A.J. Walker

writerer

BishopsCastle

England and Strange Goings On

Was talking to several people about camping yesterday, which inevitably brought the conversation around to Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire. It is a camping destination for a few of us every year: usually associated with the Real Ale Festival that the village has but I also go outside of that weekend from time to time.

It reminded me of the time I went on my own for a weekend in June one year. It was a combination of walking, reading, taking it easy and some beers in the multiple lovely pubs in the village. And it was great.


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The Walk From Foxholes Campsite to Bishop's Castle

But going down for a breakfast on the beautiful sunny Sunday I found I’d walked into the set of something akin to The Wicker Man. Knowing nothing about it in advance it is pretty much the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. It wasn't a set by the way, it was real life.

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Just Walking Into Town - As You Do

I’d walked down from the Foxholes campsite through the Shropshire fields into the village and almost the first thing I saw was a man leaving a house with a strange bright costume and a blacked up face.

He walked ahead of me down towards the centre of the village. As I walked down several more similarly dressed men came into view. A mix of young and middle aged. I kind of shrugged it off despite being perplexed by it. What could it be? It’s only a small place and I was soon sat in the sunshine with a cup of coffee and my Kindle awaiting a bacon sandwich.

And then it got weird. Not the sandwich: the day.


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Breakfast And A Kindle - Normalcy Amongst The Strangeness

Some music started. And now I can’t remember anything about that because what I saw became the focus of my tortured brain. A parade began to walk up the street towards and then past me. It was led by a religious group led by a man in a long white robe carrying a cross high in the air. Behind him were his three subordinates in blue and further cohorts in white behind them. At this point it looked like it was straight out of church - but that didn't last.

Behind the men the religious section of the parade came the women. Thankfully they weren’t wearing the black make up sported by the men, but were dressed in nice simple yellow dresses with green jackets and mixed green and yellow tights. As they danced to the tune through the village they waved their white handkerchiefs in the air to the drum. So far so normal…


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The Religious Part Of The Parade

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The Relatively Normal Part of The Parade (ie the women)

Not far behind were the blacked up men. Some in their multicoloured, multilayered shirts, some sporting white shirts and sashes. They all circled and dancing to a beat. Several turned to face me, smiling or pulling faces. There was even a character dressed as a woman in the style of a Monty Python sketch. The entire event was getting beyond surreal.

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I can’t tell you how long the whole thing took. However long it was I’d been transported into some parallel universe or backwards through time. I never found if there was Wicker Man equivalent or where it was, but was glad not to have been chosen to be their sacrifice as the stranger in the village. The strange mix of religiosity, blacked up faces, bizarre costumes and relatively “normal” dancing women had been made all the stranger by me not knowing anything about it in advance and the wide range of people involved in it: it wasn’t a simple Morris Dancing troupe. It was a lot of people.

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Who You Looking At? - Note the full on Monty Python character in the yellow…

Apparently the parade moves on to another couple of villages after Bishop’s Castle and it is something to do with celebrating the longest day of the year. The mind boggles. I wonder how many other strange local customs happen around the county that we (or at least I) don’t know about? There’s definitely a story or two in this. But maybe they're best left untold.
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