As another season of sporting achievement draws to a close, we Brits can look back at the Olympics, the Paralympics and Wimbledon with a sense of pride and achievement. But there’s one other competition, held at the tail end of the summer, that eclipses all of the above for importance. I speak, of course, of the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships.
Forget Rio, this competition takes place in the very epicentre of sporting excellence…Ramsbottom in Lancashire. This year, I was there to witness it.
This quintessentially British event dates back to the War of the Roses (yes, really). Legend has it that after the troops ran out of ammunition in their final battle in Stubbins, they resorted to throwing food at each other. Lancashire troops flung black puddings and Yorkshire troops retaliated by lobbing Yorkshire puddings. In 1984, Stubbins Community Trust decided to reinstate this historic (if oddball) tradition and the championship has grown in popularity ever since.
Earlier this month, hundreds of people gathered outside The Oaks Pub on Bridge Street on an unseasonably sunny September afternoon to participate or just spectate. Entrants had to stand on the golden grid and were permitted three attempts to knock down as many of the 12 giant Yorkshire puds as possible. The discs of batter sat perched on a plinth 20 ft in the air (or 10 ft for the junior event) and the only rule was that you had to throw underarm.
When I arrived, the queue of potential pudding flinging champions stretched right down the street, preventing me from entering. OK, I admit it, I throw like a drunken chimp. Not even the prospect of the £100 prize tempted me to display my lack of dexterity to the people of Ramsbottom. Mind you, some of the hopefuls didn’t fare much better. Local girl Sandra’s first attempt landed behind her while another contestant’s pudding was snaffled by a terrier and declared out of bounds. I bet Fatima Whitbread never had that trouble.
I spoke to a very official looking gentleman who was standing guard over the puddings (not a sentence I ever thought I’d type) to get the inside track on the key component of the event.
“We stuff the pudding mixture into black tights in order for contestants to get a firm grip,” he told me. “It also keeps the black stuff from spilling out all over the street.”
In case you didn’t know, black pudding consists of onions, pork fat, oatmeal, flavourings and pig blood. Personally, I prefer mine slightly overcooked, nestled beneath a fried egg in a brown roll with no hint of a skin made of nylons. But each to their own.
One of my fellow spectators, enthralled by proceedings, said: “It’s a silly, fun tradition and a great laugh. I’d rather chuck it than eat it though because I can’t stand the stuff.”
Black pudding is a love it or hate it Northern delicacy. But none of that mattered on this sunshiny Sunday afternoon. Everyone enjoyed the competition with people of all ages watching or taking part, including, I was told, a few former champions attempting to reclaim their titles.
More than 300 Chadwick’s Original Bury Black Puddings were hurled during the afternoon with Gavin Ogden from Rochdale eventually being crowned the 2016 world champ. He managed to topple six Yorkshires followed by three more in a tense fling off. But with so many entrants, all donating £1 for charity, this daft event was worthwhile, regardless of its victor.
In addition to the competition, the day also featured all kinds of family-friendly fun, including the enduringly popular PudFest. Everywhere I looked, people were smiling.
Needless to say, the entire experience has inspired me to launch a new food-related event: Pot Noodle Pitching. Watch this space.