If I say I love autumn, it sounds like I’m jumping on the blogger bandwagon.
You’d be expecting me to start professing my undying love for pumpkin spiced lattes, stomping in the leaves and wearing oversized jumpers. Now, whilst the aforementioned are all nice (except the lattes… coffee’s not my bag), there is an autumn tradition that I look forward to above any other, and I’m very excited to finally share it with you today.
Welcome, one and all, to the October Plenty Festival.
It’s difficult to know quite how to describe this marvellous piece of pagan-inspired harvest celebration. It’s such a unique and special thing, sand I wish I could somehow bottle and enjoy it for the rest of the year, just like I do with the first sunrise of the year on January 1st.
As I should imagine with most who’ve experienced it, I first discovered October Plenty completely by accident. It all starts on bank of the Thames, not far from London Bridge tube station. Usually all you have to do is follow the sound of the music.
It gets louder as you round the corner, and before you realise what’s happened, you’ve stumbled into a riot of colour and medieval-inspired costumes. There are folks selling corn dollies and handmade necklaces with faces of the Green Man on them.
You’re distracted by all this for a few minutes, perhaps even rummage in your pockets for some change to buy a programme, though you don’t really know what it’s for.
Then, out of the corner of your eye you catch the sight of a procession making its way towards you, a bell ringer with wild curly brown hair at the helm and an accordionist at the rear, in between them women wearing rainbow-coloured dresses, folks with stag antlers and fox tails, morris dancers and a ten-foot tall effigy of a woman created entirely of vegetables.
Oh, and a man dressed from head to toe in green.
What you’re seeing here are members of The Lion’s Part, a group of thespians from a wide range of artistic backgrounds who come together in order to share their love of traditional music, costume, celebration and the seasons. Twice a year they perform two free spectacles, the Twelfth Night celebrations in January, and the October Plenty Festival in October.
So hypnotising and heart-warming are their performers, and so jolly and jaunty their music, you won’t stop to question that you’re following this eclectic bunch along the riverside towards Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, up through the iconic gates of this glorious building and filing into the rows of wooden benches that stack three levels high and wrap around the stage.
The music goes on and you’re treated to laughs, thrills and stunning performance. The Lion’s Part have a long-standing friendship with the management of the Globe, and the head-honcho is there himself, standing next to the man all dressed in green and clapping his hands along in time with the music.
… and just in case you thought I’d be the only one in the crowd at such an obscure event! Every year I attend, October Plenty gets more and more popular.
When the performance is over, the curly-haired bell ringer invites everyone to join the performers as they sing and dance their way down to ancient Borough Market (which this year celebrates its 1000th birthday!) to enjoy the annual tradition of Apple Day.
And then, no matter what your plans were up until that point, you’ll find yourself following the crowd jostling to leave the Globe, making your way past surprised onlookers – many of whom join the parade as you pass – en route to the market.
Once you arrive, it’s clear its a foodie paradise. Cups of hot cider, freshly pressed juices, jams, preserves, cakes, crusty bread rolls, cheese as far as the eye can see and a never-ending supply of fruits and veggies, all backing on to stalls selling the most delicious and varied-looking world cuisine you can possibly imagine.
But of course, it’s Apple Day and the humble fellow takes centre stage.
There are so many types of apples you’ll lose count; there must be a hundred different varieties. And if you’re feeling like something sweeter, the proximity of October Plenty to Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night means there’s always a toffee apple or two up for grabs!
Things get underway again once the Lion’s Part reaches the makeshift stage at the back of the market, encouraging everyone to make merry and give thanks for the bountiful harvest. The Morris dancers perform their routine as the man dressed in green makes his way through the crowds, a veritable celebrity as people stop him for photographs every few feet.
And then it’s games of conkers and fairytale reading and more performing, a barrage of good-natured fun and smiles and an important reminder to be grateful for the bounty of the earth at this time of the year. It’s one last hurrah before we turn the corner into winter.
It’s hard to accurately sum up the experience of October Plenty, but one review I read managed to get it spot on: “imagine your primary school harvest table just came to life”.
And started dancing, laughing and performing Shakespeare right in front of your eyes.