You don’t have to be an early riser to enjoy morris dancing – but it helps.
The annual celebration marks the day when Victorian sweeps, including young chimney boys, put down their brooms to have some fun and look ahead to the summer.
There is early morning dancing when the sun comes up to mark May Day. However, for visitors to the general festivities in the heart of Rochester, there’s a more reasonable start time of 10.45am, on Saturday, April 30, when things are kicked off at the Guildhall Museum forecourt.
It’s the biggest gathering of English morris sides in the world, with more than 1,000 dancers taking part over three days.
Revived in 1980, the festival sees chimney sweeps processing, dancing and singing through the city in an effort to raise money for the unpaid months ahead. Now funded by Medway Council, it’s the first folk festival in the county calendar for 2106. It’s also where music from around the world meets traditional dancing in a colourful extravaganza of free entertainment.
Rochester Castle Gardens will host a main stage with music throughout Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday alongside a variety of attractions including artisan food and drink stalls, children’s fun fair, folk art and psychic event and real ale and licensed bars.
In Rochester High Street, there will be morris dancing and have-a-go pianos, plus three music stages, while in the castle moat there is storytelling and ceilidhs, or barn dances, for a spot of country dancing.
For die-hard traditionalists, there is an early morning ceremony where hundreds of dancers will congregate at Kits Coty, Blue Bell Hill for the Jack-in-the-Green awakening ceremony to welcome in the summer at 5.32am on Sunday, May 1.
The whole weekend finishes on Bank Holiday Monday when the festival procession sweeps through from Star Hill to the Castle Gardens at 2.30pm.
IT'S ALSO ABOUT THE MUSIC
Rochester’s pubs will play host to a multitude of folk music styles with bluegrass, Irish, steampunk, sea shanties, indie folk, singers, Americana and folk and rock all catered for in a varied programme.
On top of that, the Good Intent, Man of Kent Alehouse, Coopers Arms, Granville Arms, the Singapora Lounge and the Gordon House Hotel will all host real ale festivals alongside the music. Songwriters’ Den On the Road is back at Boley Hill to give performers from all around Kent a platform for their music. Over the weekend more than 40 bands and singers will be on stage in conjunction with Medway Hospital Radio.
The Huguenot Museum is also staging a special free sit-down concert on the Saturday afternoon with local innovative band the Flowing. Tickets need to be booked in advance by calling 01634 374789.
WHERE AND WHEN?
The Rochester Sweeps Festival runs from Saturday, April 30 to Bank Holiday Monday.
It runs from 10.45am on Saturday, April 30, until the final procession at 2.30pm on Bank Holiday Monday.
FOR MORE DETAILS
For more details go to the Visitor Information Centre in Rochester High Street or call 01634 338141 or visit whatsonmedway.co.uk, where you can find the full programme. You can visit by train as Rochester Station is only a few minutes walk from the High Street.
For details visit setrains.co.uk. There is limited parking over the weekend in the town. You can download a map from the website.