Castleton Garland day 2011

Castleton Garland day 2011There’s something pretty humbling about watching a piece of history played out before your eyes. Just knowing that this enchanting custom has been carried out for hundreds of years (most likely having its roots in Pagan fertility rituals), and imagining all those who have taken part over time is quite overwhelming.

Castleton Garland day is as quaintly and quirkily English as they come. The “Garland King” in Stuart dress, having been completely obscured by a large flower arrangement (the Garland), rides around this historical village in Derbyshire, accompanied by his Queen, a brass band and some floral dancers.

Castleton Garland day 2011Having stopped at every pub along the way for a performance (and some ale refreshment!), they arrive at the church where the King is relieved of his burden. The heavy flower tower is hoisted off his shoulders and up the church tower on a bell rope where is is positioned on the central spire and left to wither. Then everyone gathers at the maypole for some traditional (if slightly reluctant) maypole dancing by the floral dancers (well it had been a long day and it had started to rain a little).

Some things have changed over time (the original Queen was traditionally a man in drag and previous to Oak Apple day’s existence in the 1500s the costume would most likely have been of the time), but the essence is the same. Its a celebration for the people of Castleton by the people of Castleton, something they have been doing for hundreds of years and will continue until the end of time. Its not that tourists and out of towners are not welcome necessarily, perhaps they just don’t know about it, or maybe this year it was the pretty relentless rain earlier in the day that kept the masses away.

Castleton Garland day 2011Perhaps the thing that makes it so uniquely English though, is it’s slight air of shabby charm. You can’t get a good photograph without a luminous yellow jacket (good old British health and safety at all times!), or an official in a blue anorak getting in the way. The dancing flower girls, enchanting though they were, had an air of not having had a lot of practice at this Maypole malarky, but despite last minute instructions from primary school teachers (“no, Victoria, you go UNDER Kylie, not OVER her to start with”) in their brown school trouser suits (surely they could have at least found a floral dress for the day?), there were no terrible tangles to unweave.

Maypole dancing, Castelton Garland dayThe Garland day is held on Oak Apple day (May 29th) every year unless it falls on a Sunday (like this year) when it is held either on the Saturday or Spring Bank holiday Monday.

With the ancient castle ruins, craggy rocks and gaping caverns on the green hills behind, you feel like you have set foot in a magical land of goblins and elves (or maybe a stage set for Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or a Narnia film). Castelton is a great day out even without this historic event is not going on. Overlooked by the 1,696 ft Mam Tor peak and the Norman keep of Peveril Castle, Castleton is an oldy world town packed with numerous caverns to explore,  historic pubs to enjoy great British food and quaint shops to wander round.

All in all a great day out!

Watch the Castleton Garland Day video on Youtube
See the rest of the Castleton Garland Day pictures on Flickr
Find out about Oak Apple day

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