Date: Wakes Monday (first Monday after the first Sunday after 4 September). 9 Sep 2013; 8 Sep 2014; 7 Sep 2015.
Level of participation: 2 - glimpse an 800-year-old pagan dance involving unwieldy antlers.
The date of the Horn Dance is not the only archaic aspect of this ancient rite. Held in a small village in the English Midlands, the ritual begins at 8am on the dot. The participants take the six sets of deer antlers, which carbon dating has revealed to be about 1000 years old, from the church. The horns are rather big, weighing between 7kg and 11kg. Six ‘deer men’ spend the next 12 hours carrying them around a 16km circuit of the surrounding countryside, accompanied by a hobby horse, a Robin Hood–style archer and Maid Marian. They regularly stop to dance, mimicking a bowman killing a deer, to music provided by a melodeon and triangle player.
One of England’s oldest surviving ritual dances, the event dates back to 1226. It has apparently only been cancelled once - in the 1920s, because the musician was ill and one of the dancers had died. It possibly began as a commemoration of the village’s acquisition of hunting rights in Needwood Forest, and the dance was an animistic ritual to ensure lucky hunting. Hobbyhorses are also a fertility symbol.