Warwick, England - July 23-25, 1999:
We went to Warwick 'cause its castle is on Rick Steve's 'Seven Best Castles of Europe' list. We got much more than we planned because we happened into town on the weekend of their annual folk festival. The streets were full of dancers doing Morris (traditional performance dances with pagan roots).
Once this dancing was reserved only for men. But times have changed. With only a few exceptions the dance troops seemed to be either all men or all women.
And things have also changed in where they take their inspiration. While Morris ultimately seeded country dancing in America, now our traditions are flowing back to the Old Country. These women are doing what they call "Appalachian Step Dancing," a.k.a. Appalachian Clogging.
Customary and foolery are taken very seriously by Morrismen (and women).
On the right some dancers proudly show off their shoes with horseshoe inspired taps nailed to the bottom.
Trefor Owen here travels with the festivals and makes his living making the special shoes that make that special rapping sound.
Everywhere in the streets the gaiety carried on. Morrismen wanted to share their world with anyone who was interested. Here a passing group made Kathleen an honorary member.
Jack Crawford is a 'fool' who makes all his own costumes.
The 'Fool' is a traditional role in Morris where they make fun of or sometimes lead the band of dancers. Jack adopts his fool personality so completely, when we saw him later out of costume we hardly recognized him.
At night we went to a Ceilidh where the group to the right performed. Their leader dances in a maids costume, but his persona is more like the angry butler who did it.
Not all groups were dancers. Here the Bradshaw Mummers put on a Shakespearean version of the Defeat of the Spanish Armada complete with pyrotechnics.
But we couldn't resist choosing favorites. The very first group we saw was the Witchmen ("from that dark place known as Kettering"). And from the first whooping cry they made and fist shaking dance they did we knew this was the sort of scene that graced the hillsides when they lit the bonfires at Stonehenge.
While the men rule the dance, the women rule the band. Their rhythms evoke all the musical archetypes of our heritage from the ancient pre-Celtic drums to the medieval tambourine.
The Witchmen clan passes on its traditions to the next generation.
Though Jacob, 13, wasn't so sure.
He was much more interested in the price of computer hardware back in the States than in the dancing.
Enthusiasm wasn't limited to Europeans: here a Japanese man can't wipe the smile off his face while getting his picture taken with the group!
At the end of the day, the Morris dancers carried on a 'procession' to the park where they retreated from the sweltering heat by dancing in the pool.
The steady attraction at Warwick is the castle, and we could see what all the fuss was about.
The walls are perfectly preserved and the grounds are expansive enough to let huge crowds go their own way and not feel crowded.
Throughout the place are actors playing their parts. Here the man makes Kathleen beg to be let out of the ghastly dungeon.
And there are plenty of exhibits, like this bedroom, showing the surgeon's tools that failed to save the noble who lived here whose murdered ghost now haunts the tower.
We had the special treat of watching their jousting tournament. (We actually found it a bit disappointing due to being over choreographed and a poor quality audio system -- the Renaissance Fairs back home are better.)
They unashamedly borrowed a page and a half from Hollywood.
They named this character 'Zena.'
The waxwork recreation of a wedding reception from 1899 was exceptional.
We stood for ten minutes try to decide if this was a real person or a dummy. We weren't the only ones amazed.
All the real-life people who were at the occasion (including Winston Churchill and Victoria's son, the then Prince of Wales) in their likely positions.
And the decor was royal to the nth degree.
Which is more attention getting? The frame or the painting?
Page || Meet
Kathleen & H. Woods || Purchase
Kathleen's Fine Art Photography || H. Woods' Reading Room
Our Favorite Links ||