Weird, wacky weekend: The oddest events of summer

The Chap Olympiad is just one of the many eccentric activities to see or join before Monday
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The Independent Online

Chap Olympiad

Bedford Square, London

As any chap knows, the only place to be on a Saturday in July is the English countryside, feasting on Anatole's cooking at Aunt Dahlia's. But for the self-conscious blades of The Chap magazine, Bloomsbury in London was the place to be yesterday, where they met for the seventh annual Chap Olympiad.

Gathered under their horn-handled umbrellas in the driving rain, the chaps stand waiting for festivities to begin. As people jostle for position under gazebos, polite tut-tutting and mutterings of "drat this monsoon!" can be heard, but no one loses their poise.

Hosted annually by The Chap magazine in London's very own time warp, Bedford Square, gentlemen and ladies dress up in their finest period costume to compete in contests of increasing absurdity. From Not Tennis – where players must smoke a pipe, sit in a deck chair and read the paper while hitting a tennis ball back and forth – to Swooning, where a line of men must do anything in their power to make their opposing ladies swoon.

Dressed in a bowler hat and full black tie, the compere bellows: "I call for solemnity and poised decorum for the lighting of the Olympic pipe," as an old-fashioned pipe is lit and passed among contestants gathered next to him. Next up, the drugs test. When a drink is discovered on one of the entrants, the crowd boos. They are soon interrupted by a voice on the Tannoy, which says: "I think some of you have misunderstood the drugs test. Alcohol is good!"

The Olympiad is the brainchild of Torquil Arbuthnot, a man in tweed who is The Chap magazine's literary critic. Arbuthnot, 48, says he thought up the idea when he was "drunk in the pub". After the first event, involving just a few dozen people in Regent's Park eight years ago, it is now ticketed, with some 1,700 tickets sold this year.

Doggett's Coat and Badge Race

London Bridge

First contested in 1715, this eccentric British tradition sees six waterboatmen race with the tide from London Bridge to the Albert Bridge in Chelsea. It is thought to be the oldest continuing sporting contest in the world. Run by the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames, the race offers the prize of a traditional watermen's red coat.

London Backward Run

Crystal Palace

Running 3km forward is enough to finish most people off, but for those looking to make life hard for themselves, racing backwards is a great lethal alternative. The added muscle strain apparently makes the contest equivalent to running 18km forwards. It may make an entertaining spectator sport, but for the contestants battling up three uphill sections it will probably be less funny.

London Surf Festival

Westminster Boating Base, London

Yes, you did read that right: a surf festival in London. The Thames may not being known for its epic waves, but intrepid board riders at Errant Surf decided to hold a whole festival for the sport on the banks of the Thames, including contests for paddling a board along the river.

World Snail Racing Championships

Congham cricket field, Congham, Norfolk

Up to 300 snails take on this nail-biting race across 13 inches of Congham's cricket field. Anyone can bring along a pet snail, and the current record is set by "Archie" who did the course in two minutes back in 1995. Make sure to listen out for the starter's orders of "ready, steady, slow". The winner receives a silver tankard stuffed with lettuce.

Ghost hunting at RAF Holmpton

Withernsea, East Yorkshire

Apparently spiritual energies plague this former RAF base, and this overnight ghost hunt has been planned to seek them out. Acomb Paranormal Society has access to the building and provides mediums and "paranormal investigators" to guide you around its eerie passages.

York Maze

Elvington, North Yorkshire

The world's largest maze, which opened yesterday, must also be the biggest ever game of spot the difference. Seen from above, the maze is in fact two slightly differing portraits of Harry Potter side by side.

World's longest symphony

The Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London

It takes 10 choirs and two orchestras – that's 1,000 performers – to perform Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony. The piece is in Guinness World Records as the world's longest symphony and lasts an hour and three-quarters.

Red Bull Flugtag

Roundhay Park, Leeds

"Flugtag" literally means "flying day" – but it would perhaps be better described as "falling on your face day". Teams launch their human-powered aircraft off a 6m ramp and usually end up in a heap with assorted pieces of wing broken over their backs.