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Beast hunters seek an uncommon herd

They don't leave tracks, and if they smell funny, it's no help to those who seek them. Somewhere out there, strange beasts are roaming free, unaware they're even being hunted.

The hunters don't even know what they're looking for. When they find their quarry, though, there's no mistaking it. It's the legs: there aren't enough of them.

The organisers of Banbury Hobby Horse Festival have been trying to track down creatures to invite to their 2001 gathering, following the success of their first beastfest. The celebrated folklorist Doc Rowe described it as "a splendid 'oss-up".

Nearly 30 bizarre animals roamed the streets of the town in July 2000, and already several more have been roped in for the follow up. Most have been found within the morris and mumming communities, though contact has also been made with hoodeners in Kent, whose hobby horses have their own distinct tradition.

Chipping Campden's distinguished tourney horse - a prominent figure, leading the annual Scuttlebrook Wake procession - will be turning out with dancers in tow. The horse made in the late 19th century for the legendary Ilmington fiddler Sam Bennett is also pledged to attend.

But many more remain elusive, not responding to the calls of the hunters.

Festival organisers have tried the blunderbuss approach - firing e-mails in all directions in the hope of scoring a hit - and a number of animals have been flushed out as a result (though one animalist replied that he planned to be washing his hobby-pig's trotters on the festival weekend, June 30 and July 1, 2001).

The trouble, it seems, is that hobby horses, dragons and so on haven't developed the herding instinct. Bring them together and they'll have a great time, but flushing them out in the first place is proving tricky. A large number of e-mail addresses have turned out to be out of date.

This time last year, enticing animals into the festival trap was difficult. No one was quite sure what would happen. In the event, nearly 30 creatures arrived in Banbury, to say nothing of the many animals created for the occasion by local students and schoolchildren.

"Perhaps the best part of it all was the cameraderie that grew up among the beast enthusiasts, especially at the pub sessions in Adderbury," says the invitation for the 2001 event.

"This time, we're hoping to attract around 40 visiting animals, traditional and otherwise, mostly from the worlds of morris dancing and mumming. Sadly, the invitation is for animals and attendants only - not full teams of dancers or mummers. We simply can't cope with large numbers, and we don't want the animals crowded out.

"Accommodation arrangements will be as before - free indoor camping in Banbury, or excellent low-cost camping a mile from Adderbury's fine village green. Food will be what you can forage in the pleasant town of Banbury during the day; in the evening, there'll be good pub food, and doubtless another fine music session.

"We'll have workshops and so on too - all very informal, though.

"As before, some of the action will take place in the sublime setting of Adderbury, home of the famous morris tradition. We hope both Adderbury sides will dance during the weekend. We're also hoping for repeat attendance from Ilmington and The Outside Capering Crew, plus one or two other teams. Chipping Campden's hobby horse will be bringing a set of dancers on the Saturday.

"Local school children helped professional beast-makers Steve Rowley and Donald Workman create a Town Horse for Banbury ridden by the Fine Lady of nursery rhyme fame. It'll play a prominent part in 2001." All hobby animals are invited, with such human companions as are considered necessary for their welfare. A minder would be helpful, and musicians are especially welcome.

Banbury Hobby Horse Festival

e-mail -
phone - 01295 812368 (+44 1295 812368 from abroad)
post - Horn Hill Cottage, Horn Hill Road, Adderbury, Oxon, OX17 3EU, United Kingdom

2000 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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