One of the joys of moving to a new area is the discovery of local traditions, often unknown outside of their small area. England is rife with such customs, ranging from the riotous (Padstow 'Obby 'Oss - a Cornish village May Day parade) to the ridiculous (Gloucestershire cheese rolling - chasing a Double Gloucester cheese down a 1 in 3 hill). Both of these have become internationally famous, but few people we know outside of Derbyshire seem to have heard of the local practice of well dressing.
That's not the same as being well-dressed, you understand. In fact wearing your best clothes to help dress a well would be a really bad idea. The process starts with trampling clay underfoot, softening it to fill a wooden frame. Then you have to trek through the woods to find flower petals, leaves, twigs and alder cones to build up the picture. Only natural materials are allowed, although not necessarily British - we noticed coffee beans and glacé cherries included in some patterns!
The designs are beautiful, and amazingly detailed; it can take up to
three days to create the well dressings. Once finished, they are
displayed at water sources around the village for a week or so.
We visited the tiny village of Tissington,
which claims to have originated the custom. It's a beautiful place to
wander around on any sunny day, so the open-air artwork was just the
icing on the cake. Many of this year's dressings commemorated the 100th
anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. The sombre depiction of a
battlefield was particularly moving.
Lightening the mood, the Faith, Hope + Community picture featured farm animals, teapots and sugar cubes. And some strange things that looked vaguely like moneybags. Any guesses?
Altogether there were seven well dressings spread around the village. We admired them all, shared a picnic lunch, and walked a small portion of the nearby Tissington Trail. My mom taught Toby a few flower names, and on the way home he fell asleep in the car. Still clutching a sprig of wild garlic.
All's well that ends well!