WHITTLESEA STRAW BEAR 07
January 12th 13th 14th 2007
It is the 28th year of the revival of the Straw Bear festival in Whittlesea, The Fens, in the east of England. We were invited by Ray who was involved in the festival revival in 1980, to join himself and Wendy in the celebrations. We did some research before we traveled but nothing could prepare us for the spectacle which lay in store
The town of Whittlesea is about the size of Ashbourne in Co.Meath, or Milltown Malbay in Co. Clare. When we arrived on friday it was deserted with the exception of a few locals going about their normal friday business as if unaware of the explosion that was about to transform their sleepy little town. We went for dinner to an Indian restaurant, we were like kids in a sweet shop, experiencing all the new flavours which were a delight to our taste buds. Then on to try out some of the local brew and have a few tunes, in the Boat pub which Ray tells us has not changed in all the straw bear years. We tried the speckled hen, straw beer and The regulars were delighted with the tunes and soon we were joined by other musicians who as it turned out were warming up for tomorrow's parade, 3am was about going home time. Home was a beautiful little old hotel 'The Falcon', tucked away in a little back street
Early to rise as we were not about to miss any of the festivities. Dance troops gathered from all parts of England and one from Germany who even brought their own bear. Forty groups paraded, danced and played tunes through the streets in a figure of eight until they reached the butter market town square. There they continued to delight onlookers with their displays
There were mummers, morris dancers, long sword dancing, cajun dancing, appellation dancers, clogs, bells and even pig dyke molly's (more about them later). in the afternoon they repeated the whole thing again in the opposite direction taking in every pub along the way. Hugh Lupton told stories to young and old in the methodist church, it was bedtime stories with a difference, I could have listened all day
The red Leicester group
There were over forty groups from different parts of the UK. Each more colorful than the last, there were solo performers also all were solo performers also all marching and dancing in a huge figure of eight around the town
We found a nice vantage point in the road center and managed to capture most of the groups
There were plenty of police around to keep things in order and the whole march went of like clockwork
Clogs with bells on... well I declare
Cast a cold eye on life on death horseman pass by
Crosskey Clog dancers
Yes a very sad occasion
Pig dyke molly
The Pig Dyke Molly's seen here in their distinctive black and white costumes, perform to music written exclusively by their box player, their music is playing at present. They were also unique on the final day by including the audience in their dancing performance much to the delight of young and old alike.
Original morris musicia
Bear on the loose
A badge for every year
Gota catch that bear
Mollys of all ages
If looks could kill
A leisurely start to day with a drive around the Fens , it is quiet a remarkable place, a very flat place resembling parts of Holland. It has all been reclaimed from the sea and there are huge dykes along the road side and dividing up the fields. Most of the land is planted with root crops. But soon we return to Whittlesea for the final few dances before the ritual burning of the straw bear. ..
The straw bear ( his work is done)
It is a very somber sight as the group of musicians lead us all to the ritual place, to the music of the straw bear tune.. The musicians go once clockwise around the circle and stand facing the straw bear in the cente
Whittlesea musicians at the ritual burning
then one of the group set the bear alight. The music plays on and slowly decreases in tempo as the straw bear dies. The flag is slowly lowered as the fire dies signaling the start of the new year and a cheer of welcome is heard. A small boy inquires if the straw bear is gone to heaven ?
AND SO TO THE FINAL SESSION
We then travel into Peterborough a fine city, time is short so we soon head for a barge for the final few tunes and a pint of Wonky spire, which turns out to be a very nice ale.
Two heads are better than one!!!!
After the bear burning we head to East Charters in Peterborough its the largest barge in England. The session has 12 musicians . It's a regular Sunday gathering for the local lads. The music is mighty and time passes very quickly and soon we must say goodbye to our new found friends.
Piper Mick and Dave Mallinson on the box
More pictures of Straw bear on Dave Mallinson site
East Charters the largest barge in England
End of another bear hunt...almost
Charter's originally known as Leendert-R was built in 1907. It worked on the rivers and canals of Holland, Belgium and Germany. It carried cargo of grain and sand up until 1990. It is 176' long, is made of riveted iron and was licensed to carry 616 tonnes. It was brought across the north sea and converted into Charters bar and restaurant which opened in 1991. It is believed to be the largest continental barge in England.
Oyster girls morris
Persephone girls morris