Well ‘Dawned’ is the wrong word since on waking up, late, because the main alarm didn’t go off, I discovered that it was chucking it down. Needless to say after a family meal the night before I had done nothing to get ready for the revelry part of Beltane, planning on getting out at four and collecting greenery for a chaplet. So out into the dark and very cold morning, with a torch, offerings, and half wondering if it was actually going to be worth standing around in the cold and wet watching the dancing…….. yeah must have been early to have those kind of thoughts!
Then the normal and very mundane rush of someone late, getting ready in less than half an hour, house wrecked as I charged through collecting supplies and changing plans on what to wear (serviceable jeans and wellies, which goes really well with a flower chaplet, I’ve found..!) Plans to meet a friend at five were never going to happen since it was five before I could leave. Fired up the car, shot out of the gate and away. By the time I left, the darkness had lessened to a dull grey preceeding actual dawn, practical issues of getting there aside, with the increasing light so came increasing excitment. Arriving at the park it was noticeably warmer and dryer than at home, we locals maintain that the village has it’s own weather system, normally two degrees colder, by comparison Ampthill was quite balmy!
It was still before sunrise, the lightening sky giving a hazy almost purple light, it’s only a short walk from the car park to the dance area, by Katherine’s Cross (for one of Henry vii’s wives , Katherine of Aragorn who lived in the local castle for a while) hoping I wasn’t too late to see morris side Hemlock, march in from the woodland, led by a flaming beacon held aloft, with their Green Man capering in front. I just made it, as did my friend and her family, it was lovely to see them and have company as, predictably, the slightly odd apparition of a jeaned and wellied figure with a flower chaplet had illicited sarcastic comments from one group ‘oh yes I suppose it’s sort of pagan isn’t it” (no, really? what was your first clue?) and ‘well yes they’ll all be round stonehenge won’t they” (well yes but that’s more associated with the solstices…) I tell you, you need to have a thick skin to be openly Pagan sometimes! The same group, btw, were seen opening a bottle of bubbly and later I found the discarded cork..!
Hemlock’s arrival really set the scene, as always they marched out of the gloom, the distant bells, drums and whistles being the only clue that they had begun, out of the darkness, the tune so compelling, so ingrained in british culture and bones, a link to a history of folk dancing that means more than mere enjoyment, it’s Celebration, linking us back through time to those who first worked the land and cared for it. It’s tradition, we grew up hearing these tunes and learning to dance to them, and it’s symbolic of so much more than ‘just a dance’
(my apologies for the quality of both videos and pictures, the mobile camera really isn’t up to pre sunrise distant shots, and you can’t get too close to a Morris side or you’re likely to get whacked with a stick!
Redbornstoke got underway with the first dance.
Followed by the wonderful Hemlock. They danced an energetic first dance, to waken the Spirits, then their Green Man scattered blossoms Deosil around the Circle, and they called to the Spirits of the Land, of Summer and of the Dance. A magical moment! I love Redbornstoke for their tradition, but Hemlock are something else, from their rag tag black, purple and green motley, to their face paint (glitter, same colours in swirling spirals and stripes) to their energy and their sheer Spirituality.and genuineness, as my friend said ‘they’re Dancing for the right reasons, the Ancient Ones’ Morris dancing in it’s essence, is truly alive and well with this side!
My photos don’t do either side justice, nor the atmosphere as the still sleepy audience slowly woke up and focussed, smiled and tapped a foot. After the subdued start to the day the energies could really be felt as the light grew stronger, and although there was cloud cover we knew the sun was up. The audience were very mixed, I think probably about thirty or so to start with, it’s hard to tell as people sidle up whilst walking the dog (sometimes the lingering disdain for Morris that harks back to the eighties is still seen in a reluctance to actively say ‘I’ve come to watch’ as opposed to the british ‘oh well I was just passing, isn’t it nice’) stay to watch a dance or two then walk on. Some were openly enjoying it, others, tucked into thick scarves were more subdued but by the end pretty much everyone was smiling. Usually Redbornstoke and Hemlock join together to do a crowd participation dance, very simple, consisting of stepping four paces in to the centre of the Circle, clapping, stepping back, then ladies, then the gents. Then a bit of ‘circling’ or ‘chaos’ as I think it was.. It certainly was a welcome warmup and I was only sorry that they only did one dance like this (think last year there were two but the weather was much better)
Some more shots from the morning.
A pretty Maiden enjoying the dancing 🙂
Then it was back to the very pretty and historic Queen’s Head (Katherine again) for a full english breakfast. The chat was about the dancing, the turnout, who was going on to other May Day events, a good old chat with tea and coffee or something stronger thrown in, despite the fact it was only about half past seven in the morning!
Hemlock danced again outside the pub – ostensibly to ‘wake the neighbours up’ but a sharp landlord gets all the help he can get in this day and age and neighbours doesn’t mean human ones! Luckily I was outside and able to watch and get yet more pictures – with a bit more definition than the sunrise ones.
One single dance to stir the Spirits . a Toast, a jangling of bells, all tried and true ways of petitioning the spirits of Place and Land. Hemlock, you’re fooling no one lol.
Not with any particular plans for the rest of the day I decided to take a walk through the woodland in the park on the way back to the car, a truly magical choice as the lighting and the early summer green really added to the feel of the morning. My connections to the land, my path were renewed. The walk was a perfect way to leave the frenetic beltane energy of the Dance, the Other of the whirling steps and clashing sticks, calling up the Sun and echoing back over the ages, to the here and now, the energy of the wood, of the slower pace of the trees, of plants growing and seasons renewed. By now the clouds had cleared and the sun was shining full on the day. Warming skin and emotions. Mind you I was still wearing that chaplet (coz it’s a pain to carry) and by now the locals were up and about, as apparently were lots of not so locals who were headed to a dog show being held in the same park…. nonetheless I headed right through the middle of them and greeted everyone with an enthusiastic Happy Beltane or May Day depending…(bearing in mind, jeans, wellies…flowers. ribbons….) actually got chatting to a few people, funny how they’ll either talk to someone different and really engage, or they’ll refuse to make eye contact and find something fascinating on the path in front of them! I did of course take the opportunity to get some more photos hopefully showing a bit of the atmosphere and magic of the place.
The Wooded path
Oak and Holly interjoined, The everlasting dance between the two.
I went back to the dance area, deserted now, bar dog walkers and the occasional jogger, stood for a few minutes in the centre of the blossom Circle, made my own connections and personal devotionals, retrieved the cork! Thought a few uncharitable and decidedly un beltane things about those who had left it whilst being SO judgemental….then sat for a while to contemplate life looking out over the stunning view from the ridge that the park is on.
A view that sums up the area, mixing natural, manmade, eco, industrial.
I hope everyone had or is having a wonderful Beltane and that you are feeling renewed and energised by that powerful Beltane energy!!