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England's most unusual festivals and festivities


England's most unusual festivals and festivities

story by: Anna Sarjeant

Yes, yes, South West England is replete with grand cathedrals, cute thatch-roofed cottages and more creamed scones than residents and visitors combined, but what about all the southerly gems you didn’t know about?

We’ve listed our top 5 more-obscure must-dos below. Read on and we shall enlighten you.

1. The Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling Festival - Gloucester
Home to some of the world’s quirkiest traditions, if you’re looking for an eccentric adventure with a hundred other like-minded ‘weirdos’, The Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling Festival is sufficiently bonkers. We know what you’re thinking, ‘cheese rolling’ - sounds a little odd. Wait, there’s more. Add a steep hill, a haphazard race and a 9lb round of Double Gloucester cheese and you don’t just have odd, you have bats in the belfry bonkers. And yet, every year - on the Spring Public Holiday - that’s exactly what ‘rolls out’ at Cooper's Hill, Gloucester.

The cheese, which enjoys a one second head start, is pushed from atop the hill before a chorus of YOLO-inspired participants chase it down. By the fastest means possible no less; trip, fall, roll or slide (a morning's worth of ale at the local 'Cheese Rolling Arms' doesn't aid the descent). He who makes it over the finish line first, wins!

2. The Lundy Letterbox Treasure Hunt
More rugged than Aragorn, Ranger of the North, Lundy Island lies 20km off the coast of Devon, void of cars, roads, and for the most part, people. A wild outcrop of granite, it’s thrashed by the Atlantic and defined by its high, handsome cliffs, wild flowers and windswept slopes.

Think it’s all nature and weather-nurtured wilderness? Wake up and smell the strong Devonshire tea! It’s Lundy Island where you’ll find Britain’s best treasure hunt, Lundy Letterboxes. Pull on your Deerstalker and get your clue-solving cap on, Sherlock, because there’s a mystery to be solved.

There are 27 letterboxes to be discovered in total (plus a roving Lundy Bunny which is the hardest of them all) all found in curious – and at times precarious – locations. Prepare yourself for slippery scrambles and nooks only accessible at low tide. For each discovery, you’ll be rewarded with a stamp.

Will you find all 27 for the penultimate Lundy clean sweep?

3. Slapstick Festival - Bristol
With more comedic talent rolling out of Britain than you could shake a jester’s hat at, it’s hard to avoid the nation’s infectious – albeit niche – sense of humour. Bristol is well regarded as the city of laughter, so if you’re in dire need of a hearty belly roll, check out the annual Slapstick Festival.

A unique combination of silent film and slapstick comedy, the festival celebrates an age-old enjoyment for vintage comedy and the slapstick genre; custard pies to the face and such like. Held every January at Bristol’s Colston Hall, the event now pulls in an entire crew of internationally-regarded comedy names, including master of the feather duster, Ken Dodd and Ricky Gervais’ often funnier best mate, Stephen Merchant.

4. Athelhampton Hall
Fancy a little fright to go with your trip to the southern counties? Athelhampton Hall is considered one of the most haunted houses in the country, with more ghostly figures frequenting the corridors than actual guests.

Built five centuries prior, the 15th century Manor House lies five miles east of the Dorset town of Dorchester. Opulent to say the least, the interior décor mirrors that of Downton Abbey, but with the added panache of a few ghostly apparitions. The Grey Lady of Athelhampton is perhaps the most spine-tingling of the figures; her grey silhouette often spotted in the early hours of the morning, walking through walls. Then there are the two Great Chamber duellists who fight until injured and the hooded monk, dressed in black and believed to be a Catholic priest, who stands without purpose outside the bathroom.

…And then there’s the ape.

Imprisoned behind a passage in the Great Chamber, the manor’s former pet monkey was accidentally left to die. A ghost has never been seen, but an ear-piercing scratch from behind the wall has been heard by many.

Anyway, afternoon tea is served daily, enjoy!

5. The Jurassic Coast
You may not believe in ghosts, but you have to believe in dinosaurs. Proof of their existence lies all along the Jurassic Coastline, stretching from Devon to Dorset.

Dating as far back as T-rex times and boasting a birth date sitting somewhere around 245 million years ago, it’s little wonder that those with a Hawke’s eye can discover fossils from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods - and even a dinosaur’s footprint. But don’t whip out your archaeology kit just yet, there are strict rules about fossil removal. Basically, you can’t.

As well as enough Jurassic history to excite even the most discerning of palaeontologists, the views are spectacular. With 95 miles of glittering water and iconic landmarks, you’d be hard-pushed to miss a ‘wide eyed and mouth open’ moment. Take in the fresh air between Branscombe and Beer (the place - but the village pub serves it also) and you’ll be rewarded with stellar sea views, peaking between the trees.

And there you have it, cottages and cathedrals aside, South West England is practically overflowing with cool must-dos and curious past times. Have fun out there.

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