Thursday, 22 January 2015

TRAVEL: The best of Barmy Britain

Crazy holidays conjure images of abseiling off Table Mountain or jet boating in New Zealand rather than visiting good old Blighty, but the Barmy Brits do have some wild attractions of their own.

“Us Brits aren’t as dull as some might think and there are plenty of exciting, adventurous and just plain mad things to do in the UK,” says Kola Olayinka, British Airways commercial manager for West Africa.

When planning your holidays for 2015 he says it’s worth bearing in mind that the Saxon bits of the Anglo Saxons trace their ancestry back to the original mad marauders, the Vikings, arguably the pioneers of adventure tourism.

Today in Shetland, Scotland, they still celebrate this heritage at Up Helly Aa, the largest fire festival in Europe, held on the last Tuesday in January. The locals dress up in full Viking regalia and the evening culminates in the burning of a longship. Sensibly, the next day is public holiday to allow everyone to recover.

The origins of the World Bog Snorkelling Championships may be somewhat murky - possibly the first participants were practicing hiding from the Vikings – but the modern event has taken place in Powys, Wales for the past 30 years. In August competitors from around the world descend on the smallest town in Britain, Llanwrtyd Wells to pit their bog snorkelling skills in the 115-metre course. The sport isn’t quite as obscure as you might think - Lonely Planet named it as one of the top 50 ‘must do’ things in 2014.

Although the British have improved at scaring off foreign invaders, this has been more of a recent development than historical trend. One must wonder what William the Conqueror would’ve made of the good people of Witcham in Cambridgeshire, who today host the World Pea Shooting Championships. While the skills and marksmanship on display at the annual event are incredible, it’s not surprising that it was the English bowmen rather than Witcham’s pea shooters which won the day at Agincourt.

“No list of crazy things to do in the UK would be complete without including cheese rolling in Gloucestershire,” says Olayinka.

As far as can be ascertained, this has nothing whatsoever to do with Vikings. The event dates back to the 1800s, but the official cheese rolling down Cooper’s Hill was cancelled in 2010 after health and safety concerns – very un-Saxon. Since then, unofficial competitors try to keep pace with a runaway round of cheese - an apparently impossible endeavour. In fact most don’t even manage to stay on their feet. The winner is the first person across the line after the cheese. The prize is – surprise, surprise - a Double Gloucester Cheese and international fame.

Another event dating back to the 1800s - 1864 to be precise - is the annual Christmas Day plunge into the freezing Serpentine in Hyde Park. Named the Peter Pan Cup in 1904, after Sir James Barrie presented the first cup, it entails mad swimmers racing each other for 100m across the freezing waters of the Serpentine – temperatures are around 4oC. Unfortunately you can’t just pitch up and join in. You need to be a member of the Serpentine Swimming Club and possess the constitution of an arctic explorer. Still if you’re not planning anything else next Christmas.

British Airways flies daily from Lagos and Abuja to London. For more information and World on Sale special fares visit

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