May Day! May Day!
It’s May 1st – May Day – summer is around the corner. So it’s a Bank Holiday weekend ( do banks deserve holidays anymore? ) so here’s comes the rain and temperature drop just to keep us all in our place and put those barbecues and sunglasses away. The morning of May 1st also spotlights the great British eccentrics keeping alive traditions that go back to our pagan past on the isles. It is the heralding of summer and fertility ( summer officially starts in June ) dating back from the Roman festival of Flora and beyond. From the anglo-saxon, Þrimilci-mōnaþ, to the Christian mass of Roodmass – Christianity loved to piggyback on pagan customs and claim them for the new religion. To oncoming days of May day queens, maypoles, morris dancing, English country pubs, real ale, garlands of flowers, well dressing, the start of the cricket season. This morning to Oxford and the broadsheets’ favourite, the early morning song of the choir atop the Great Tower of Magdalen college ( followed by the more recent ‘tradition’ of some bright-young-things jumping off Magdalen bridge into the river Cherwell and potential paralysis ).
I had hoped to post some images this morning of a notable tradition here in Sussex, but having hurt my back ( running ) a couple of days ago I am currently doing an impression of a very unsprightly ninety year old man, so couldn’t make the early morning walk up the South Downs to Chanctonbury Ring. The remains of a small Iron Age hillfort and a Roman temple, the ring is now a landmark thanks to the trees planted by a landowner in the eighteenth century. Many of these trees were felled by the great storm of 1987 and the replanted ones are slowly restoring this feature. Like many geographical features locally, it is connected to the Devil – very supersitious lot they were in Sussex it seems. By running around the ring seven times, some say twelve, in an anti-clockwise direction the Devil, by some versions, as the church bell in the plain below tolls, it is said will appear in the branches of a tree to offer you a bowl of soup in exchange for your soul. Seems pretty cheap to me but this legend has encouraged my kids to walk up the hill and try to run around the Ring to summon up the Devil – not worked yet! But back to the tradition of May 1.
Every May 1st, the Chanctonbury Ring Morris Men, arrive atop the Ring to dance at 7am and welcome the sun and ‘summer’. As I say I couldn’t make it this year, but here the weather looked cloudy and it is starting to rain as I write so not sure how it went today. But hopefully next year I’ll get to witness a sunrise there as I did in 2005 as seen in this small slideshow below.