On the 25th of February 2008, on a cold bright morning, I visited the village of Hallaton in Leicestershire. I was told to expect something strange. A field full of violent people, small kegs of beer called ‘bottles’ and man with a rabbit on a stick were also mentioned.
How could I not go?
They were nearly right. The man actually had a hare on a pole.
Local folk law states that long ago two ladies of Hallaton were saved from a raging bull when a startled hare distracted it from it’s charge. Thinking this an act of God they donated money to the church so that every Easter Monday the Vicar would provide hare pie, twelve penny loves and more importantly, two barrels of beer for the poor of the village.
The villages would fight for the food and beer and on one occasion the residents of the bordering village of Medbourne joined in the chaos and stole the beer. The village rivalry continues to this day.
It is also possible that the custom dates back to the Pagan ritual of sacrificing hares to the goddess Eostre.
Bottle Kicking in it’s present form has been and annual event for over 200 years and has occurred yearly apart from in 2001 where the national foot and mouth scare canceled many rural activities traditions and sports.
Once a hill outside the village is reached (Hare Pie Bank) the chopped pie is thrown to the onlookers and shortly after, the chaos begins.
There are hardly any rules to Bottle Kicking. Each barrel is thrown in the air three times and then all hell breaks loose.
The emergency services were on hand with more than one ambulance and I saw people carried off bleeding and broken.
It still appeared that all were smiling in some strange way.. A nervous, insane kind of smile as a rallying cry would cause another serge. If you were lucky you caught a glimpse of a barrel, deep in the scrum through a forest of muddy-bloody legs.
I did my best to get as close to the action as I could armed with my precious tech. That said, my trousers were torn and muddied, i took an elbow to the eye socket and lost a lens hood in the fray.
If i were to visit again it would be with some kind of body mounted camera, filming the shouts and screams along with the action. I would probably also join the locals in having a few numbing beers before leaping into the scrum.
The whole spectacle is watched by families friends and the injured. Ales in hand, cheering madly. In the distance over one of the winning line streams on the next hill, more spectators can bee seen in the pub. Staying clean, dry and drunk. There is also the possibility I will be there next year. With a long lens.
The game was won by Hallaton. Everyone was happy. Some were bruised, most were drunk.
Who wants to join me next year.. with or without cameras?