8th of May - FLORA DAY!
On the 8th of May every year the sleepy town of Helston springs to life!
All we were told before we witnessed this phenomenon is that all Helstonian's take the day off work, the pubs open at 8am, and there is dancing in the streets throughout the day. Not sure what to expect the anticipation built in the weeks running up to it as people all around us started discussing their plans for it, those who were dancing or had children dancing were planning their outfits, and as newbies to the area we received invitations to join friends for various events surrounding it. Ok, we thought, we better find out what this is all about...
An historical festival that makes a great family day out. Originally it is likely this was a pre-Christian festival, like those celebrated all over Europe, it is a celebration of the arrival of spring and all the flowers, fertility and vitality that accompanies it. Greenery and floral arrangements adorn all the shops and houses of the town of Helston. The roads are closed and dancers parade through the streets to drive out the darkness of winter and usher in the burst of Spring. Helston’s symbolic flower, Lily of the Valley is everywhere, and for the midday dance ladies wear ball gowns and gents wear top hats!
History lesson over it was time to dive in....
Celebrations started the evening before with a trip to town to see all the floral decorations and greenery transforming the shop fronts and houses, then a quick pint in the Blue Anchor*, and we headed on down to the giant fairground set up in the Fairground Car Park on the Porthleven Road near Penrose. A street market had been set up for some browsing and a stacked burger from a van was essential! A fierce battle on the dodgems commenced and then some stomach curdling rides (didn’t regret the burger though!) entertained us until it was time to head home ready for the next day’s festivities.
We set off from Glebe Hall early, we would recommend guests staying in the holiday cottage’s to book taxis far in advance as possible if not driving, but there are plenty around in town on the day for the return journey if required. If driving then Tesco often opens up it’s car park for the day and then there’s a short walk into town. There are plenty of lovely café’s to have breakfast in (but all of Glebe Hall’s holiday cottages have fully equipped kitchens should you wish to breakfast at home).
The Morning Dance
Ok, this is early, and those who have not experienced this before may find it quite bizarre, but bear with it… Beginning at 7am (!) the longest dance of the day follows the route of the ‘old town’ of Helston, the early time is due to it historically being the dance for servants and workers so they could participate before returning to their duties. This is what I love most about Flora Day, the history of it and seeing history living.
A quick pint in the Blue Anchor* and at 8:30 it’s time for the Hal-an-Tow. I don’t know if it’s the insanely early hops or the pagan drums but we were starting to warm up to this Flora Day idea now! The Hal-An-Tow is a play that tours around town so you can catch it at various locations.
As far as we can figure out the story is a mesh of Robin Hood, St George slaying the dragon, St Michael and the Devil with the Spaniards of Mousehole thrown in! Basically lots of battles of good defeating evil. Your spring classic.
The Childrens Dance
Over 1,000 local children perform the set dance throughout the streets accompanied by their teachers, very sweet, and it is a proud moment for them.
The Midday Dance
Most people retreat to the pubs of Helston at this point, or the many pop up stalls for some refreshments before midday arrives with the main event. Only Helstonians may participate in this dance, or those invited as their guests of honour, less restrictive than it used to be when only the gentry of Helston and it’s surrounding districts were permitted to partake. But even now, the leader of the Dance can only be someone Helstonian born, it is considered the greatest honour for whomever is luck enough to be asked!
It is all rather bizarre, but in a very fun and unique way. With music, merriment, flowers adorning every shop front, the roads closed, dancing through the streets and refreshments in abundance it does make for a rather jolly day!
Once we had ate, drunk and partook in all the merriment it was great to have a very short trip back to the peace of Mawgan and Glebe Hall. If you’re staying in one of our holiday cottages this May 8th we would definitely recommend Flora Day.
*Try the Spingo with caution! But they do make a special Flora Day Spingo, and the thick stone walls and cosy hearths makes this ancient medieval Inn a must visit.