The Home Counties were sweltering in 30 ̊C + as we left Hampshire and Surrey on our journey westward, but as forecasts of rain kept on being pushed back we hoped for a fine weekend in Thomas Hardy (both of them, naval officer and author) country.
The caravanners in Askers Meadow made a corral encircling the event shelter – not that it gave any protection, as shall be disclosed later. The campsite was reported as fine, and the facilities “good”. The less adventurous checked into their B&Bs at various points of the compass around Bridport.
Quite a few of us went to the Richard Digance concert, reported as “brilliant”.
A warm, bright and breezy morning greeted us, and the campers resorted to a well-established YMM custom – breakfast at Wetherspoons, which in this case is the Greyhound Hotel in East Street; non-campers joined a little later and were given their wristbands and beer tokens (a welcome freebie we were not expecting).
The published programme showed our first dance spot as noon at the Red Brick Café; not wanting to kick our heels for another hour, we set off boldly for the venue an hour early, rather surprising Stroud Morris. They had been stood up by the side that should have been there, so were overjoyed to see us. On seeing a side from his homeland, our Squire broke into incomprehensible Gloucestershirese. Even more surprised was the manager of the Red Brick Café, who denied foreknowledge of any Morris dancers; what did I say about communication?
The Stroud ladies kicked off with two sets, and JOLLY GOOD they were too (the Squire’s word was “fabulous”), white skirts a-billowing as they stepped away. [In doing so they apparently annoyed the owner of the “antiques” centre, who claimed rights over the road and said he was going to complain. Happily, the only curmudgeon we encountered in the whole weekend!]. The nautically minded of us observed that their red and green stockings were on the wrong legs to comply with IMO regulations – red should have been on their left legs and green on their right – but away with such pedantry!
Then it was our turn, and true to form (when we deciphered what Andy was saying through his re-acquired rural burr) we stepped off with Bumpus o’Stretton – and it was good to have Graham “the Snatch” join us in the Ilmington tradition which he had taught us for so long. Tom, trying not to push his injured ankle was Fool for the weekend, announcing the dances and whipping us into some semblance of lines (literally, with his whiffling stick).
After the best part of an hour alternating dances it was time to move on, and at getting on for noon the side with whom we should have been dancing, Fleur de Lys, were probably a little puzzled to see us disappearing northwards as we made our way to the Antiques Centre on West Street. Any semblance of adhering to the published programme was abandoned.
We made our acquaintance with Anonymous Morris, a Border side from Poole, with whom we shared the spot for the next hour. Your author is known not to be the world’s biggest fan of Border, but Anonymous were JOLLY GOOD; innovative dances, performed energetically with lively stepping, smiles, and no holding of sticks as though they were phalluses to be bashed!
Both the World Famous Yateley Horse and the Highwayman made appearances at this stop, surprising audience and passers by alike with their gentleness and kindly demeanour.
About now one of the festival volunteers arrived; they too had been looking at the dire meteorological forecasts for Sunday, and had come up with a wet weather routine using various halls around the town, so that the festival would not collapse a day early.
At last it was lunch time, and we walked to the top of West Street and up to the Millennium Gardens; in the marque-cum-beer tent we used our tokens on our choice from the fine array of beers, and selected morsels from the assorted food stalls. A singing group called the Wareham Wailers took to one of the two stages, and they were JOLLY GOOD as well!
We briefly reverted to the programme by returning to the Antiques Centre at 2 pm, where we joined Bradninch Millers Morris, from (where else) Bradninch in Devon, just west of the M5 a few miles north of Exeter; they rather revel in the fact that no-one’s heard of it. They’re a mixed side with a distinctly Border-ish look, but they also do some Cotswold, Molly and Stave dances – the last two comparative rarities, although we were spoiled to have two stave dancing sides in Bridport.
We were listed to be at both the Tiger Inn and the Woodman at 4 pm; omnipresence not being in our skillset it was decided that we would rendezvous at the Woodman, down South Street. We broke at 3 pm to go our separate ways to explore the tea shoppes of Bridport, or find a beer.
At the Woodman we met a side with whom we are very familiar, Fleur de Lys, all the way from Godalming. It was interesting to note that Fleur de Lys are expanding their repertoire from the stave dances for which they are known, to include more Cotswold dances, which were called by a young man in a fetching purple top hat, who we believe to be son of one of the ladies of the side.
During our time at the Woodman the skies which had been clouding over for some time grew distinctly darker and the rain started. The wind also increased, and a mayday call was received from the campsite that the event shelter was in danger, so a couple of men dashed back to investigate. The rest of us donned our waterproofs and went our separate ways as the rain grew heavier.
Martyrs to their arts, Ian and Andy Y dashed east to fulfil a band engagement of long standing, but were back in Bridport in the small hours to be with us on Sunday: heroes!
Some of the party attended the ALAW concert, again reported as “brilliant”.
The drought was well and truly broken overnight – as was the event shelter, which lay in tatters. Caravanners had to make night-time excursions into the rain and gale to recover a windbreak banging against a caravan. As a result, there would be no communal meal for us in Askers Meadow that evening – a substitute would have to be found!
Once again, the morning rendezvous was ‘Spoons, from which we set out for our noon indoor spot at the Masonic Hall, a way down East Street, almost as far as the ring road. For some strange reason we were kept outside in the drizzle for several minutes, but eventually gained access (avoid jokes about handshakes and aprons). Predictably the audience was almost exclusively composed of the other Morris sides, but it was pleasing to see a few real visitors.
We shared the spot with three other teams: Wyld Morris is a fairly newly-founded local mixed Cotswold side with a pretty laid-back style and casual approach to uniformity of kit; Isambard’s Gasket Rats are a border side from Devon with a difference, dancing without sticks, calls or whoops (bonus points!), and a musician whose instrument looked like a length of white plastic pipe with a U-bend on its side – although I’m sure it has a proper name; and our friends from Saturday, Stroud Morris, who were still JOLLY GOOD.
It was gratifying to have our dancing rewarded by enthusiastic applause from an audience composed mostly of other Morris folk who should know what deserves applause. An even more enthusiastic greeting was given to the World Famous Yateley Horse when he put in an appearance during one of our dances.
After an hour in the warm humidity of the Masonic Hall (was that sweat or rain from the leaky roof dripping off my hat?) we walked back up East Street to the WI hall, which being smaller but still full of people was even warmer and humider. We shared this spot with only one other side, the Quayside Cloggies, a ladies’ Northwest side from Poole. This bunch were great fun; they carried on good naturedly despite a few slip-ups, which they candidly acknowledged, and above all smiled happily through it all.
We then broke for lunch, seeking out whatever sustenance was available on a wet Sunday. Jill B and Jill C were to be seen walking around the town in search of a venue for dinner for all of us to replace the doomed communal meal at the campsite, while Chris sat lonely and forlorn, drowning his sorrows in cake.
Even though we were scheduled to return there later, the powers that be decided that the WI hall would be closed, so determined to be the last side dancing we assembled at the Tiger Inn (eventually, yours truly having missed a number of calls, none of which left a message!) and danced in Barrack Street, the rain having eased. We still attracted a small appreciative audience of passing locals, and one family came to their front door to watch; very rewarding. We finished the weekend (we thought!) with the Upton-upon-Severn Stick Dance.
The Jills announced that they had persuaded Beach & Barnicott at the top of South Street to open especially for us at seven pm; they’re usually closed on a Sunday evening, but the prospect of our company (and consequent revenue) proved irresistible.
A final beer in the Tiger Inn (that Pecker Wrecker is fine stuff!) and a rousing performance of the Going Home Song (thank you, Ian S) and we dispersed.
At the appointed hour we assembled in dribs and drabs at Beach & Barnicott, where we enjoyed a JOLLY GOOD and convivial meal. [Note of interest: Chanie, joint owner with her husband Peter, is a Frimley girl, and went to Tomlinscote School. It’s a small world!]. To cap it off we did a spontaneous performance of Highland Mary, quite interesting in the limited space, and used up a large proportion of the stock of napkins to substitute for hankies.
A Belgian couple eating in the restaurant were given special counselling by Rod to overcome the cultural shock. Ian S led us in “Rolling Home” – a nautical going home song, more appropriate to the geography.
Suitably sated the Men and their ladies went our various ways.
Dancers: Andy P, Andy Y, Baz, Graham, Ian S, Ian Y, Peter, Tim, Tom (acting Fool).
Musicians: Chris C, Rod (plus a bit of help from Ian S).
Other performers: the World Famous Yateley Horse, the Highwayman.
WAGS: Helen, Jill B, Jill C, Janet S, Lynn, Sue.
PS Many thanks to Dorsetbays for use of their EXCELLENT photographs!