That woman from Worzel Gummidge?
No, not her. Aunt Sally is a traditional throwing game that's played locally in Oxfordshire and surrounding counties. Some say it was invented by bored soldiers of King Charles' Cavaliers in Oxford's Port Meadow, during the Civil War. Others don't agree. The wonderful Trad Games website has a wealth of information and speculation on the origins of the game.
How do you play?
A vaguely lightbulb-shaped white skittle, the 'dolly', is placed atop a metal plinth, on a metre-high rod known as the 'iron'. Each player has six 'sticks', wooden batons around 18 inches long. From 10 metres away, players throw their sticks (underarm!), with the aim of knocking the dolly off the iron, without touching anything else first.
Knock it off without your stick hitting the iron first, and you've scored one doll. Hit the iron first, shout "iron!" and berate yourself tirelessly, before everyone else does.
'Competitive' Aunt Sally
Aunt Sally teams are made up of eight players, and teams play against each other with the aim of scoring more dolls than their opponents. All of the players from one team throw their sticks in turn, followed by all 8 of the other team. The winner of the leg is the team with the most dolls scored in total. Matches are best of three legs.
The Oxford & District Aunt Sally Association league runs from late April/early May to September, and is split into separate sections (currently up to 10 teams in each of 10 sections), graded by the quality of the teams' players. Teams are made up of players from pubs, members' clubs and community centres.
Games are played on Wednesday evenings, with each team in the league playing each other twice, at home and away, over the course of the season. There are also a number of separate competitions - singles, pairs, fours and the like - that run alongside the league.
As with darts and other pub sports, an Aunt Sally league match ends with an all-important 'beer leg' - often, the team's 'reserve' players might get a go - the winners of which buy the opposing team a drink. This is followed by a helping of whatever food the home team's hosts have served up, which could be anything from soggy microwaved mini pizzas to homemade curry and chips. "How was the food?" is normally the first question the away team will be asked when they return to their home pub, sharply followed by "Did you lose again?"
Where can I see Aunt Sally being played?
There's nothing better than going along to watch a league match to get a proper idea of how the game works. Teams will vary hugely in the quality of their players, with the top few sections taking the games far more seriously than lower down the leagues. It's only a game, though, and you'll hear jovial mickey-taking for a 'blob' (failing to score at all in your six throws) from the bottom to the top. 'Blobbers', who manage to avoid hitting a single doll from their 18 attempts, are named and shamed in the local newspaper, and 'sixers' are covered in glory for their 6/6 haul.
Below is a list of pubs, clubs and community centres that have Aunt Sally throws - most of them have competitive teams that play in the league.
Some venues will be open to visitors having a go, and may have sticks and practice dolls for you to borrow (not on Wednesday evenings, obviously!). Others may only open the throw for league games, or be social clubs that require membership, so be sure to call ahead if you're planning to have a throw yourself!