The Wasdale Valley, in the County of Cumbria, is an area known for setting records. It has the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike, the deepest lake, Wastwater, the smallest church … and the world’s biggest liar. And if anyone wonders how the biggest liar in the world can be verified, there is an annual competition for telling lies. Everyone is welcome to lie, and if you lie well, you might win the prize of the World’s Biggest Liar of the year. (Oh, and politicians and lawyers are not permitted to compete as they are considered too proficient in lying.) It all goes back to the landlord of a pub in Wasdale in the 19th century.
Will Ritson was a farmer, skilled in shepherding, hunting, and angling, known for his eloquence, humor, and most of all for his great skill at telling tall stories. That’s what made him famous all over the country. His popularity grew when Ritson opened the Bridge Inn together with his wife, Dinah. He entertained the audience in the pub with amazing stories. Although he became known as the best liar around, he always thought of himself as exaggerating facts rather than inventing them.
Will Ritson and his incredible stories went from being a quirky local who entertained all with telling stories about the place and local people to being a tourist attraction–people started coming to the Bridge Inn just to hear some of the Will’s stories. One of his most famous “tall tales” was the one about the turnips. He told people that the turnips in Wasdale Valley were so big that the locals carved them into cow sheds.
Nowadays there is a competition held annually at the Bridge Inn at Santon Bridge, the same pub that belonged to Will Ritson two centuries ago. So, for one day in November each year, anyone can win the prize of the biggest liar in the world just by telling the most incredible story that can be relayed in five minutes. The competition is held in memory of “Auld Will,” who is known today as the ultimate liar in the world.
It is worth visiting the Bridge Inn in November just to hear how the Lake District was formed by moles and eels rather than volcanoes or ice. Or to hear of a great hero who, before coming to the contest, sank a Nazi submarine with skimming stones and built Hadrian’s Wall on the same day. Or the story of the three-times-winner Mike Naylor, better known as Monkey Liar, about how he cut himself while shaving with a razor blade and was called into Buckingham Palace because doctors found out he had royal blood. That story brought him his fourth victory at the competition in 2016.
And the Monkey Liar is not the ultimate winner at the competition. John “Johnny Liar” Graham is far ahead with seven victories in the tournament so far. John Graham is a local farmer who in 2006 impressed the eight judges at Bridge Inn with his story about a giant cod which he caught by hitting it with a barrel of bitter. The next year he won for the sixth time with his story about a German submarine that invaded Britain to capture digital television decoders. In 2008 he won again by telling about his magical ride to Scotland under the sea. In a wheelie bin!
In 2003, there was a tight competition between the South African Abrie Krueger and the Bishop of Carlisle. Krueger won the title of world’s biggest liar, although the bishop told the shortest story: “I have never told a lie in my life.” Krueger’s story was about his coronation as King of the Wasdale Valley. This was the first time in the history of the competition when a foreigner told a better lie than the locals. And in 2006, the comedian Sue Perkins won by telling the audience that ice caps melted because the ozone layer was damaged and people had to get to work by camel. It was the first time that a woman won the contest.
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So, if you have the chance to visit the Bridge Inn in Cumbria this or any other November, you can hear for yourself the “biggest lies” in the world being told.