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May Day ’obby ’osses

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'Obby 'OssYou have missed the Nutters’ Dance in Bacup and the bottle kicking and hare pie scrambling in Hallaton. If you jump in the car today you can enjoy eel throwing in Ely or the ’Obby ’Oss (hobby horse) festival in Padstow.

But do not go to Stilton for the bank holiday cheese rolling competition since it has been cancelled this year (2010) because of crowd safety concerns.

British eccentricity truly blossoms in the spring, with wacky events taking place around our island. And they continue through the summer, so there is plenty of time to sign up for the World Bog Snorkelling Championship on 29 August in Llanwrtyd Wells.

Do not worry about missing the Nutters’ Dance. It is held every Easter Saturday when the Britannia Coco-nut Dancers make their way through the streets of Bacup. They perform seven folk dances with blackened faces to reflect a pagan or medieval background in which they were disguised to prevent evil spirits recognising them.

The dances are thought to originate with Moorish pirates who settled in Cornwall. Cornishmen who went to work in Lancashire mines in the 18th and 19th centuries took the dancing tradition with them.

Eel throwing takes place once a year on Ely Eel Day, a festival celebrating the fish that gave Ely its name. The sport dates back almost half a decade and does not involve any cruelty to eels. Competitors throw socks rolled into tights with rice in the end for ballast.

The first of May is Padstow’s ’Obby ’Oss day. Its possible origins include celebrating the arrival of spring, an ancient fertility festival or a deterrent to a potential landing by the French. Local residents dress in white, with family loyalties dictating whether they follow the red ’oss or the blue ’oss.

Each ’oss has a fearsome mask and a body-covering costume built around a six-foot wide circular hoop. Both ’osses dance round the town while followers sing a traditional May song.

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