Kate Chappell is a Peak District writer, journalist and photographer, and also the editor of the Hope Valley Journal. Published three times a year, this beautifully-designed print journal celebrates the best of the Hope Valley: the landscapes, the wildlife, the plants, the people. Far from being your average local magazine, the Journal is instead a thing to be kept and treasured, with over 100 pages of features, photography and illustrations from talented contributors who have all been inspired by this wonderful corner of the Peak District.
We hope that Kate will become a regular Peak District Voice for Let’s Go Peak District. In this article she looks at the Peak District traditions still celebrated in the merry month of May.
It seems to have happened overnight… the hills are greener, the trees are leafier and winter coats have become redundant. Could summer in the Peak District actually be on its way?!
May Day is traditionally a time of transition from the cold, dark days of winter to the first beginnings of summer. Photos of the Powderkeg Morris Dancers from Whaley Bridge greeting the May Day sunrise are a joyful reminder of how this ancient festival has been celebrated for thousands of years.
Happy May Day!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/RWCXpnIADH— Powderkegs Morris (@PowderkegsDance) 1 May 2019
It’s a time to be hopeful, optimistic about the change in seasons. But we Peak District residents can’t help but maintain a healthy scepticism – celebrate the beginning of summer too early and you can be sure to be rewarded with a month of rain or even an unforeseen dump of snow, just to keep us on our toes.
Nevertheless, there is much to look forward to in the month ahead as the Peak District enjoys the calm before the high summer storm. The bluebells are blooming as we speak, with marvellous displays in popular spots such as the Longshaw Estate, Ladybower Woods and Calke Abbey, and in magical patches of untrodden woodland waiting to be happened upon by a lucky few.
Derbyshire villages are gearing up to present their traditional Well Dressings, with the earliest being unveiled at the end of May. The floral masterpieces, created by impressing petals, leaves and moss into soft clay to make huge, beautiful tableaux are unique to this corner of the country and villages in the Peak District are rightly proud of this centuries-old art form.
Then there are the Morris dancers, who begin to appear in May along with the leaves on the trees and the birds returning from warmer climes. The Peak District is full of them and no pub garden on a warm evening is the same without the jingling and clacking of a Morris man (or lady). Chapel-en-le-Frith Morris (the self-proclaimed ‘Most hyphenated Morris side in the world’) are a popular fixture, while the Peak District Morris co-operative Freaks in the Peaks are perhaps a little more experimental.
But, of course, the must-see May tradition in the Peaks has to be the parading of the Garland King in Castleton on the 29th May. As is so often the case, the exact origins of this centuries-old festival are a little murky, with some believing the ritual began as early as the Iron Age. But the most popular explanation is that the festivities commemorate the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660. Either way, the celebrations are quirky to say the least and entirely peculiar to Castleton.
The afternoon of the 29th is spent making up the Garland, a weighty, beehive-shaped framework covered in bunches of flowers. In the late afternoon, the Garland King arrives at a chosen pub on horseback dressed in Stuart costume, where the huge flowery garland is lowered over his head until his whole upper body is covered in the flowery structure. Accompanied by his consort (who can actually see where she’s going), also on horseback, the King, his horse and the big floral beehive head off to process the streets of Castleton, along with the village Silver Band and local children performing traditional dances in white dresses. The many village pubs are, of course, an intrinsic part of all of this, and the procession ultimately becomes a pub-crawl, with the revellers pausing at each watering hole for a bit of refreshment along the way.
The Garland King is finally relieved of his flowery prison once the procession reaches the church, where it is hoisted to the top of the tower and, following hymns and the National Anthem at the War Memorial, everyone heads back to the pub.
Read more about the beautiful Hope Valley Journal and how to subscribe or obtain a copy – www.hopevalleyjournal.co.uk. And look out for more Peak District Voices blog posts from Kate over the months to come!