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Quirky Traditions in the Ouse26Washes Landscape

The Ouse Washes Landscape in the heart of the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens is a fascinating area to visit for its unique and beautiful views, perfect tranquillity, wetland wildlife reserves and rich history. It also boasts distinctive and intriguing customs and traditions only found in Fenland.

In an attempt to conceal their identities, the dancers would paint their faces with soot and wear flamboyant outfits and scarves. You can see Molly Dancing across the Fens and throughout the year by troupes such as the Ouse Washes, Mepal and Pig Dyke Molly Dancers.

Where else would you find the sport of Fen Skating, which is literally skating on flooded Fen fields or on the Ouse Washes themselves? Once frozen, these shallow floodplains make a perfect ice rink, which have been used for centuries, with farm workers strapping bones to the bottom of their shoes. By the late 1900s, Fen Skating had become a famous sport and thousands of people would gather to watch international competitions with famous local champions such as Turkey Smart and Gutter Percher See. If the weather conditions are right, Fen Skating still takes place at various historic skating sites including Bury Fen, Sutton Gault and Welney. You can find out more at www. fenskating.co.uk.

Fenland holds such an abundance of intriguing history that it’s impossible to mention everything here but important local stories worth exploring include the Fen Tigers who fiercely opposed and sabotaged the drainage system engineered by Cornelius Vermuyden in the 1600s; the great 1830s social experiment and utopian dream at Manea Colony; the 1816 Ely and Littleport Riots caused by hardship following the Napoleonic Wars; and the 1970s Hovertrain trials that took place at Earith.

Another tradition also very much alive today is wonderful Molly Dancing, which was first reported in the Fens in the 1820s and historically took place on Plough Monday. Local ploughboys would tour Fenland villages performing entertaining dances to raise money to fill the tough period between Christmas and the start of the spring ploughing season.

The whole area has always been rich with distinctive customs, traditions, folklore and arts. An intriguing programme of festivals and events takes place throughout the year including OuseFest, Straw Bear Festival and Ely Potato Race. Discover the mystery of the Fens and find out more about local customs and events by visiting the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership’s What’s On Calendar: www.ousewashes.org.uk/whats-on Sara Marshall

Ely Magazine March 2016  

A Monthly Community Magazine for the Cathedral City of Ely in Cambridgeshire.

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