The sound of clogs, bells and accordions echoes down the tunnel towards Monsal viaduct, announcing the arrival of this most peculiar English tradition
The Monsal Trail tunnels have clear user advice for cyclists, walkers and horse riders, but not, as yet, for Morris dancers. No matter. The Sheffield City Morris Men have done their own risk assessment.
“Horses and tunnels and kids and bells and hankies don’t mix,” said Peter Delamere. “So this year we had a horse guard.”
As the sound of clogs, bells and accordions echoed down the tunnel towards Monsal viaduct, the advance party warned oncomers: “Morris Dancers coming through.”
In 2013 Sheffield City’s Thornbridge Weekend of Dance coincided with an equestrian event further along the trail. “Last year, I’m afraid we did frighten the horses,” noted the SCCM advance guard.
“The idea of the weekend is to enjoy ourselves, and repay the hospitality we receive from other teams around the country,” said Dominic Rice.
This year Sheffield City were joined by Rivington Morris from Bolton, William Morris from Sheffield, and, Moss Bros, a trio of younger performers from London and beyond.
Ben Moss, an almost lifelong Morris dancer now aged 23, has recently become a Morris professional in London, teaching traditional dance and music to young people and working on Morris themed stage shows.
“When I meet people now and tell them what I do, they think it’s cool and interesting, although I did have to be a bit thick skinned when I was at school,” he said.
Jonathan Vidler, one of the 30-something members of Sheffield City, added: “People these days are harking back to the good old days, and wanting to keep English traditions alive.
“Morris dancing is the original English dance form, and people our age want to see that it will still be around in 50 years time.” The public of Derbyshire were generally delighted to find the teams performing on Monsal viaduct, with families of walkers and pelotons of cyclists stopping to watch. Mostly, anyway - one middle aged mountain biker surprised everyone by weaving unsteadily through the middle of a performance.
“I was a little worried I was going to kick him by accident,” said Dominic Moss, after he and brother Ben had performed an energetic jig.
There were around 100 spectators at any one time on the viaduct.
“People are in a better mood when they’re out of the city,” said Jonathan Vidler, and the sunny weekend weather was no surprise. “It’s what we call the ‘luck of the Morris’. It’s been raining all week, then when we arrive the sun comes out.”
The team is performing at various events through the summer, including a Tour de Dance event in Sheffield city centre on the big weekend. Next year is the 40th birthday of Sheffield City Morris, so the Thornbridge weekend will be even bigger.
Sheffield is a hotbed of Morris, with around a dozen teams in Sheffield and 15 to 20 in South Yorkshire.
“There’s a big surge of interest in Morris,” said Ben Moss. “It’s seen by people as a cool thing to do.”
At Monsal Head more spectators gathered to watch as Sheffield City whacked their sticks and fluttered their handkerchiefs above one of the finest views in the Peak District.
John Ruskin was famously dismissive of the railway viaduct, said Peter Delamere.
“But I think he’d have approved today, seeing so many people out and enjoying the countryside.”
Whether Ruskin wore bells and banged sticks himself is not clear, Peter added.
“But he lived in Walkley, so he could well have been a Morris dancer.”