Spaniel racing and pea tossing: the continued rise of the idiosyncratic event

In the heart of Lewes, one of the UK’s quirkiest pubs is in the middle of its spring event calendar. In between quiz nights, book clubs and beer festivals, you’ll also find a roster that’s enthusiastically eccentric and leans into the UK’s history of hosting wonderfully silly events.

Many of The Lewes Arms’ festivities draw in dedicated punters who come back year on year to watch their favourite competitors. In early April, crowds gathered outside the pub to watch the perplexing game of dwyle flunking, a tentpole event that the pub has been hosting for years.

Teams take it in turns to hold each other’s hands, form a circle and dance ring-a-roses style around a member of the opposing team. In the centre of the circle, a rag attached to a pole is submerged into a bowl of beer slops, and the rival team member in the middle holds the pole while spinning around the bucket. Once they’re suitably dizzy, they whip the rag out of the bucket and fling it at one (or ideally more than one) of the dancing team.

lewes arms dwyle flunking

Points are awarded based on the body part and person hit. Headshots are the most converted, you get extra points for hitting a nearby musician and there are minus points for any team member who isn’t sozzled by the end of the game. Oh, and you also win and lose points based on the objective correctness of your costume; the encouraged dress is an assortment of straw hats, waistcoats and floaty Kate Bush-style dresses. This makes the points tallying sound more straightforward than it is. The way the points are awarded is often heatedly challenged and The Lewes Arms team wins by default.

While The Lewes Arms is one of the games’ most ardent adopters, dwyle flunking has been kicking around for years. The history of the sport is contested, but it’s thought to have origins that go as far back as the 16th century. However, the first recorded game was only held in 1967 where, according to reports, participants awoke the next day with sore heads and, ‘no one could remember the score’.

Steve Hutchings is a keen photographer and has taken photos of The Lewes Arms Dwyle Flunking, including at this year’s event. He explains that some prior dwyle flunking knowledge is advisable, even for onlookers. “You don’t want to be the spectator standing in the wrong place who gets hit by a sodden beer towel.”

Dwyle flunking isn’t the pub’s only idiosyncratic event. Earlier this year, they hosted their annual spaniel race, a dog race held outside the pub where a ‘hare’ is chased by a pack of four-legged contestants down a side street near the pub. The hare is normally a brave volunteer from The Lewes Arms community, who dons a string of sausages to lure the dogs in the correct direction. Contrary to the name of the event, you don’t have to be a spaniel to enter.

lewes arms spaniel racing

Kate Cheyne has been going to The Lewes Arms for around 20 years. After getting to know both staff and other regulars, she joined The Lewes Arms events committee and has helped organise events like the spaniel race and has previously volunteered to be the aforementioned hare. Although Kate admits it’s hard to pick any stand-out runners on the day as “the dogs all start to merge into a super chaotic pack,” one of the regular winners, a cockapoo called Biscuit has gone on to puppy stardom and now has their own Instagram.  Alongside the Flunk and the Spaniel Race, there’s also the World Pea Throwing Championship (the more self-explanatory of their events) and previously they’ve hosted a pantomime race described as ‘a short shambolic shuffle around the block’.

The Lewes Arms are part of a long and proud tradition of communities across the UK hosting bonkers events. Some have been running for hundreds of years, where taking part has become a tradition. One of the most well-known is Annual Cheese Rolling, which sees hundreds of people throw themselves down a hill after a wheel of Gloucester cheese in May. It’s officially been running for 200 years and attracts huge crowds every year. So dedicated are its participants that injuries and event cancellations haven’t stopped people from splintering off and organising nearby unofficial cheese rolling events.

Likewise, the Atherstone Ball Game in Warwickshire also attracts hundreds of competitors on Shrove Tuesday every year. A leather ball is tossed into the crowd and players go to often unbelievable lengths to keep it in their possession and win. The only official rules are that you must stay within Atherstone’s long street and you can’t kill anyone. However, taking part in a bizarre event doesn’t have to mean possible injury. Maybe you’d prefer to race your pet snail in Norfolk at the World Championship Snail Racing in July? Or you could take part in Poole’s annual New Year’s Day Bath Race? All you need is a spare tub, a rubber duck mascot and the belief that anything can be turned into a kayak if you will it so.

While the histories and legacies of these events vary, a common thread between them is their way of creating a community at a time when people need it the most. Much has been made of how, post-pandemic, many people are feeling lonelier and see their friends less. Couple this with the constant fear-of-missing-out that blights us all and the slow disillusionment with online interactions and it’s not hard to see why welcoming and entertaining events are thriving.

In their current form, eccentric events are some of the most accessible fun you can have. They’re mostly free or low-cost to attend, and any money raised often goes to a local charity. You can join in if you’ve got young kids or you’re new to an area and have no one to go with. You don’t need to have attended before or be a die-hard fan of the event’s culture to enjoy it. While the price of concerts keeps sky rocketing and going out for dinner or to the theatre has become more of a special occasion than a regular way to meet up with mates, community-led events held in local pubs are one of the best answers to how to maintain a social life that doesn’t cost a small fortune.

But back to the Lewes Arms. While it might not draw cheese-rolling-level crowds, it has over the years garnered fame for its events outside of the Sussex bubble. Where some competitive feats require extensive training, knowledge or equipment, it’s the light-heartedness and low barrier to entry that’s made The Lewes Arms events particularly special. Over the last few years, things have been particularly tough for most people, so being able to take respite watching people throw peas down a road as far as they can or see puppies chase after a string of sausages, is hopefully a trend that spreads far beyond Lewes.

The next dwyle flunking events are on 22nd June and 21st September and the pea-throwing is on 11th August.

The Lewes Arms, 1 Mount Place, Lewes, BN7 1YH

Photo credits: CdL Creative at