Taking place every year on May Day, Padstow’s Obby Oss Festival is a hugely popular celebration. Kicking off at midnight between April 30th and May 1st, the festival brings together massive crowds from all over the world.
Unique to the beautiful fishing port of Padstow, the exact origins of the Hobby Horse, or Obby Oss Festival are unknown. Whilst we know that it has been taking place since at least the early 19th Century, there are suggestions that it may originate from the Celtic festival of Beltane.
Although the festival now involves two horses, or osses, according to original documentation it only started off with one. Then from 1919 onwards another oss, the Blue Ribbon Obby Oss, became a permanent feature. This oss was supposedly introduced as a sort of intervention by local groups who wanted to protest the uproarious behaviour rapidly becoming associated with the festival. However, subsequent attempts to prevent the liberal consumption of alcohol at the festival were met with deaf ears.
As tradition dictates, Padstow’s Obby Oss Festival begins every year at the turn of midnight between 30th April and May Day. At this time, crowds gather together outside of the Gold Lion Inn and welcome in the festival with a song. Overnight, the town of Padstow is transformed and decorated with flags and flowers like cowslips, bluebells and forget-me-nots.
Throughout May Day, crowds gather and grow. Children parade their own junior osses and thousands of people turn out for the main event. Completing two slightly different routes around Padstow the two osses are accompanied by drums and accordions. Along the way supporters line the streets and follow on, merrily singing along.
Led by ‘Teazers’ who tauntingly encourage the osses on their way, both osses are decorated with strange masks and sweeping black capes from which they try to ensnare young maidens passing by. Accompanying dancers are dressed in white and the procession whirls and dances for onlooking eyes.
While both obby osses take slightly different paths around Padstow, the celebrations are easy to catch up to. The Blue Ribbon Obby Oss begins its tour at 10am from the Padstow Institute and the Old Obby Oss picks up the more traditional route, starting outside the Gold Lion Inn at 11am. At 12am, the Old Obby Oss arrives at Prideaux Place where it dances for its audience before heading back to the Gold Lion Inn. The osses complete another tour at 2pm and 6pm before gathering together around the maypole on Broadstreet to complete their parade.
The festival ends around midnight with the obby osses back in their stables, ready to celebrate again the following year.
The Padstow Obby Oss Festival is the pride of many Padstonians. Many people return each year to celebrate and the festival is an excellent opportunity for locals and visitors alike to get involved and ensure its legacy.