John L Matthews, who lives in Dobcross, gives his view of the joys of Saddleworth’s unique Whit Weekend.
WHIT FRIDAY is a holiday almost everyone takes voluntarily in my and all the other villages of Saddleworth.
Even in the pouring rain the many hundreds gathered, just as many as if it was bright and sunny. But rather than all the gaily coloured flower print dresses and summer jackets, this time it was black umbrellas, and blue and green waterproof coats.
One young woman wore a bright pink felt hat with a flower, a pink waterproof with dangled coloured beads from her wellies. She is always a smiley person and she dressed the same in the pouring rain, her character coming out in all weathers.
I have no religious connections – in fact I am highly suspicious of the Church. However I love walking down a closed public road en-masse following the church banner. Whitsun is about being witnessed as a Christian. I don’t see myself as a Christian though for sure I have some Christian values.
I am happy to be witnessed walking down the high street. I like it because I look for faces I have not seen in the last year. I say hello to fellow walkers who I rarely see, walking and chatting with them for a short while then moving on to someone else. This is community, somewhere I belong, and I like that.
Also the walking is accompanied by the brass bands of the villages, all excited about the competition that is brewing that afternoon.
This is a weekend of tradition! In the afternoon, it is the Brass Band contests – the largest competition of its kind in the world. Right on my doorstep.
This year I saw bands from Finland, New South Wales, Switzerland – plus the world champions Black Dyke, who are preceded by three magnificent trophies, one as impressive as the world cup and no joke, it’s huge!
Out of all the bands I watched, these got a hush sshhh and total silence. They were very crisp, but I thought Marsden Silver were better in fact, more subtle and less in your face, less cocky.
Wandering around the villages, you see young families picnicking, lots of drinking, lots of merriment. And bands walking down the main streets playing jolly music not only to entertain, but to warm up for their competition. They have practiced all year for this event and give it their all.
Some are scratch university bands, playing in fancy dress. One was made entirely of zombies, and instead of playing the official standard in the competition, played Michael Jackson’s Thriller! They got a massive applause! I bet the judges loved hearing that after eight hours of the same tunes.
I watched New South Wales, a huge band all in brand new shiny blue pilots outfits, blast open the Greenfield event with fantastic reception. They then drive off to another village, playing as many competitions as they can.
It’s a brilliant event and quite unique.
As if that was not enough, it’s all topped off by the 40-year-old Saddleworth Beer Walk, keep going unofficially for the last four years by people like me who love it and like to have fun.
A ten-mile walk around local pubs, people dress up in fantastic fancy dress outfits. I walked with a group of fairground Waltzers who span in circles, Noel Edmonds doing a mobile Deal or No Deal, several Wonder Women, two gorgeous Pick and Mix sweet sellers forever giving out packets of sweets, three Wombles, the Knights Templar, a Gorilla, Jimmy Hendrix, some 70’s Dudesters.
The best bit was walkers commentating on a quiet game of bowls at Dobcross Band Club who had opened especially to provide the walkers beer.
I walked it with the dog starting in civvies, quickly nipping into the village charity shop to buy an oversized pink and gold dressing gown, rubber ring and goggles, re-joining the group as an eccentric bather, and feeling more a part of it having had a couple of pints of real ale.
I think the Beer Walk is here to stay! Find out more on their unofficial group.
John is thinking about making a video about the unique Whit Weekend. Get in touch with your ideas and help: email@example.com and please mark any e-mails BAND