Weird and wonderful sports in Sussex
PUBLISHED: 10:57 08 November 2016 | UPDATED: 14:59 21 February 2018
In the second part of our round-up of unusual Sussex sports Duncan Hall investigates East Sussex favourites including stoolball, marbles and pea-throwing
Weird and wonderful Sussex sports
Competitors line up for a Dwyle Flonking match outside The Lewes Arms
Bowling the ball in stoolball (Photo by Stoolball England)
Arundel duck race
The Great Sussex Bath Race in Chichester
Beat The Tide race in Worthing (Photo by Jon Lavis)
Bognor International Birdman (Photo by Somewhere In The World Today)
England vs Scotland Penny Farthing Polo at Cowdray Park (Photo by Mark Newman)
Scalextric championships in Goring
2016 What A Load Of Scallops Race winners Harbour Health with their trophy
Speed golf at Dale Hill Golf Club
The Lewes Arms
For sheer sporting ingenuity and imagination The Lewes Arms is in a class of its own.
The pub, in Mount Place, Lewes, is the home of the World Pea Throwing Championship on the first Sunday of October, and hosts the ancient and impenetrable game of Dwyle Flonking four or five times a year.
But in the past it has also hosted spaniel racing at Easter, and a pantomime animal race. Manager Abi Mawer puts the unusual sporting programme down to her regulars at the bar. “Rather than just talk about television or sport the chats at the bar have become a bit of fun covering a range of different things,” she says.
“They have a chat about something and decide to do it.” She is planning to bring back some old favourites in the future – such as the spaniel racing which saw an Easter Bunny chased down the street by the titular dogs – although the 2005 race was mired in controversy when the favourite, Sidney, suddenly decided to run the other way within sight of the finish.
Pea throwing has remained an annual staple of the calendar. “It has been going on for at least 20 years,” says Abi, who took over the pub eight years ago. “The trophy of a golden hand throwing a pea was here when I started. We get competitors coming from France, Germany, even Australia and New Zealand.”
The peas are frozen and thawed out by the pub that morning. Every competitor has three attempts to get their pea the furthest distance down neighbouring Castle Ditch Lane, with categories for men, women, under sevens and seven to 14-year-olds. The furthest throw of all time was 37.5m (123ft) set by Danny Tear in 2003, although the 2015 winner, Graham Butterworth from Portsmouth, scooped the trophy with a 28.67m (94ft) throw.
The peas are measured from the point where they stop, with young spotters employed to stomp on each pea once it has been measured to ensure there is no confusion. “It’s very environmentally friendly,” says Abi.
“It provides food for the local birds and dogs. Last year we had 20 participants in each section, so it turned into a long day!”
The rules for dwyle flonking aren’t so easy to understand. Abi believes the game began as an initiation ritual for the nearby Beards Brewery.
“In its basic form it is like a game of cricket,” she says. “You have a team that bats and one that fields and then they swap over. After that it’s nothing like cricket.”
The game, whose rules are a constant source of debate, is based around the titular dwyle – a bar towel soaked in a bucket of beer dregs for a week. It is picked up by a swodger – a wooden stick – held by the equivalent of a batsman. The opposing team surround him girting (dancing with linked wrists) until the music stops – which is when the batsman throws or flonks the dwyle. The flonking team gets points for hitting the girting team, audience, children, dogs or whatever else gets in the way. If he misses then the batsman has to down a pint in the time it takes the girting team to pass the swodger around the circle.
“The teams bribe the judges with gifts, and there are points scored for outfits,” says Abi.
“There are various forms of dwyle flonking around the country, but it is predominantly in Sussex. There are several teams who play – we usually have regulars from the pub, and various businesses we can call upon. The magazine Viva Leweshas put a team together, and Lewes Operatic Society did some very good girting dances.”
Long Rope Skipping
In the past Sussex hosted long rope skipping sessions on Good Friday in towns such as Lewes and Brighton and on the beaches. Now the only location which carries on the tradition is Alciston. The skipping was revived by Chanctonbury Ring Morris Men and the women’s side Knots of May in 1982 outside the Rose Cottage Inn which usually provides an outside bar and food to accompany dancing and skipping.
When Steve White first moved to Eastbourne in 1980 he was interested in playing any and every sport available. But he had never heard of the Sussex ball game stoolball – which dates back to the 14th century.
“The best way to describe it is a cross between rounders and cricket,” says Steve, 57, who now plays for teams in two different leagues in Eastbourne and Hailsham. “It’s underarm bowling, but having played in the First Division for 10 to 12 years I know you can still generate pace from the arm and shoulder.”
As a batsman Steve uses a wooden frying pan-shaped bat to defend a head-height wicket from a rounders-size ball bowled on a 16-yard (14.5m) wicket. Each team has 11 players – made up of six men and five women – who face between 11 and 15 overs in each innings. Stoolball teams come from across Sussex, with teams coming from Hildenborough and Tenterden on the edge of Surrey, and East Hampshire. The season runs from April until the middle of July, although there are indoor leagues which run through the winter.
“In 1980 there were 10 leagues and what must have been about 100 teams in Eastbourne and the surrounding area,” says Steve. “Now it’s down to four leagues with seven or eight teams in each.” The biggest problem is getting youngsters involved in the game.
“The Eastbourne Red Triangle league has a schools officer who tries to get around local schools to get them to generate interest and start after-school clubs. It is a sport for everyone.”
Good Friday Marbles
Playing marbles on Battle Abbey Green on Good Friday is thought to date back to the early 1900s.
The tradition was revived in 1948, with some of the (solely male) players donning a traditional Sussex smock while in competition. In 1972 female players were allowed to join in.
The Battle competition is played by teams of five players, who in each round aim to knock up to eight of the 15 white marbles out of a circle on the marble board. Each match is played the best of three rounds. In the last few years the competition has attracted up to 120 rollers – who also compete for the best fancy dress.
The game in Battle is usually over by noon and is followed by an Easter bonnet parade for youngsters, who each win an Easter egg. Again competition is fierce, with 65 entrants last year. The event closes with a free scramble, when 1,000 marbles are rolled out on the Abbey Bull Ring for children to scoop up.
Battle isn’t the only Sussex location to play marbles on Good Friday.
In West Sussex The Greyhound Inn, in Tinsley Green, near Crawley, holds the World Championships the same day from 10am, using a purpose-built platform which dates back to 1936.
Winchelsea Streete Game
Also known as Kicking the Frenchman’s Head, this Boxing Day tradition may date back to the 14th century when Winchelsea was besieged by the French, and was suppressed by the authorities several times before being resurrected in 1999. Starting at 11am three teams compete to get possession of the Head and kick it into a goal set up at the end of Castle Street. Like early football matches there are few rules and play is rough – although it’s generally all over within half an hour.
Anyone who thinks golf is a slow walking game aimed purely at knitted jumper-wearing pensioners will have their preconceptions smashed by speed golf.
Having started out in the US in the 1970s when golfers started chasing records for the fastest golf matches, it formalised in the 1990s under the International Speedgolf Association. Fast forward to 2014 and Crowborough’s Boar’s Head Golf Centre held the first British Open over its nine-hole course. It moved to Dale Hill Hotel and Golf Club near Ticehurst the following year, which held its second competition this August.
Competitors are limited to up to seven clubs, which they can either carry in a lightweight bag or in their hands. The final score combines both the number of strokes played and the time taken to complete 18 holes. This year’s British champion was Ireland’s Rob Hogan who completed a round of 82 in 36 minutes and 59 seconds – giving him a final score of 118.59 and retaining his title for a second year. Emma Morgan won the women’s title with a score of 161.17.
“It’s more like interval training,” says Ashdown Forest-based Pam Painter, one of the directors of British Speedgolf. “After jogging between each shot players have to compose themselves for an accurate shot. Putting is the hardest part.”
Aside from competition most speed golfers have to practise in early sessions at sympathetic courses to avoid being caught behind traditional players. “Dale Hill is very welcoming,” says Pam of the British Open’s current home. “The golfing establishment can be a bit snobby about Speedgolf. It’s a high quality course – other events are usually held on public courses that aren’t so beautifully manicured. We have been so lucky.” Speedgolf also aims to encourage more people onto the course by eliminating the biggest complaint about traditional golf – that it takes so long to play. “A reasonable speed golfer can get around nine holes in 40 to 45 minutes and 18 holes in 80 minutes,” says Pam. “We have an age range of between 17 and 57. It’s fun and exhilarating – most people when they do their first round come off the course feeling like they’ve achieved something and getting quite a buzz from it.”
What a Load of Scallops Race
Part of the annual Rye Bay Scallop Week in February is a feat of strength and stamina between the town quay by Rye Bay Fish and The Ship Inn.
Teams of four race with a wheelbarrow full of scallops along a mile-and-a-half course. “It gets pretty competitive,” says Rye Bay Scallop Week’s Oliver Campion, adding the winners for 2016 were the Harbour Health Club for the second year running.
Duncan Hall discovers penny farthing polo and is embarrassed at crazy golf as he looks at the more unusual side to sport in Sussex
World Crazy Golf Championships
Ever since 2003 one weekend every year has seen Hastings seafront packed with punters with putters taking part in the annual World Crazy Golf Championship.
But its October date has sometimes caused problems, with high winds picking up balls from the Arnold Palmer Crazy Golf Course. As it made its June debut I too made my novice appearance – hoping against hope to have a crack at the prize fund of £1,500 for the top eight first-time players.
I was teamed up with Mark Wood and Dave Donnelly, two long-serving players from the British Mini Golf Association, who had to put up with me slowing down their game as they completed the majority of holes in just two strokes.
I soon discovered on the most complicated of holes I was capable of sinking the ball in two or three strokes. But a simple straight putt could often be my downfall. I managed to score the highest round of the competition of 60 strokes on my first time out, followed a couple of hours later by the second highest score of 58 on my disastrous fourth round. The overall winner of the 71 competitors totalled 22 more strokes than me, but played three extra rounds. I wasn’t so much off the pace, as in a different car going in another direction.
Not that it mattered to Mark of Cambridge and Essex Mini Golf Club and Dave of Kent Mini Golf Club, who shared stories of travelling up and down the country to play their hobby and offered sage advice, pointing to the different lines to take and how best to avoid the deceptively sloping greens, nightmarish bunkers and obstacles ranging from watermills to lighthouses. They knew many of the competitors around them, some of whom had travelled from as far afield as Finland, Germany, Czech Republic and Portugal. And it was all very supportive and friendly – with very few disputes carrying over the greens, and spectators able to watch the action from the snack bar and seating around the edges.
Their advice proved helpful. And for a while it worked. My second round was my best – a very respectable 44 built on 13 two-holers, followed by two holes-in-one in my third round. My undoing came in my fourth and last round – when I combined a hole-in-one on the penultimate hole with two failures to finish on the 16th and 18th leading to maximums of seven strokes each. Even the scorer taking in my card was shocked. Rather than face the agony of missing a 2ft putt for a second day I bowed out from the second day. Mark triumphed in appalling conditions the next day to eventually finish third at 14 under par.
Hastings Adventure Golf is hosting the nine-round British Open for Crazy Golf on its pirate course on both Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 September.
Anyone who associates Scalextric with dodgy transformers and cars sparking on the track is in for a treat when they come to Goring’s monthly club.
The racing game has joined the 21st century, creating a digital version which allows more than one car to travel on the same track, and includes elements ranging from fuel burn to refuelling stops. Andy Player, who set up Worthing HO Racing club in the English Martyrs Church Hall in Goring with friend Robin Cornwall six years ago, hosts up to eight digital sessions every year, as well as monthly standard 1/64 scale slot car race sessions.
Each regular session, which runs on the first Wednesday of every month, features a new track specially built for the night. In 2014 and 2015 the club held the Scalextric World Championship in digital racing. The championship isn’t returning for 2016, but Andy says it brought lots of new people into the hobby.
“We got a few new racers and I know people who got new sets for their birthdays or Christmas,” he says. “It keeps this hobby going – we need new people with that passion. Hopefully when the kids playing now grow up they will recycle that interest and buy sets for their kids.”
For more information visit www.whoracing.org.uk
International Bognor Birdman
Having begun in Selsey in 1971, Birdman moved to Bognor in 1978. Barry and Jennifer Jones got involved in 1980, and have both received OBEs for their work on the annual event. When parts of Bognor pier were closed down in 2008 over health and safety fears the competition briefly went down the coast to Worthing. But Barry was able to bring it back in 2010 after proving the water depth was perfectly safe for flights off the end of the pier at high tide. The competition is held in three classes – Condor for hang-gliders, Leonardo for ingenious flying machines and Kingfisher for those who want to make a big splash in bright costumes. Barry ensures the event is run on a tight budget, and that the town benefits as much as possible.
After controversy at the now defunct Worthing Birdman a few years ago the £25,000 prize for flying more than 100m is no longer available, but cash prizes are still paid to the top three furthest flights in each class and a trophy to the furthest distance overall.
For more information visit www.birdman.org.uk
Arundel Duck Race
A game of chance rather than skill, Arundel’s annual duck race has raised more than £16,000 for local and national charities since 2003.
Up until last year the duck race was run by Arundel and Barnham Lions, which unfortunately folded last year. Taking over for the 2016 Arundel Festival was the Friends of St Nicholas Church. The race sees up to 2,000 numbered rubber ducks thrown onto the River Arun from Queen Street Bridge. The owner of the first duck past the finish line receives £100, with second and third place prizes of £50 and £25. Ducks cost £1 each and can be bought in books of five or ten. “If there’s a bit of wind blowing in the same direction it can be quite fast,” says Malcolm Farqhuarson, from the Friends. “When it blows across the river there can be a bit of a problem. Arun Divers are out there pushing the ducks along and collecting them at the end.”
Ducks are available from the St Nicholas Parish Church office and will be on sale throughout the festival.
For more information visit www.arundelfestival.co.uk
Lawn Mower racing
As seems to be a common theme for an unusual sport, the British Lawn Mower Racing Association was dreamt up over a few pints in 1973.
Irish former rally driver Jim Gavin has been credited with coming up with the idea at The Cricketer’s Arms in Wisborough Green one lunchtime in a way of creating a motorsport that wasn’t in thrall to advertising. Racing now takes place all over the country between May and October, with special events including the World Championships, British Grand Prix and the 12-Hour Endurance Race which this year was at Five Oaks near Billingshurst earlier this August. Previous entrants on “homologated” machines across four classes have included racing drivers Stirling Moss and Derek Bell and legendary actor Oliver Reed.
For more visit www.blmra.co.uk
Pagham Pram Race
Billed as the oldest pram race in the world, Pagham is celebrating its 70th anniversary this Boxing Day with its 71st race. It began with a group of demobbed ex-servicemen pushing a pram on a pub crawl through the village. Since then the race has been run on a three-mile course which starts at the mill in Pagham Road at 11am and ends at The Lamb. It attracts an average of 60 entrants mostly in fancy dress pushing a teammate in decorated prams from pub to pub drinking three pints at the Bear, The Lamb and The Kings Beach Hotel along the route. Through its long history the race has raised thousands of pounds for charity through its £10 entry fee and public donations.
For more information visit www.paghampramrace.com
Beat the Tide
July saw 380 runners take part in only the second 10km Beat the Tide race.
The course, which went along the beach from Worthing’s Coast Café des Artistes in Beach Parade to Widewater Lagoon and back at low tide, was organised by Sussex Trail Events who specialise in endurance running events. The company was started by Worthing-based Jay McCardle, Danny Cunnett and Chris Ette who met taking part in what Jay describes as “silly” runs ranging from 100-mile runs to Iron Man challenges.
“Beat the Tide is a sandy run which makes it completely different,” says Jay. “The sand is hard-packed and wet which is a challenge. We also have a few obstacles like a sewer pipe you have to jump over and a pier to go round. The runners had about two hours to finish it – the last girl did get her feet wet a little.”
The trio also run four river marathons through the year – the muddy Dark Star from Shoreham to Henfield in January, the Arun River marathon – a circular route from Littlehampton marina taking in Amberley Castle and the South Downs Way – in May, the night-time Lunar-Tic Marathon taking three loops from Shoreham to Upper Beeding in July and the new Mouth to Mouth marathon from Shoreham to Littlehampton marina taking in both the Arun and Adur rivers. The last race is launching for the first time on Saturday, 3 December.
For more information visit www.sussextrailevents.com
Penny Farthing Polo
This summer England and Scotland squared up for a contest in the most unusual of disciplines – penny farthing polo.
Former marine turned business consultant Neil Laughton formed a penny farthing club three years ago after reading an article in Country Life magazine about the resurgence of the iconic transport. “Even competent road-racing cyclists find the penny farthing challenging,” says Neil. “You need a bit of confidence, a bit of courage and some co-ordination and balance to ride.”
The former captain of the England fixed wheel bicycle polo team hit upon the idea of bringing his two passions together and got in touch with polo venue Cowdray Park to play some exhibition matches. “Our first match was southern counties versus northern counties,” says Neil, who established a gold cup trophy for the competitions which have since become an England versus Scotland fixture. This year Neil’s England team won 9-3. “Trying to play polo riding a penny farthing among other riders on grass is not easy,” says Neil. “We have had a few injuries, mostly to the wrist and groin when you catch the handlebars.”
The polo players practise on the Astroturf at Hurstpierpoint College on the first Sunday morning of every month.
For more information visit pennyfarthingclub.com
Neil is also behind the annual Great Sussex Bath Race which challenges 20 businesses from across the county to create a floating craft from a bath-tub, four barrels, eight poles and a length of rope and then race them on a private lake in Chichester. Over the last three years the race has raised more than £60,000 for Chestnut Tree House hospice and rape and sexual abuse charity LifeCentre.