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Five bizarre annual events in the Cotswolds

England’s picturesque Cotswolds region hosts a number of unusual events, from the charming to the downright bizarre…

Reading time: 3 minutes

Renowned for its bucolic scenery and chocolate-box villages, the Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in south-west England. It’s a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, offering an escape from the hurried pace and soaring skylines of the cities. 

Cloistered away in the hills, the honey-stoned hamlets of the Cotswolds have developed all sorts of idiosyncratic traditions over time. Should you decide to visit, here are five quintessentially Cotswoldian events to look out for, ranging from the charming to the downright bizarre.

The Cotswold Olimpicks

Dover’s Hill, Chipping Campden | June

Centuries ahead of the first modern Olympic Games, there were the Cotswold Olimpick Games. Established in 17th-century Chipping Campden by Robert Dover, this sporting festival was more hay-and-hoof than track-and-field. The Olimpicks has had to overcome a fair few hurdles, from Puritanical campaigns to the English Civil War, but its revival in the mid-20th century gave the barmy proceedings a new lease of life. Head-turning events include shin kicking, spurning the barre (think tossing the caber), wheelbarrow racing and tug o’ war. Expect light-hearted, family-friendly shenanigans and lots of mud.

Eynsham Shirt Race

Eynsham | July

A pub crawl isn’t typically a competitive affair. In Eynsham, however, it’s a team sport. First run in 1958, the Eynsham Shirt Race is the highlight of the Oxfordshire village’s annual carnival. It’s a ‘pram race’ in which teams of two rush in their absurdly dressed, motor-free vehicle to the finish line. The twist, in this case, is the need to gulp down half a pint at six pubs along the way. The seven-furlong course ends at the White Hart pub, with spectators cheering on participants from the wings. 

Bibury Duck Race

River Coln, Bibury | December

Seeing thousands of yellow rubber ducks bobbing about a river on Boxing Day is the sort of hallucinatory vision that might make you question the contents of your mince pies. Fear not, for this is the Bibury Duck Race, a festive charity event that pits faux fowls against each other in a quacking race to the finishing line. There are two races in total: one featuring 150 realistic ducks, the other, 2,000 yellow duckies. The ducks, each sponsored by individuals and businesses, cruise down the River Coln to the entertainment of bridge-side spectators. It’s quite a sight.

Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling 

Cooper’s Hill, Gloucester | May

The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling event is as famous as it is treacherous. Held on a vertiginous, grassy slope near Gloucester, the annual competition tasks participants with chasing down wheels of Double Gloucester cheese as they roll to the foot of the hill. The real challenge is staying upright; bumps, bruises and even broken bones aren’t uncommon. But to the victor, the spoils – in this case, the cheese.

Tetbury Woolsack Race

Tetbury | May

In the 17th century, there was a sure-fire way to discern the strongest, most eligible bachelors in Tetbury: the woolsack race. Each encumbered with a heavy sack of wool, men of the town would race up and down hills in competition. Today, the woolsack race forms part of the local fair, and helps to raise money for good causes. It’s no longer the preserve of the menfolk, either – women throw their woolly hats into the ring, too. If you wish to participate, be sure to register early, and prepare for some heavy lifting.

Dormy House

Southern England, UK and Ireland

Discover farmhouse chic at the Dormy House, Broadway. Think cosy corners, crackling log fires, soft interiors and a warm welcome

Ellenborough Park

Southern England, UK and Ireland

Don the Dubarry's and explore the Cotswold countryside at this luxury 15th-century estate, family and dog-friendly. Fine dining and spa treatments await

Classic Cotswolds

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Slip on the Barbour jacket and head out on a week-long tour of the essential sites and landmarks of the iconic Cotswolds