Bridge to the West End bridge finishing line. It only costs a quid to bet on a duck, and the prizes are way more impressive than a wheel of cheese. Last year saw the winning family go away with three-night holiday to Disneyland Paris, as well as £300 and £200 awarded to the third and second runners up respectively. Whether you’re in it to win it or just fancy a day out, this Yorkshire town is full of charming boutique shops and eateries and is an ideal day out regardless of your competitive spirit. 
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