We have reached the month of May and although the country is still officially in ‘lockdown’, we are starting to see the return of visitors to our glorious region. There are more cars on the roads and plenty of people walking around, all trying to stay two metres apart!
May is, arguably, the best month of the year in our area of the country. It is often sunny, with a clear freshness in the air and the trees and flowers in full bloom.
May has traditionally been a time to take part in ancient rituals, hoping that by doing so, country folk will ensure a good crop in Autumn.
One tradition that is well known is ‘Maypole dancing’ and you will, to this day, find Maypoles in some Cotswold villages. On Mayday, the maidens in the villages (unmarried young women), would dress in white and dance intricate reels, holding onto coloured ribbons whilst forming a vivid splash of colour on the pole itself. The tradition continues to this day, with the ‘maidens’ usually being supplied by the local village school. The origins of this strange ritual are lost in the mists of time but as it is essentially a fertility rite, it doesn’t take too much imagination, for adults at least, to work out what the Maypole represents!
The City of Oxford missed out on one of its May-Day traditions this year, due to the Covid restrictions, but in happier times, you can join revellers at 6.00 a.m. on May Day morning outside Magdalen College. Locals know that the institution’s name is pronounced ‘Maudlin’ and it is one of Oxford’s older colleges, founded in 1458, with alumni including C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde and A.C. Grayling. If you are lucky enough to be able to join in, you will hear the chapel choir singing Madrigals from the top of the college’s tower, while Morris Dancers perform their traditional jigs in the streets below. Oxford is, of course, a university town, so the celebration is completed with plenty of early-morning drinking!
May also sees the beginning, in earnest, of the Cricket season. This mysterious game (to foreign guests at least) in one of the staples of the English countryside. First referenced in writing in 1597, its origins are obscure but it played a central role in country life throughout the late 18th and the 19th centuries, as it was a sport where the upper classes and the working classes often joined together. Manor houses would have their own cricket pitches and rivalry between villages was intense.
There are 11 players per team, with each team having a go at ‘batting’ and ‘fielding’. The team with the most ‘runs’ at the end wins. This simple explanation is, I’m afraid, all that I can give you in such a short article but should you come and visit, the structure of the game can be explained by watching a game with an Englishman in around half an hour. You will then, sadly, need the best part of a life-time to understand the subtleties of the game. Suffice to say that should you be lucky enough to be here during a weekend in May, you will still be able to see two teams, both dressed in white, smacking a hard leather ball around with flat pieces of willow. Nothing is more English than that and the village cricket field in Stanton is a great place to watch from!
So now it’s back to ‘Lockdown Lite’ and, as I stroll through Bourton on the Water there are, once again, people! We still have quite a way to go before we can truly say things are ‘back to normal’, but as we draw to the end of May it’s fair to say that at last, there is some excitement in the air!
Here are a few clips we captured whilst out and about in May https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v49O9qJzEfw
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