The weekend after next sees one of our favourite events taking place in the Lake District – the World’s Biggest Liar contest – TONY NAYLOR brings you the lowdown on a thrilling event that narrowly missed making it into our European events calender, Smith 52. Watch this space for more insider info on idiosyncratic and inspiring events around Europe (and more updates on the Inn thing)…
Place The Bridge Inn, Santon Bridge, Wasdale, in Cumbria, United Kingdom.
Style Eccentric old fellas telling tall tales over pints of locally brewed Jenning’s bitter.
Settings Old, idyllic, whitewashed pub. This former coaching house is set in the curve of a river, beneath craggy Lake District fells.
He may have died in 1890, but the spirit of local publican Will Ritson lives on. ‘Auld Will’ was famous for entertaining his regulars with heavily embellished stories and surreal folk myths, and every November his spiritual descendants compete at the Bridge Inn for the title of the World’s Biggest Liar. Considering the winner only receives a modest trophy, a commemorative tie and £25, the competition is nonetheless contested with a rare old passion. In 2003, the night ended in controversy, when the winner Abrie Kruger – a South African and the first winner from outside Cumbria – was accused of cheating and, it’s reported, subjected to choruses of Rule Britannia while other contestants abused the judges. Blimey!
‘It’s an old tradition down in that dell,
totally unbelievable the stories they tell.
Wasdale is the place where old traditions never die,
if you think you can match old Will come give it a try’
A poem by 1998 World’s Biggest Liar champion James Mason, displayed in the Bridge Inn
Event highlights At the Liar, each yarn (there are usually 10 to 20 speakers) is a highlight in its own right, whether its about mermaid farms, volcano-sized moles or winning the Isle Of Man TT on a balsawood motorbike. Politicians, government bodies and corporations are fair game, with the likes of Defra (Daftra) and local Sellafield-owners BNFL (Bang! No Folk Left) taking stick from contestants. 2006 winner comedienne Sue Perkins won with a whimsical tale about methane gas from Wasdale sheep causing a hole in the ozone layer.
Head count The Bridge Inn function room holds 120 people.
Packing tips Leave the Gucci, Pucci and Fiorucci at home. This is the Lake District in November. Thick jumpers, walking boots and technically advanced anoraks are de rigueur.
Keep it a secret… In the shadow of the Lake District’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, the Bridge Inn offers free shots of oxygen to exhausted hill walkers. Honest.
Bar chat At the Bridge Inn, feverish speculation over whether five-times champion John ‘Johnny Liar’ Graham or 2004/5 winner Mike Naylor will swipe the title. Or maybe a townie interloper like Sue Perkins. Or an alien from Mars.
DOS & DONTS
– Don’t use any props or typed prompts, and limit your off-the-cuff spiel to 2–5 minutes. Otherwise, you will be disqualified.
– Don’t try to enter if you’re a politician or lawyer. All professional liars are barred.
– Do limit the amount of Dutch courage you imbibe, or you may well lose your, erm… thread.
NEED TO KNOW
Getting there Easily accessed by car from Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, around two hours up the M62/M6. From London Euston, Virgin Trains run regular services to Penrith; change at Lancaster or Carlisle for Whitehaven, the nearest station to Santon Bridge (five hours from London). Local car hire is available in Penrith (Practical Car & Van Rental)
Children No children allowed at the Liar contest (presumably in case that dreadful lie about Santa not being real is told again).
Parking Yes, free.
Food & Drink A ticket for the Liar competition includes a traditional Cumberland ‘tattie pot’ supper; a stew of lamb, black pudding and vegetables, topped with potato and served with a spicy red cabbage.
Sleep The pub offers accommodation, however, if you want something more luxurious, the Lake District has numerous options within a 30-45 minute drive. Gossel Ridding on Lake Windermere is a luxury self-catering stay for up to 15 people – it’s a stunning location and the property itself is gorgeous: an Edwardian house restored with chic interiors and contemporary comforts (including a home cinema). The Samling is a welcoming country-house hotel on the northern shores of Lake Windermere, with a Michelin-starred restaurant (in case pies aren’t really your thing).
Tickets World’s Biggest Liar: £7, on sale from Whitehaven Civic Hall (01946 852821). It sells out very quickly. Competitors do not have to pre-register, ticket-holders can enter on the night.
Find more events in Smith 52: The Game Plan