I think it’s important to remember that Cornwall is one of the prettiest and warmest corners of England, an idyllic rural peninsula surrounded by blue seas, with miles of white sand beaches, soaring cliffs, and inland green hills and rolling moors. It is a hugely popular holiday resort, famous for its traditional fishing ports and harbour towns, without a hint of cheapness or vulgarity – Padstow is a classic example of this.
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The Old Traditions Are Best
by Paul Finch
‘Check this out.’ Russ read a selected passage. “In 1346, during the Hundred Years War, England’s king, Edward III, commenced a lengthy siege of the port of Calais. The French fleet was unable to break it, and thus launched a series of tit-for-tat raids on English coastal towns. One such was Padstow in north Cornwall, which was assaulted in the April of 1347. The town, denuded of defenders as the bulk of its male population was involved at Calais, could only offer resistance by carrying the town’s traditional spring-time symbol, the Hobby-Horse – or Obby Oss – down to the harbour, and threatening to invoke demonic forces with it. The French scoffed at this, but legend holds that, when they landed, the Obby Oss did indeed come to life and attack them. Several Frenchmen were borne away into the sea by it, before their comrades fled.”
Scott still wasn’t listening. He was too preoccupied with the incident earlier, and what, if anything, it might signify. As far as he understood, the ‘Safari Programme’, as the popular press scornfully termed it, was designed to provide short holidays for young offenders as an aid to their rehabilitation. It was supposed to be good for everyone: ease up pressure on the prison system, and show the offender that a different and more rewarding lifestyle was possible. But surely the people who actually lived in the place the offender was being taken to weren’t supposed to know about it? Surely the whole thing would be carried out as secretly as possible? This had worried Scott from the outset. Thoughts of mob vengeance were never far from a young criminal’s mind. Back in Manchester, he knew of one lad who’d been tied to a lamp-post and had paint poured over him. Another had been locked in a shed with a savage dog, and had almost died from his injuries.
Russ read on. “Owing to the infernal forces that allegedly worked through it on that long-ago spring day, the Padstow Oss has developed a reputation for defending the town aggressively, even cruelly. This is not entirely out of keeping with other hobby-horse legends. Scholars have suggested that the name itself, ‘hobby-horse’, derives from the old English word ‘Hobb’, which means ‘Devil’, though in the case of Padstow events have clearly gone a little farther than most. Even now, in modern times, the Padstow Oss has a disquieting appearance, and in a grim reversal of the role commonly played by fertility gods, is said to draw its power from violence rather than love.”
‘Didn’t know this place was so interesting,’ Mary said, taking a sip of lemonade.
Russ looked again at Scott, who hadn’t touched his own drink. ‘Just shows though, doesn’t it, Scott. You thought that bloke was having a go at you, but all he was doing was telling you about the history of the place.’