Flippin’ eck, can you believe Pancake Day is almost upon us once more?
Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday was the time when Christian families would use up all their eggs, milk and other ingredients before Lent. And making pancakes was the ideal way to do it. Although it’s not common in the UK to fast during this time of the year anymore, the custom of eating pancakes is, unsurprisingly, still popular. So much so, that the celebration is now commonly known as Pancake Day. I mean, who doesn’t love an excuse to scoff tasty pancakes?
But eating pancakes isn’t the only Shrove Tuesday tradition that’s still going strong. Quirky pancake races and games have been played for centuries. Here’s a bunch of events, both old and new, that are on this year.
Olney Pancake Race
Every Shrove Tuesday, Olney Pancake Race sees local women, dressed as ‘traditional housewives’, run through the town, armed with a frying pan and pancake.
Taking place since 1445, this famous custom’s origins are uncertain. One story claims that on hearing the shriving bell, a harassed housewife dashed off to church still clutching her frying pan and pancake.
After dying out for a time, this quirky event was revived by the local vicar in 1945 and it’s still going strong today. This year’s race starts at 11.55am with the sound of a large bronze ‘Pancake Bell’ and sees competitors running a 379.5m course. And in the Market Place there’s a Pancake Race Day Breakfast being cooked by local chef, Ben Francis. So, you can join in by tucking into American-style pancakes, accompanied by a glass of juice or Prosecco. You can grab yourself a seat for £12 but you’ll need to book.
Scarborough Skipping Day
The Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough celebrates Shrove Tuesday with the unique tradition of skipping. This annual tradition is more than 100 years old and gives fun-loving adults the chance to mess around on the seafront without feeling childish!
This year’s event kicks off at 12pm on Aberdeen Walk with the town crier welcoming the mayor. The mayor then rings the Pancake Bell, before competitors tackle an obstacle course to win the Golden Frying Pan. After this, the traditional skipping gets under way along Foreshore Road at South Bay. The road is closed especially for the event, so anyone can give this a go.
Littlehampton Charity Pancake Olympics
Littlehampton Charity Pancake Olympics sees groups of all ages compete in quirky pancake themed events to raise money for their chosen charities and to win a prestigious gold medal.
The games involve such sporting activities as pancake curling, the pancake relay and some skilled flipping. This popular event takes place on Saturday 10th February, so all ages are able to watch. Head to the high street and cheer on the teams from 11am.
Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football
If the Pancake Olympics just aren’t quirky enough for you, then folk over in Derbyshire do something altogether different. On Shrove Tuesday they play a rather unusual football match.
Played annually, every Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, is Ashbourne’s Royal Shrovetide Football game. Forget 90 minutes, this football match is played over two eight-hour periods with very few rules. And goals are placed three miles apart!
A special leather ball with a cork inner is thrown into the air at the beginning of the match; into the crowd of players or ‘hug’. The players must try to move the ball towards their goal by pushing against the opposition. The teams are made up of locals, known as the Down’ards and Up’ards. Which team you’re on is defined by what side of the river you’re born on.
Spectators are welcome to watch (and follow) the game as it moves through the streets of the town, over local fields and in the river. It’s not for the faint-hearted though!
The Atherstone Ball Game
Over in Warwickshire, a similar street ball game is played. The Atherstone Ball Game sees locals playing a traditional and unruly match across the town.
This ancient Shrove Tuesday tradition is more than 800 years old. The game gets the townsfolk literally brawling over a large ball as it moves up and down the local streets. Because of this the shops are usually boarded up and the schools closed. Atherstone locals gather in the main street during the afternoon and play until 5pm, when the person holding ball is pronounced the winner. The only rule to the game is that the ball mustn’t leave the town.
St Columb Silver Ball Hurling
St Columb in Cornwall also play a customary ball game. But this one’s played with a much smaller ball! Hurling the Silver Ball takes place every Shrove Tuesday and on the second Saturday after.
This game is similar to other traditional street games held across the UK, but this version with a silver ball is unique to Cornwall. Once upon a time, people played it across the county, but now there’s only a handful of annual games left.
Silver ball hurling usually starts at 4.30pm with the ‘throw-up’ in Market Square, followed by a large scrum. Goals are set about two miles apart, at either end of the town. And the winner is the person who manages to get the silver ball over the goal or boundary. The winner is carried back to Market Square, accompanied by a traditional hurling song. At night, the winner returns to Market Square to call up the ball again. A visit to the local public houses follows, where the celebratory ball is immersed in beer jugs.
Lichfield Shrovetide Fair and Pancake Toss
Lichfield boasts an annual Shrovetide Fair, which has been in existence since at least 1623. It’s still opened with an ancient ceremony at 12 noon. A civic procession arrives at the Market Square, where the town crier makes a proclamation to open the fair. This is followed by the ‘pan on bell’ sounding from St Mary’s steeple. Local children, led by the Mayor and city officials, then rush to claim their traditional free ride.
Originally the court of ‘Pie Powdre’ would have been held in the Guildhall for ‘the redressing of all grievances or complaints that shall happen to arise during the time of the fair’. Today there’s the more modern and fun custom of pancake races instead.
Lentsherd in Clovelly village
The unique village of Clovelly in Devon celebrates Shrove Tuesday with its own custom, Lentsherd (pronounced ‘Lanshard’).
At dusk, children walk to the harbour, dragging clattering tin cans tied to string as they go. Afterwards, the cans are tied together and thrown into the sea (and later retrieved). This custom is meant to rid Clovelly of all the bad things from the previous year by chasing spirits away and driving the devil into the sea before Lent. It’s free to enter the village after 4.30pm and children get a free pancake for taking part.
Where to scoff some of the tastiest pancakes
If you’re not the competitive type, here’s a few great places where you can eat pancakes at any time of the year.
Get sweet and savoury pancakes made with organic milk and eggs at the Double Dutch Pancake House in York. These large Dutch-style pancakes are filled with Mexican, American and German inspired ingredients, so there’s something for all tastes.
My Old Dutch in London serves up classic savoury pancakes, alongside sweet butterscotch stacks where you can choose you own combination of toppings.
Where the Pancakes Are has multiple venues in London and regularly tops the lists of best places to eat pancakes. And this Pancake Day, they’re launching a new special. It’s topped with cookie-dough coated ice-cream, popcorn and popping candy (yum).
You can enjoy a pancake breakfast or build your own sweet or savoury pancake at Stack & Still in Glasgow. Plus, there’s a special choose-your-own style kids menu, making it ideal for families.