Thursday, 19 April 2012

Quaint and Quirky Customs

Lakeland has a variety of ancient customs. Some are practised elsewhere in the UK, others are specifically linked to the area.

This custom dates back to the time when churches had earthen floors which were covered in rushes. Each year the old rushes were cleared out and new ones laid down. Of course, nowadays that isn’t necessary since church floors started to be flagged with stone by the 19th century. However, ‘Rushbearing’ processions are still held in several places in North West England, including Ambleside and Grasmere. Rushes are made into crosses and other designs, or carried as sprays by children. In Grasmere, six school girls are chosen to carry a linen sheet decorated with rushes. The procession through the town is led by the clergy and culminates in a service at the church.

Fell running
No-one knows when this tradition started, but it was taking place at Grasmere Sports as early as 1850. Contestants run up a hillside to a flag at the top and then back down again. The winner is, of course, greeted with cheers and applause. Fell races take place in different parts of the Lake District. Borrowdale’s 17-mile race is probably one of the most challenging. Gramere’s race is part of the annual sports in the village, held every August. The runners set off from the sports field and climb to the top of  Butter Cragand back, a distance of 1.5 miles to a height of about 900 feet. The fastest runner can complete the fell-run (and back again) in just over 12 minutes (makes me feel exhausted just thinking about it!).

Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling
This style of wrestling is said to have evolved from the Viking invaders. The wrestlers begin by standing chest to chest, arms around each other, with their chin on the opponent’s right shoulder. When the umpire gives the signal to start, each tries to unbalance the other with various kinds of throws knows as ‘hipes’ or ‘buttocks.’ If any part of the wrestler touches the floor (apart from his feet), he loses. Wrestlers wear a traditional costume consisting of long johns, with trunks, and an embroidered vest.

Pace Egging
The word ‘Pace’ comes from the Latin ‘Pacha’ meaning Easter, and pace-egging was an Easter custom in North West England. The Page-Eggers were a group of performers who toured the local villages performing the Pace Egging Play, which usually involved St. George, a battle, and another individual called Old Tosspot. All the performers wear decorated costumes, and Tosspot (and often other characters too) would blacken their faces with soot. Tosspot’s job was to collect gifts from the crowd. In the past, these would usually be eggs, but nowadays it’s more likely to be money. At the end of the play, the Pace Eggers were usually treated to free beer at the local pub, hence their traditional song:
Here's one or two Jolly Boys, all of one mind
We've come a Pace-Egging, and hope you'll prove kind
We hope you'll prove kind with your eggs and strong beer
And we'll come no more nigh you until next year.

A ‘gurn’ is a distorted facial expression, and ‘gurning’ contests are a rural English tradition, notably at the Egremont Crab Fair in the northern part of the Lake District where the World Championship takes place. Contestants frame their faces through a horse collar, known as ‘gurnin’ through a braffin’. Evidently, the best ‘gurners’ have no teeth, since this provides greater room to move the jaw upwards. The winner is the person who gets the loudest applause from the audience.


  1. Wonderful old customs, Paula. Love the girls' costumes.

  2. They also do rush bearing at Delph in Saddleworth, a joyous day as I remember. I hope these customs never die out.

  3. This was wonderful to learn of these customs. It's always amazing to me what happens in our little corner of the world that we just think everyone knows about! Thank you for sharing your little corner with us today.

  4. JUST AMAZING!!!!!! oh would love to witness these in person! Thank you for taking us there..once again! :0)

  5. I too some photos of my not yet two-month-old granddaughter yesterday. Though she didn't have a horde collar, she was certainly gunrin'! She's perfect for it--no teeth!

  6. Really interesting. I learned something new today!

  7. Cool customs! I especially liked the funny faces one. :D ♥


  8. The gurning one is funny! The fell running makes me tired just reading about it, though. I could never do that -- or the wrestling.

  9. LOL! These are all awesome, but that "gurning" is making me laugh out loud! SO FUNNY!

  10. Many thanks for your comments.

    Rosemary - I think the girls costumes are traditional too.

    Margaret - I've only seen the rushbearing in Ambleside, but I know they have a similar event in other places in the North West.

    Thanks, Brenda - so glad you;re enjoying my tour!

    Word Nerd - yes, babies can do some wonderful gurning, can't they?

    Thanks, Dana!

    Kathy, Shelley, Leigh - the gurning makes me laugh too. I wonder if they practise a lot to loosen up the muscles of their faces?

  11. well ya gotta keep yourself entertained some how :P

  12. Jenny, I pull enough funny faces when I'm doing my writing!

  13. Okay - Gurning is just plain awesome.

  14. I'd love to see the gurning! Thanks for sharing. It's always neat to see the different customs that exist. Amazing!

  15. There is always some kind of amazing information that I find on the culture you are from when I read your blog. I loved this one Paula.

  16. Ha Ha-- the Gurning looks like a load of laughs!! Great post!!

    Cheers, Jenn