Sallying forth in bid to reclaim Oxfordshire's sporting honour at Charlbury Beer Festival

The Oxford Times: Members of the Charlbury Beer Festival organising team, from left, Ed Fenton, Nick Millea, Valou Packenham-Walsh, Ed Wigzell and Stuart Parker Buy this photo Members of the Charlbury Beer Festival organising team, from left, Ed Fenton, Nick Millea, Valou Packenham-Walsh, Ed Wigzell and Stuart Parker

COUNTY pride will be at stake when an ancient game is contested at this weekend’s Charlbury Beer Festival.

Organisers are hoping an Oxfordshire competitor can finally claim the title of World Aunt Sally Singles Champion tomorrow on the fourth attempt, after three successive wins for Gloucestershire players.

The game – founded and played almost exclusively in Oxfordshire – is traditionally played in pubs and involves trying to knock a white head-shaped ‘dolly’ off a metal pole by throwing sticks at it.

Beer festival committee chairman Nick Millea said: “It’s traditionially viewed as an Oxfordshire game but the previous three winners have come from Gloucestershire.

“There’s a lot of local pride here because we haven’t had any success so far.

“We most definitely want to find an Oxfordshire winner this year.”

Aunt Sally – believed to have been started by Royalist soldiers throwing sticks at an ‘Oliver Cromwell’ target during the 17th century Siege of Oxford in the English Civil War – is usually contested by pub teams in Oxfordshire leagues.

Organisers of the beer festival turned it into an individual contest in 2011 and competitors from other counties, who play in Oxfordshire leagues, have crossed the border for the championship.

There will be a knockout tournament for 32 experienced competitors vying for the world title, as well as a contest for people who can play for the first time on the day.

Trevor Dyer, from Paxford, near Chipping Campden, won the inaugural competition and fellow villager Steve McAteer has taken home the trophy and £100 prize the past two years.

Mr Millea said: “It’s nice having a world championship and it does sound rather good.

“It brings a lot more people to the festival who probably wouldn’t normally come and is a good way of bringing everyone together.”

About 3,000 people are expected to attend the 17th beer festival, which will include 50 beers, as well as wines, ciders, perries and Pimm’s.

The theme is Cotswold Rail Ale and organisers took delivery of 10 barrels brought on a train from Herefordshire and Worcestershire to Charlbury last Saturday.

Mr Millea said: “It was quite exciting seeing all the beer coming in. The train came into the station and gave a very loud toot of the horn. We’ve never done anything like this before.”

Visitors can also enjoy morris dancing, live music, comedy, writing and poetry sessions and a talk by Willy Smax, who has produced music videos for artists including Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Take That.

  • The festival, which last year raised £20,000 for local charities, takes place at Charlbury Cricket Club, in Dyers Hill, opposite the town's railway station, from noon to 10pm. Entry costs £10 for beer drinkers, including a souvenir glass and drinks tokens, £5 for non-drinkers and is free for under-18s.

Rules of the game

AUNT Sally is a traditional Oxfordshire game, usually played by two teams of eight.

  • Players compete by trying to knock the ‘dolly’ – a ball or skittle – off a spike by throwing ‘sticks’ from 10 yards.
  • The aim is to knock the dolly off the spike without hitting the spike.
  • The modern rules see the game played over three legs.
  • Each player throws six sticks per leg. The team with the largest number of dolls scored wins each leg.
  • The game is thought to date back to the 17th century and may have been introduced by Royalist soldiers during the English Civil War when Charles I had moved his court from London to Oxford.
  • Traditionally, the game has been played in Oxfordshire pub gardens, with the ‘doll’ and spike originally a figurine of an old woman.
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