I always try to look out for lesser known, interesting, or quirky attractions in any area I visit. It's different, and it avoids the crowds.
Ready, Get Set, SLOW!
Every year, for the last 25 years, the summer excitement in the east of England comes to a peak when the International Snail Racing Championships are held.
Snails, up to 200 of them, come from far and wide to the small village of Congham (pop. 227) to take part in this internationally renowned competition.
In 2012 the championship was postponed until 18 August 2012 because of a waterlogged field. And the winner was Racer!
In 2013 the date was 20 July and the winner this time was... Racer II (son of Racer?).
The hot weekend meant that no records were broken on 19 July 2014 but the winner was declared as Wells. If you don't believe me, and I suspect there are some doubters out there, you can see all the pictures on the official site.
In 2015 the winner was George, followed by Herbie 2 in 2016, and Larry in 2017.
The next race will be 21 July 2018. Why not start training now?
The Snail Racing Rules
The rules are simple:
- The snails must be land snails (aquatic snails might find the going tough).
- Giant snails are not allowed.
- They must start behind the inner circle.
- The winner is the first to reach the outer circle.
- The distance from the inner to the outer circle is 13 inches (33 centimetres).
- The snails may have names.
- Fancy dress is allowed.
- Any trainers are allowed to cheer on their snails.
Giant Snails Are Not Allowed
In fact, the rules actually state: "Giant foreign snails" are not allowed (my italics). I have never seen a giant snail in England, so I'm not sure whether a British giant snail would be permissible. Are small foreign snails are allowed to enter? Are they allowed into the country at all? Do they have to go through quarantine regulations? Would they even survive quarantine?
Snails in Fancy Dress
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The person who starts the races is called the Snail Trainer. He too can wear fancy dress. The owners can also wear fancy dress. Indeed, anyone and everyone can have any costume that happens to appeal to them. Make it a merry occasion!
I'd guess that having a woolly suit might not be too much of an advantage to a snail but, who knows...?
What to Do if the Weather Is Bad...
Congham, like much of Norfolk, is a damp place. While this is ideally suited to the snails, sometimes it's just too much. In 2007 the whole competition was rained off.
In hot weather the course has to be kept watered to ensure ideal conditions for racing. Watering the course wasn't needed in the extra wet summer of 2012.
And If It's a Washout, Learn to Swim!
Congham in Norfolk, UK
The First Snail Race
The Rivals in France
Another small village, this one in the south of France, holds snail racing championships in August. They call it the "Championnat du Monde de Vitesse d'Escargot". The winner is set free, but the losers.... Well, who knows in France?
According to the local mayor, the championship is a very serious competition, regardless of appearances. Some people train their snails for several days.
Some say the French competition started over 40 years ago, making it the first of its kind. Some also say that's where the people of Congham got the idea.
A True Story
One day, many years ago, while we were on holiday in France, we took our sons to a local restaurant for lunch. My husband chose escargots cooked in garlic butter.
"What's escargot, Daddy," asked our eldest, aged about seven at the time.
"Snails," came the reply. "Escargot is the French word for snail".
A few moments of thought. A puzzled look.
"Don't you find them a bit crunchy?"
"No, no, you don't eat the shells."
A few more moments of thought. A look of horror came across our son's face.
"Oh no! You don't eat the slimy bit, do you?!!!!"
My husband has never eaten another snail. Never.
2014 - The Champion
In fact if you do watch the video above, you will find that indeed, foreign snails are allowed. It is truly an international event.
Other Things to Do in the Area
I know, of course, that your prime reason for visiting Norfolk will be for the snail racing, but while you are in the area, consider also seeing the Norfolk Broads (I imagine you could find many potential racing competitors there) or maybe pay a visit to the Queen at Sandringham House which is open to the public. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also have a place in Norfolk, Amner Hall, but this is most definitely not open to the public.
There are several other stately homes, two cathedrals in Norwich, medieval wool churches, round tower churches, castles and much much more.
So, whatever the weather, your visit to Norfolk need not be a single destination visit.