Imagine the scene. There we were, enjoying a morning coffee outside our favourite tapas bar in Barnstaple when a man dressed in green foliage and balanced on top of 6-foot stilts walked by. Now even in rural North Devon, that doesn’t happen every day. Abandoning my latte, I followed the stilt walker to the square to find a crowd of green-robed and oak leave garlanded people, giant animal skulls on poles and even a bag pipe band tuning up in the corner. On enquiry I learned that it was the start of the annual Pilton Green Man Festival. On impulse, we decided to follow the procession – and had one of those unplanned but electrifying fun days that happens when you just go with the flow.
After wending its way through the main shopping area, the procession ended up in one of the most ancient and historic parts of Barnstaple; Pilton, once a separate village but now a suburb of the town. As we turned into the bottom of the narrow hill that is Pilton we were literally stopped in our tracks by the sea of flags bunting and stalls that disappeared up out of sight
Although it was only a little past 11 am, the crowds were jostling for room amid the food and craft stalls that lined the street –a live band was playing on an adjacent stage and somehow an atmosphere of genuine, friendly community pervaded the area. House windows were filled with green man decorations and one thoughtful householder had even put a dozen chairs outside his home with a notice saying “Rest Place”. As we climbed the hill, we were assailed by aromas of hot dogs frying, chilli stewing and coffee bubbling – a young man was demonstrating card tricks to baffled children, a guitarist was singing on the middle stage and everywhere stalls invited you to sample home made cakes, biscuits and jam.
At the top another large stage held a band doing a credible rendition of an old Beach Boys hit and when we had satisfied our nostalgia, we followed the crowd into the old and very beautiful church of St. Mary’s where a talented Acapulco choir named ‘Vocal Accord’ were about to perform. Meaning only to stay for the first song, we were captivated by the close harmonies and intricate arrangements and stayed an hour for the whole performance. Afterwards we popped next door into the Old School House to see the Pilton Arts Group exhibition which showed that amateur talent is alive and well in North Devon.
Retracing our footsteps down the hill, we turned into the Rotary Gardens to find more music from an ‘open mike’ area adjacent to a very welcome beer tent. In the lower garden a hand cranked Victorian merry-go-round thrilled 21st century children (and adults!), a unicyclist who kept his balance whist juggling Indian clubs and even a Punch and Judy stall – all side by side with a Pimm’s Tent, a Caribbean Kitchen and a traditional ice cream bike. Don’t know what an ice cream bike is? Better visit the festival next year and find out!
Feeling somewhat footsore, we looked at our watches and were amazed to find it was 4 pm – as the saying goes “time flies when you are enjoying yourself” so we said farewell to the Green Man festival and promised put a note on next years calendar to revisit. The Green Man festival is held on the 3rd Saturday in July annually.