Morris dancers re-enact ancient farming traditions near Chepstow Castle

12:46pm Sunday 19th January 2014

MORRIS dancers turned back the clock as they re-enacted old farming traditions in a cross-border show of unity near Chepstow Castle.

Welsh and English performers sang, drank and showed off their dance routines on Saturday, taking part in rituals believed to date back to the Tudors.

The two clans put aside their cultural differences once more, as they celebrated the New Year with colourful performances wearing ragged jackets, tiny bells and feathered hats.

The Welsh brought good luck to people by dancing with horse skulls dressed in shrouds in a ceremony known as the Mari Lwyd.

Meanwhile, the English blessed apple trees to scare away evil spirits and ensure a good harvest this autumn, re-enacting a tradition known as the Wassail.

The Three Tuns Inn and the Chepstow Castle in the pub quickly filled up in the afternoon.

There was more dancing in the evening on the Wye Bridge linking the two countries, followed by more drinking and singing in pubs.

Welsh dancer Kealy John (corr), 39, is part of a Chepstow outfit known as the Widders.

The mum-of-two said: "We're trying to bring back the traditions. It's great family fun, we enjoy ourselves."

English dancer Jennie Diplock, 33, travelled from Solihull with the Silhill (corr) Morris dance group.

She said: "We've come for the last couple of years.

"It's absolutely fantastic. We know the Widders quite well.

"We like the atmosphere. We support the Wassail and the Welsh Mari Lwyd traditions.

"It's a great time to dance. Chepstow is such a beautiful little town.

"It's lovely to see all the horses. It's just a lovely day."

The Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare in English) is a Welsh midwinter tradition, possibly to celebrate New Year (Calennig), although it formerly took place over a period stretching from Christmas to late January.

It is a form of visiting wassail, a luck-bringing ritual in which the participants accompany a person disguised as a horse from house to house (including pubs) and sing at each door in the hope of gaining admittance and being rewarded with food and drink.

The Wassail (Old English wæs hæl, literally 'be you healthy') refers both to the salute 'Waes Hail' and to the drink of wassail, a hot mulled cider traditionally drunk as an integral part of wassailing, an ancient southern English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year.

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