The World Worm Charming Championships

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Of all the world championships for eccentric hobbies and “sports,” the World Worm Charming Championships may be the obscurest of all. Worm charming, also called “worm grunting” and “worm fiddling,” is not exactly a widely practiced activity – in fact, most people have never even heard of worm charming – so the fact that there is a world championship for worm grunting (not just, say, the occasional neighborhood worm charm off) should come as a bit of a surprise. On the other hand, humans are a competitive beast, so we suppose that for any activity that can be made competitive there will be competitions, and for any competitions for which there is enough enthusiasm there will be world championships. And hence the World Worm Charming Championships.

We first wrote about worm charming when a reader asked us about a specific tool for worm grunting. We had heard of worm charming before – we are all about worms, after all – but it was in writing this article that we were introduced to the specifics of the activity. Although the different terms for worm charming are used more or less interchangeably, at least by the common folk, the methods for worm grunting and worm fiddling are slightly different. The basic act of enticing worms via vibration out of the ground is covered by the general term “worm charming,” however. (If you care to know more about what actually constitutes worm charming, we encourage you to read the articled link to above. At present, we are concerned with the World Championships.)

The World Worm Charming Championships started in 1980 in Willaston, which is near Nantwich, Cheshire, a county in North West England. The championship has been held there ever since. At the first world championship, the world record for worm charming was set by Tom Shufflebotham, who managed to charm 511 worms out of a three-square-yard plot in a half an hour. For nearly three decades it appeared that the high water mark of competitive worm charming had been set at its inception, but in 2009 the record was broken by a couple who charmed 567 worms from their plot. In case you are wondering how two people could set the record, the rules of the competition allow for a worm charmer to appoint what is known as a “Gille,” a person who can collect and handle the worms that are brought out of the ground.

And speaking of the rules of the world championships, there are 18 in total that cover seemingly everything a competitor might be keen to know. (As a highly interesting side note, the rules have been translated into an astonishing 30 languages. Some of these translations are to be expected for regional reasons – hence the Welsh and Gaelic editions – and others are in major languages, like Spanish and Chinese, but the fact that there is a Tibetan version is simply incredible.) The rules cover the basic parameters of the competition, such as the fact that you are allotted a 3×3 meter plot (the meter measurement replaced yards years ago) and that you have 30 minutes starting at “about 2pm” to charm as many worms out of the ground as possible. The rules also spell out what is permissible in competition and what is not. So, for instance, the rules spell out that charming tools (generally a four-prong garden fork) can only vibrated by “manual means,” and that no “drugs” (which includes water) can be used to entice warms out of the ground. Basically, the rules are pretty strict and precise.

The World Worm Charming Championships might not be the Super Bowl, but it’s a well-regulated event that certainly means a lot to the worm charming community. It is evidently quite successful too, considering it has been held annually for over 30 years. We’ll sign off by sending our congratulations to Ellie-Jay Morris and Steve Palmer, the most recent winners of the competition, and we wish next year’s contestants the best of luck.


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