Some places are like people; some shine, and some don’t. In May, Ludlow has the shining. The surrounding countryside is bursting with life anew and the streets of the town begin to fill with visitors from near and far. The view from where I’m writing in my eerie above the deli has transformed within a matter of days, and Whitcliffe and Mortimer Forest beyond are as lush and verdant as they will be at any point this year.
At the beginning of the month the May Fair comes to town as it has done for centuries. Of all the calendar moments that define this place it is perhaps the arrival of the fair that I relish the most. On the Tuesday before May Day the market stalls are taken away and Castle Square is briefly empty and silent, only emphasising a palpable sense of what is to come.
On the Wednesday evening we wait at the Buttercross for the lorries to arrive. Each year this event — something of a tradition in our family — draws greater crowds and is in its singular and rather old fashioned way, almost as thrilling as the fair itself. Parcels of fish and chips are shared around, pints of beer are carried the short distance from the Church Inn, and we watch the massive trucks that carry the rides negotiate the tight medieval street corners that were designed with nothing larger than a horse and cart in mind.
For Roger Curry, the owner of Bodenham’s outfitters, this is — to use football parlance — squeaky bum time. The upper floors of his ancient shop overhang the corner of King Street and Broad Street in an alarming fashion at the best of times. Throw into the mix an HGV carrying a waltzer and towing a caravan, and it starts getting a bit hairy. Roger tells me that as far has he can recall, his shop has only been bashed twice. Remarkable really.
But somehow the showmen negotiate these corners; after all, they’ve done it many, many times before, and they make their way to the town square where they will set up home for the next five days. I arrive at work early on Thursday morning and there on the square is the fair, and what a magical sight it is. Every year there are a few who have a bit of a whinge; it’s disruptive, it’s noisy, it’s impossible to park etc. Fie, I say! It’s bloody marvellous! If you don’t like it then go somewhere else for the weekend, or better still cheer up and get on the dodgems.
Dare to be Fair?
Yes, of course our takings in the shop are going to be a bit down, but we know it’s going to be that way and we’ll make up for it the following weekend at the Spring Food Festival. Swings and roundabouts — pun intended. After all, the fair has been here a lot longer than we have, and what price such jollity anyway? For sure things can get a little boisterous after dark, but if you can’t have a cider-or-two too many and a bit of a scuffle on May Day, well, when can you?
Whilst not exactly unique, it is certainly unusual for a funfair to be plonked right in the middle of a small market town, and it’s something that as a resident of Ludlow I embrace wholeheartedly. Hurrah and bravo for the fair. Long May it continue.
Henry Mackley is a director of Harp Lane Deli in Ludlow