Looking back on the summer of ’18, I’m pretty sure one of the highlights, strange as it might seem, will be stumbling upon a Scarecrow Festival in Kettlewell, in the Yorkshire Dales. The festival is all the nicer for being in a scenic, village of traditional stone-built homes with a long heritage.
The village church, for example, has been demolished twice and rebuilt in the same spot and still has the font from the original Norman church, dating back to around 1120, and the tower of the Georgian one that followed it. There’s an Arts and Crafts layer too: I was intrigued to see William Morris’s name in one of the beautiful stained glass windows and later discovered I missed finding a Thompson mouse, and the beaver of one of his protégés, Colin Almack.
Kettlewell villagers have held this annual fundraising event since 1994, and you don’t have to be particularly perceptive to see how it has helped today’s isolated community make links, attract newcomers and prosper. There’s something here for everyone (unless you are totally creeped out by scarecrows) from the traditional, straw haired gentleman above…
…to this more modern little cutie. It’s an educational event too – for example, till now, I’d somehow navigated this earth without noticing Makka Pakka and it took the people of Kettlewell to put me straight. I had high hopes for the character from my first encounter.
Attracted by its open demeanour and assuming from its Princess Leia + hairstyle that it was one of those benevolent small aliens that often accompany heroes and heroines in space franchises, I clicked on the first link Google suggested. I wasn’t blown away by Makka Pakka’s song and can’t recommend you follow my example if you’re older than three (if you’re younger, congrats for getting this far – you may be my youngest ever reader).
There were many ingenious recreations of heroes, heroines and role models for kids and the young at heart. [I was shocked to note that the WordPress spellcheck autocorrected strongwoman to strongman when I was adding a description to the picture below (there it goes again – just try it!). That’s a big oops, even by the spellcheck’s standards – you really do have to keep a keen eye on it, especially if you write a lot of plant names or, like me, look down at the keyboard while typing.]
This year’s Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival had two themed trails, ‘Movies’ for adults and ‘Magical Stories’ for kids, with much overlap between them. I’m not sure which category Doctor Who was from – I thought that was all true, just hushed up so’s we don’t start to panic. You may, like me, have to look twice to spot the Jodie Whittaker scarecrow – after all, she hasn’t had much screen time yet.
There were derring-do animals too, including Daredevil Dan, awaiting being fired from a cylinder with an expression that suggested he may not have attempted this feat before.
Some of the best dressed scarecrows I’ve seen featured in this year’s show. Where did they get Paul Newman’s poncho, I wonder? I’d be more than happy to wear the strongwoman’s dress (scroll back up for a reminder), if it would fit and if someone invited me to the right kind of party. Even if it isn’t your colour, you’d have to give it kudos for looking so good after a few days outside in the wind and rain.
I loved the hearty way these choristers are singing and the floriferous cottage gardens acting as a backdrop.
The villagers hold scarecrow-making training courses to help newcomers and novices get up to scratch, and it shows. These scarecrows were built to last well beyond the 9 days of the festival, making me wonder where they are all stored during the year – now that would make a picture!
Scarecrow clowns are cheery enough in the daytime, but must add frission to walking around Kettlewell in the dark while the event is in full swing. Midnight Scarecrows sounds like a classic horror film and being easily spooked out, I’m not going to Google that one!
I saw several Minions, but none so photogenic as this one, monitoring compliance to the 20 mph speed limit while wondering how much longer the rose hips need to ripen before it can nip down the post to make rose hip syrup (no doubt the kind of activity we’d see in Midnight Scarecrows of Kettlewell).
There were many topical references – political commentary and wry social observations with a humorous twist. The celebration of the 70th anniversary of the NHS shows a patient labelled ‘Nil By Mouth’, but closer inspection shows he’s getting local ale by intravenous drip.
I’ll always be a Magic Roundabout girl at heart, so my award would probably go to Florence, Brian the snail and the other Magic Roundabout scarecrows. The village itself seemed simply lovely, with lots of flower-filled gardens and patios.
And the face in the hole photo boards were as high quality as the rest of the event: one of several ways to make sure kids feel fully involved.
If you check out the Kettlewell village website and the Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival website you’ll find this quote, attributed to Professor Moorman (I’m guessing this is F. W. Moorman, Leeds University’s first Professor of English Language, but stand to be corrected):
“But the special glory of Kettlewell is not that of colour, but of line… Kettlewell is the converging point of many contour lines, and to the eye which delights in the flow and ripple of sky line there is a beauty in Kettlewell which is all its own.”
The Professor made a great point, but if he were around today, he might rethink his comment, or at least concede that colour has been lifting its game over the last 25 years by playing a trump card for two weeks each August.
Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival is scheduled to reopen for 9 days, starting the second week in August 2019. Check the website for details. Visitors will find ample, cheap, day-long parking, well over 100 scarecrows, fresh country-baked food in the tea rooms and village hall, and ‘three splendid hostelries’. Drivers will benefit from studying how to enter and leave the village – we drove over a narrow, never-again road on the way to our next stop, The Forbidden Corner.