Robert Dover's Cotswold Olimpicks

Ancient times hold a mystical interest for most of us. Those were the days when women were women and men kicked shins.

The vision of two men clinging to one another and kicking each other may bring a smile to your face, but it's part of the 400-year historic Chipping Camden, Robert Dover, Cotswold Olimpicks. Yes, folks, that's spelled right, the other one is wrong.

Robert Dover, an earl from Norfolk, started the Cotswold Olimpicks after King James I gave him royal permission. The games date back to before the modern Olympics and were fashioned after the early ones held in Greece. Even though the games are far from Olympic style, even the 2012 London Olympic committee recognizes the Cotswold Olimpick games as the humble beginnings of the modern contest.

Where and When

The Cotswold Olimpicks take place every year on Dover's Hill above Chipping Camden, on the Friday after Spring Bank Holiday. The next will be held at Friday, 3rd June 2011.

The games begin at 7:30 in the evening, when that year's Robert Dover and Endyminion Porter, another early royalist, accompany the Scuttlebrook Wake Queen and her attendants through the faux castle entrance. Each of the protagonists is dressed in garb of the original Olimpicks with some of the outfits actually dating back to that period.

What and How

Running, jumping, throwing things and team sports are all represented in the Cotswold Olimpicks. But many of the original 'contests' have been stopped long since. A sword fight ceased after one contestant lost three of his fingers before he even took the sword from the sheath. He retaliated and cut the nose off his opponent. That action ended the inclusion of that sport.

And no one seems to know why the pig race mysteriously disappeared from the competition.

But still, there's plenty action left. There are five-mile races around the grounds, a Championship of the Hill obstacle course race, shot putting, referred to as throwing the shot, throwing the hammer and a standing jump.

The contests also include spurning the barre. The barre is a long shaft of wood like a caber. The contestant hoists the barre in the same manner and the winner is the person to get the greatest distance.

And then, of course, there's the shin kicking contest....

Shin Kicking Anyone?

The Shin Kicking Contest is fun, deeply history and anyone can join in. But once you've seen it you'll realise that it takes a certain type of foolhardy bravery to be successful.

The participants each wear a long white coat similar to a lab coat; it represents the garb of the shepherd. Each contestant places their hands on the shoulders of their opponents and holds. The game begins when both start kicking at each other's shins until one falls to the ground.

Today the shin kicking is quite mild mannered.

You do get some padding, that is, if you want to stuff straw up your pant legs. But in the early days of competition, many toughened their shins by striking them with hammers and legs were broken when some contests took to wearing steel-toed shoes.

Belly Dancers at a Medieval Fair

Besides all the athletic events, there is a plethora entertainment high on the hill.

There is a massive tug of war, finals of the shin kicking and the evening ends with a torchlight parade. ("Dr. Frankenstein, I think the villagers are restless.")

Dancing begins in the square after the ceremonies. Of course, like any games, there is also food, but not even food can compare to the thrill of watching a good shin kicking.

If you arrive a week or so early, you may also have a chance to watch the Cheese-Rolling at near by Cooper's Hill Gloucester. In this contest a 7-8 pound round of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down a steep and uneven grade, followed seconds later by contestants that perilously chase it to the bottom. Many face falls and skinned knees later the winner receives their prize, you guessed it, the round of cheese.