WORLD BOG SNORKELLING CHAMPIONSHIPS 2022 @ Llanwtryd Wells (28/0822)

A trip to the middle of Wales, for the mythical Bog Snorkelling Championships. Yes, it really is a thing.

With our boot lock repaired (thank you to Dainton Brothers Garage) we are on the road bright and early, heading up the A470 once again. This time, we take a left at Builth Wells and head west to Llanwtryd Wells. With a population of eight hundred and fifty, it claims to be the smallest town in the United Kingdom.

Just before we hit the town, we take a left and drive into Plas-y-cadno farm, a lovely little campsite we had booked via the interweb. As we drive in, we see a sign saying ‘Bog Bus Stop’, so we know we are in the right place.

The site is slightly sloping, but not enough to be a problem, and the grass is well trimmed. There is a basic, but adequate toilet and shower block and the farm is framed by beautiful Welsh mountains. With the town only a five-minute walk away, it is difficult to find fault with the site.

Handbrake on, a couple of cans of cider and a packed lunch chucked in backpack, and we are soon stood on the Bog Bus Stop.

There is a free minibus shuttle that spends all day driving from campsite, to the ‘town centre’ up to the bog and back. The driver is a cheerful, chatty, lady who is determined to take as many people to the bog as possible – stopping to offer lifts to people who look even remotely like they might be heading to the bog, even if they are not on a bus stop. Even if they don’t want to go to the bog. The bus is soon full, but not for long, as we are quickly deposited on the bog.

Not only is the bus free, but the event is free as well.

The World Bog Snorkelling Championship, first held in 1985, takes place every August Bank Holiday in the dense Waen Rhydd peat bog. Competitors travel from as far afield as England, Ireland, Germany, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the US.

The main event involves two straight ditches in the bog, full of water. Filthy dirty bog water. Competitors have to swim from one end to the other then back, in the quickest time possible, whilst keeping their heads in the water and breathing through a snorkel. Some take it very seriously, whilst others dress up in fancy dress and take part for the fun of it.

We have no intention of getting wet and are just there to take photographs and drink cider. As we arrive there is a long queue of masochists signing up to enter the competition, and we hear an announcement on the PA that Father Christmas is about to start his swim. We walk past the queue and find ourselves a bit of bog to sit on and eat our picnic.

We have a pleasant hour watching all sorts trying to conquer the bog. Some are like Olympic swimmers and all you see is a flurry of water, others struggle. Really struggle. It is clear that if they are dressed as a crocodile, Tarzan or a newly wed bride, they are not expecting to break any records. They are just out for some ‘fun’. Some decide to give up after doing one length, but we did see one old chap get quite upset when a steward asked him to get out half-way because he was too slow.

They do actually have winners, record holders and all that stuff. Some people take it quite seriously, but to be honest we were here for the craic. I can’t even be bothered to Google who won.

There is a limit to how many times you can watch people swimming in a ditch before it gets old though, so once we ran out of cider and sandwiches we headed for the bar. There was a little area with stalls selling t-shirts, cakes, tooth rotting sugary sweets and general nick nacks. We have some bara-brith and buy a coffee that was far nicer than we had any right to expect from a bloke on a bike in the middle of a bog. We pay by card, just so we can say we bought a cappuccino in a bog and paid by card. Unfortunately, the QR code link to his ‘trust pilot’ website was not working.

We grab a pint of perry, a can of gin and tonic and sit in the shade moaning about the jazz band that was entertaining the masses. They weren’t particularly bad at what they were doing, we were just not in the mood for lounge jazz. At least they weren’t the ‘fire in a pet shop’ type jazz fusion art wank.

After a while we head down to watch the ‘Husband Dragging’; which basically involved women dragging fellas down a slippery slope, before the men have to change a nappy on a baby doll, do the dishes and hang out some washing. They are then dragged back up the slippery slope where they had to pour a pint of beer and bolt it. This is obviously timed and there will be winner at the end of the day. I don’t think they take it seriously enough to have world records though.

Overall, jolly good fun is had by all. Although it is famous enough to attract contestants from all over the world, it is obscure enough to not be overrun by huge crowds. I get the impression that whilst many people have heard of it, they don’t really believe it is really a thing. Trust me folks, it really does happen, and it is worth checking out at least once.

Sensing that time is getting on and there might be a big rush for the last shuttle bus, we stand politely and wait for it to arrive. When it does arrive, there is a new driver. Sideshow Bob. He takes a diversion through a ford, rather than drive over the bridge, just for fun. He laughs and jokes with the kids up front and it is all very relaxed, we soon find ourselves deposited back at the campsite.

After a bit of a chill, we walk back into town and head for the pub. First stop is the Neuadd Arms, which is busy. Very busy. As we arrive a waitress is wandering around the car park with a plate of food, not really knowing who had ordered it. The staff are pleasant enough but struggle to keep up. They have a nice selection of ciders and I opt for Brown’s Apple – our old favourite from the Green Gathering. We also order food.

We sit out front watching the word go by. We have Swedes to our right and a rowdy bunch of young guys in front of us. We disagree over whether they are German or Dutch, till we overhear one of them tell someone they are Belgian.

We notice several classic cars in the car park and chat about dream cars. We chat about all sorts of things, whilst we watch this poor young girl wandering around with various plates of food not having a clue who ordered them. None of them appear to be ours. Eventually we have to go in and ask where out food is, apparently it is on a hot plate because the waitress could not find us.

Despite their lack of organisation and absence of any sort of table numbering system that is used in every other pub I have been to; I find it a charming little pub and will not doubt go back at a less busy time. It is, after all, the World bog Snorkelling Championships weekend, probably the busiest night of their year. Not many pubs can say that!

After a while we decide to move on to the Bell Vue Hotel just up the road. The pub is a little more modern than the Neuadd, having had a refurbishment in recent years. It is a lot quieter though and we are easily served – although their selection of ciders is not quite as good. I’m guessing, but this appears to be a pub frequented more by locals than tourists.

Eventually we head back to the campsite – along a road that is frankly pitch black, and then onto the site itself, which has no lighting at all. It means we have to rely on the torch on my phone to find the van but – wow, what a sky. The lack of lights make the stars really pop.  We sit and just stare for a while, before hitting the sack.

In summary, bog snorkelling is a bit mad. It is done by people who are a little bit mad and nobody really takes it seriously. It takes place far from the madding crowd, a place where everyone is friendly, up for a laugh – and a little bit mad. And I like that. We all need a little bit of madness in our lives.