I’m lucky to live in Cornwall, just outside Padstow, and the excitement is building for May Day, the most important day of the year! Despite being an “incomer” I absolutely love May Day and I’m pretty sure I haven’t missed one since 1988, when I first dragged my husband to Cornwall to show him why we needed to live here!
May Day is a huge tradition in Padstow and Padstonians are rightly very proud of their heritage. The origins of Padstow May Day or Obby Oss Day are a little hazy, but it is generally thought to be a celebration of the arrival of Spring, or possibly an ancient fertility festival!
By May Day morning the town is decorated with a stunning May Pole, and flags, flowers and greenery are everywhere. Locals dress in white with blue or red coloured ribbons to show their families’ allegiance to either the ‘Red’/Original Oss or the ‘Blue’/Peace Oss. From dawn until dusk the Oss and their followers dance and sing their way around the town to Padstow’s May Song and the hypnotic beat of the drums. Every year without fail, when I arrive in Padstow on May Day and hear those drums I get a lump in my throat and you just cannot fail to feel the passion of the Padstonians!
Both Oss dance separately all around the town through the narrow streets, up to Prideaux Place, and around the quay, congregating early evening around the May Pole which is really magical. My favourite time is seeing them go away for the year. The Padstonians are all absolutely exhausted, many having been up night singing the previous night and having danced all day. The singing, as everyone squashes together, echoes around the streets, and it really is emotional as the day ends for another year.
After all the fun of May Day, it’s off to the Isles of Scilly for the World Pilot Gig Championships the following weekend! Pilot Gigs are traditional wooden boats originally used to ferry pilots out to larger ships, and they’ve also been used as lifeboats. Modern gig racing started in the 50’s and has been gaining in popularity hugely since the late 1980’s. The WPGC have been held in the Scillies since 1990 and gets bigger every year. This year over 120 gigs will line up for the start of each of the big races. It is a spectacular sight - a start line over a mile long! The noise of the paddles when the gun goes is immense, after that you hear nothing except the blood rushing through your ears! I’m rowing for the Padstow Ladies Crews and I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself!
We will race over 4 rounds to get to our final position some time on Sunday afternoon. When the racing finishes, the party starts as over 2000 rowers and friends plus the wonderful Scilly Islanders celebrate the weekend! It really is a special event and I can’t wait for it to start!