Spent the day at the Rushbearing Festival in Sowerby Bridge last Saturday for the first time in at least 12 years. The occasion was a family get-together, with it being my Mum's birthday on the Sunday, as well as a desire by my kids to take theirs where I'd taken them when they were little! So it was that 14 of us covering four generations enjoyed a pleasant lunch at The Moorings, by the canal basin, close to where some of the action was happening.
So what is the Rushbearing Festival all about? I was asked that by a couple of friends I'd seen at the station as we waited for the train from Brighouse. I mumbled some waffle by way of an answer, as over the years I had forgotten, and I had to look it up in order to jog my memory!
In doing so I was reminded that the event has been taking place in and around the town since 1977, although its origins date back to the 19th Century. It is based on the old tradition of presenting rushes to the local churches which were then used to cover their floors during the cold winter months. Whilst the tradition was probably stronger in the villages on the Lancashire side of the Pennines - it still continues in both Saddleworth and Littleborough today - it also took place in several towns and villages in the Calder Valley. It is the only one nowadays though that takes place in the county of Yorkshire, and if you google 'Rushbearing' it is number one on the list.
The focal point is the thatched rushcart, which is around 16ft tall and with a local young lady sat on the top. It is pulled for several miles through the Sowerby Bridge area by around 60 men dressed in white shirts, black trousers, clogs, and panama hats, often adorned with a different badge for each year they have been there. Some of them have been doing it for years - Chris, a friend of mine, proudly showed me the leather badge he'd got from 1983. Each year they are attached to his hat, so as you can imagine it is quite heavy! They normally carry a tankard around with them as surprisingly the event also involves a few stops at the pubs en route over the two days! As part of the ensemble, teams of morris dancers and mummers also take part, stopping to dance and perform whenever the cart is parked up.
It is a great family day out; the cart is a real spectacle, there are plenty of side events and activities, rides for the kids, many of the local shops and market are open, with local churches also being open for cakes and the like. There are also some excellent pubs and places to eat in Sowerby Bridge which are well worth a visit at any time during the year.
We gradually went our separate ways after spending some time in the sun around the Moorings. Some of us drifted on through the crowds to the Puzzle Hall, where we enjoyed a step-change in the beer quality - Salopian Lemon Dream was bang on form. The crowds came and came, the odd singer came and went, and eventually it was time to get the train back to Brighouse.
It had been a smashing day; a great time with the family, the weather had been kind, and the Rushbearing was as good as I could remember. So if the family want to do it again next year, that's fine by me. If you want to give it a try next year, it is normally held on the first weekend in September....
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