Some of the best things in life are discovered by accident, and that was certainly the case for a discovery we made on Friday in the heart of the Cotswolds. One of Lee’s students happened to have flown over Chipping Campden earlier in the week and had taken a photo of a makeshift castle that had been constructed on the side of a hill. He told us it was for the Dover’s Hill Games, and, intrigued, I had to find out more about it. I discovered that it goes by several names – the Cotswold Olimpicks (sic), Robert Dover’s Games, the Dover’s Hill Games – and it has been held on the same site since at least 1612, organised by a lawyer named Robert Dover on what’s now known as Dover’s Hill. There’s more about the history here, including this fantastic old depiction of the games. So, with not much idea what to expect other than delightful age-old English eccentricity, we decided to head over to Chipping Campden on Friday evening to see what it was all about, and we were joined by our friend Nigel – who kindly did the driving – and a friend of his.
We parked at the school and had a gorgeous walk through the village to the square, where we bought tickets (a great-value £6 each).
There was a shuttle bus running between the village and the hill, but it was such a beautiful evening that we opted to walk, admiring the stunning Cotswold stone cottages along the way.
Unsurprisingly, it was an uphill walk most of the way, but it was so lovely that it didn’t matter how exhausting it was. The light was just amazing, flooding magically through the trees – the photo doesn’t do it justice. We followed distant strains of music drifting down the hill with a growing sense of anticipation.
The higher up the hill we got, the better the views got…
Upon reaching the summit of the hill, this was the sight that greeted us. Sadly I didn’t think to take a video of the jolly tune they were playing, but it created a wonderfully English atmosphere!
Beyond the band, the land dropped dramatically away to reveal this incredible view. The sky was crystal clear after a day of rain, and we could see as far as Birmingham. Dover’s Hill is managed by the National Trust.
Of course the photos don’t do justice to this magical place, but as you can kind of see from this rather dark panoramic, the shape of the land forms a natural amphitheatre – the perfect stage for an evening of eccentric English sports!
Behind us on the top of the hill there was some sort of fencing going on (spot it on the poster!)…
…while the first sport we watched on the hillside was the tug o’ war, which eventually resulted in the breaking of the rope! We had burgers while we watched; others were enjoying picnics on the hillside.
I took this video so that you can get more of a sense of the atmosphere and the views:
The light got more and more spectacular as the sun started to set. It also got colder and colder – though beautifully sunny, it wasn’t exactly a warm summer’s evening!
Then came the sport everyone had apparently been waiting for: the shin-kicking. As you might have guessed, this time-honoured sport involves pairs of competitors attempting to kick each other’s shins to cause them to fall, adjudicated by white-coated ‘Sticklers’. You can see shin-kicking on that old poster too.
This was round 1. You can probably hear me chuckling away at the entertaining commentary!
And then this was the first part of the final, with the Sticklers in action deciding the result!
They had to go again, poor things!
After watching the final we were so cold that we decided to walk back down the hill to the village to find a nice pub to warm up in. Had we stayed on the hill, we would have been able to watch some fireworks and then take part in a torchlit procession as everyone comes down the hill carrying flaming torches. We’ll wrap up warmer next year and take part in that too!
On the way back into Chipping Campden we passed this band of bagpipers, once again adding some merry tunes to the proceedings!
We found this gorgeous cosy pub that fitted the bill perfectly, and settled around this table by the window for the rest of the evening. After nightfall we watched the torchlit procession come past, which was great – so atmospheric!
It was about 11pm by the time we left and the street party in the village was just getting going. I was already a big fan of Chipping Campden, but now I’m absolutely in love with it – we must live there one day! It was a fantastic evening and we’ll definitely be making it an annual thing. English eccentricity at its very finest!