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Five weird and wonderful events in the Cotswolds

The idyllic Cotswolds in southern England is home to quirky customs that must be seen to be believed.

Replete with chocolate-box cottages of golden limestone, surrounded by rolling green hills, you don’t get more quintessentially English than the Cotswolds. But the traditions here fly in the face of the idea that it’s a bastion for stuffed shirts. Cotswoldians know how to let their hair down – often in the barmiest of ways. So, for what to do in the Cotswolds, look no further than these top tips.

Cheese rolling

May

World-famous and wonderfully weird, the annual Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling sees competitors pursue wheels of Double Gloucester cheese down a treacherously steep hill. It’s held every Spring Bank Holiday, drawing crowds of spectators to this rural swathe of Gloucestershire. The faint of heart may want to forego competing, as runners have broken bones from tumbling after cheese rolling glory. Following several cheese rolls, it’s back to the pub for a pint (and a sticking plaster or two).

Tetbury Woolsack Race

May

In the 1600s, the menfolk of Tetbury would compete to dazzle the ladies by running up and down a hill carrying a hefty woolsack. The tradition persists to this day, though women have taken up the woolly mantle too. With woolsacks on their backs, competitors race 220 metres through the street as crowds cheer them on. The event takes place in Tetbury every Spring Bank Holiday. If you fancy your chances, register for the race early (and do plenty of squats in preparation).

Cotswold Olimpicks

June

Centuries before the nations of the world gathered under the five rings of the Olympic flag, the people of the Cotswolds were competing in their very own games. The Cotswold Olimpicks was thought up by lawyer Robert Dover in the 17th century and has been held in some form ever since – except for a brief intermission (the English Civil War). Expect tug o’ war, cross-country gambols, wheelbarrows, hay bales and even a spot of competitive shin kicking. Held each June on Dover’s Hill in Chipping Campden, the Cotswold Olimpicks is playful, muddy fun for all the family. 

Eynsham Shirt Race

July

One of the world’s weirdest pub crawls, the Eynsham Shirt Race is a motor-free Wacky Races in the Oxfordshire village of Eynsham. Two-person teams build their own wheeled vehicle and race between pubs, seven in all, stopping off to down a half-pint at each. Whichever team makes it to the White Hart pub first is the winner. The Eynsham Shirt Race has been staged since the 1950s, and is the highlight of the village’s annual carnival every July. 

Bibury Duck Race

December

The Bibury Duck Race is a Boxing Day tradition bound to take away the winter chill. The charity event features two races: one with 150 realistic ducks, the other with 2000 lemon-yellow rubber ducks. Each of the faux birds is sponsored, with the money going to a good cause. In both races, the ducks float down the River Coln, carried by the water to the finishing line. People peer over the bridges and line the banks of Bibury to see the charity duck-off commence. It’s a charming Cotswolds’ spectacle.