All England Stone Skimming Championships at Fell Foot

A young boy holding a flat stone ready to skim it

One of the quirkiest championships in English sport takes place on Lake Windermere on Saturday August 20, when the All England Open Stone Skimming Championships make a splash on England’s biggest lake.

‘Big gun’ competitors who view this event as the highlight of their year are already practising hard, throwing stones in such a way as to abide by the rules of having the stone skip across the water at least three times, keeping within a lane.  After that, it’s all about the distance and the ‘regulars’ – mainly contestants in the men’s competition – certainly record impressive distances.

But regular stone skimmers can be as erratic as javelin throwers and, if not on form, can lose to anyone capable of skimming a fair distance, particularly if the weather conditions are iffy. That has been proved several times in the past, with complete unknowns arriving and upsetting the apple cart, by being crowned All England Open Stone Skimming Champion.

The beauty of the All England Stone Skimming championships is that absolutely anyone can enter, whether they are a schoolchild, a busy mum having me-time at the weekend, or dads and lads.  There are separate competitions for men, women, under 11s and 11-16 years, as well as a team competition ideal for families, groups of friends, or colleagues.

The other huge thing about the event is that it is the country’s official championship, so the winners’ names enter the official record books.  You can literally leave the office on a Friday and return as an English sporting champion on a Monday!

Entry costs £3 for an adult, £1 for a child and £10 for a team, with proceeds going to the organiser – South Cumbria Rivers Trust – which runs the championships to raise money for vital conservation work in and around the rivers of the South Lakes.

For each entry fee paid, entrants receive three stones to skim.  They then take to the stone skimmer’s equivalent of the oche and chance their arm, hoping for the all-important three skips on the lake and a nice long throw within the ‘ropes’ that mark out the lane.  Do that, and they will receive the applause of the spectators on the lake path.  Mess it up and they will understand the hilarity that surrounds this have-a-go sport.

Overseeing the contest, as usual, will be Julius Barratt, a trustee of the South Cumbria Rivers Trust. He will be approaching this year’s competition with a fresh pair of eyes, having been asked to officiate at the first ever Guinness World Record distance-based stone skim, as a Deputy Chief Steward.   The GWR attempt took place in Wales and the very first record was set by Scotsman, Dougie Isaacs, who skimmed a distance of 107.4 metres – one far beyond anything seen on Windermere thus far.

Julius Barratt says: “Cometh the stone skimming, cometh the man.  Something happens when people get a stone in their hand and see an expanse of water ahead of them and it is a truly addictive pastime, as well as sport. 

“The great thing about the championships is that literally anyone can win and we’re holding out for a new hero this year. Although there are a set of contestants who take it quite seriously, there are hidden stars in our midst – men and women who learned to skim as kids and are really very good at it.  We also see some exceptionally good children, who have learned the art of skimming from their parents, which is a wonderful thing to see.  Stone skimming is very much about the family and it is a charming thing to do with the kids, whilst unwinding by the sea, by a river, or especially on a calm and even lake.  Anyone who has a go will soon find why it is a pastime rooted in the hearts of very many people.”

The All England Open Stone Skimming Championships will run from 11am to 4pm on Saturday August 20, at the National Trust’s Fell Foot Park, at the foot of Windermere near Newby Bridge.  Contestants can just turn up and register.  Some prizes, as well as titles, will be awarded.