You may well know, dear reader, that Holt Morris has attended the Wimborne Folk Festival for at least 25 of the 30 years since our tentative beginnings in 1989. We the members have, as a result, formed the entirely unfounded view that we are BIG in Wimborne. But no one has ever tried to claim that, in the Cotswolds from whence our dances originate, we are anything other than unknown. Apart from some joyous fun at Kirtlington Lamb Ales, a brief appearance in Bampton, and several partial turn-outs at the Three Pigeons in Witney, this is very sketchy territory.
Mr Alfie Windsor, tasked with the unenviable job of organising a prestigious 30th anniversary event, thought it might be nice to visit some of the villages that begat our dance traditions. We agreed, and Alfie (magnificently) planned the trip. What follows is an unvarnished account of that trip.
Day 1: Friday 25th October 2019
It was shortly after midday. The weather forecast was grim. Dark, dark day. Mist and gloom enveloped Holt Village Hall. The sodium lamps flickered wanly. A perfect backdrop, you might say, to a celebratory outing. But the mood amongst the men was chirpy. Most arrived on time, which is in itself worthy of note. Martin had hired a splendid 17 seat Transit minibus which, as only 15 were going, offered much needed luggage space in the 2 spare seats. We boarded, Bertie allocated bottles from his beer stash to several bottle holders around the bus (trusting but risky, many felt), and we set off north-east for Oxfordshire.
Our first stop was at The Fox in Leafield, once home to the renowned Field Town Morris. Cecil Sharp, almost 100 years ago, had collected 15 Field Town dances and jigs from Henry Franklin, then a sprightly 81 year old former dancer with the defunct Field Town side. After ordering drinks various, but mainly beer, and knowing that the village sadly still had no morris side, we performed 5 Field Town dances. We were given warm support by Mike of Charlbury Morris, plus our hosts at the pub and a few parents and children taking time out from the Leafield Primary School run.
The onward journey to Cherwell Valley Services was uneventful apart from an occasional and inexplicable PARP from the horn. An electrical fault was suspected, although some disloyally said it was driver error. Our Travelodge accommodation was in the modern post-modern style (big, functional and warren-like) and stood proudly alongside the alluring retail and eating attractions of the main services area. Shortly before arrival Alfie, having been bearded by Holt’s very own Pubfinder General (Chris), implemented the first of innumerable plan variations: a pre-dinner visit to The Peyton Arms at Stoke Lyne, departing 7pm.
The Good Beer Guide (GBG) says of the Peyton Arms: “Enter here and step back in time”. Fair enough, but that hardly does the place justice. It is a little gem of a single bar with every inch of available wall, ceiling and shelf space cluttered with memorabilia: vintage music event posters, pictures, ornaments, old radios, tankards, old banknotes etc etc. Hooky bitter was available and consumed from tankards. The landlord was very welcoming, the locals tolerant of our invasion, and the cobwebs totally authentic. Great fun.
Back into the minibus for a run across to the Horse and Groom in Caulcott, described in the GBG as: “A small pub with a big welcome”. Just so. Lovely hosts plus super beer and food, though we did learn from Trevor that not all vegetarians are enthusiastic about butternut squash or halloumi, particularly if combined in some way. After dinner, our musicians played some lovely tunes, Chris led on the singing, and Jonny Nibbs continued with the “Wiltshire Song” followed by 60’s pop nostalgia backed by the usual suspects. Martin piloted us safely back to our lodgings and, after a half hour of confused déjà vu like searching, your correspondent found his room and slept peacefully.
Day 2: Saturday 26th October 2019
A big day for Rugby. England were playing New Zealand in one of the Rugby World Cup semi-finals. An early breakfast allowed the rugby enthusiasts to settle down and watch the first half before boarding the 10am bus and departing for Adderbury. Steve and I arrived in the service area at 8am sharp and ordered a full English breakfast. Jonny, arriving slightly later and unable to locate “Taste the difference” breakfast cereals, also made do with the healthy alternative of a full English. By 9am, the 3 of us were settled down and watched a sizzling first half that left England 10-0 ahead.
Those who wanted to carry on watching were a little slow in arriving at the bus. There are good arguments for microchipping morrismen if vets could be persuaded to do it at a price the bag could afford.
Still, we arrived at the Red Lion in Adderbury roughly on time. Plan 3c was immediately initiated: watch the remainder of the second half on the big TV in the bar along with a cheerful Adderbury Morrisman in full kit who’d turned out to welcome and to watch us. England won a wonderful game 19-7 and, crucially, the bar opened as the game finished so that celebratory drinks could be ordered and drunk.
By the time we emerged from the pub to dance, it was raining. We managed 2 dances in worsening conditions before retreating into the pub. A brief lull allowed us one more dance: an eight man Adderbury Sheperd’s Hey joined by a real Adderbury Morrisman! Excellent. The only downside was that Trevor had discovered a dent in the slide part of his Trombone, which rendered it unplayable. He appeared to seek consolation in some form of amber liquid.
On the bus again, with the rain getting heavier. As we motored south across a very sodden and misty Oxfordshire, Alfie contacted the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace to check if he could offer us a dry and cosy stateroom in which to dance. The answer was not encouraging, so we scratched this particular fixture. Plan 11b emerged: to park in Woodstock and visit the Queen’s Own, a lovely little pub we’d gone to with Kirtlington Morris in balmier days. We parked, we walked a short distance to where the pub should have been and found……nothing. Plan 12a was a very good alternative. We pitched up at the Star on Woodstock Market Square. We drank. Some ate. We learnt from Bertie that cheesy chips with lashings of tomato ketchup equates to a healthy, balanced diet. And still it rained.
At some point, and in the absence of a positive response from Headington Quarry about dancing there, our Pubfinder General stepped forward with a devilishly clever plan (18a). Might we like to visit the Falkland Arms at Great Tew instead? This was approved. We boarded the bus and retraced our steps northwards.
The Falkland Arms is another splendid pub. The main bar with log fire was full but we managed to fill the previously empty restaurant, which lacked a fire. However, 15 damp morris men in a confined space soon generated enough heat to bring forth glowing cheeks, though the slight background “wet dog” aroma was disconcerting.
By late afternoon, and having been forced by weather conditions to drink steadily through the day, the rain eased. We performed 4 dances outside the pub, not without error but what do you expect with that amount of booze? The few onlookers, who didn’t know any better, seemed appreciative.
Once aboard the minibus, tech-savvy morris men tracked the progress of footy games. Scores were blurted out. At least one member of the side found this annoying (he wanted to watch MoTD later without knowing any scores).
After a short break in which to don evening wear, the bus took us to The Fox at Souldern. Martin performed yet another very tricky landing, touching down in the pub car park with millimetres to spare. The landlord and staff were very kind and attentive, and more good food, beer and wine were enjoyed. Patrick offered a toast to absent friends (Jack and Colin, we missed you both). After a little music but no singing (all a bit knackered?), we returned to the motel and bed.
Day 3: Sunday 27th October, 2019
The clocks went back an hour, so there was a welcome lie in for all. At 10 am, with the sun shining and having returned our room keys, we set off for Bicester town centre. This was plan 37c, since earlier plans to dance in Kirtlington and Bicester Retail village had come to nought.
We set up outside The Penny Black, a Wetherspoons hostelry offering astonishingly cheap beer at a ludicrously early hour. The road was traffic free. We danced, shoppers stopped and watched. Some even applauded. We did 8 dances, including a rather tasty 12-man Saturday Night.
The next leg of the trip was scheduled for High Noon in Bampton. We were late (traffic accident, not us btw). But the squire of Bampton Traditional Morris had waited and gave us a warm welcome at The Romany Inn. We performed a set of 4 (non-Bampton) dances in the pub yard to a small but enthusiastic audience. We then sat down to an amazing 2-course Sunday lunch. Value, quality and portion size all terrific. Amidst the belching and sighing, more Bampton morris men arrived from the other two Bampton sides and wanted to see us dance. Given the size of meal we were trying to digest, this was sheer folly.
So we agreed.
After the usual faffing around, we fielded two sets to dance Banks of the Dee on Lavender Square, outside the site of the old Jubilee Inn. We chatted with locals and the Bampton men, before boarding the bus for the final dance spot of the trip.
This was at Shrivenham, at the Prince of Wales. The impartial observer would have noted that at least some in the side were a tad jaded and weary. After ordering drinks and sitting down, it seemed unlikely that anyone would initiate some dancing. But a deal was done: one more dance only, then home. So Country Gardens put in an appearance, and Shrivenham High Street echoed to the sound of falling sticks.
As darkness fell, we arrived back at Holt Village Hall. It was clear that everyone had really enjoyed the trip. Big thanks to Alfie for organising and managing the trip with such patience and good humour, and to Martin for being a superb and sober bus driver of several partially inebriated morris men. Also to Tim who, though suffering from a lurgy of some sort, chose for us a varied dance programme and encouraged us to do it.