Wassail and Mari Lwyd

We discovered a wonderful wassail event, the last of the winter as far as we know, organised by the Widders Morris down in Chepstow and were delighted to join them.  We travelled down through the middle marches, which is always a lovely drive in the winter with beautiful balls of mistletoe hanging high in the trees as we passed through Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.  We made a stop in Monmouth to visit the fortified medieval bridge and charming church of St Thomas the Martyr alongside, then on to the spectacular Raglan Castle before reaching Chepstow as evening arrived.  After unpacking and having a wander through the streets we headed to the Chepstow Castle pub and a friendlier welcome we could not have wished for.  The landlord gave us a brief history of that part of town, the music events that happen there and what to expect in the Wassail the following day.

In the morning we explored the castle, which we had visited before, but it really is one of the best, having everything a castle should have.  Cadw had done a great job with their recent recreating of a medieval room in all of its vivid colours.

Then we explored the local museum, which has a wonderful collection of social and industrial history which would be the envy of many much larger establishments, then a bit more meandering before it was time to put on the medieval kit and head down to the lower part of the town again where we returned to the Castle pub and met up with the many morris sides and other groups attending the wassail.

We wassailed the old apple tree and watched dance and folk plays. 

Then it was off just a short way along the road for more dancing and more plays. 

All of the dancers were quite a spectacle to watch, but Heb Enw Morris were particularly striking in having such a lively group, including some very young members and it was great to hear morris tunes being played on bagpipes.

Then it was time to bring out "Young Ball" who we had brought down for the event.  This is the skeletal horse from Jones' Ale Soul Cakers, a group of mummers from Chester who we've been part of for the past 17 years.  The wassail included a Mari Lwyd gathering, which are horse skulls mounted on poles and carried round houses and pubs in a Welsh winter tradition, accompanied by singing in the hope of receiving beer or money.  Our Cheshire soulcaking is a related tradition, though that happens around All Souls Day on 2nd November. 

Then came the meeting of the English and Welsh at the border, the mid-point of the old bridge over the Wye.  Partly through confusion and partly because we had our own Mari, we ended up amongst the Welsh contingent, but so much the better as the music was much livelier to join in with on bagpipes.  We danced across the bridge, led by the High Druid of Wales - a charming chap even if he did wear a flat cap rather than a leafy crown.  

The Mari Lwyd singing took place on the museum steps and all the skeletal horses were welcomed in, which musicians and dancers enjoyed mulled cider outside, chatting to new found friends and making the decision that we would be back again next year.

A Lindisfarne Pilgrimage

Last year, a good friend invited us to join him for a stay on the holy island of Lindisfarne to celebrate a special birthday.  Part of the stay was to follow in the steps of pilgrims through many centuries to the place where St Cuthbert had spent time in prayer.  The idea was to cross the pilgrims' route across the sands, which are covered twice a day by the incoming tide.

Our merry band of pilgrims were about 20 in number and we were all staying on the island, so in order that our pilgrimage ended at Lindisfarne Priory, we had to first set off from the island, performing a reverse pilgrimage, across the sands so that we could return and end at our intended destination.  We gathered early in the morning on the first of May so that we had time to make our crossings in between tides.  There was a real feeling of excitement and anticipation as we set off.

The pilgrim's way across the sands is not without its dangers.  Sinking sands and swift currents could trap the unwary traveller.  A series of posts show a safe route, and for the modern pilgrim there are also two towers to take refuge in if caught by a rising tide.

The journey across the sands brought people together who had only just met and gave rise to fascinating conversations and a sense of companionship, which I'm sure medieval pilgrims would also have enjoyed.

We also learnt quickly how to make the best way along a tricky path, to wade across tides and along the flowing streams to avoid walking on slippery seaweed, or sharp shells. 

Our arrival on the island brought much attention from the residents and tourists, perhaps new pilgrims gave just as much interest in medieval times.  We made our way to the priory gates where we ended our journey with a real sense of achievement, then it was off for a hearty meal and for some to rest.  We then returned to the grounds of the ruined priory to explore and to sit and enjoy the peace of the place.