The long dark winter nights are nearly over, spring is on the horizon and it won’t be long before the clocks will be going forward. After a very cold snowy winter we can turn our thoughts to sunnier days and breaks away in our beautiful land. The advent of spring is a special event celebrated throughout the ages with festivals and traditions typically revolving around May Day providing numerous strikingly colourful spectacles across the country. Why not coincide your next cottage break with a local spring festival; with events available throughout Britain we are going to help you along and to take a look at a few our favourites.
5. Cheese Rolling and Wake, Coopers Hill, Gloucester
Whilst eccentricity seems to be the order of the day for springtime festivals, it is probably true to say that few can rival the cheese rolling spectacle at Coopers Hill near Brockworth in Gloucestershire. A Bank Holiday tradition, this event has a basic premise: chase a double Gloucester cheese down a hill and be the first across the finishing line. In reality this can be painful challenge which on occasion has seriously injured competitors though this somehow does not seem to put people off. As with many of our spring events, the origins of the annual cheese-rolling are disputed. Some suggest that the origins revolve around grazing rights whilst others cite a Pagan history which has evolved from rolling burning brushwood to symbolise the transition out of winter into a ‘new year’. Whatever the truth, this is a highly unusual challenge that now attracts competitors from throughout the world along with a large numbers of bemused onlookers.
4. Dathlu Calan Mai, Cardiff, Wales
Calan Mai (Calan Mai – translated means May Day) is a traditional Welsh celebration to welcome the onset of summer. The celebration is marked with bonfires in South Wales on ‘Mai Eve’ to unleash the spirits. In tandem with Calan Mai, Cardiff hosts a popular live music festival. This well established festival orientated around music and is now hosted at the Millennium Centre at Cardiff. Whilst a showcase for Welsh musicians, artists are attracted from all over the Celtic regions, including from Breton in France.
3. Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland
The hugely popular Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh is probably one of the most dramatic and theatrical spring festivals in the country. Celebrated on the last day of April every year, this recently revived ritualistic Celtic parade around Calton Hill brings together an exuberant cast of thousands of painted revellers. With musicians, performing artists accompanied by torch light which adds to the drama and spectacle, the Beltane Fire Festival is set against a backdrop of purity and positivity as the calendar shifts towards the summer months. Given the relative harshness of the Scottish winter, the sense of hubris and good spirit amongst the revellers is intoxicating. The drummers and dancers whip up the expectant and large crowds so it is well advised to plan in advance to get the optimum vantage point!
2. Green Man Festival, Clun, Shropshire
Spread across three days at the beginning if May, the unique and quirky Green Man festival in the Shropshire town of Clun is a throwback to a medieval celebration of fertility amidst the greater cycle of life, death and ultimately eternal renewal. Set against the picturesque Shropshire countryside backdrop the festival builds to a symbolic struggle between on the one hand the distinctive leafy Green man and his winter adversary, the Ice Queen. The epic ‘battle on the Bridge’ between the seasons heralds the end of winter and onset of greener months and the beginning of summer. The festival is an eclectic combination of music, theatre and crafts giving it a broad appeal in and amongst the delightful Shropshire borders with Wales.
1. Obby Oss Day, Padstow, Cornwall
There can be few better places to be than on a warm crystal blue spring day on the Camel estuary in Cornwall. The fishing port of Padstow is the home to the Obby Oss celebration which, despite the conflicting debate about its origins, is essentially a celebration of fertility. Usually falling on May Day itself, the focus of the day is a parade of local dancers and singers lead by the darkly mysterious ‘Obby Oss’ characters. Dressed in black and with a large circular wooden hoop, the Obby Oss is an unforgettable sight in and amongst the lanes of Padstow during what is one of the most anticipated and revered events on the North Cornish coast. There are in fact two versions of the Oss, both dressed very similarly with people following the respective ‘Obby Oss’ depending upon family history. There is on the one hand the red or ‘traditional Oss’ and on the other the ‘blue or peace Oss’. Padstow itself is regaled in flags and flowers with a maypole the centre point for the day in one of the most picturesque fishing ports in the country.