A & E ahoy! Held every Spring Bank Holiday at Cooper’s Hill, Gloucestershire, this event pits the fearless against a nine-pound wheel of Double Gloucester. The competitors’ quarry is given a one-second head start down the one-in-three slope and can reach velocities of 70mph, so is rarely caught. 1993 was carnage, with four serious injuries, but the rollers remain defiant against the critics. “No one is going to stop us doing it,” roars former winner Helen Thorpe into the face of health and safety regulation.
Many great ideas were conceived in pubs, and the unique sport of bog snorkeling came into being after a man called Gordon Green had one too many ales in The Neuadd Arms, Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales in 1976. Competitors must propel themselves through a nearby 60-yard trench using flipper power alone; the world record, set by Kirsty Johnson in 2014, is one minute 22 seconds. The murky World Championship takes place every August Bank Holiday.
An event which originated in Finland and includes a lengthy tract of rules – including the marvelous “all competitors must enjoy themselves” – wife-carrying now has a UK version, held in Dorking every March. There are several different styles of “carry”: piggyback, the fireman’s lift and “Estonian-style” – a daring manoeuvre in which the female dangles upside-down with her legs around his shoulders. The Dorking course is 380m and competitors must negotiate a series of divorce threatening hay bales.
Yes, you read that right: dog dancing is considered an (ahem) bone fide sport among deranged hound-lovers. Also known as ‘musical canine freestyle’, the event mixes obedience, training, tricks and dance between pooch and owner. To score well in events like the Kennel Club’s Heelwork to Music, entrants must display originality, control and good rhythm. Crufts is the Olympics for these athletes, but events are held across the UK throughout the year.
Watched too many episodes of Game of Thrones? Decided that a good way to shed some pounds and chisel your abs might be to don a suit of armour, raise a broadsword aloft, and go into battle? Step this way: full contact medieval fighting is now a popular pastime in the UK for those who reckon UFC is for softies, with around 250 participants. Team UK train for the World Championships – usually held in Eastern Europe – at Ludlow Castle, with shields and long swords deployed in an attempt to knock down the opponent.
That Lewis Hamilton may be a super fit athlete able to eke every ounce of speed out of a hi-tech F1 car, but could he cut in if he was sitting on top of an adapted Flymo, racing round a dirt track in West Sussex for 12 hours? We’ll probably never find out, but the annual race, held in Billinghurst every August – and once again invented in a pub – is a great test of mental and physical endurance.
A tradition among ruddy-faced Highlanders, the caber toss depends on both brute strength and the kind of subtle timing required to pole vault effectively. The traditional missile is a six-metre, 80kg piece of wood, and the sport evolved from the quite practical need for lumberjacks to get logs across streams and chasms. The aim is to turn the caber over in the air and the distance is not measured – tosses are scored on the straightness of the rotation. The Royal Highland Games is the sport’s zenith.
What would the beautiful game look like if men like Lee Cattermole were actually encouraged to tackle high and gouge eyes? Something a bit like the annual Shrovetide “no-rules” match in Ashbourne, in which hundreds of drunk Derbyshiremen scramble to get a ball into two nets three miles apart – the Up’Ards against the Down’Ards. Dating back to the 17th century, the game lasts up to eight hours, and the ball tends to move in ‘hugs’ – like a giant rugby scrum. The Up’Ards won the 2015 fixture 1-0.
Incredibly, the second event on our list invented by Gordon Green of Llanwrtyd Wells after an argument in a pub about whether man could compete with an equine over long distances. The first 22-mile race was thus organised in 1980, and traverses bogs and rivers over a tricky course. The animal kingdom won the early exchanges, but since then humanity has caught up, literally: Tim Gould became the first human to beat the horse in 1989, and prize money has since risen to over £25,000.
They do things differently out west, including preserving some truly ancient sports in an Olympiks’ that date back to 1612. The event at Dover’s Hill, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire attracts thousands of spectators for some well-known sports like running and tug o’ war, but the blue riband discipline is shin kicking. The rules are simple: wearing mercifully soft shoes and holding each other’s collars, competitors score points by toppling their opponent with kicks to the shin.