For most people the word festival conjures up images of not washing for days, living off baked beans in a sauna-like tent and watching some great bands while standing knee deep in mud.
For others, the word festival is an excuse to get weird, and we mean really weird. Not wearing a ‘hilarious’ jester hat or morph suit while crowd surfing weird, but straight up flaming barrel lugging, flour bombing, rocket war based weird.
There are events that will blow your mind all over the world but as a continent Europe seems to have a pretty high concentration of nutters who just want to get together and chase some cheese down a hill. Welcome to the most mental festivals in Europe.
1) Flaming Tar Barrels – Ottery St Mary, UK
Fire is a great way to get your festival noticed but this British offering takes the burnt biscuit. Flirting with danger just isn’t good enough for the inhabitants of Ottery St Mary in Devon, they want to hoist it on their back and carry it round in front of their friends.
This crazy custom’s origins are shrouded in mystery but it started somewhere in the 1600s and every November 5th since, Ottery locals have taken it quite literally upon themselves to show the rest of the world that they’re doing Bonfire Night wrong.
Apart from one of the biggest bonfires you’re likely to see, Ottery Guy Fawkes’ celebrations revolve around igniting giant barrels and carrying them through the town’s streets.
These barrels are lined with tar which means they are great at two things, catching fire and getting mentally hot.
The event kicks off with smaller barrels carried by women and children and culminates in big barrels weighing up to 30kg being paraded into the town square around midnight.
In total seventeen of these firey kegs get incinerated on the night with barellers keeping hold of them until they’re little more than charcoal.
In order to transport their flaming cargo these brave/mentally deranged individuals have to use thick rag pads and cloth to protect their hands. Despite this it’s common for carriers to get at least some sort of burns and the night is considered a success if only one or two people get taken to hospital.
2) Feria de Cascamorras
Each year the towns of Guadix and Baza in Grenada play host to one of the messiest festivals around as thousands of people douse themselves in black oil and run riot through the Spanish countryside.
This isn’t some sort of elaborate climate protest but rather a celebration dating back 500 years which has its roots in the historical rivalry of the two towns.
According to local folklore, a chap called Cascamorras from Guadix was working in Baza when he found a statue of Mary buried in the ground.
Egged on by his mates Cascamorras tried to take the religious relic back to Guadix but was caught by a crowd from Baza who didn’t take kindly to his theft.
The people of Gaudix were pretty disappointed that the slapdash heist hadn’t worked out and decided to give the Baza group a bit of a kicking, resulting in a ‘they started it’ match which has lasted for half a millenium.
To celebrate this bonkers dispute, each September the Grenadans stage a re-enactment of the bungled robbery.
The rules are simple, someone from Guadix takes on the role of Cascamorras and if they can make it into Baza and grab the statue without getting a stain on their clothes then they can claim the coveted prize for their town.
Covered in oil and armed with eggs, flour and anything else they can get their hands on the people of Baza pelt the stand in Cascamorras forcing him to stop at every local fountain to wash off before he resumes his quest.
To make matter worse, once he reaches his goal our foolhardy felon must endure two days of hard partying before returning empty handed to Guadix where he is pelted again for his troubles. We’d hate to see the dry cleaning bill after this one.
3) Rouketopolemos – Vrontados, Greece
It seems that fire is a common part of most festivals so how do you make your fire based festival stand out? By making it explode all over a nearby church of course!
Easter in the village of Vrontados in Greece plays host to one of the most impressive explosive displays in the world as residents fire thousands of rockets at each other.
This awesome celebration has its roots in the Greek tradition of throwing fireworks during midnight mass at Easter, because apparently that wasn’t crazy enough for the Vrontadians.
The rocket war takes place between the churches of St. Mark’s and Panaghia Ereithiani which sit on hilltops about 400 meters apart from each other.
The aim of the war is to try and hit the opposing church’s bell more than they hit yours with an official count of bells rung being made the next day to decide the winner.
Both sides usually try to claim the victory of the other which means that the only solution is to meet up again next year and do it all over again!
Hilariously, services continue inside the churches throughout the festival despite the constant bombardment so while every pyromaniac’s version of heaven is going on outside, those inside are glad that they’ve got some serious protection from hurrying off to the real deal just yet.
4) World Bogsnorkelling Championships – Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales
As a nation Wales has been blessed with many things including great singing voices, place names that allow you to spit on people in public, a phenomenal rugby team (yes I’m Welsh) and an over-abundance of rain.
The latter has also resulted in an over abundance of bogs which is the focus of this next festival/sporting event.
Now in it’s 29th year, the World Bogsnorkelling Championships in Llanwrtyd Wells (if you’re reading this out loud you probably need to mop up the spit now), is about as grim as it sounds.
Competitors don breathing tubes and whatever else takes their fancy (a dodgy Kermit the frog outfit for example), then dive into a muddy bog and swim two laps as fast as their sodden little flippers will carry them.
Ridiculous outfits are encouraged (last year’s winner fancy dress winner came dressed as ‘Nurse Shark’) but some people take it seriously and the current world record is held by Kirsty Johnson with a time of 1min 22.56 secs to complete the 120 metre course.
For those that find this sport a little too easy there’s even a mountain bike bogsnorkelling championships and a bog snorkelling triatholon for the truly diehard.
We’re not sure if swimming up and down a bog technically counts as a festival or not, but it is a load of wet people hanging around in a field, wearing crazy outfits and having a laugh doing something ridiculous, so that’s close enough for us!
5) Els Enfarinats – Ibi, Spain
Today we’ll be showing you how to bake the perfect Spanish festival.
For your Els Enfarinats you will need ten tonnes of flour, a thousand eggs, a dozen fire extinguishers, a healthy dash of political satire and a handful of fireworks to garnish.
Els Enfarinats, the hippy sounding ‘floured ones’ festival, involves more baking ingredients than you could shake a stick at.
The celebration started off as part of local religious celebrations in the 1800s and has been getting more and more out of hand ever since.
Every December the town of Ibi in Alicante, Spain sees hundreds of spectators descend to watch locals dressed in slapdash military uniforms doing battle in the town square with all the flour they can muster.
Prior to the big battle the armies are drawn up with one side called the Casats i Fadrins parading around the town with a marching band to declare their authority. Before long Els Enfarinats stage a mini coup and seize control of the town.
High on power the floured ones start creating ridiculous laws and fining anybody, including random bystanders, who don’t obey the rules. Pretty soon the only logical course of action is to grab a fire extinguisher and get into it.
The resulting scrap is pantomime chaos as grown men dressed like old school GI Joes run around pelting each other with eggs and locking people up in a giant cage.
When the edible ammo has all gone the half baked soldiers break out fireworks, using smoke bombs and firecrackers to finish off the celebrations.
Though the political commentary may get a bit lost behind all the flour bombs and billowing clouds of smoke, it seems that the Spanish are on to something here. After all who wouldn’t tune in to watch David Cameron take an egg to the face while trying to ram a firework in Obama’s ear?
6) Cheese Rolling Festival – Cooper’s Hill, Gloucester
Nearly everyone loves a good bit of cheese but the country folk of Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire are willing to go to some extraordinary lengths to get it.
The Cooper’s Hill cheese rolling festival is a peculiarly British event which sees spectators and competitors from around the world gather on top of a particularly steep hill to chase a wheel of cheese down it, as fast as their uncontrollable legs will carry them.
The insane 1 in 2 gradient is so bad that people can barely stand up and the resulting carnage is frankly hilarious with cheese chasers bouncing down the slope on almost any body part other than their feet.
First one to the bottom bags themselves the 8lb wheel of double Gloucester they’ve been chasing and giant bear hug from one of the unofficial catching team which comprises largely of the Brockworth Rugby Club.
The event isn’t officially organised due to health and safety concerns (every year sees at least a few broken limbs) and there are even warning notices put up advising people not to attend:
7) La Batalla de Vino de Haro, La Rioja, Spain
So how about a nice splash of wine to go with all that cheese? Or more accurately a couple of thousand litres of the stuff?
Now we’ve got your attention there’s just one problem, at this festival you’ll probably end up wearing more of the alcoholic grape juice than you manage to drink.
The Batalla de Vino or ‘wine battle’ takes place every June in the village of La Rioja in northern Spain, a country which produces almost 7.5 million tonnes of grapes a year and nearly the same number of festivals.
The party starts early in the morning with a procession up Mount Bilibio led by the town’s mayor, on horseback, with eager revellers dressed all in white.
Arriving at the Hermitage of San Felices de Bilibio a mass is celebrated to jointly mark the feasts of St John, St Peter and St Felix. Then it all kicks off with literally buckets of wine being thrown everywhere.
There’s everything from water pistols to pressure washers packed with the stuff and before long all those lovely white shirts are an interesting shade of purple.
If you’re still capable of standing around midday the party moves back down the hill for some serious partying in the town square, even more drinking and a spot of humane bull fighting using heifers. Drunk people and giant cows. What could possibly go wrong there?