Looking for some inspiration on how to spend your long Easter weekend? Contrary Life has compiled a round-up of the quirkiest Easter events taking place this year, including the best of the UK’s customs and contests, such as coal carrying races and marbles championships, chair lifting and bottle kicking. So, what are you waiting for…
1. Get a customary lift in Greenwich
Easter Monday Chair Lifting is an old custom which was carried out all over Britain until about a hundred years ago.
The custom fizzled out after the Church (rather mistakenly) encouraged its discontinuance, stating that it was a parody of Christ’s rising. In fact chair lifting is much much older and probably originated as a fertility ritual.
The chair lifting is exactly as it sounds, with ladies being elevated on ‘Eostre’s Throne of Flowers’. Eostre was the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring and Fertility, whose name still lingers in the word Easter – her holiday.
Today, the Blackheath Morris Men continue the custom in Greenwich on Easter Monday.
2. Play some competitive marbles
Did you know, Easter is the traditional time for many marbles contests, including the British and World Marbles Championship, to be fought in Sussex.
Tinsley Green in West Sussex is known as the home of marbles and the game has been played at the Greyhound pub since the game’s revival in 1932. The Marbles Championship was a focal point of village life back then and so it continues to be today. In the 1940s an International Championship was introduced, the first of which attracted competition from America. Since then there have been players from France, Germany and Japan amongst others.
Over in Battle, the town hosts an annual match and Easter bonnet parade. The annual tradition dates back to 1945 and sees teams compete to win the marbles match and fancy dress competition.
So why not learn to roll like a champ on Good Friday?
3. Find a new use for coal in Yorkshire
Fancy a more hefty challenge this Easter? The 56th World Coal Carrying Championships will take place in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire, with men’s, women’s and children’s races in which men carry 50kg sacks of coal and women 20kg (thankfully, children get off more lightly).
The adult races start from the Royal Oak public house on Owl Lane in Ossett and continue for a distance of 1012 metres to the finish line at the Maypole Green in Gawthorpe village. And if lumping a sack of coal isn’t difficult enough, there’s a bonus prize for breaking the current World Record!
4. Discover Hallaton’s peculiar parade and bizarre game
Every Easter Monday, the village of Hallaton plays host to a unique set of customs, a game known as Bottle Kicking and the Hare Pie Scramble. It all begins with a parade through the villages of Medbourne and Hallaton, with a hare pie and three kegs, followed by the Bottle Kicking game itself.
The parade, according to local legend, is carried out to commemorate a hare saving two ladies from a raging bull. The Bottle Kicking, a strenuous game similar to rugby, can be traced back over 200 years but is thought to be much older.
The competition begins with a wooden dummy keg or ‘bottle’ being tossed into the air. Teams then try to move the bottle across two streams, one mile (1.6 km) apart, by any means possible. The real reason for these quirky customs is unknown, but they show no signs of fizzling out.
5. Grab a pint and catch a traditional Easter play
Pace-Egging is an old Easter begging custom which is still carried out in parts of northern England, and Middleton’s Pace Egging play is still going strong, touring the local pubs each year.
Traditionally the entertainment was offered by poor villagers in exchange for alms. Today, the custom generally involves a lot of singing, dancing and drinking tours around the local pubs, including The Olde Boar’s Head, one of England’s oldest pubs. The play involves heroes, villains, a fight and plenty of eccentricity. This is usually followed by egg rolling on the hill outside St Leonard Parish Church.
6. Watch ‘Uppies & Downies’ battle it out
In Workington, Cumbria, three Uppies and Downies matches are held every Easter, raising money for various local charities. There are few rules to this rough ball game, but object is to ‘hail the ball’ (throw it up in the air three times) at the opposing team’s goal. The Downies goal is a capstan at the town’s harbour, while the Uppies is the gates of Workington Hall Parklands. The game is thought to originate from the rivalry between the seafarers around the marsh and the colliers of the top end of the tow. Three special Uppies and Downies balls are handmade every year for the occasion. Traditionally, the owner of nearby Curwen Hall awards a sovereign to the player who successfully hails the ball.
The town even has a pair of statues depicting the Easter event, created by local sculptor Colin Telfer. One stands outside Workington Hall, the other at the harbour.
7. Roll out the barrel in Hedley
The Hedley Barrel Race is run every Easter Monday and is organised by the local Feathers Inn. The race sees competitors carrying an empty nine-gallon beer barrel, over a 1.5 mile course.
The lucky victors are rewarded with a keg of beer! But that’s not all, in the afternoon there will also be some traditional (and family friendly) egg jarping taking place, along with a beer and food festival.
8. Cheer on The Boggmen in Great Finborough
The Bog Race (or Race of the Boggmen) is a key part of village life in Great Finborough. On Easter Monday each year there is a battle between the villages of Haughley and Great Finborough. Participants race across the Suffolk countryside from Boyton Hall to The Chestnut Horse pub. The first team to return to the pub with ‘The Contract’ wins.
The idea of the race and the contract comes from a time when workers from Boyton Hall were in the pub rather than at work. Workers were hired from the neighbouring village of Haughley to replace them. The original workers were up in arms, so the employer threw the work contract up in the air and said that the first team of workers to step over the threshold of the pub, holding the contract, could have the job.
9. Forget Easter eggs and hunt the chocolate eclair
Search high and low this around London’s King’s Road as Maître Choux hosts an Easter Eclair Hunt. The choux pastry specialist, Maître Choux will be hiding mini éclairs and those lucky enough to find them can redeem them in store for a délicieux Maître Choux Chocolate éclair.
Over the long Easter weekend, the mini chocolate éclairs will be secretly placed all the way down the Kings Road, ready for all to find. Guests are invited to bring these hidden éclairs into the King’s Road store to redeem a decadent Dark Chocolate Eclair, filled with an intense and creamy dark chocolate for an alternative Easter treat.
10. Follow the Coconut Dancers on a unique tour of Bacup
Every Easter Saturday in the town of Bacup, the Britannia Coconut Dancers, with their blackened faces, decorated hats, red and white kilts, white stockings and clogs, are accompanied by a brass band to uphold the Traditional Boundary Dance.
The dancers, named after the village of Britannia, formed over 100 years ago. Their style of dance and costume is thought to be unique and is believed to have been brought to Cornwall by Moorish Pirates who settled and became employed as miners. Some of the men moved to work in the north, bringing their skills and dances with them.
Their garland dance is thought to represent the coming of spring, and dancers probably blackened their faces to prevent evil spirits recognising them and to reflect their mining connections. Their other type of dance, the coconut dance, taps out rhythms on wooden discs or ‘nuts’ fastened to the dancers’ hands, knees and waist. The nuts were originally used to protect miners as they crawled along the narrow passages in the mines.