May Day (or ‘Obby ‘Oss Day as it is known) is the biggest day in Padstow’s calendar. It is not unusual to see 30,000 people crammed into this little town on the day when Padstonians from all over the world return to their roots. The origins of the Obby Oss are numerous. Some say the celebration has its roots in pagan times, others that it’s a rainmaker, a fertility symbol, a deterrent to a possible landing by the French some centuries ago, or perhaps a welcome to the summer.
Locals spend the night decorating the town’s streets with flags, flowers, and greenery complete with a maypole and the following morning two “osses”, one red and one blue emerge from their stables. The “osses”, swirling and dancing proceed through Padstow‘s streets taunted by a Teazer, who leads the dance with theatrical movements. The accompanying retinue are dressed all in white with their costumes decorated with ribbons and sprays of cowslips and bluebells. As the procession moves around the town, dancers perform a traditional gyrating dance to the sound of musicians and drummers. Last, but not least, are the followers, young and old who join the procession every year singing of the traditional May Song.
It gets very busy and car parks and streets in the old town are closed to traffic. Advice is to get there early. There is a field at the top of the town near the Tesco supermarket where a park and ride service is available. You can also park in the village of Rock across the estuary and take the regular ferry across to Padstow.
The ‘Obby ‘Oss is the inspiration for the song “Padstow” by folk group Steeleye Span. Cowslips, bluebells, sycamore twigs and forget-me-nots are used to decorate the streets
Info: Padstow May Day takes place annually on 1st May (2nd May if the 1st falls on a Sunday).
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