We were also fortunate enough to be in Padstow for May Day.
To be in the very centre of this event in the harbour was a truly magical experience, the celebrations are all around the harbour and the festivities started days before and went on for days after. We dressed Red Roo in all her flags and didn’t it look a lovely sight with the boats and streets all dressed for the event.
With thanks to Mike and Reg who gave us the local information on when and where to stand to see the best of the parades and the Obby Osses. Red Roo being in the centre of it also made a great rest stop for Mike and Reg to come for coffee and cake during the festivities. I am finding it hard to describe and write about it, so will insert my daily diary notes, they probably say it best, also below are some links to further information on the history of the event;
Saturday – May Day long weekend has arrived and started very nicely with a folk band on the grandstand (15 meters from the boat), they played the same tune all morning but the atmosphere was great. Flag raising day today for Red Roo to dress her up ready for Monday May Day. We have brought two lengths of small nautical flags which run from the top of the mast to the bow and stern each 12.5 meters long. We have the UK flag on the stern (as normal) and flying the small Australian and Cornwall courtesy flags midship also. We then have a large cornwall flag and a large boxing kangaroo which are flying port and starboard near the bow – it looks great! The other boats in the harbour are dressed also and there is just enough breeze to get them all flying nicely. Seems like thousands of people in town, so many taking pictures of the boats (would be nice to have a dollar for every picture taken). There is a carnival/fair setting up in the car park on the other side of the quay.
Sunday – May Day Eve and another day with thousands of people milling around the streets. A couple more boats have arrived in the harbour. Along the pontoon there is ourselves on the end prime position, Martin just back from us in an old wooden motor sailor who visits each year especially for May Day, further along are three older blokes on a yacht who also come each year (they have a lot of big flags), also another guy on a yacht who hasn’t had the correct weather to sail on (not hard for him to stay), and two local motor boats with half a dozen locals staying on each of them for the weekend partying (they have already given us a bottle of wine to say sorry for noise in advance). We haven’t met anyone from the boats around the outside of the wall. At sunset tonight a large truck came around dropping of large branches of greenery (basically tree’s) and they are now being tied to the rails and light poles along the streets they look great. The pubs on the quayside also put up more flag this evening, amusing to watch as a dozen blokes with beer stood around instructing one guy up a very tall ladder what to do! Around 11pm we walked up to the maypole (one block back from the harbour) and there were hundreds of people singing the may day song. It was the first time we have heard the song and it sounded fantastic. Just before midnight we went to the Golden Lion where the band (piano accordions and drums) were in the street, right on midnight there was two minutes silence followed by a group of around 50 locals who serenaded the owners who were up on the second floor windows with they may day song, they then moved on along the street to the other houses (they sing outside the houses of the most elderly residents in town), so magical and special. The words are beautiful also basically telling them to “rise up Mr ____ (or Mrs _____) summer is a coming today” we followed the procession for an hour and half before heading back to the boat to sleep.
Monday MAY DAY – Unbelievable, how to describe this day? Up early to see the Children’s Obby Oss, it was so good to see so many children involved singing dancing and playing musical instruments, this tradition is going to be carried on for generations to come. The kids Oss came down onto the boat ramp into the harbour close to us.
The “old” Oss (red Oss) came out at 11am it got the crowd going all over again. They both weaved in and out of the streets all morning (different streets so there was always something to watch), they took a half hour break for lunch then started again at 13:00 and went through until 19:00.
We went with Mike up to the parish church which was full of people (apparently some people wait there all day just to see it pass through the church) I can now understand why the acoustics in the church made the sound unbelievable. It then proceeded up to Prideaux Place (the mansion at the top of town), it was great that Mike knew the route so was able to keep placing us in the best spots to watch the precession.
At the end of the day about 20:00 both Oss’s came out for the final time and finally met at the maypole and danced together, the red and blue bands met and combined the street was alive with spirit. I think in the end we retired back to the boat exhausted well before the Oss’s and the bands finished their day.
The stamina of the parade unbelievable especially for the MC of each Oss carrying the staff. At least with the band there are so many of them they can take turns to rest and they certainly swap out the person in the Oss every 15 minutes or so but the MC he leads the procession ALL DAY, carrying the staff, raising it in the air to the beat of the music. The May Day celebrations or Obby Oss day can attract up to 30,000 people in little Padstow town and it sure felt like it. The origins of May Day are so old the true history as to why they do it is unknown (or disputed) as well as the reason there are two Oss’s (blue and red). Thought to date back over 4,000 years some say it began in pagan times others believe it is to mark the start the start of summer or a rain making fertility ceremony or even a deterrent to the French attempting to land at Padstow with the Oss’s scaring them away. Whatever the origins it is obvious that it brings this community togerher in a way that is rare in this day and age. The tradition is strong and the people are proud. The songs are beautiful and the tune will remain in my head and my heart for many years to come. We feel very lucky to have participated.
Tuesday – The day after May Day and it really is locals day. The tourists have gone or are hung over and it is time for those who paraded, sang, played all day yesterday to relax. They hang out at the pubs and break out into songs, it still felt very special being in the town. We listened on and off during the day to folk choir singers who would stand around in a circle outside the pub (near Red Roo) holding their beers and sing – no instruments just voices that sounded amazing. Singing everything from Madonna to U2 to ballards such as Bottany Bay and bound for South Australia!