I wish I could tell you how many country shows there are in Cumbria. Every community of any size has its own gem, when everyone gathers to chat, drink, eat and show off. Alongside the sheepdog trials and terrier shows, there are usually competitions for stick making, bee keeping, fly tying, dry stone walling and sheep clipping. Some court headlines with unusual items such as ‘best fancy dressed dog’ and dancing tractors, but all of them are still recognisable as the original grand day out for hard-working farmers.
Many of the shows have a fell race, which, for the uninitiated, is where brave and slightly manic people tear up inclines that most of us can only walk up, panting for breath. The Borrowdale Show’s fell race produces Cumbrian heroes such as Joss Naylor MBE, the Wasdale sheep farmer who successfully ran seventy races in his seventieth year. Cumbria’s other home-grown sport is Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling.
I have been trying to think of a good way to describe it to people who haven’t seen it before. It was easier in the days when the costume eclipsed the sport; it was traditional to wear white long johns and vests with elaborately embroidered trunks. “They strip to their drawers and flannel vests,” said Charles Dickens, “shake hands… and then, while exerting every muscle to the utmost, these fine fellows never exhibit a trace of savageness or animosity.” I mourn the loss of their traditional costumes, but the introduction of normal sporting gear has rejuvenated the sport, bringing young people and women to the games.
So, if you’re all keen to try our native wrestling, here is how it goes: Grab your opponent around the back, one arm over their shoulder and one underneath. Try to throw him/her to the floor, or escape his/her hold. Tactics include ‘back-heeling’, where you kick your opponent’s legs away, ‘hanking’, a sort of leg-twisting, and an ‘inside-click’, a gruesome move requiring a grab between the legs and a swift shove.
I still, however, have no idea what being ‘well-caught by a cross-buttock’ means. Perhaps best left to the imagination.
See our Review of the Lake District Shows.
Find cottages in the Lake District near these events.