Wednesday, 6 May 2009

TO SEE THE MAY DAY IN............

...............The alarm clock was set for 3am to give us plenty of time to wake up fully, eat and then dive into the depths of the Dorset countryside. It is May Day and, without any undue fuss, all over the country folk will be rising early to see in the dawn on the first day of summer. It is a tradition, once strong in these isles, which has largely died out-but is still alive and kicking (literally, once the Morris Dancers get going!) in most, if not all, counties. The Durogantes are heading towards Cerne Abbas to join in the celebrations there simply because it involves climbing up a bloody great big hill in order to do so. As we leave our garret at 4am the seagulls which usually wake us up at 5am screech and squawk at us in dismay: having got themselves into the routine of pissing us off two hours before we would prefer to be awake, this early rising has taken them by surprise. Gleefully we stick two fingers up at them to show our adversaries contempt in our small victory.

Cerne Abbas sits in the Valley of the River Cerne and is known worldwide for the 180 foot high carving on Trendle Hill above the village. The origin of this carving is unclear (and therefore the subject of much conjecture and debate) but it is not only impressive it is wonderfully explicit-that it has survived at all is a minor miracle given that society has a problem with human genitals displayed in public. The carving is commonly known as 'The Cerne Abbas Giant' but whether its creators intended to portray a giant or a large scale figure of an ordinary mortal is, again, unknown. Theories on who the figure is supposed to represent include, in no particular order, a Danish giant (who was leading an invasion and who was beheaded by the people of Cerne as he slept on the hill), the Roman God Hercules, Oliver Cromwell, an Abbott called Thomas Corton or a Pagan Fertility Symbol. All of these are feasible but let's hope the answer is never found, there being a certain appeal in some things remaining a mystery.

Above the carving, at the top of the hill, is an enclosure known as the Trendle the origins of which once again are uncertain (are you starting to get the impression that the good folk of Cerne enjoyed a bit of secrecy or two ?) Some say it is a small iron age earthwork while others insist it was not created until the 1700s as a spot to place the village maypole. Whatever the truth of it, today a small group of folk are making the arduous climb up to the Trendle half of whom have bells attached to their legs-the Wessex Morris Men. They are a much maligned breed, the countrys Morris Dancers, but only by those who are equally unable to cope with anybody doing anything out of the ordinary.

High on the hill the fog which has been forecast for shortly after dawn is only manifesting itself in the occasional wisp. In the growing light the view is spectacular, taking in the valley below and the hills in the distance. Everybody is out of breath after the climb especialy the bloke who has carried the Dorset Ooser up to take part in the celebrations for it is no small bit of kit. This mask, representing the Horned God Cernnunes, has been part of local folklore for many centuries. As another name for the Horned God is Cerne his appearance here each May Day is possibly highly appropriate - though if there is any connection between the Horned God and the name of the village we've no doubt that it is a local secret.

Now to the dancing and the stars of the show-the Wessex Morris Men. Even at 05.15 and after climbing the bloody big hill there are great elements of humour, entertainment and energy with their dancing in the dawn-the po-faced traditionalists of modern perception they certainly aint! Besides the dancers themselves there are about twenty or so folk like ourselves who have come as spectators, both to the dancers and the sunrise, but you know that even if nobody came to watch these guys would still be up here having fun. As with most, if not all, Morris sides the Wessex Morris Men have a Fool-a character dressed in a smock and carrying an inflated pigs bladder tied to the end of a short stick. This latter he uses to beat any of the dancers not keeping to the correct steps and also to keep the spectators in line. We noticed that this guy is obviously somewhat older than the rest of the side but it was not until we checked out their website that we discovered he was one of the founders of the Wessex Morris Men. As this was back in 1957 it would put his age now into his 70's-and still fit enough to dance energetically after climbing up a bloody big hill before dawn. Hats of to Jim!

Getting down the hill is a lot harder work than getting up, the steepness combines with the slipperyness, but thoughts of a fry-up overrides all else and sees us down without mis-hap. To add to the mornings' fun a Hare popped out of a field at the side of the road, gave us a friendly wink and disappeard back from where it had come. It was as if it had been waiting for us, the Spirit of the Fields. Following breakfast we head for Glastonbury and by 9am we are sat on the Tor-our second bloody big hill of the day and well worth it to sit and look out over Somerset under a clear blue sky. Then off to the cheese farm to pick up the Masters posh cheese (see earlier post 'Glastonbury and Cheese'. It will not enlighten you much as to why we do this but it will show that this behaviour is not out of character for us) The rest of the day we spend relaxing in the town, watching the world go by and the pageantry taking place in the market square; which involves more dancing, the crowning of the May King and Queen, music and folk stopping work for a day to take part: Glastonbury certainly knows how to celebrate! As a special treat to ourselves, on our way home we stop off at Heck's the Scrumpy farm for a couple of gallons of their finest straight out of the barrel. Summer has arrived.

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