Beltane and the Transhumance

I am sorry to say that I didn’t rise at 5.00am today to see one of the local Morris sides dance the Sun up for Beltane morn at Haytor up on the moor – the weather forecast last night for this morning was not good; not only was there little prospect of seeing the Sun, but rain was forecast.

Beltane, though, is a wonderful example of how human culture has developed closely in tune with nature. I am not an expert on the subject (and it is pure coincidence that this post follows one titled ‘the sacrificial paddock’!), so won’t delve to deeply into the various fertilty rites associated with this Celtic festival, other than to note it’s interest as a stockman (and as such, much more attuned to natural cycles than ever I was when office-bound). The Dexters were not led between fires as part of a saining last night – nor the sheep. Aside form it being a little wet, I am not sure what concerns might have arisen in the village at the sight of stock being led towards fires – I might have attracted either the fire brigade of those interested in an impromptu roast.

Part of the Beltane tradition though, involves the moving of cattle from lowland pastures – or byres – up to higher grazing on the 1st of May. Having commoner’s grazing rights up on the moor, this is something that appeals to me, in a romantic rather than practical way. Among the impracticalities of me doing this are the requirements of the bovine TB testing regime. If I want to move my cattle off of my holding I need to have then TB tested. There are many views on the cattle TB issue, perhaps the subject of a future post, but an important issue is that of farmer (and vet) safety; the 2-visit tests too often result in severe injury and worse. It would be easier if I wanted the Shetlands to partake in a local transhumance (though I don’t believe it is observed in the old ways anymore around here), since moving the sheep up to the moors for summer grazing would not involve having them tested (though plenty of bureaucracy would be involved). I prefer to keep my stock nearby in any case! In some parts, the transhumance is still a working tradition – I was lucky enough to be in the Ariege, SW France during this event some years ago – it makes for a very rich connection to the land and nature, which is where I came in, with Beltane. No saining then, but maybe a bonfire sometime soon – happy feasting!

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