Bog snorkelling: the tourists'll love it
Or would you prefer worm charming and snail racing? Every town and village just has to have a festival to call its own. By Jeremy Atiyah
THIS weekend sees the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. Druids and new-age travellers may no longer be permitted to practise their mysterious arts at Stonehenge, but all over the northern hemisphere, from Glastonbury to the Faroe Islands, a growing number of towns will be holding their very own "festivals".
Once upon a time, every town and village in
had its fairs and annual events by which local people marked their calenders.
least, what started out as trade and agricultural fairs, later acquired
secondary characteristics such as pancake-frying, Maypole dancing or tossing
the caber. Britain
But this festive world then ran into the industrial age. Communities broke up and traditional events lost their appeal. Towns and villages forgot their pre-industrial habits and rushed to embrace modernity. The few local events that struggled through into our own age were regarded as quaint if not downright ridiculous.
These relics ranged from the annual Viking Up-Helly-Aa festival in Lerwick in January, to May-Pole dancing in Oxford on 1 May, to "Bawming the Thorn" in the town of Appleton Thorn Cheshire (which happened yesterday). Beyond these historic curiosities, there were respectable events such as the
regatta or the Edinburgh Festival, but the festive calender for Jo Bloggs-ville
had gone virtually blank.
That was before the rise of tourism. Nowadays, no self-respecting town can rely on just
Christmas and 5 November to get them through the year. For this reason town
councillors, PR agencies and sponsors up and down the land have come up with a
solution - invent new festivals.
Some of these upstarts have serious pretensions to becoming major festivals in their own right. On top of the Glastonbury pop festival, which now has a solid track record of 26 years, a whole series of events are lining up for the summer.
Just in the coming week for example, we will have seen the City of
Arts Festival (started 1962), the London
International Jazz festival (1986), the Bradford Festival (1985) and the
Harwich Festival (1985). Glasgow
Some of these festivals are in fact reincarnations of much earlier fairs which had fallen into abeyance. The Bradford Festival emerged from the ashes of something called Saint Blaize's Festival, an eighteenth century fair for wool-combers. "That fair petered out in the 1820s," explained Rob Walsh, a festival spokesman. "There were attempts to revive it over the years, but it's only now that we've got something really going."
For later on in the summer, we have BITE (the Bath International Taste Extravaganza), a food festival of two year's vintage, taking place in the city of
Then there is the Headworx Cherry Coke Surf Festival - trendy American sports
plus music - being held in Bath at
the end of July. The Ace Cafe Reunion meanwhile, a focal point for men with
motorbikes, is this year being held in Cornwall Brighton in
At the other end of the commercial scale, some of the more new-fangled events are no more than parodies of existing traditions. Snail racing in
bog snorkelling in Llanwrtyd Wells and worm charming in Norfolk Devon
are but a few of the odder items in this year's diary of British
Not that an explosion of festivals is only a British phenomenon. Worldwide, cities are inaugurating events in the desperate hope of starting something big - a new Rio Carnival, say, or a
running of the bulls. Forthcoming events range from Pamplona 's
Food festival (all July) to the Slug Festival (July 4-7) in Singapore
where activities include riding a tram covered in slug-slime. Washington State
Starting before the end of the century is doubtless a smart move to enable festival promoters (within four years), to speak of their particular event dating back "to the last century". Too commercial and artificial? Not necessarily. Festivals have to start somewhere. And as anthropologists will tell you, all of them have roots in tourism.