Britain’s Wackiest Festival?
It’s a toss up between the World Gurning Championships* and the World’s Biggest Liar Competition. Both are native to West Cumbria, and are guaranteed to delight lovers of eccentrics and bizarre local customs.
My vote goes for the Liar Competition, held each November at The Bridge Inn in Santon Bridge at Wasdale Head. Wasdale lays claim to the highest mountain (Scafell Pike), deepest lake (Wastwater), smallest church (St. Olaf’s) and the World’s Biggest Liar. Quite a total!
The competition started in tribute to a Wasdale landlord, Will Ritson. ‘Auld Will’, who lived in the nineteenth century, was well known for extremely tall tales, often told at the expense of outsiders (or ‘offcomers’ as they’re known in these parts). He claimed that the turnips in Wasdale were so big that they were ‘quarried’, and hollowed out to be used as sheep sheds.
The modern competition is open to all comers except lawyers and politicians, who are judged to be too practised at the fine art of deception. Participants have a few minutes to exhort their tale, without props, and the audience decides whose story is most remarkable.
Past winners include previous landlords and staff of the pub, local farmers and the comedienne, Sue Perkins. Their tales are crackers. Did you know, for example, that the Lake District was not formed by time, glaciers and volcanoes, but by eels and moles? Or that Wasdale is home to the mermaid farming industry? Sheep, we are told, are the cause of global warming (all that roughage is tough on the old digestive system!), although they turn into fish when the river floods. James Pond (sic) is a fish who can be relied upon to solve local crime, and wind farms actually fix environmental problems by slowly steering us towards the equator, not by generating electricity. Topical subjects, as you can see, are popular themes guaranteed to raise a laugh and a few agendas! Only one person has won the competition without entering it.
A long time ago, a visiting bishop declared, ‘I have never told a lie in my life’. He was unanimously declared the winner.
*The World Gurning Championships are held at the Egremont Crab Fayre each September. ‘Gurning’ involves contorting the face into a series of unlikely expressions. Lack of teeth helps, apparently.
**‘Tattie Pot’ is a native Cumbrian dish made from mutton, black pudding and potatoes, traditionally served with pickled red cabbage.