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Spring Bank Holiday (Last Monday in May)

As far as the custom calendar is concerned Spring Bank Holiday is Whit Monday by another name - though the weather is likely to be more clement if Easter has been early. Bampton Morris Dancers have been turning out for hundreds of years to dance through the village and the gardens of the ‘big houses’ and their day has become one of the great folk gatherings of the year. Indeed there is something quintessentially English about the whole affair – morris dancers, honey coloured Cotswold stone, early summer trees and gardens, real ale in picturesque pubs and boundless good will.

Bampton’s day goes on into the evening with other invited dancers from far and wide but, if you can tear yourself away, it is worth spending the evening in Oxford with the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers, another of the great ‘traditional’ sides, and the one encountered by Cecil Sharp on Boxing Day 1899 which set him on his collecting career - which eventually led to his canonisation as patron saint of folk music and dance collectors everywhere.

Another evening alternative used to be Cheese Rolling at Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire, which always took place in the evening, but it has had a chequered history of late and may take place at any time of the day, or not at all. Fully deserving of its crown as England’s Maddest Custom, the police, ambulance service, Health & Safety, the insurance industry, local farmers and other assorted killjoys have been trying to stop it for decades. However the young have not lost the desire to damage themselves and the event gets more and more popular. Australians have apparently come to consider it an essential date in their gap year visit to Europe - recently one in our local London garden centre boasted proudly that her broken arm had been sustained on Coopers Hill. There are several races down the precipitous hill, one of them for women, but they don’t run after the Double Gloucesters, they tumble. Exactly like our illustration, drawn in 1859.

In Barwick-in-Elmet they Raise the Maypole now resplendent with fresh paint and new garlands accompanied by a full scale ‘May Day’ complete with Maypole Queen, maypole dancing, parades and a funfair.