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Cornish Festivals: A personal top ten

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 18, 2014

  • Padstow Obby Oss - May Day

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The sun has shown its face at last and it's time to think about days out. But where to go and what to do? Cornwall enjoys more than its fair share of feasts and festivals. Living Cornwall Editor Simon Parker picks a few favourites

A friend announced earlier this year that he had set himself the task of attending as many Cornish cultural events as possible during 2014. There was only one problem: he had no idea where to start.

Although Cornish through and through, he admitted to being more familiar with various foreign locations than some corners of his native land. He was suffering from what is sometimes referred as Never Been to St Michael’s Mount Syndrome, a condition that renders the sufferer less knowledgeable about places and dates of community interest than most holidaymakers.

For my friend – who has lived in Cornwall all of his fifty-odd years – it was time to find out what all the fuss was about, to plunge into the world of Cornwall’s feasts, festivals and fairs. However, as a working man whose job often ties him up at weekends, he needed to be selective.

“What are your top ten events in the Cornish calendar then, Simon?” he asked. After scratching my head for a few moments, I came up with one man’s must-see selection.

1. At number one, the sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll of all Cornish festivals has to be Obby Oss. Padstow on May Day must rival any fertility rite in the world. Probably pre-Christian in its origins, the primal vision of the osses themselves, combined with rhythmic percussion and repetitive chant, creates an intoxicating mix.

2. Next comes Trevithick Day, Camborne’s celebration of its most-famous son. The highlight is an impressively noisy and smelly parade of steam through the town’s streets, involving dozens of traction engines, road-rollers and a full-size replica of Richard Trevithick’s 1801 “puffing devil” – the world’s first motor car.

3. Tom Bawcock’s Eve has its roots in the mists of time, when a fisherman is said to have saved Mousehole from starvation by going to sea in the teeth of a gale. Celebrated each December 23 with feasting, singing and the baking of Stargazey Pie, despite having come to national attention through a successful book and film, Tom Bawcock’s night manages to retain its authentic Cornish flavour.

4. Also in Mousehole is Sea Salts & Sail, a biennial gathering for lovers of traditional wooden boats. There’s the usual mix of music, food and children’s activities, but the main focus is on the water, with races round St Clement’s Isle and a parade of sail. Stirring stuff for those whose hearts skip at the sight of a restored lugger.

5. Even for those, like me, who have a phobia of folk music, Lowender Peran offers a fun weekend of traditional tunes for all tastes. There is a fair bit of twiddly-diddly, but enough gutsy Breton and Scots dance tunes Scots to drown it out. Not for those who favour whining, navel-gazing, singer-songwriters, Lowender Peran offers authentic music for the soul from Cornwall, Isle of Man, Ireland, Brittany, Scotland and Ireland. If trad’s not your bag, the small, homespun, independent and fiercely anti-commercial, Kneedeep Festival – in fields near Liskeard – combines a huge diversity of acts over three stages with a warmth often lacking at today’s big music festivals.

6. The annual gathering of around 300 blue-robed bards of Gorsedh Kernow on the first Saturday of September in a town near you is a spectacle not to be missed. Guardians of Cornwall’s distinctive culture, heritage and language, the gathering is intended as a public declaration of a defence against homogeneity. With a ceremony conducted in the Cornish language, horns, harps and the all-important cry of peace, the original gorsedh, in common with its Welsh counterpart, is believed to date back thousands of years.

7. Bugle Band Festival – or West of England Bandsman’s Festival to give it its official title – is a day-long feast of brass and silver that sees musicians and aficionados attending from all over the country. Opening and closing with a street parade through the clay country village, the event is refreshingly uncommercial and boasts probably the best tea tent in all Kernow.

8. Cornwall Film Festival just gets better and better each year, showcasing the work of homegrown talent alongside that of well-known names from British and world cinema. With dozens of screenings, talks and workshops, CFF has become a truly world-class event.

9.The Pirantide pilgrimage over Gear Sands to the old saint’s oratory and stone cross has, in some years, attracted a thousand walkers, dogs and horses flying the black and white banner. Stirring stuff.

10. For many people in Cornwall, the gardening year is heralded by Cornwall Spring Flower Show in early April. Set in the grounds of the Boconnoc Estate, near Lostwithiel, it’s all about plants: exhibiting plants, admiring plants, buying plants. Scanning the display rooms boasting rows of narcissi, camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons, it’s easy to see why the Cornwall Garden Society’s big weekend has been dubbed the “Chelsea of the West”.

So there you have it: very much a personal top ten. Others will prefer St Endellion Festival, St Agnes Bolster, World Pilot Gig Championships on Scilly, Saltash May Fair, Torpoint’s Black Prince, Helston Flora, Fowey Festival of Words, Lostfest, Fal River Festival, Bude Jazz, Royal Cornwall Show, Charles Causley Festival, Murdoch Day, Maker Festival, Golowan, St Just Feast, Lafrowda, Bodmin Riding, Stithians Show, Summercourt Fair, Honey Fair, Boardmasters, Redruth Pasty Festival, Falmouth Oyster Festival, City of Lights, Montol, Cornwall International Male Voice Choral Festival... the list goes on and on. All going to prove that, for its size, Cornwall has more than its fair share of treats – both old and new – to savour. To plan your year, check out visitcornwall.com

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  • Dave123Cook  |  March 18 2014, 11:26AM

    That's a fantastic top ten, I love Trevithick Day in Camborne. We are off to Trelissick this weekend for the Daffodil Show. It's a shame that our flower heritage is kept secret, we grow more bulbs in England than they do in Holland, between Cornwall and Lincolnshire we have it pretty well sown up (excuse the pun)......... Ron Scamp is the Daffodil King!

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