Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival

First festie of the year at Whittlesey near Peterborough. A man dresses as a bear using 5 stone of the finest straw, then dances through town (3 times - different routes), then the bear is burnt the next day (minus the dancer) to celebrate the New Year. These days the procession is accompanied by all sorts of Morris dancers (over 40 sides this year) and there are folk concerts and ceilidhs in the evenings and at lunchtime, also a couple of baby Straw Bears, I'm guessing inhabited by local schoolboys! There is also a blessing of the plough held at the local church.
We arrived on Friday night to attend the folk concert, which included Flossie Malavialle, whose powerful voice and quirky sense of humour had impressed me at Fareham and Gosport Folk Festival. She sang in both English and French, the French songs including Edith Piaf and Jaques Brel numbers, the English ones including Janis Joplin, as well as her own emotive material. She went dowm a storm with Patrick and the crowd at Whittlesey - the men in particular I'm guessing!
I recognised Pig Dyke Molly and the Ironmen (a Border side) from previous festivals. I took lots of photos of Pig Dyke Molly as their costumes are amazing and their dances are superb - almost like ballet. The Ironmen were very loud and fierce, frightening a small Molly in the audience. Their "My Uncle Billy" song probably didn't endear them to parents of small children either ;-) The Witchmen were another very entertaining Border side, nice spooky music and impressive dances. Ramrugge and Persephone clog teams were also very interesting - both danced with real bobbins presumably from defunct cotton mills.
Some liken Whittlesea Straw Bear to a pagan pub crawl, as all the Morris sides were scheduled to dance in the local pubs as well. Whittlesey is blessed with a large number of pubs - my favourite was the oddly named Letter B in which some teams were brave enough to do Rapper dancing (very fast sword dancing). However the best beer of the festival had to be the Fenland brewery's Straw Bear ale as served in the Ivy Leaf Club - delicious! Must look out for Fenland beers again.
Of course, as we were staying in Peterborough, I ouldn't resist dragging Patrick to the Oakham Brewery Tap (under threat - please support it!) and also Charters, which I thought must surely impress my man, being a very large Dutch barge with a real ale bar on the bottom floor and a Chinese restaurant on the top floor.
All in all a very interesting and relaxing weekend!

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