Regular readers know I enjoy writing about unusual topics and Bisterne’s annual Scarecrow Festival ticks all the right boxes for me. I previously wrote about the Festival in 2011 and was delighted to return again last month to cover the event for a second time.
This year, despite their being fewer scarecrows, the standard of entrants (because yes, this is a competition) was very high, if not higher, than 2011. There were twenty-two scarecrow tableaux in seventeen separate locations throughout the village. Visiting the Festival is like taking part in a very bizarre treasure hunt. The first task being to purchase a copy of the £1 Trail Map from any number of locations en-route including a Texaco Garage at the village entrance.
There is certainly a skill to negotiating Bisterne’s ridiculously narrow country lanes. Upon exiting the car, I found myself playing chicken with the traffic in order to engage in a spot of guerrilla photography.
The Festival is very popular and you may find yourself having to take another lap of the village before a parking space becomes available on one of the grass verges/viewing points. As the map, politely, points out: ‘Please drive with care on our narrow lanes.’ They were not kidding!
This event enables one to enjoy rural England at its very best. Many houses are of ‘chocolate box’ pedigree complimented by a garden rich with flowers and vegetables. Quite a few residents sell their own produce from makeshift wooden cupolas and picnic tables positioned outside front gates. Everything from honey to duck, goose and hen’s eggs can be purchased as well as an assortment of organic produce, still caked in mud, having been freshly harvested that very morning. Honesty boxes are used and it is refreshing to see that trust still exists in this fertile corner of England’s green and pleasant land.
The Festival started in 2002 and takes place during the last two weeks of August. This is a community event which aims to raise funds for Bisterne’s Village Hall and in doing so draws visitors to this delightful part of rural Hampshire from afar. The Village Hall was built in 1840 to house the local school and is adjacent to a thatched building which was once the old schoolhouse. Following its closure in 1946, the two buildings were given to Bitterne and Crow to be used as a Village Hall.
Bisterne has less than 500 inhabitants and is located near Ringwood on the edge of the New Forest National Park . It dates back to Saxon times and printed on the Festival map is this interesting description of how Bisterne came by its name:
This Saxon manor of Bede’s Thorn lies three miles south of Ringwood, bounded on the west side by the River Avon and is in the New Forest National Park. The name became Bettesthorne, the name taken by the Norman inheritors as their surname and then eventually Bisterne. The Manor passed by inheritance from the Bettesthornes to the Berkeleys, then to the Comptons in the 16th Century. In 1792, it was purchased by William Mills and it still remains in the Mills family today.
“Here be Dragons”
A “devouring Dragon that had made it’s lair at Burley Beacon did much mischief upon man and cattel” was killed at Bisterne by Sir Maurice Berkeley and his two trusty hounds. Sir Maurice died soon after in 1459. This legend is commemorated by carvings over the front doors of Bisterne Manor, Dragon Lane, Dragon Cottages and the field called Dragon Field behind the sawmill.
The scarecrows on display at Bisterne come in all shapes and sizes. They are made out of a variety of materials including fabric, Papier Mâché, wood and other recycled matter.
The themes this year were a bit of mixed bag, ranging from sporting events, topical news stories to literature and assorted characters in popular culture. If you do get a chance to visit Hampshire in 2014, then I highly recommend a trip to The Bisterne Scarecrow Festival, just remember to drive carefully and be prepared to embrace the event’s unconventional charm.