Flipping odd Pancake Day traditions

Pancake Day is a tradition that has been celebrated for hundreds of years. It is the last day before Lent, when people get to stuff themselves silly with deliciously sweet pancakes before embarking on their journey of self-restraint. Pancake Day celebrations take place around the world, but here in the UK we have some of the best and oldest traditions that are still carried out today. Check out some of these flipping odd Pancake Day traditions, and where you can go to see them.

Olney Pancake Race 

Olney Pancake Race

Without doubt, the Olney Pancake Race is the most famous in the world. This little Buckinghamshire village is the birthplace of the pancake race, and has helped spread the custom far and wide for hundreds of years. There are many stories told of how the pancake race tradition started, the most famous of which tells the tale of a busy housewife who, not realising the time, had to run to the church on hearing the bells toll, still holding her frying pan and flipping the pancake to stop it burning. Since that day in 1445, the women of Olney have celebrated Pancake Day with a spirited race down Olney High Street. But, a challenge was issued by the town of Liberal in Kansas, USA, in 1950 to hold an international competition with the womenfolk of Olney – a fierce battle of pride and pancakes. Setting up their own pancake race of equal distance, Liberal has competed with Olney every year since to see which town can race the quickest. The score so far is 36 wins for Liberal, 26 wins for Olney, and 1 no contest in 1980 when a news van blocked the Olney finish line. With such a rich history for pancakes, it’s no wonder one of the best pancake houses in the area, the Olney Pancake Parlour, has set up shop in this beautiful village. Pop on down for a full helping of pancakes, either savoury or sweet.      

Where to stay nearby

Milton Keynes at The Hub

Milton Keynes Central

Bath Waterside

Mob football

Mob Football

A popular Pancake Day sport since yesteryear, mob football is not for the faint hearted. Also known as medieval football, folk football, and Shrovetide football, this ancient game is thought to be the ancestor to modern football, although it is a lot more chaotic, and has almost no rules. A game of mob football is played across an entire town, with the goals at either end. Two opposing teams go head to head, jostling, barging, and battering each other back and forth as they try to get the ball to their goal. One historical account of the game mentions how players are allowed to use “any means other than murder and manslaughter” to win the game. Not so different from a Premier League match then. These days, the games are a little more friendly than in the middle ages, when mob football was very common until the Highway Act of 1835 banned football on public highways. Now, a few rebellious communities still engage in a hearty game of mob football on Pancake Day, and needless to say the windows and doors of the towns involved are thoroughly boarded up in preparation for this raucous tradition. If you want to get involved, then you’ll want to head over to Ashbourne in Derbyshire for the Royal Shrovetide Football Match. Other games to attend are the Atherstone Ball Game in Atherstone, Warwickshire, and Hurling the Silver Ball in St Columb Major in Cornwall. 

Where to stay nearby


Scarborough Skipping Day


Pancakes and flipping go hand in hand, but pancakes and skipping is a uniquely Scarborough celebration. For a hundred years or so, Pancake Day has been known as Skipping Day in this North Yorkshire seaside resort. Each year, the road along the shore front is closed off to traffic, and everyone gets their skipping ropes out for some mass jumping fun. No-one quite knows how or when the tradition started, but ropes from the shipyard are used as enormous skipping ropes with up to ten people jumping at a time. Of course, Scarborough also holds the more common festivities of a pancake race along the seafront and bell ringing to celebrate Pancake Day. All that skipping and racing is the perfect excuse to chow down on some palate pleasing pancakes. Thankfully Love Brew Cafe can cater to your needs with beautifully fluffy pancakes served with fresh fruit and syrup.      

Where to stay nearby

Scarborough St Nicholas

Please a pancake

Whitechapel Forest of Bowland

In the tiny Lancashire hamlet of Whitechapel, an age-old tradition is still carried out that used to be far more widespread across the county. Local children go door to door, asking “please a pancake”, and in return they are rewarded with sweet treats and oranges. This tradition is thought to have started when farm workers would knock on the doors of wealthier villagers and ask them for pancakes and other sweets to celebrate Shrove Tuesday. In 1888, local writer Richard Cookson wrote how children would “go from house to house and are treated with ginger bread, ‘toffies’ and other ‘sweet meats’. This year we had 126 children here asking for sweets.” No need to don the schoolboy’s uniform and jaunty school cap to get your treats, head on over to nearby Wallings in Lancaster for a properly gluttonous pancake experience.     

Where to stay nearby

Preston Central

Westminster School Pancake Greaze

English Pancakes

Dating back to the 18th century, the Westminster School Pancake Greaze is now a firm tradition of Pancake Day. The school chef prepares an especially durable pancake, reinforced with horse hair, which is then tossed over a bar in the school hall. A member of each form, sporting some outrageously fancy dress, scramble madly to claim the largest piece of pancake, and present it to the school Dean. The boy with the biggest piece is awarded a cash prize. And because this is a serious competition, with a cash prize at stake, when the call is too close to make, scales are brought out to weigh the pancake pieces in order to determine the winner. Fortunately, you don’t need to wrestle angry schoolboys to get your own flipping delicious piece of pancake, just head over to Westminster’s Crème de la Crêpe and satisfy that sweet tooth.

Where to stay nearby

London Central Waterloo

London Vauxhall

London Central Southwark

Listening for the witch

Pancake Stack 750 499

Legend has it, the charming Bedfordshire village of Toddington is home to a witch with a penchant for pancakes. Who knew? On Pancake Day, as St George’s Church bells chime at noon, children from the local primary school climb Conger Hill, put ear to ground, and try to hear the witch within frying her pancakes. And each year, some say they can hear her pancakes sizzling in the pan. Why not go and hear for yourself? And whilst you’re here pop in to Bistro Twenty Four on the High Street and get a massive stack of American pancakes, coated in lashings of maple syrup, with crispy bacon and ice cream. Yum.

Where to stay nearby

Toddington M1 Southbound

A bizarre initiation

Corfe Castle

At noon on Pancake Day, in Corfe Castle, Dorset, apprentices of the Company of Marblers and Stonecutters of Purbeck carry a penny loaf and a quart of beer to the Town Hall, a requirement to become freeman of the order of Marblers and Stonecutters. Then, once admitted to the order, they kick a football around town on their way to Ower Quay whilst carrying a pound of pepper – no-one knows why they have to carry a pound of pepper. This strange initiation has been carried on by local residents in celebration of Pancake Day. But, in 1992, a policeman on secondment to the area made a rather poor first impression, not realising the ancient tradition, he assumed the apprentices were rebellious vagabonds and promptly confiscated the football, putting an end to the day’s traditional festivities. Needless to say, the policeman quickly learnt his lesson and hasn’t foiled any Pancake Day traditions since. You can grab yourself a pancake or two from the Haven Ferry Cafe in Poole, a lovely cafe which sits on a spit of sand sticking out into the harbour.   

Where to stay nearby


Bournemouth Seafront