We have fabulous food and drink, brilliant destinations and places to visit, but Norfolk has its quirky side too, including Greasy Poles, World Snail Racing, Lobster Potties, the Wiggenhall Wave, fairies, the world’s last end of pier theatre, plus the invention of Jack Valentine…
World Snail Racing Championships
Ready, steady… slow! The World Snail Racing Championships are held every year on the Grimston cricket pitch next to Congham Hall. The competition was started in the 1960s after founder Tom Elwes witnessed an event in France (although at Congham the competitors don’t end up as lunch).
The 2008 World Championships was won by Heikki Kovalainen, a snail named after the Formula One racing driver in a time of three minutes, two seconds. Trainers take this seriously, with snails exercising by sliming up 45 degree slopes and pulling Lego bricks. The event is held on the third Saturday in July.
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Greasy Pole competition
If you’re after a dirty weekend in Norfolk, then the famous Greasy Pole competition at Blakeney Quay is for you. Imagine walking the plan before ending up in the water – well, this is walking a greasy pole and ending up in a lot of mud (the lower the tide, the muddier it gets!).
The event also includes a Gillie (crab) catching competition, sand castle building, aquatic sports including tug of war and swimming races. The event is in early August and times depend on tides and weather. There’s usually a barbeque on the quay too.
Out There Festival, Great Yarmouth
The Out There International Festival is fast-becoming the UK’s leading event for circus and street arts, featuring some of the world’s finest, funniest, most mind-boggling, jaw dropping shows.
You’re guaranteed to leave having experienced the very weirdest and most wonderful acts you’ll ever have seen, with madcap mayhem and explosive carnival celebrations. Events take place in St. George’s Park, the Golden Mile and around the town – and are mostly free!
The service at St Benet’s Abbey
The Abbey of St Benet’s was the only one in England not officially dissolved during the suppression of the monasteries under Henry VIII so each year an open-air service is held in commemoration and thanksgiving at the ruins.
The Bishop of Norwich is the Abbot and the Vicar of nearby Horning is the Prior of St Benet’s and together they hold an ecumenical service at which all are welcome to attend, arriving by Norfolk Wherry (the site is easiest approached by river) to meet the Brothers of St Benet’s, members of a variety of local churches and the Salvation Army Band who provide the music. It’s held on the first Sunday in August.
Not only did the tradition of sending cards to sweethearts on February 14 start in Norwich, but Norfolk also has Jack Valentine! If you hear a rap on your door late at night on the evening of February 13th and open it to find a present on the doorstep, then it would have been left by Jack Valentine. Some cynics say it’s parents getting their neighbours to leave a present for children, but we think that’s like saying Father Christmas isn’t real. Pish and twaddle… it’s our man Jack. Stay in Norwich for Valentine and you might even get to see him!
Sheringham Lobster Potties
The Sheringham ‘Lobster Potties’, dancing the traditional Norfolk Morris style, were formed in 1986 and went on to start the Potty Festival, which now attracts groups from across the UK and Europe. Using the Lobster Public House (of course!) as their headquarters, and being considered by some as ‘potty’, the name Lobster Potties was obvious!
Look out also for Wells Pirate Festival too (A-ha, me hearties!), a three day festival with fun events including pirates on the park, boat trips to pirate island, a pirate fete and a smugglers ball. Get ready to swash your buckle.
Back to Sheringham, head here in September, and you might think you’ve stepped back in time when the 1940s weekend take place, focused on the North Norfolk Railway and picturesque journeys from the seaside to the Georgian market town of Holt.
Hunstanton Kite Festival
Possibly the most colourful event in East Anglia is the Hunstanton Kite Festival, held annually in August at Smithdon High School, Downs Road. Of course, you’re saying, ‘Kites? In Norfolk? But Norfolk’s flat!’ Yes, if you believe Noel Coward in True Lives then yes, Norfolk is ‘very flat’. But clearly Coward had never been to north Norfolk, where the cliffs at Sunny Hunny are perfect for kite flying. The festival also has classic cars and a motorcycle rally.
Fairy Fair and the Real Halloween
We all know that fairies live in the forest and twice a year the Fairyland Trust celebrate them at Bradmoor Woods, West Acre in May for the Fairy Fair, with magical workshops, magic wand and potion making, secret dens, trolls, storytelling, a fairy queen and pirate fete, and in October for Real Halloween every year too. What do you mean, you don’t believe in fairies?
The Wiggenhall Wave
If you’ve heard of the Severn Bore, you’ll be interested in Norfolk’s own version, the Wiggenhall Wave. When the moon’s high over the Fens and the biggest tides turn from ebb to flood, a thunderous torrent of white water more than a metre high can drive inland all the way to Denver.
Sometimes the Wiggenhall Wave is no more than a gentle rolling wall of water, but if you’re lucky you’ll catch what the fenfolk call Eagres, a wave so big it can be surfed. Local legend has it that Fens giant Thomas Hickathrift was wading through the river, catching seals for his tea, when the Eagre came up and carried him to Ten Mile Bank.
Thursford Christmas Spectacular
Where might you think the biggest Christmas Show in England is held every year? West End maybe? Nope, it’s in Norfolk and it’s the Thursford Christmas Spectacular… reason enough to visit our county in the festive season. Set in the magical surroundings of mechanical organs and fairground carousels, with a cast of 130 professional singers, dancers and musicians – many of whom are West End performers – this 3 hour performance is an extravaganza of non-stop singing, dancing, music, humour and variety.
It’s a fast moving celebration of the festive season featuring an eclectic mix of both seasonal and year-round favourites, with famous and much-loved chart toppers being sung alongside traditional carols. It’s the perfect way to put you in the mood for the Christmas celebrations.
Cromer’s end-of-pier theatre
At Cromer Pier’s Pavilion you can enjoy the last end-of-pier theatre IN THE WORLD! As well as one-offs, there are superb variety shows during the Summer and at Christmas.
The pier has had a chequered history, particularly when you think that Cromer used to be inland, but it was in 1905 that the bandstand was covered to form an enclosed pavilion and the following year the first ‘concert parties’ were performed.
And if you’re here at Christmas, then why not join the Cromer Boxing Day Swim! Yes, it’s going to be chilly, if not freezing, and yes, you’ve probably got to be a Grey pup short of a seal colony to do it, but just imagine the respect when you’re in the pub afterwards!
Hippodrome Water Spectacular, Great Yarmouth
The only complete circus building left in the UK, the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome has various shows throughout the year, but there’s one constant – the water spectacular!
Yes, though you wouldn’t know it, underneath the circus ring is an enormous pool of water in which much of the performance will take place. You won’t see anything else like it… anywhere!