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UK Traditions - The Olney Pancake Race - A 500-Year-Old Shrove Tuesday Event

"Housewives" in Skirts and Aprons Run a 400-Meter-Dash While Flipping Pancakes

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Essentials

  • What: A traditional Shrove Tuesday pancake race that's been run for more than 500 years in this small town.
  • Where: Olney, Buckinghamshire, Market Place to Parish Church
  • When: Shrove Tuesday, the Tuesday before Lent
  • Contact: The Olney Town Council, +44 (0)1234 711679
  • Visit their website
Pancake Races take place all over Britain on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. The Olney Pancake Race is one of the most unusual, with a history going back more than 500 years.

Unlike some other races, where sports figures, celebrities and even MPs participate, the Olney Race is limited to "housewives and young ladies of the town". They must have lived in Olney for at least three months and be at least 18 years old.

Participants, who run a distance of 415 yards, from the Olney Market Place to the Parish Church must be costumed as "traditional housewives". That includes wearing a skirt, an apron and a head covering. They must carry a frying pan with a pancake in it and most flip the pancake as they cross the finish.

Prizes are awarded during a "Shriving" service in the Parish Church immediately after the race. In 2008, the winner did the distance in 69 seconds.

American Cousins

After racing and flipping pancakes in Olney for more than 500 years, they were challenged by the ladies of Liberal Kansas 65 years ago. Now the race takes place on both sides of the Atlantic. But while the Olney race stays true to its traditions, the Americans have turned their Pancake Day into a four-day festival with eating, flipping and cooking contests and a parade as well as the race.

And an Amazing Grace

While you are in Olney, stop by the Cowper and Newton Museum dedicated John Newton, who (along with poet William Cowper) wrote the hymn Amazing Grace while Newton was curate here.

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