Thursday, 3 May 2018

May Day madness

When I was a child, my parents used to take me every year to the May Festival in Wellow, Nottinghamshire, near where we lived. I used to adore it, watching children dancing around the maypole, the procession and crowning of the May Queen and all the sideshows and stalls associated with the fair. I always remember it being sunny and warm too! (I'm sure it wasn't always.)

It was with some delight therefore that I discovered that the market town of Otley, some ten miles from Saltaire, was having maypole dancing on May 1st.  It has been a tradition in this country for many hundreds of years to celebrate the pagan festival of Beltane, a farewell to winter and a celebration of things coming to life again in spring. Many towns and villages used to have maypoles and some remain, whilst others are reviving the tradition. The Otley celebration was organised by the Buttercross Belles, a ladies North-West Morris Dancing side based in Otley.

It was all very good-natured, with children encouraged to join in. The end result of ribbons wrapped round the pole was not very precise! My childhood memories are of costumed and highly trained dancers making very neat patterns with the ribbons, the patterns varying depending on the steps of the dance. But who cared about neatness? It was fun.

Towards the end, the professionals did have a go and the result was a rather neater pattern, as you can see below. Of course, once the ribbons are plaited round the pole, the dancers have to do the same dance in reverse to unplait them again. That is even more difficult.

I found the occasion surprisingly moving; lots of memories came flooding back. The only thing that wasn't quite fitting was the weather. Although thankfully dry, it was absolutely freezing cold, with the temperature more akin to November than May Day!


  1. Aha! I spot some Wayzgoose Morris Dancers!
    I once tried to do some maypole dancing at the school where I worked. As most of the dancers were in wheelchairs, while others were autistic with their own ideas of where they should go, the result was much less artistic than yours. Never mind, as long as everyone enjoys themselves what does it matter.

  2. An astounding thing happened in a German village. Whilst they were dancing the wooden Maypole snapped. The main trunk fell directly onto the head of a young woman and killed her. Her husband and three children are being treated for shock. I find this so sad, on such a carefree day.

  3. So fun, though the dancers were probably the only ones keeping warm! Goodness, that comment by Peter is surprising and sad. And I've never heard of an "unwinding" of the ribbons...but of course if several dances are to be done it might be needed. They take a while though. Your white pole looks pretty sturdy, and sets off the colorful ribbons nicely.

  4. It's a tradition that doesn't seem to have carried over into the New World.

  5. That looks like great fun especially for the kids!

  6. Happy May!
    Great photos and fun

  7. This looks like a celebration I should put on my bucket list. Very colorful!


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