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A stag do with a difference

Posted by Jonathan Broom on 8 November 2018
Related property: Blore Hall
A stag do with a difference

I have written in the past about the British predilection for peculiar sporting contests. Peculiar to Britain, anyway. Cheese-rolling in Gloucestershire, a stone’s throw (cheese roll?) from Buckland Court. The World Gurning Championships in Cumbria, where pulling the ugliest face forms the centrepiece of the centuries-old Egremont Crab Fair, easily reached from Braithwaite Court.

And there are others, of course. Bog-snorkelling. Gravy wrestling. Coal-carrying.

But to the list can now surely be added: bolving.

If challenged, neither the gerund, bolving, nor the verb, to bolve, will win you any points on the Scrabble board; according to the Oxford English Dictionary the terms do not exist.

But as an activity it exists all right. When? Between September and November. Where? Anywhere in the countryside where there are populations of red deer. Specifically, red deer stags. To explain:

When in rut, all antlers and attitude, males of the species cervus elaphus exhibit all sorts of antisocial behaviours. Fighting other males for dominance, strutting about the place – anything to assert their masculinity.

And they make one heck of a racket. A sound, according to the Daily Telegraph, “like a hybrid of a lion roaring, a cow bellowing and someone trying, unsuccessfully, to start a chainsaw”.

This is bolving.

The object of bolving – from the stag’s point of view, obviously – is to impress the nearby hinds, and to intimidate potential rivals.

But there’s nothing to say that when you hear a stag bolving, you can’t bolve right back at it.

No ancient tradition, this: bolving – human bolving – born at the start of the 21st Century, has probably only just reached adulthood. But in that true British way, what surely started as a bit of a laugh – “let’s see if we can make a noise like a stag” – has evolved into a competition of sorts.

Spectators and participants gather for the Eastern Moors Bolving Championships

Or competitions, plural. Every October the World Bolving Championships takes place at Dulverton, on Exmoor, Devon – 40-odd miles north of Lower Knapp Farm; but if you happen to be holidaying at Blore Hall next autumn, and you fancy a more gentle introduction to the ‘sport’, a 26-mile drive due north via the A515, the B5055, the A619 and A621 will bring you to the village of Owler Bar on the eastern edge of the Peak District National Park, where you’ll find Barbrook Cottage – the headquarters of the Eastern Moors Partnership, a joint venture between the RSPB and the National Trust which manages this particular region and, every year, stages its own Eastern Moors Bolving Championships.

Getting into the spirit: note the spectacular homemade antlers

Participants (and it’s open to all) bolve across the moors in the hope that a stag will answer the call. Competing is optional, as observing the competition is entertainment in itself. As well as the main event, there are crafts, games and activities, and hot soup for supper.

Go on, my son: a proud dad looks on

This year’s Championships were attended by nigh on 100 people, 30 of whom were happy to make fools of themselves/converse with one of Britain’s noblest beasts for the chance to win a selection of prizes donated by local businesses – dinners for two, and the like.

The friendly face of officialdom: adjudicators from the Eastern Moors Partnership

Provisionally (details are yet to be finalised), the next Championships will take place on 12th October 2019, from 5pm until 8pm. Attendance (whether participatory or not) will cost £6 per adult, £5 per child, and £24 per family (up to two adults and three children).

A happy band of junior bolvers - with certificates to prove it

A small price to pay for being out in the fresh air, communing with nature – and having a right good laugh at the same time.

Jonathan Broom

Jonathan Broom

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