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Golowan Festival | June 2014

When: 20th-29th June 2014
Where: Penzance

Forget football and Brazilian carnival, this week it’s all about Penzance’s Golowan. Now in its 24th year, Cornwall’s biggest and best community festival is currently in full swing, and gearing up for the big Mazey weekend.

A revival of the midsummer celebrations previously banned by the town council in the 1890s (due to an excess of drunkenness and fire risks) the festival has evolved into a packed ten day programme of music, theatre, dance, art exhibitions, poetry, storytelling, walks and talks, as well as hands-on community banner making and boat-building workshops. Add to that cricket matches, picnics, garden trails, circus shows, funfair rides, fantastic food and market stalls, and you can see why it attracts tens of thousands of people from far and wide.

With this year’s theme being ‘Golowan Goes Global’ it’s all about celebrating other cultures and how they’ve helped enrich our lives here, as well as acknowledging the contributions made by the Cornish Diaspora – our Cousin Jacks and Jennies – around the world. Twinned with Concarneau, a contingent from Brittany makes the pilgrimage to Penzance for Golowan each year, and with Mazey more ‘mazing than Christmas, it’s also a homecoming for many who have moved away.

But the more the merrier and everyone’s welcome to join in the fun.

The flaming tar barrels and bonfires may have been doused by health & safety zealots, but the burning torches and free-flowing libations remain. Marking the Feast of St John, as darkness falls on June 23rd, a torchlit procession down historic Chapel Street heralds the start of Golowan proper with the return of Penglaz, Penzance’s gruesome ‘Obby ‘Oss, followed by the wild and wonderful serpent dance, where a long line of people, hand-in-hand, twist and weave through the streets at breakneck speed, accompanied by the legendary Golowan Band.

Thursday evening sees the election of the Mock Mayor take place; another revived tradition whereby candidates put themselves forward to be voted in by the rowdy rabble as honorary parody mayor for the weekend. Given three minutes each to win the public over, expect grandiose characters, ridiculous costumes, impossible campaigns and unkeep-able promises. It’s not too late to go for glory, with wannabe mayors able to sign up on the night – but be warned, the clapometer’s decision is final. And you will also be expected to deliver a speech to the Market Jew Street masses alongside Penzance’s actual mayor on Mazey morning itself.

The skies will be a blaze of colour down by the Jubilee Pool on Friday, thanks to the spectacular Mazey Eve fireworks. Fight your way to the bar for a pint of Golowan Ale in the stylishly art deco Yacht Inn, or the nearby Dock and Dolphin Inns afterwards, before piling out onto the streets again for another appearance of Penglaz, and more shoulder-wrenching dancing.  But don’t stay out too late if you want to help dress the town.

Mazey Day

At 5am, an eager team of early birds decorate the streets with greenery and all of the beautiful hand-made banners and flags made in the community workshops, while stall holders set up ready for the mother of all street parties. A traffic free zone, the whole town comes out to play.

There’s music and entertainment absolutely everywhere throughout the day, but the defining feature of Mazey are the magnificent processions. Schools and community groups march, walk or dance their way down the main street in a series of parades, wearing fabulous costumes and carrying giant sculptural images. The imagination and ingenuity behind these fanciful creations is quite simply mind-blowing, and in the true spirit of Golowan, everyone is encouraged to take part.

If you have the stamina, there’s things happening right on through to the wee small hours, but do save some energy for Sunday’s Quay Fair Day, where the focus of the festival shifts down to the harbour. Incorporating a maritime festival as well, there’s nothing more lovely than old wooden boats, some of which will welcome you aboard. Or for the mini-me version, take a stroll along the prom to the Wherrytown Boating Pool, where at 11am the hotly contested withy boat race will be under sail.

There’s a full day of fantastic family friendly fun, not to mention the fairground and harbourside stalls, so make sure you either download a programme form the Golowan website, or grab a copy from the festival info tent on the day. With funding a far distant memory, the festival is fuelled by the energy and goodwill of dozens of hard-working volunteers, so if you see someone shaking a bucket, please pop in a pound or two as every little bit helps… And most importantly, enjoy!

For more info visit the Golowan Festival website.

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