Plot Notes

A personal journal, open for the world to read, recording the progress of a novice allotmenteer on his allotment.

Weed it and reap.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Mud, wet and beers.

Now that the snow has gone and we have had a couple of frost free nights the allotment site has become very soggy. I have got standing water on the paths between my raised beds and a pond has formed behind the greenhouse. This was not unexpected and, fortunately, towards the end of the Summer, I took the precaution of digging some drainage channels between the rows of vines. So far these seem to be working well and the vines are not currently in immediate danger of drowning.

The water table on the plot is quite high. This should not be surprising when you look at the local history. 400 years ago the whole site was under water. In fact, I live on an island, the Isle of Axholme. Today you don't really notice that you are crossing any body of water when you come to this part of North Lincolnshire but before the land was drained by the Dutch engineer Vermuyden in the early 17th century there was a regular boat service which sailed from a point close to the allotment site to Hatfield Woodhouse, about 6 miles away, on the outskirts of Doncaster. The Isle was formed by the areas of higher ground which were cut off by the flow of the rivers Trent, Don, Idle and Torne and their floodplains.

Vermuyden installed a system of dykes and pumps to drain the land. Much of his drainage system remains in place today and part of our allotment annual rent is paid to the local Drainage Board as a levy towards the cost of maintaining the dykes and pumps which still save the land on the Isle from inundation today. Prior to Vermuyden's works, at the times when the land was not entirely flooded, the Isle was surrounded by marshes which could only be safely navigated with the help of a local guide.

In Roman times the area around The Isle was a thickly wooded impenetrable swamp from which raiding parties of locals emerged and helped themselves to the provisions and livestock, which had been destined for the Roman legionaires stationed at the fort in Doncaster, before melting back into the swamp with their booty. They became such a thorn in the side of the Roman army that the Romans set about removing all the trees from the area in an effort to deny hiding places and make it easier to pursue the raiding Islonians. This deforestation is thought to have hastened the flooding of the land around The Isle.

It is possibly because of this history of centuries of isolation that our local annual mad mid-winter tradition of the Ancient Game of the Haxey Hood has survived. That may be one reason why it has survived but I'm sure the main reason is because it is such fantastic fun.

So, what is the Haxey Hood? The simplest explanation is that it is a medieval rugby type of game played between our village of Westwoodside and our rivals in the neighbouring village of Haxey. The true origins of the game are surely lost in the mist of time but the legend is that 808 years ago (I'm sure it was 808 years ago because when I moved into the village 8 years ago they told me that it was an 800 year old tradition) the Lady Mowbray, wife of the local landowner, was riding over the hill between the two villages when her hood was blown off by the wind. She was so amused by the attempts of the ploughmen in the fields to catch her hood that she granted the 13 men an acre of land each in perpetuity on condition that they recreated the event on Twelth Night each year.

The Hood itself is a yard long leather cylinder which is about 2 or 3 inches in diameter bearing no resemblance whatsoever to a 13th century riding hat. The modern objective of the game is to get The Hood to either the pub in Westwoodside or to one of the three pubs in Haxey. The winning pub then serves free beer. There is a lot more to it than this but I won't bore you with all the details. If you are interested in learning about the Boggins, the Lord, the Fool, the smoking of the Fool, the sway, the folk songs and the myth and legend try Googling the Haxey Hood and also have a look at some of the clips on YouTube.

The day of the Haxey Hood is the best day of the year for me. It is like my birthday, Christmas and New Year all rolled into one great day. On top of the 808 year old traditions I have my own more recent traditions to follow. My day starts with a group of friends and fellow allotmenteers for a stomach lining port and Jaffa Cake breakfast. We then move on to the Carpenters Arms for the first beers of the day and to witness the "painting of the Fool". Following this we call in at Rick's Mum's house for a pie and rioja brunch in honour of Rick's birthday. Beer drinking then resumes in Haxey before we assemble in the street outside the church at about 3pm to hear the Fool's speech and watch the "smoking of the Fool". There is then maybe time for another pint or a dram from a hip-flask before removing all sharp objects from pockets and joining the mass scrum in an effort to push the Hood through the muddy fields and narrow streets to Westwoodside.

This time last week my head was pounding, my ribs were aching, my ankles were bruised and swollen and every joint and muscle in my body was throbbing with pain, but it was worth it. We pushed the Hood home to the Carpenters Arms against all the odds and it now hangs in place of honour behind the bar until next year.

Here are some links to local TV coverage


  1. Sounds like a perfect day! How fabulous to be able to help the old traditions stay alive and active and drink beer at the same time. And Rioja. And Port... Almost worth moving to Lincolnshire... Though I like the fact that we have good drainage on our allotments. OK, currently very muddy, but a couple of dry days and it will all be workable again.

  2. Thanks for a rollocking good post, Phil.

    p.s. It seems a black pudding has crept into your picture.

  3. Hi Phil. I wandered in here for a nosey after seeing you on the sidebar of The Idiot Gardener's blog. I'm very glad I did as I've had a thoroughly enjoyable read through your posts, so thans for that ...oh, and have a glass of port on me!

  4. Plantalicious - Yes, Hood Day really is a perfect day. I like the look of your plot. Mine is stating to drain now too.

    Mal - Cheers! If it was a black pudding I'd have eaten it in one sitting after the appetite I'd built up from 4 hours in the scrum.

    Nutty- thanks for you comments. Feel free to have a nosey around anytime. I can't compete with the IG for laughs but I'm pleased you enjoyed the read.