Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The English Ale 2015 – and how to make Dobbin more social and worldly

As some of my readers (I doubt some of you are regulars, just surfers) may know from my previous post, my hobby horse Dobbin has now attended a few folk festivals and morris dancing events. He’s been to Lavandula Harvest Festival twice, Newstead Music Festival twice, probably others I cannot think of from the top of my head, and in April he went to the National Folk Festival in Canberra, where he was seen riding a unicycle. Now he’s been to South Australia to the Adelaide Hills. And with luck he will come with me to Tasmania in a couple of months.

Firstly, I’m here to talk about going to The English Ale, an event run in the Adelaide Hills in Mylor, a small place South West of the famous township of Hahndorf. 

Run by South Australian pagans and the band Spiral Dance, the Ale runs for one day every May, usually in the middle of the month. I don’t know much about how the festival has evolved over the years, because this English Ale was my first one and all I want to do here, is talk about what I saw and experienced.

Weeks before the event, I spoke to one of the organisers Adrienne from Spiral Dance, someone I’ve known for about 15 years now, and asked her if I could bring my hobby horse Dobbin to walk in the procession that precedes the Wicker Man burning and ritual. She said yes, that he would be very welcome. I also decided to bring my homemade horse mask – the ‘Nightmare’ or ‘Kelpie’ (water horse) – to represent Winter. I would wear the Kelpie mask while riding the colourful Dobbin, who represented Summer. As Winter is on its way, the Kelpie has control of the summery Tourney Horse. I thought this highly appropriate.

Me riding Dobbin with a horse mask.
 My travelling companions and I arrived before 11am and while they put up tents, I attended the Druids of Oz talks – two about sacred temples and one about plants of Australia that are similar to European ones. I missed one of the sacred temples talks, but made it to the second one – very interesting talks.

After that I went and had lunch and got ready to do some morris dancing. I had decided to wear, not my Red Raven morris side kit, but my Thieving Magpie morris kit – my UK side. Since there were no other Red Raven’s there, I thought going as a Magpie was better. Kind of exciting wearing my UK tatters in Australia!!!

This was when I got to finally meet the South Australian sides – Adelaide Morris Men, Hedgemonkey, Lancashire Witches, and Hot for Joe - and even a Melbourne side I know well – the Britannia Morris men – had come along. Rob, Jacka and George were there, so they let me dance Bampton’s ‘Chook Chasing’ with them, just so I get a chance to dance something! 

I got a ticket for the concert that night, then chilled out by the tent, rugging up a bit before getting ready to gather by the oval to begin the procession.

Three items: Black tatter dress, Kelpie horse head, hobby horse. 

With help from my friends I dressed up and was ready to go! The procession went around the oval, while the oval itself was covered in people watching and taking pictures. We were accompanied by musicians and melodian players, morris dancing and lit the way by fiery torches…

In the parade were a few giants – ‘Petal’ was one of them, there was a devil, two Jacks-In-The-Green, morris dancers, people in tatters carrying torches and 3 of us as hobby horses. I did not see much else because I was in the parade and had limited visibility as the Kelpie mask has a veil that hides my face. I’ve not ridden Dobbin for years because the made the hole small enough to fit a thinner rider, but have now made it larger for other riders like me, so it was quite a pleasure to ride him for the first time in years, if not ever!

The procession went slowly enough around the oval for all the people to see, before the procession turned off into a small field to surround the patient Wicker Man. 

The ritual was conducted, the Wicker Man set alight, and everyone held hands to spiral around the burning man and I rode around between the bonfire and the line of people. Eventually the bonfire burned down and I went to the campsite to get changed and have some dinner.

Towards 10pm we went up to the town hall and got ourselves a drink (Jacka bought me a cider!) and we warmed up inside, before going into the hall to watch the bands. When Spiral Dance started I often danced with Cathy and Gabby and we had a grand time letting loose on the dance floor before packing up the chairs in the hall, and heading back to camp. After sitting by the campfire, noticing how cold it was getting, and going to bed at 3am, I found it hard to sleep because of the cold. I did sleep at some point, but boy, it was a cold night and hurt my throat to breathe the cold, damp air! I woke early to say goodbye to Frances and her partner, who were camping next to us, and then tried to sleep again. The sun on the tent made it begin to warm up just as I was ready to get up. The sun itself was wonderfully warm during the day, but the nights bitter. We sat around and relaxed, but I wandered down Mylor’s main road to find Gabby’s B+B and visit her and two other good Victorian friends of mine who just happened to pop in to visit her. We had a good gossip and laugh. 

On my return to the campsite, we had decided to pack up and return to Cathy’s place in Adelaide, so did just that, had a great pasta bolognaise for tea and played a long round of Cards against Humanity before crashing.

On the Monday we went to Hahndorf, where I bought some awesome souvenirs and had a buffet lunch at one of the pubs. Then we hit the road to Victoria before 3pm. 

Had a great time in South Australia, where I have not been since about 1987, catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, and ones I have worked on projects with that I was yet to meet, and attend a pretty brilliant event that I will attend again and again, probably with Dobbin. It’s good to see him out and about socialising and getting around in all sort of pagan and morris dancing events these days. 

The English Ale is definitely worth attending if you can…

Hot for Joe

Lancashire Witches

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