The Strathpeffer Poetry Contest

The whole world knows about the Limerick, a five line poem with a rhyming scheme of a,a,b,b,a. Fewer people have heard about the Strathpeffer, which is an eleven line poem with the rhyming scheme a, b, c, d, a, b, e, e, c, d, e. The Strathpeffer Poetry contest was founded in 1897 to make this poetry form known to a wider audience.

In this contest two schoolchildren are both asked to think of a number between one and 78. These two numbers are multiplied together and then a local Shakespeare historian, Dr Campbell Snoddy MacKenzie, finds that line number in MacBeth, who was born in the town. This line is then used as the first line of the Strathpeffer. For example Dr Snoddy MacKenzie might select the line

But screw your courage to the sticking place,

The contestants would then have to compose their Strathpeffer within fifteen minutes of the line being read out:

For example when the above line was read out by Dr Snoddy MacKenzie in 1968 the winner was a Mrs Doris McGonagall of Dundee who wrote:

But screw your courage to the sticking place,

You know it needs an airing,

I will place mine up there too

And see how they get on

But this isn’t a race

We will be sharing

And we will enjoy the sun

It will be fun

To see the sky so blue

Hoots mon

We’ll even go for a run.


The only rules in the contest are that the poem must not contain any reference to “The Scottish Play” and must not contain any swear words. Poems that refer to “English Bastards,” Bannockburn, or Stirling Bridge will get higher marks.


The only person to have won the contest more than once was Dr Hugh ‘Sporran’ MacDonald who won three times in a row from 1953 – 1955. Sporran was rewarded for weaving extravagant rhymes into his Strathpeffers for words such as Sassenach, Highland Clearances, and Prestonpans. Sporran made his Strathpeffers virulently anti-English, which went down well with the judges at least until 1956 when he rhymed ‘might and main’ with ‘jugular vein’ and was banned for life for parodying William McGonagall.

This is an extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions by Julian Worker

Published by Julian Worker

Julian was born in Leicester, attended school in Yorkshire, and university in Liverpool. He has been to 94 countries and territories and intends to make the 100 when travel is easier. He writes travel books, murder / mysteries and absurd fiction. His sense of humour is distilled from The Marx Brothers, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Midsomer Murders. His latest book is about a Buddhist cat who tries to help his squirrel friend fly further from a children's slide.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: