I’m sorry, what, bog snorkeling? Did I read that right? What on earth is Bog Snorkeling? Of course, the person who sent this text knew exactly what they were doing, having followed my less than conventional travels around India for 20 years. The minute they heard that I was heading to Wales, they asked where I was staying and it turned out I’d inadvertently booked a cottage close to the town which is home to the World Bog Snorkeling Event. Needless to say, I was utterly delighted and promptly disappeared down the rabbit hole of research.
You see, over the years, as many of you will know, within my career I’ve developed a reputation for seeking out the more off beat and experiential side of travel, discovering India Differently, or as I like to think if it, discovering the real India. Even in mainstream destinations, it’s always about seeking beyond the main sights, peeling back the layers of a place to reveal its culture, character & quirks.
People ask how I find these places and experiences. Well, here’s a secret that may seem strange, especially as my work is all about research, but, I never research a destination before I visit. I don’t want to have expectations nor be blinkered by what “should be seen.” No, I get to a destination and then talk to the locals, the people who really know it. No one living in Jaipur visits the fort or palace, but they do know the best food joints, where to buy jewelry or clothes, where the healers are, who does the best yoga classes & where the best treks, bike & horse rides are.
We did the same last week in Wales. We found a cottage in a place we’d never heard of, that in a plethora of sold out or overpriced options was both available and affordable, not surprisingly it seemed to be in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Undeterred we paid in full and then left it to the gods. It wasn’t long before they started to deliver. When I mentioned to one friend and fellow Indophile where I was headed, which is in Powys by the way, she mentioned Powys Castle that has connections with Clive of India. Now Clive wasn’t a nice chap by all accounts and plundering India was just one of his many misdemeanours, but I have to admit to being intrigued as to what the collection, described as ‘One of the most important collections of South Asian artefacts in Europe,’ consisted of and how he was being portrayed. We decided to visit, it even had peacocks. Whilst at that castle, a lady we met from the National Trust (surely the most helpful and lovely bunch of people working in British tourism) told us about the stunning Four Waterfalls Walk in the south of the region. All of a sudden, we had an agenda for day two, come rain or shine, we would walk. As they say in these parts, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. We were prepared and had packed waterproofs and walking boots.
Whilst drying out in a local pub, I noticed on Instagram that a friend was speaking at the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival. I checked and it was a mere 45-minute drive away from our rural cottage. Further research showed that it would satisfy both of our desires. Hay is nothing if not awash with antique & second-hand shops and book shops. Not only that but day three of our trip was day one of the actual festival. With me, having recently launched a new career as a writer and author, and my friend having a penchant for rummaging for a bargain amongst second-hand tat, surely there could be no better destination in the whole of Wales to ensure that we were satiated at the end of that day? Needless to say we were up at sparrows and loitering far too early than is considered polite, waiting for the shops to open. Fortunately there is also a good choice of cafes to loiter in.
Later on, pleasantly shattered and with arms laden with books and rusty old lamps, we decided to opt for eating out, only to find that the restaurant recommendation we had been given was in Llanwrtyd Wells, famed not only for being the smallest town in Britain but the actual place where bog snorkeling was invented. We had come full circle.
But what is Bog Snorkeling? I hear you ask. Well, let me enlighten you. It is an event where competitors wearing a mask & snorkel (and as much or little else as they choose) and propelled solely by flippers attempt the fastest time through a 55m trench cut through a peat bog. The event was apparently conceived in the local pub in 1976 and slowly gained in popularity to become a world event in 1985. It didn’t take place in 2020 but is scheduled to take place in 2021 as usual on August Bank Holiday Weekend and I have to admit to being tempted to return, possibly to take part. There’s also a prize for the best dressed bog snorkeler, the mind boggles.
Now in India my travels, as discussed, are all about the offbeat and obscure and the same seems to be happening now that I am restricted to the UK, though perhaps it was always destined to be. You see there is another internationally renowned event which takes place not 5 minutes from my house in Yorkshire, The World Coal Carrying Championships. In this race, also conceived in the local pub in 1963, men and women compete over 1012m carrying sacks of coal weighing 50kgs and 20 kgs respectively. The race ends at the maypole (by the pub) and is timed by a pigeon racing clock. Of course it is!
Not only that but although my career has been focused on India famed for its Golden Triangle, I was actually born and raised in a different triangle, The Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire. This particular area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell has thick, clay soil similar to that of Siberia, from where rhubarb came. It grows so well here and is so delicious that Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was granted its PDO in 2010, giving it the same status as Stilton Cheese, Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, Parma Ham and………Champagne. Such was our delight as proud Yorkshire folk, that we put up sculptures, invented previously unheard-of recipes, held a photography exhibition of the dark rhubarb sheds and now have an annual rhubarb festival. Sadly, it is cancelled this year, but will no doubt return with a bang in 2022.
In short, Yorkshire has made coal and rhubarb into tourist attractions. This got me thinking, what else is there that one wouldn’t classically think of in terms of tourism but has managed to extend its reputation far and wide? The gods delivered again, this time with a tweet announcing that The Yorkshire Pudding Festival will be taking place on 14th & 15th August. Now far be it from me to take anything away from the Yorkshire pudding, but at the end of the day they are made from flour, eggs and milk and, no, there is no ‘and,’ that is it. In short, they are quite simply, bland. Yet, despite the fact that it is claimed that Chicken Tikka Masala has become our national dish, everyone raves about them. No Sunday is complete without. They are either served as a starter filled with onion gravy or stacked high on the plate of the Sunday roast and I’ve known fights break out over who gets the last one to mop up the gravy. Now they have their own festival!
There’s also the quite frankly unmissable Great Yorkshire Show which culminates in the Cock of the North show jumping event and the Appleby Horse Fair which can’t take place this week as planned has been postponed until September. It is time to do some more research because although international travel may not be on the cards, at first glance it would seem that the UK seems to have sufficient quirky and fun events to discover to keep this spirit alive.
Oh and for the record, Wales is beautiful, incredibly green, rural, with friendly locals and A LOT of sheep.