Being an “incomer” to West Yorkshire having only lived in the white rose county for thirty-eight years, I am still catching up with all the festivals that are held in individual villages along the pennine route from Yorkshire into (utter the word very quietly) Lancashire.
The three villages that lead you out of Huddersfield are Golcar, Slaithwaite (or Slawit to locals) and Marsden. The latter was used to film much of “Last of The Summer Wine” although everyone thinks it is Holmfirth.
Each village has various annual festivals but the main ones around here are “Golcar Lily Day”, Slaithwaite Moonraker Day” and “Marsden Cuckoo Day” and today was Cuckoo day. The cuckoo is a harbinger of spring and each year the residents of Marsden mark the welcome change in the season with their Cuckoo Festival. Legend has it that the locals attempted to entrap the bird to give eternal spring to the village but it escaped, as they didn’t build their tower quite high enough! (it were nobbut just wun course too low! – translation available on request)
So as it was a lovely morning I parked the car up at Slaithwaite and walked the two or so miles to Marsden along the canal path taking in the lovely countryside framed against a beautiful blue sky.
After a very good cappuccino and a little sustenance at a local cafe I began to wander around Marsden to see what was happening this year. A number of craft stalls were already doing business and local shops seemed to be doing a brisk trade. I then heard the sound of fiddle music and followed it until I found the source.
Outside the “Mechanics Institute” (probably Marsdens most famous building) was a group of female Morris dancers, dressed in traditional mill “garb” (I can remember my mother dressing in similar fashion when she worked in the cotton mill) and just about to launch into a dance for the little crowd that had gathered. The name of this erstwhile group of dancers was “The Hebden Bridge Hill Millies.”
They are a Women’s Morris Dancing side based in Hebden Bridge, dancing in the Cotswold tradition infused with their own special magic. Accompanied by 4 fantastic fiddlers they can sometimes be seen in Nora Batty disguise. (not for the faint hearted!)
After several vigorous dances their place was take by the “Marsden Thieving Magpie Dance Group” who are a mixed Border Morris side formed in 2006 from Marsden in the Pennine Hills of the West Riding of Yorkshire. They shun hanky waving; like yelling and big sticks and sometimes can keep in a straight line. Their motto is: Leave nowt but blood, wood and feathers!
Many of the group have “blacked up” faces (no PC tripe in this part of the world) and one lady had a live skunk draped around her shoulders (I was too polite to ask the reason). There are young and old members of the group, from very young children to what might be described as more mature members of society. With their all black feathered costumes, painted faces and aggressive dancing they are quite a fearsome sight……..but in the nicest possible way.
An appreciative crowd had gathered to witness the stick bashing, loud calls and organised dance steps, well at least semi-organised. It is quite nice to see a mixed group like this and in particular very young children being encouraged to participate in full “dress and continue this age old tradition.” So Marsden comes up trumps again, and continues the tradition of celebrating “Cuckoo Day” in its own inimitable way………..long may it continue.
Photographs (c) Kindaukish (most available free of charge on request)