It’s a summer day in a small town in Lancashire, England. A crowd has gathered around a giant, steaming pit of gravy. A party tune begins to blare, and costume-wearing athletes emerge from a tent to the roaring of a crowd. The announcer introduces each competitor to thunderous cheers, with a fancy dress winner chosen before the first two contestants head into the gravy pit to wrestle it out for the World Gravy Wrestling Championship.
This bizarre event – featuring on several lists of the world’s top ten weirdest festivals – takes place annually on England’s August bank holiday Monday.
Contestants will be graded not only on their wrestling abilities, but also their showmanship, fancy dress, and crowd-pleasing skill. At the end of each three-minute bout, one contestant is eliminated. The tournament is single-elimination: at the end of the day, there will be one male winner and one female winner. Winners have their name inscribed on a trophy they get to keep for the next year. Outfits often feature puns – previous combatants have included Conor McGravy and Gandalf the Gravy. I myself competed as Oxymoron and received some cheers from the crowd.
The tournament is not only injury-free (judges treat crowd-pleasing as the most important factor, and deduct points for unsportsmanlike conduct, or dangerous moves) but vegetarian-friendly; a previous meat-based mixture drew the attention of nearby wasps.
My time in the gravy was unremarkable – I drew last year’s winner in the first round. He was a good sport and allowed me to demonstrate some moves. I’d like to think I gave the crowd a decent show, and one judge even agreed, awarding me the match. The other two favoured the (admittedly more talented) local boy, and it was out of the ring for me.
The event takes place in the middle of an atmosphere of joy and merriment: entertainment ranges from a bouncy castle to face painting. Given that it’s held in a Lancashire pub, you won’t be surprised to learn drinks are available throughout the day. The local fire brigade is on hand to wash down the wrestlers after each competition, but I recommend steering clear of the competitors until after their final bout – unless you like your nostrils being assaulted by warm gravy…
The next competition is due to take place on August 26 2019. Usually, 20-30 people compete, with another 300-500 watching. To get to Bacup, I recommend either driving or taking a taxi from a nearby train station as buses are not frequent; especially given this is on a bank holiday.
Attending to watch requires no advance commitment; just show up on the day and pay £2.5 (about $3). The competition usually starts at 1 pm and finishes at around 5-6 pm. If you want to compete (and I recommend you do), you’ll need to apply a month or so in advance on the official website, choose a charity and a wrestling name/outfit, and start practicing your throws.
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