THE British are well known for being eccentric. Building a garden shed, adding wheels and an engine so that it can break a land-speed record by going over 100mph is, at the very least, eccentric.

You don’t have to go far to find an eccentric and whatever period of history you choose there’ll be someone who’s done something so bizarre you’ll think it was just a made-up story.

The shed doing more than 100mph is not made up, it was a world record for a shed on wheels set on the Pendine sands in South Wales just last week.

Pendine sands is a glorious beach, part of Carmarthen Bay, that measures seven miles. A perfectly flat stretch of sand. Pendine has seen many land-speed records, most notably by Malcolm Campbell who, on September 25th 1924 set a world land speed record of 146.16 mph (235.22 km/h) in his famous car Blue Bird.

In the early 1900s it hosted car and motorbike races. It was also use as an artillery test range for the MOD during and after the Second World War and there are warning notices of potential unexploded ordinance in certain areas.

Eccentricity is a difficult thing to define – is it to do with individuality? Passion? Or something more serious? Take Lionel Walter Rothschild, the second Baron Rothschild, not only did he ride a giant tortoise, he also had a carriage pulled by four zebras that he once drove to Buckingham Palace.

He was a zoologist rather than a banker who, much to the disappointment of the famous Rothschild banking family, opened a museum in 1892.

His vast collection and museum was eventually taken over by what is now the Natural History Museum.

For some reason British eccentrics have an affinity for the exotic. William Buckland, a 19th Century geologist, delighted in eating as many different species of animal as he could, from panthers to tortoises and porpoises.

In one unverified incident, it’s claimed that he gobbled up the dried, preserved heart of a French King, said to be Louis XIV. Of the things he ate, he claimed that his worst tasting meals were bluebottles and moles.

Buckland was still a serious scientist however and wrote the first full description of a dinosaur, the Megalosaurus. The description captivated Charles Dickens who incorporated it into the opening chapter of Bleak House.

He described the cold, wet November weather exclaiming “would it not be wonderful to meet Megalosaurus, 40 feet long or so waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.”

Female eccentrics are far fewer on the ground. One of the most famous was poet Dame Edith Sitwell who died in 1964. She was famous for her avant-garde fashion sense, with her signature turbans, crushed velvet clothing and a plethora of large rings.

It may be the case that her eccentricity was, in part, inherited. Her father, Sir George Sitwell, designed and built a small revolver to shoot wasps. It didn’t catch on and wasn’t at all successful. I suspect a rolled-up Argus would have a better kill rate.

Eccentric does not have to mean weird and wacky. Anything “away from the centre” (the root of the word eccentric) or something that we would say is not normal or ordinary can be eccentric.

The idea of a vessel that just hovers above the water, propelled by a fan was not thought to be normal or ordinary, yet the hovercraft, invented by Sir Christopher Cockerell, revolutionised cross channel ferry services.

Cockerell’s original working model was made from a vacuum cleaner and two tin cans. He tried to interest the military who refused to fund a prototype, but they classified his plans as “top secret” thus preventing him finding commercial sponsorship.

Eventually his work was declassified and in 1955 the first prototype hovercraft was launched. The problem with the hovercraft was noise and a limited capacity. Once larger ferries and the Channel tunnel opened, the fate of the hovercraft was sealed. In 2000 the Dover to Calais service was terminated.

One local event that attracts not just British eccentrics but eccentrics from around the world, is the International Birdman Competition which began in Selsey in 1971. It moved to Bognor before relocating to Worthing from 2008 to 2015.

Luckily, it has returned to Bognor. The Birdman event is mostly for fun, with people jumping off the pier trying to fly using only human powered craft.

From rolling and chasing cheese wheels down hillsides, racing with sacks of coal, gravy wrestling, black pudding throwing or pulling funny faces that make you look like a bulldog chewing a bag of wasps in the ancient “art” of gurning, there’s no shortage of eccentric things to do.