Castleton has four remarkable underground show caves and each is worth a visit in its own right. These are Blue John Cavern, Speedwell Cavern, Treak Cliff Cavern and the Devil’s Arse or Peak Cavern.
The Garland is paraded from the barn complete with the Queen Posey fitted to the top and placed over the shoulders of the King. The King, Consort, brass band and dancers then process from pub to pub, stopping naturally for refreshment, more dancing and music.
The Castleton Garland tune, which is played near continuously throughout the day, appears to be a variant of the famous floral dance as used in Helston in Cornwall, during their own famous May Day festivities, featuring the Obby Oss. It is speculated that the tune was brought to Derbyshire centuries ago by Cornish miners and hints at yet another influence on this highly complex ceremony. The completely nonsensical verse of the Garland tune runs:
Up until 1956 the Queen Consort was known as “the woman” and as with many other traditions, the part was played by a man. Furthermore, I myself have seen photographs dating from the 1950’s, showing women on foot leading the procession dressed as witches. Completely covered in black and wearing conical hats, these witches carry besoms and sweep the route in front of the band and the riders as they progress from pub to pub.
After visiting the last pub, the King rides to the entrance of the churchyard and the Queen Posey is their removed from the Garland. The King then rides into the churchyard and on up to the tower. It is here that amongst much cheering, ropes are lowered from the tower and the Garland is then hauled up the tower by the strong men of Castleton. All bar one of the tower pinnacles being decorated with oak branches, the Garland is placed over the single bare pinnacle. The Garland will remain there for several weeks.
The key elements of the ceremony however, may shed light upon a search for meaning behind the symbolism we encounter in the event itself. The riding of a circuit of the village may suggest for example, some form of warding or boundary marking. Perhaps in this way ill luck is banished from the village or it may simply be a method of delineating an area separate from the everyday world, the marking of Castleton as a sacred place for the duration of the ceremony.