Having just returned from Ireland we left our Narbeth, Pembrokeshire camp spot and began a leisurely drive down through south Wales. Over the Severn Bridge for the last time, past Cheddar and into Devon once again. The festival campsite was open from mid day but we decided to drive down to the town and found a parking space. We gave ourselves two hours to explore and get some groceries and found at least 5 good opportunity shops which were well priced. Found a folkie skirt and top ( no, Kate & Angela they didn't have sequins on them this time!) and a lovely buttercup yellow, open weave, wool blanket for only £1.
The red cliffs
It had been too hot for the doona (duvet) most UK nights so this would be a little lighter.
Back to the camp site and we chose our spot in the "Swamp" section. It wasn't wet there but I guess it could be swampy if it rained a lot. The amenities were great with demountable type buildings with the waste piped out into mains sewer pipes and there were proper toilets that flushed. There were only 8 showers for the camp but once the grounds filled up with festival goers we found that a shower at midnight had few takers so it was fine.
It is Thursday today but we think it is Wednesday all day and are starting to loose the plot I think! Take the van down into Sidmouth and put it through a carwash.
All comers try Morris dancing with
Back at the camp we thoroughly clean the splattered bugs and all around the insides of the doors. Use the blue touch up crayon on the light scratches. Read some more of our books and the newspapers. Realise that we are in the middle of a Morris enclave but we are used to that anyway. Next morning Andrew tells me that it is Friday as he just checked the date on the old newspapers and it means that we have missed out on the 8-9pm welcome to the festival by a couple of the local Morris sides. Cook up a full English breakfast and catch the Festival campsite bus for £1 into the town. We have tickets for tonight's performance in the Ham marquee and selected two nights of this without knowing anything about the artists.
While in the queue for the evening performance we spot Paul, whom we met at the Fareham Festival and have remained in touch with since.
Herbaceous Border and the Hose Pipe Banned
He has been sending us humorous weather predictions of the the various festivals he will attend as well as slope reports of the camp sites! He joins us and once in the marquee he heads for his favourite audience spot, the front row! The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain are the stars of tonight's concert and the 5 men and 2 women are just brilliant. Funny, talented and consumate performers on 6 little ukes and one bass uke. When this finishes at around 11pm we catch the bus back up to the camp site but cross over the road and head up to the Bulverton Marquee for the late night extra dance with Tickled Pink who turn Morris tunes into funky electric, rock, bush dance stuff!. All ages are there from Goths, punk wannabees to middle aged dancers and boy, do they know their stuff!
Sidmouth is classed as being on the Jurrassic Coast and is exceptionally pretty with red cliffs and white ones off in the distance.
A concert in the Ham Marquee
Dinosaur bones have been found all around this place and is a very exciting place to be if you are into that stuff! Come Saturday there is a meeting at the Anchor pub with Herbaceous Border for all comers who are Border Morris dancers and who are without their sides at the festival. Sunday is the grand procession for the dancers along the sea front and I meet this side and am told to bring my kit (which I have carried halfway around the world especially for this) and they will provide sticks and black face paint!! My Canberra side use coloured face paint and we choose how we paint ourselves and which colours, so this will be the very first time I will be blacked. It is believed that this tradition began many centuries ago when it was illegal to beg for money and dancers disguised themselves with burnt cork blacking or similar so that they could not be identified and prosecuted if the audience threw money at them.
the torchlight procession
Clothing was expensive and most dancers were simple labourers and even their clothing could identify them so the pinned rags or ribbon strips to their clothing to mask the outfits underneath..
The Sunday parade was great fun as we quickly rehersed a few steps to make a processional dance, blacked up and we were off. So the week continued with Herbaceous Border meeting twice a day on the esplanade to entice all comers to join us and learn some border and have fun whooping, yelling and clashing of sticks. Our band of musicians almost outnumbered the dancers and were billed as the Hosepipe Banned!! I attended several workshops to try other styles of dance and much to my amazement can do a North West dance in it's entirety using the little 6 inch sticks with bells and ribbons to do the dance.
See, you can't tell it's me!
We did the Upton on Severn stick dance that our Australian side does with a few variations. Met Paul on many occasions as he seems to enjoy many of the same artists that we chose to see. Lorna also made it to Sidmouth for one day with one of her nieces who is learning to play the fiddle. Lorna thought that she might become more inspired by watching some of the great players in the bands. Some nights we made it up the hill to the LNE at the Bulverton and some nights it was straight into the shower at midnight and bed. For four nights straight I met the same woman in the shower room and finally met her at a venue during the day time. I almost didn't recognise her with her clothes on!!
Other artists we enjoyed were Wyndebagge( he played and demonstrated lots of wind instruments and had a medieval costume with a prominent cod piece) he was so funny that I cried too many tears of laughter! The New Rope String Band was on the same night as Wyndebagge, so I just kept on laughing and crying.
Morris Offspring and their Unicorn
Liza Carthy is fabulous when she plays with her Ratcatchers, a couple of the guys from BellowHead, Spiers and Boden are also on our rave list. One day we spotted an Australian Folk favourite, Martin Pearson, skimming stones on the beach. He is a singer/comedian who is famous for his 'The Spelling Errors of Bolkein ' shows. I went and said 'G'day Martin Pearson' and asked him if he was a masochist as there were lots of Morris Dancers at this festival, even one from his home country! He said that he had got his kicks while performing at another festival last weekend while a tremendous thunderstorm wreaked havoc and he could hear splash, splash, tinkle,tinkle as soggy Morris dancers passed by! He really doesn't hate us too much but does very funny jokes at our expense, as do many! Paul is astounded that I was able to gain entry into England as he feels that they already have too many Morris dancers here in the first place!!! Martin Pearson was not performing at Sidmouth and was returning to Australia on Thursday and was looking forward to being back, as we are now too.
More of the Devon coast
Well, Thursday was "that day" at Heathrow Airport. How did you get on Martin, home yet?
Friday was the last day of the festival and this traditionally ends with a torchlight dance along the sea front by the Morris sides at 10pm followed by a dowsing of the torches in the sea followed by a spectacular firework display. We Auld Lang Syned and went to the sailing club for a few ciders or ales before wending our way up to the camp sites for the final night. We had farewelled Paul earlier as he was planning to drive back to London that night at 10.30pm and we want him to come and do some festivals with us in Australia. He thinks that he could become useful rounding up English Morris dancers and sending them off to Australia!! Lorna, from the Trowbridge Festival might be meeting up with us in London in our remaining few days and we have loved every moment of these festivals and our new found folkie friends. We will miss all of you.
All that was left was to pack up the tent the next day and head back to London.