Straw Bear Festival

Last weekend was the Straw Bear Festival in Whittlesey, near Peterborough. The festival lasts for 3 days, and this was the 30th anniversary of this unique Fenland custom. Over the weekend there is a whole host of events such as live music, dancing, and storytelling, but the main day of the festival is the Saturday, kicking off with a morning parade through the streets. The parade includes several teams of Morris and Molly dancers, musicians, Clog dancers, Mummers, Sword dancers,  Appalacian dancers, and last but not least, the Straw Bear. The Bear is a man dressed from head to toe in straw, and during the festival he is guided around the streets of Whittlesey by his minder, who takes him from pub to pub during the day to watch the dancing and to drink beer!

The Straw Bear

The Straw Bear with his minder

Straw Bear on the move

Straw Bear on the move

The festival generally falls on the weekend before Plough Monday, and is revived from the custom of a young boy being paraded around the town on the Tuesday after Plough Monday decked in straw to entertain the locals and collect money, gifts and beer.

It was freezing on the Saturday; the cold was biting during the parade and everyone was jumping up and down to keep their circulation going.  The dancers were, I am sure, the warmest people there, excluding the Bear of course.  We decided to look for a pub to warm up in, and we found a pleasant, traditional pub called the New Crown Inn, where we had some of the festival ale brewed by Elgoods, Straw Beer – and very nice it was too at 4%.  Lovely, light and hoppy – just right for a drink at 11 am! The bar staff were very friendly and helpful. Also on tap was Black Sheep, another favourite of mine. Another popular pub was the Black Bull on the High Street, but it was far too crowded to get in to see what beers they had on offer – even the Bear couldn’t get through the door!

On the Sunday, the final day of the festival, the Bear is burned. I understand that it’s all about renewal and making way for next year’s bear from the new harvest, but there is something quite sad about a bear enjoying his beer one day, and then being destroyed the next. However, I think quite a few of us have felt like that before…


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