For sports fans who can be in Britain this year but can't get to the Olympic or Paralympic Games, England – which is home...

With six months to go until the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, host venues throughout the island of Great Britain are preparing to welcome athletes across a wide range of sporting disciplines.

For sports fans who can be in Britain this year but can’t get to the Games, England – which is home to most of the venues which will be used for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, with Scotland and Wales each having one venue – offers plenty of less-conventional competitive activities.


Many non-Britons might view some of these sporting events as plain silly, but those taking part want to win and spectators find the events fascinating and huge fun to watch.

Ben Fogle was the men's champion at the 2008 World Coal Carrying Contest, held in Ossett, West Yorkshire. Courtesy of Wakefield Express newspaper

“This year is a fantastic time to be in England, and not just for Olympic and Paralympic sports enthusiasts,” says Lady Cobham, chairman of VisitEngland, England’s national tourism authority. “The range of alternative sports taking place across the country is evidence of this – there is something for everyone and these unusual events really bring to the fore some of our country’s quirkier heritage and culture.”

Adds Lady Cobham: “In addition to these annual competitions, there will be hundreds of events and festivals taking place in a jam-packed cultural and sporting calendar. There’s really no better time to take a vacation in England.”

Here are 10 unusual alternative sporting events in England in 2012:

1. Pancake Dashing: February 21 (Shrove Tuesday), Olney, Buckinghamshire. The unique Olney Pancake Race stops traffic as, once a year, local ladies in traditional housewife attire (including skirt, apron and scarf), run through the streets of Olney. The 415-yard dash is started by the church warden at 11.55 a.m. prompt using a large bronze ‘Pancake Bell’. Pancakes are tossed at the start of the race and the winner is required to toss her pancake again at the finish. The race has been run since around 1445 and since 1950 the contest has been an international event between Olney and the town of Liberal, Kansas in the U.S. The race is run on a timed basis and the winner is declared after times are compared during a transatlantic telephone call. For more information, visit www.visitbuckinghamshire.org/events/olney-pancake-race-p692671.

2. Coal Carrying: April 9, Ossett, West Yorkshire. Held each year on Easter Monday, the World Coal Carrying Contest is a test of strength and stamina in which men carry 50kg (110lb) and women carry 20kg (44lb) of coal over a one-mile uphill course. The World Coal Carrying Contest dates back to 1963, when a local coal merchant and the president of the Maypole Committee were enjoying a pint together. A friend came into the pub and bet that he could race them with a bag of coal on their backs. Not to let a good idea go to waste, the secretary of the Maypole Committee decided to set the race for Easter Monday. The current world record, held by David Jones of Meltham, is 4 mins 6 secs. To find out more about the event, go to www.gawthorpe.ndo.co.uk/coal.htm.

The Cheese Rolling event in Brockworth, Gloucestershire dates back to medieval times

3. Shin-Kicking: June 1, Dover’s Hill, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. Started by local barrister Captain Robert Dover in 1612, the annual Cotswold Olimpicks attracts thousands of spectators and features well-known countryside games such as tug-of-war, obstacle races and wrestling, as well as a few stranger events – including shin-kicking. In this event, each two contestants fill their trouser legs with straw – to help reduce the pain – before holding one another’s arms and kicking each other wearing steel toe-capped boots. The loser is the competitor who gives in to the pain and bruising first. This year marks the Olimpicks’ 400th anniversary, so there will be some special celebrations this year. For more, see www.olimpickgames.co.uk.

4. Cheese Rolling: June 4, Brockworth, Gloucestershire. This annual event involves daredevils hurling themselves down steep, grassy slopes in pursuit of Double Gloucester cheeses. The race starts with the master of ceremonies rolling a 4kg (8.8lb) Double Gloucester cheese down Coopers Hill. On the whistle, competitors run, roll and somersault down the hill after it. It’s impossible not to fall over due to the rough uneven nature of the slope, which has a dizzying 1-in-2 gradient. The winners take home the cheeses as well as a few cuts and bruises. The event dates back to medieval times and is popular with international competitors. To find out more about cheese rolling, click on www.cheese-rolling.co.uk.

5. Egg Throwing: June 24, between Helpringham & Swaton, Lincolnshire. In the annual World Egg Throwing Championships, contestants must construct a gravity-powered egg-hurling device to launch an egg to a waiting team member. To achieve points, the team member must either catch the egg unbroken or get struck by the egg. As the egg can be traveling at speeds of up to 120 mph this is particularly tricky and can be painful. Distances to be achieved start at 30 meters but can be extended up to 150 meters in the knock-out competition. Event competitions include basic throwing, catching relays and egg roulette. For more information about this strange event, go to www.eggthrowing.com.

Held each Easter Monday in Ossett, West Yorkshire, the World Coal Carrying Contest is a gruelling event for both men and women. It involved contestants carrying heavy sacks of coal on their shoulders over a one-mile uphill course. Courtesy of Wakefield Express newspaper

6. Pea Shooting: July 14, Witcham, Cambridgeshire. This international event brings challengers from as far as New Zealand and the United States to compete for the World Pea Shooting trophy. Accuracy, not distance, is the aim of this competition, with contestants shooting a pea through a 12-inch tube, 12 feet towards a 12-inch target. Competition is fierce and laser-guided shooters for specialists are not uncommon. Pea shooters and peas can be bought at the event. To find out more, visit www.eastcambs.gov.uk/tourism.

7. Toe Wrestling: August 25, Fenny Bentley, Ashbourne. Each August the Bentley Brook Inn in Derbyshire hosts the Ben & Jerry’s World Toe Wrestling Championship. The event was conceived in 1976 in a pub in Wetton, when the locals of ‘Ye Olde Royal Oak Inn’ thought it would be a good idea to hold a toe wrestling competition. Competitors locked their big toes together and each attempted to force their opponent’s foot to the ground. The organisers have big intentions for the sport, and applied in 1997 for its inclusion in the Olympic Games. Unfortunately for fans, it was not accepted. To learn more about the event, see www.bentleybrookinn.co.uk/page14.html.

8. Gravy Wrestling: August 27, the Rose & Bowl Inn, Bacup, Rossendale, Lancashire. The World Gravy Wrestling Championships take place annually as part of the Pennine Lancashire Festival of Food & Culture and celebrate their fifth anniversary in 2012. In this challenge, teams slide around in lukewarm gravy and attempt to wrestle one another to the ground. Team members win points for pinning the opposition down in the gravy. Find out more about this tasty event at www.worldgravywrestling.com.

In the annual Cheese Rolling event in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, competitors chase 8-kilogram wheels of Double Gloucester cheese down the very steep Coopers Hill. Each competitor who succeeds in catching a wheel of cheese gets to keep it, along with the cuts and bruises sustained during the tumbling descent

9. Black Pudding Throwing: September 9, Royal Oak, Bridge Street, Ramsbottom, Lancashire. Lancashire is famous for the production of this regional delicacy – along with tripe (cow’s stomach) and elder (steamed cows’ udder) – and so is a fitting home for the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships. The aim is to throw a black pudding that has been wrapped in a pair of ladies tights at a collection of Yorkshire puddings on a plinth 20 feet (6.1 meters) up a tower built in the middle of the main street in Ramsbottom. Whoever knocks down the most, wins. Learn more about this bizarre, but fun, event at www.ramsbottomonline.com/tag/the-world-black-pudding-throwing-championship.

10. Conker Knockout: October 14, Ashton, near Oundle, Peterborough. The game of conkers has been a popular pastime for British schoolchildren for centuries. Each player is given a conker (horse chestnut) attached to a piece of string and competitors take turns to swing their conker at their opponent’s and try to break it. The World Conker Championships are held each year on the village green in Ashton, Peterborough and attract more than 300 competitors attempting to become the King or Queen of Conkers. There are various categories for the knock-out competition – ladies, men, teenagers and children. The world tournament came about after a group of local friends had to cancel their annual fishing trip one year. From the pub, they saw conkers falling from the trees onto the village green. They went out and had a game and a legend began. Go to www.worldconkerchampionships.com for more information.

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