Like any sensible person who’s spent four days warming up for a long distance walk, I took the next day off. There was a logic to my choice. The last four days of the C2C are brutal. They are either extremely long (37 km) or intense. The walk from Richmond to Ingleby Cross is a tedious slog over farmers’ fields and on country lanes. No one enthuses about it.
So once Julian set out for the day, I stayed behind to exploreRichmond.
Julian, Stu and I had dropped by the town for an hour or so a couple of years ago. None of us was impressed. The central core was rundown and dirty. Storefronts were empty. We spent a half-hour in the flea market, rummaging through outdated ordinance maps before moving on.
Richmond is the opposite of a Tidy Town. Yet it has all the right parts — the narrow, twisty streets called “wynds”, the squares lined with gracious 17th and 18th century buildings, and a history that goes back almost a thousand years. Riche-mont or “fine hill” was founded in the 11th century by William the Conquerer’s nephew, the prosaically named Alan Rufus. William — William the Bastard to his friends — gave Alan the land as a reward for his help during the Conquest.
Alan built a castle here, in the Norman style, the remains of which still stand.
Around the castle, a town sprouted with a lively square that still hosts a weekly market and a variety of ancient rituals to commemorate its history.
There’s the annual walking of the town boundary by the mayor. Then there’s “Poor Hoss” in which a man dresses in a huntsman’s clothes and takes a hobby horse with a real horse skull for its head around the town. People sing it a special song and chant “Poor Hoss.” Even the town museum couldn’t provide a coherent explanation.
One of the more raucous rituals occurs during the week following Whit Sunday, on the May long weekend. In its modern incarnation, a carnival sets up in the market square. The local lads and lasses consume a huge amount of alcohol and ride the Octopus to booming 80s music. Imagine the smells and noise of the PNE (or the CNE for Ontario readers) concentrated in a town square. A lady in a shop told us it’s the biggest weekend of the year, and that it gets rowdier as the week progresses. People come from all over the county to participate.
The Whit Monday Carnival at 10:30 am
There is nothing genteel about the Whit Monday carnival. Or about the residents of Richmond. They are real folk, with rough accents and a crappy local economy. Which may explain why, for all its advantages, Richmond has resisted or been passed over for gentrification. Is that the antidote to Tidy Town-ism? To be gritty enough to make the city folk squeamish?