Sticklepath Grey Mare Festival


What was all that going on in Sticklepath on Halloween?

A large group of ghosts, children, adults and musicians processing around the village with lanterns and merry songs?

The festivities were in three parts. Firstly came the children’s procession, where they were Seekers looking for the ghost of Tom Pearse’s Grey Mare, a benevolent spirit which would protect the village from ill-fortune, provided the people showed true harmony among themselves and proper respect for 'the other world'. Accompanied by musicians the children called at chosen householders where they offered soul cakes in exchange for directions. That the householders offered the Seekers sweets, apples, hot drinks and cakes was a further motivation! Help also came from ghosts of the Mare’s riders – Bill Brewer and friends – who popped up to show the way.
On finding the Mare, the Seekers processed back through the village in triumph, calling at St. Mary’s, where in keeping with the meaning of Hallowtide they lit candles, and Finch Foundry, where they were confronted by a ghostly blacksmith wielding a red-hot horseshoe.

At their journey’s end, the Mare once more took the village under her protection before returning to the Moor.
Several people have asked about soul cakes, an ancient English tradition which had virtually died out by the early 20th century. Cake is a slight misnomer, as they’re more akin to spicy shortbread, and tradition has it that each cake will release a soul from purgatory. On a more prosaic level, they are very tasty but, alas, I’ll only get them once a year. Perhaps we can persuade Elspeth to print the recipe next year…

The ghosts pressed on to a very moving torchlit scene at the Quaker Burial Ground where a seasonal song – Hallowtide being a time to remember those who have gone before – was performed by local folk singer Jim Causley.

The festivities ended, as these things always do, in the village’s pubs where Tom Pearse, the Mare and her ghostly riders performed a morality play based on the seven sins, each rider renouncing his sinful past and atoning for flogging the poor old horse to death on the road to Widecombe. Despite lacking the room to swing a cat the ghosts made merry with the script, with copious ad-libbing the order of the day.
This being a Sticklepath Heritage Group project, the music (apart from Widecombe Fair, of course), lyrics and scripts were all written by Sticklepath folk.

The weather was perfect and the attendance much higher than anticipated which was a nice problem to have. Positive feedback has already made it clear that this should be an annual event, so a 'tradition' is born! Naturally, much was learned from this first attempt so organising will never be this difficult again. It’s strange not to be sleeping with a pencil and pad beside the bed after so many weeks when this was a necessity.
Thanks are due to everyone who took part in what was a genuine community undertaking. The ghosts and householders all played their parts admirably and we are indebted to Rev. Stephen Cook, Kevin Faulkner in the Foundry, Taw River Inn’s Sue and Paul and Devonshire Inn’s Ann. The Fireshow Charity did a fine job on the much-admired Mare costume and lanterns while the musicians, kept the procession swinging along with their lusty playing. I would make special mention of the Mare, who crossed the footbridge to Billy Green in full costume in inky darkness, (bravely done, Sarah).
A well-deserved pint.
The final word, however, must be for Derek Moore, Chairman of Sticklepath Heritage Group and Yvonne Reason who had the germ of an idea, before turning it into a practical proposition. See you all on 31st October 2018!

Mike Gilbert.