Welcome to our sports column; Nettle Eating you cry, ‘Thats not a sport’. Well we here at The Holborn we love a little local eccentricity and therefore decided to take on our own reasonably wide interpretation of sporting endeavour. In the future we hope to throw ourselves Brogue-first into some of the oddest and downright idiotic incarnations of competitive spirit.
For this report The Holborn staff decided to take a on an somewhat gonzo-like journalistic approach and enter ourselves into the fray. As you can see above we tentatively awaited the arrival of our vegetarian peril.
I’d like to add that originally only one of the party had arrived that summer day with the intention of consuming large quantities of nettles, but the reasonably large gap between arriving and the competition starting and crucially the parallel beer festival was able to lure another four merry souls to indulge in a bit of indigenous Dorset culture.
So a bit of background the the World Stinging Nettle Eating Championship. The contest began in the late 1980’s when two farmers argued over who had the longest stinging nettles in their field and evolved into the World Nettle Eating Championships when one of the farmers promised to eat any nettle which was longer than his (yes, this actually took place). The championship has separate men’s and women’s sections and attracts competitors from as far afield as Canada and Australia. This year amongst a field of international competitors we were also in the presence of BBC & ITV in addition to Mexican and Finnish TV crews. The Championship is held at the Bottle Inn in Marshwood, Dorset; it had a brief spell at the George Inn, Chideock while the Bottle Inn was shut for a year. Though 2012 saw the triumphant return of the Championship to it’s spiritual home.
The crowd now reached into four digits, past years have seen a wave of competitors from across Eastern Europe. Like all great and prestigious sports, Nettle
Eating has been marred by acquisitions of cheating (still proudly doping free however). Past competitors have been accused of smuggling their own low toxicity nettles into the competition, while sneaking bio-engineered, high toxicity, Franken-nettles onto their opponent’s plates. We also found out that critical to the championship’s outcome is the quality and character of each season’s nettles. Much is determined by the weather with lush, moist plants considered more palatable than the drier variety. Nearly all the big scores have been achieved after wet conditions.
So the rules and this years competition, we are served up with 2-foot long nettle stalks and you have to eat every nettle leaf on the stalk before it can be counted towards your total. You have an hour to consume as much as you can. You can’t leave the arena at any point or you are disqualified. If you are sick you are disqualified. Simple. We had been given some tips beforehand by some now retired seasoned professionals (for professionals – read old drunk West Country men who were almost incomprehensible and smelt like they had been pickled). Apparently the trick was to fold the leaf from the outside, to avoid stinging your fingers, wrap it up into a ball, dip it into your beer or cider if you so fancied, and place it the corner of your mouth and let your salvia do the work before swallowing. I can categorically report that all these techniques only I can imagine mildly mitigated the pain endured by my finger tips, inside of my mouth and back of my throat over the next 24 hours. I can only imagine either our nettle gurus were having us on or that something in their diet (liquid diet most probably) enhanced their ability over our feeble metropolitan constitutions.
How did you do you ask. Well the short answer is terribly. Our band of intrepid explorers managed between 8-18 feet of nettles. Now that might sound impressive but when you consider the winner this year, a local man, won with 68 feet, then the size of our defeat becomes apparent. 68 feet by the way isn’t even a record. The world record is 74 feet, set in 2010 by a fishmonger from over the border (i.e. from Somerset), whose daughter won the women’s competition with 48 feet this year. We never stood a chance. Though we had many things to console us, a beer festival, Morris dancers, blues and folk music and an excellent hog roast.
Despite our hopes for fame and glory (mainly to be able to tell people that I was World Champion at something) being dashed, a wonderful time was had by all. There was something fantastically mad and English about the whole thing. We here at The Holborn would encourage you to seek out these weird and wonderful contests and join in. We hope to see you at the World Stinging Nettle Eating Championship 2013, we’ll be there, though maybe as spectators this time. We’ll leave you with footage of this year’s champion crossing the finishing line.