Our giant herdy was team mascot for the England team at the European Espoirs Championships of the IFCW (International Federation of Celtic Wrestling) earlier this month, as we got out and about supporting our rural community. Watching the tournament was truly inspiring; the young teams from across the world genuinely astonished us with their skill and sportsmanship. Whilst the sport is familiar to us Cumbrians, it’s still a relatively uncelebrated sport elsewhere. If ewe haven’t seen it yet, here’s why ewe should:
1. It Teaches and Promotes Fair Play and Honourable Values
Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestling is a traditional sport, and is all about the traditional values of loyalty, sincerity, respect, and fair play. In fact at the Opening Ceremony of major IFCW Wrestling Championships, the Wrestler’s Oath is recited in unison:
“I swear to wrestle with entire loyalty,
Without treachery and brutality,
For my honour and that of my country.
In testimony of my sincerity,
And to follow the custom of my ancestors,
I present to my fellow my hand and my cheek.”
Not sure that two butting rams would be so nice to each other!
2. It’s Physically Exciting and Tactically Intriguing
It’s easy to dismiss wrestling as merely watching a pair of baa-rmy folk try to throw each other to the ground. But Cumberland Wrestling is much more than that.
Each minute twitch and movement between each wrestler is read and countered, every tactical manoeuvre planned out in the wrestler’s mind. It’s like the wrestlers play a game of chess with their bodies. Within a few minutes of watching ewe’ll soon learn to spot the “Hipes” from the “Hanks”!
(A “Hipe” is any kind of lifiting throw, while a “Hank” is where a wrestler twines their leg round an opponent’s leg and straightens it to pull them to the ground.)
3. It’s Traditional and Has Deep Historical Roots
Outdoor wrestling photo "Over they go" (right) courtesy of Alan Cleaver, CC-2.0.
Cumberland wrestling is as rooted in the Lake District as the Herdwick sheep! Though the exact historical roots have been lost in the mists of time (and it does get misty up here!) current thinking and evidence indicates that, much like the sheep, it may have come over to these Isles with the Vikings as Norse Wrestling. Certainly if ewe were to watch Cumberland Wrestling alongside Icelandic Glíma, ewe’d see a striking resemblance.
Today, bouts of Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestling still happen and take place at various Shepherd’s Meets and Sheep Shows throughout the Lake District, much like they did over two hundred years ago.
Now you know and of course you’ll want to know where you can see it: