How was everyone’s Glastonbury Frost Fayre 2021? I had a lovely day in the end, albeit that it was not quite the event everyone planned. For some days before, a storm warning was in place for the town, with the forecast of winds gusting in excess of fifty miles an hour. Like most people, I hoped that the storm would pass over the night before without incident; blowing itself out; as they say. After a second difficult year, of lockdowns, uncertainty and worry, it seemed singularly unfair for the town’s most universally popular event to be threatened by the vagaries of the British climate.
I’ve often wondered what makes the Frost Fayre so popular, it is after all just a Christmas street market with added music, yet it brings together a greater diversity of visitors and locals than any other event in the town. It is neither tacky nor earnest and does not demand any particular outfit nor uniform, unless you count a warm coat and a woolly hat. There is a certain stoic camaraderie is wrapping up against the cold to enjoy a largely outdoor event at the end of November. The easy availability of mulled cider helps the conviviality along too.
With every cancelled event and disruption, no Beltane celebration, no festival, the lanes and fields around the Tor being overrun with vehicles and campers for Summer Solstice, no Carnival, plus the growing divisions between those accepting of and anti the Covid measures, it felt to me that the need for all the community to gather together for the Frost Fayre grew greater. Personally, I started to keenly anticipate it roundabout September. Surely, assuming it wasn’t cancelled, nothing else could go wrong?
Sadly all the wishing and hoping and finger-crossing was not sufficient to keep the storm away. I awoke on Saturday morning to the sound of the wind howling around the house, outside trees thrashed and the skies were dark. Looking on Facebook I learned that the fate of the Frost Fayre was not yet decided, but that the town’s Christmas Tree was lying prone on the Market Cross, the gusting wind having snapped it near the bottom of the trunk in the middle of the night.
The Town’s Christmas Tree – a Symbol of Unity?
The toppled Christmas Tree felt like a very bad omen, particularly since, for me at least, the tree symbolises unity in the town. For the past few years, the Town Council have erected trees that have been somewhat lacking – too small, lacking in bushiness, bent at the top. Some caused such scorn that barely were they up than they had to be taken down and quickly replaced. It has become something of a tradition to gather around and watch the tree’s erection (in person or on social media) in order to pass judgement. This activity occasioned much mirth and quite a bit of tutting, from born and bred locals and incomers alike, regardless of political or tribal affiliation. After all, everyone agrees on what shape a Christmas tree should be.
On Thursday before this year’s Frost Fayre I spied the cherry picker on the market cross and rushed down to see this year’s effort. I could scarcely believe my eyes, for this was a magnificent tree, tall and bushy and symmetrical. Gerard, the Town Clerk, was directing traffic around the Market Cross, so I took the opportunity to give credit where it was due, shouting across the road “Heh Gerard, no one will be laughing this year, well done on a magnificent erection.”, Gerard smiled gamely and told me to make sure I took a photo. Everyone agreed that this year they’d done us proud, this tree would make a fine centrepiece for the Frost Fayre celebrations.
Back to Saturday morning and I monitored Facebook to see what the fate of the Fayre would be. Eventually, it was announced that the Fayre would go ahead, but that gazebo stalls would not be permitted, due to the very high risk of them taking off in a gust of wind. Traders could still trade from their vans outside, stalls were being moved inside where possible. I gather there were some communication issues in the morning, while everyone decided what was possible to do while keeping everyone safe. Unfortunately, I understand some traders left, unable to trade and out of pocket, which is very unfortunate. However, under the circumstances, I think the Frost Fayre organisers made the most sensible decision. Cancelling entirely would have achieved little, there was still be plenty to do and see.
Personally, I was both relieved and disappointed by the news, so I retrieved the Christmas decorations and started hanging tinsel and baubles around the house in an effort to bring myself some early Christmas Cheer. It wasn’t quite enough, so I decided I’d go for decorating myself too. In the decorations box I’d found a very long Santa hat which I covered in a string of LED fairy lights. I put on thermals then put back on my leopard print pyjamas. I figured feeling cosy might combat both the cold and bring me some emotional comfort too!.
I made my way into town in the late morning and was cheered to see crowds in the High Street, visitors and locals had come out despite the weather and stalwart stallholders were setting up their wares on sturdy tables. My friends Niki and Charlie had set up their coffee van in the grounds of St John’s. I don’t drink in the afternoon as it makes me sleepy, but as it was not yet noon I gratefully accepted a hot coffee with a generous slug of Baileys in it.
It was good to see some friends had managed to set up their stalls – Sirius and Louise were there with their Superfly velour tracksuits, Donna bravely set out two tables of her Elemental Ceramics, Nina was selling beautiful Christmas Wreaths and fairy wands from her van. The Assembly Rooms Frost Fayre market was in full swing. Fortunately for me, Steve and Glen from Dicketts the Stationers were doing a roaring trade selling my Crap Views of the Tor Calendars and Normal For Glastonbury Mugs and Paperbacks from their stall outside the shop.
The Perfect Present
If you missed the Frost Fayre you can still buy the perfect present for anyone who loves Glastonbury in my shop! I offer gift wrapping and hand labelling too, so you can have gifts sent direct to the recipient. Everything is created by me and made locally.
Music and Merriment
Everyone pulled together to make the most of the day. The Melodrome Stage hadn’t been able to set up, so the bands had been moved into the Town Hall, graciously compered by the incomparable Paul Perry, I hear that Seize the Day did a great gig in the evening. Childrens’ World kept the kids entertained in the small hall too. The King William pub had some very lively music going on inside and were serving various meaty delights from the windows. I didn’t make it to the King Arthur but heard great reports of their food and entertainment. Buskers braved the elements to entertain the milling crowds, while the Avalonian Free State Choir performed outside St John’s Church.
The Queen of Cups staff were rushed off their feet with diners, so scarcely had I set foot inside when I found myself with their resident pug, Butters, on my lap. This was no great hardship as he serves as an excellent hot water bottle and Mary Liz served me up a hot milky Middle Eastern drink enlivened with two shots of rum and a substantial Coronation Pheasant sandwich to soak up the alcohol.
Thus fortified, I headed along Magdalene Street to Sanger’s Solar Powered Horsedrawn Stage, Dave Sanger is a veteran of festivals in all weathers and wasn’t going to let a gale spoil the opportunity for some anarchic fun, so there was a lively crowd dancing along, fuelled by Glastonbury Ales and spirits from the nearby horsebox bar, appropriately named ‘Unstabled’. I chatted to Simon Spoons whose formidable spoon playing I featured in a previous Frost Fayre post, he told me a very long and rambling story about the Newbury Road Protest camp, which for the life of me I can’t recall, but it was nice to see him anyway.
I was very much looking forward to going into the Abbey as they had advertised free entry until four pm and were hosting stalls and choirs, sadly I got to the gates at five past three to find that they were turning people away, not quite sure what the reason was, but I was rather disappointed. I also managed to miss the opening ceremony and the Dragon Drummers, due to too much pug cuddling and alcohol fortified hot drinks I think!
I did catch the Glastonbury Brass Band performing on the Market Cross, well done to them, it was bitterly cold and the prone Christmas Tree provided only a little shelter from the wind. It was rather more brass monkeys than brass band. Later afternoon we got a bit peckish but unsurprisingly couldn’t find a table to eat anywhere, this was somewhat ironic as I had been advising everyone of the need to book in advance. We ended up with kebabs from the Tor Kebab House, followed by a few pints with old mates from Pirate folksters Calico Jack in the Rifleman’s Arms
Despite being scaled down the Frost Fayre still exemplified the best of Glastonbury community spirit. There was a great vibe in the venues that had made last-minute changes to accommodate stalls and music, and the shops and hospitality had a (much needed) prosperous day.
I know exactly how stressful it is to be in charge of outdoor events in extreme weather conditions, so well done to the Frost Fayre committee and volunteers for pulling it off. The Town Hall staff deserve a special mention. They were there putting up the Christmas Tree on Thursday, then making it safe after it toppled over in the storm on Friday. They made the Town Hall into a market to accommodate stalls holders and bought in the music that was planned for the Melodrome Stage. At the end of the day there they were again, emptying the bins in the town making it tidy for Sunday. You guys work so hard in all weathers, thank you.
Finally, I very much missed our late Mayor, Denise Michell. She was always so much a part of Frost Fayre for me, in her fantastic outfits, sprinkling her magic everywhere, it wasn’t the same without her.
By the way, this post was not sponsored, no one paid me to link to them, I just like to promote local businesses.
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