At Beltane this year we completed Penkevyll’s final makeover or maybe it would be more accurate to say, emergence. We celebrated that with a photoshoot taken by the talented John Isaac.
Penkevyll’s journey from there to here has been dynamic, dramatic, poignant and at times a little spooky. Just for clarification I need to say that the title of this post does not refer to her life, and then her afterlife as an Oss, but of how she used to be a Penglaz and then transitioned into Penkevyll. I do see the need for a little background so, time to settle down and hear the story. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, A Tale of Two Osses! 😀
The year was 2008 and I had received a startling phone call that was to have ongoing repercussions for years to come had I but known it. I had been Teazer to Penglaz the Penzance Oss for many years. This was a role that had slowly evolved over the years, building on it’s tradition as it went. That previous winter we celebrated the very first Montol festival and Penglaz was to play a crucial role within the festivities. This turned out to be the one and only time that this particular Penglaz appeared at Montol. In April I received the aforementioned unexpected phone call from the chap responsible for creating and riding Penglaz, to the effect that he would be retiring from Golowan and Montol and that he was taking his Oss with him. Bombshell was an understatement! :O
It was only 6 weeks to Mazey Day, when Penglaz traditionally made her appearance, and I had to make some quick decisions. Once I had permission that I could recreate another Oss modelled on the previous style, I gathered through networking a small, select team of people with the appropriate skills to do just that. Despite having to work my way through a lot of obstructions and petty politics as a result of a rival Penglaz being made hurriedly, our Oss eventually made her debut at Montol 2008.
Sadly although a few traditions can survive despite conflict and rivalry this was not the case in Penzance. Although our Oss team was completely open to sharing and co-operating, the rival team were not and wanted to be ‘the only Penglaz in the town’. After a couple of years of this during which I’m sure everyone got thoroughly fed up with the wrangling, it all came to a head. The outcome was that our Oss was asked to withdraw, along with the rival Oss, and the original Penglaz and Rider returned.
If you’re thinking that I’m missing out a lot of detail here, you would be correct. However, I really don’t think it would be helpful to the community in general to open up old wounds – especially as things have moved on so much since. So, I will content myself with this briefest of outlines about our Oss’s previous life as a Penglaz. (So those who were relishing a melodrama about it all can put away their popcorn and depart back to the sidelines!)
So, there we were with an Oss with no name or a function. Over the years I had researched Osses and associated beasties in the West Country and knew there was, albeit sparse, documented evidence of a Lands End Oss who stalked the outer margins of West Penwith. Since we were based in nearby St Buryan that seemed an ideal role to revive and recreate. I also came across an archaic Cornish name for ‘horse’s head’ which was Penkivell or Penkevyll which we then adopted for her during a naming ceremony performed in March on my birthday 2011. It was at this time that I took the crucial decision to buy Penkevyll from the co-creators for a mutually agreed price which we shook hands on. She has been happily stabled with us, definitely part of the household, and rather wonderfully the community, ever since. 😀
We worked on Penkevyll’s appearance giving her some new improved ears and mane. The kit started off with black, midnight blue and blood red tatters and ribbons. Our Oss had been created primarily as a processional, dancing Oss and thanks to the skills of a brilliant local engineer she is extremely versatile in her movements – however, the downside is that Penkevyll is also extremely heavy and can only be operated by a male of appropriate strength. This is because of her weighty mechanism plus the fact that she was obviously a big horse of German descent with heavy bones. However, we have always had Riders for Penkevyll and at that time we had a very lively and enthusiastic Rider in Laetitia’s son, Rhys. We brought Penkevyll out for her very first appearance in the community at the Penwith Pagan Moot, which we were hosting that Spring Equinox, where she was received with warmth and delight. 🙂
The following few years were full of action and drama as I entered the Morris world for the first time and we introduced Penkevyll the Lands End Oss to Morris festivals up and down the country. We created a dance team called Boekka (Cornish for scarecrow) to accompany Penkevyll, and special Oss and Teazer dances were devised by Laetitia in which we both danced and teased the Oss in a choreographed manner – very unlike the improvised madness that I had been used to on the streets of Penzance with Penglaz! However these dances were quite spooky and atmospheric! It was great to meet so many different Morris sides and performers and it definitely opened up a new world to me. I truly never anticipated learning how to Morris dance in my sixties! 😀
Time moved on, and so did people. There was an amendment to the kit colours as we were finding that all sorts of different shades of red were creeping in, including pink (!). So it was decided to change this in favour of dark purple and it stayed that way until quite recently. One thing that became more and more noticeable as the years passed was that it was quite difficult to get Morris dancing off the ground in Cornwall. Ironic when you think that there is a school of thought that has referred to the bench ends of St Columb Church, Cornwall as the earliest evidence of Morris dancing in the country! Some declare that Morris is too English for the Cornish and there certainly is a focus on Cornish dancing instead being more popular. The outcome was it was getting increasingly more difficult to find members for our team who were willing to travel and perform elsewhere. Add to this the pure logistics of travelling to venues outside of Cornwall and it became inevitable that the dance team would finally subside which it did in 2015.
However, all was not lost – far from it! This meant we could concentrate more on the Oss and Teazers only and this is when it became really interesting…
I had always wanted to meet the famous Welsh Mari Lwyds and finally at long last it happened in 2014 – a year that was to prove quite a breakthrough for Penkevyll the Lands End Oss & Boekka. I write in detail here about that initial meeting of a Cornish Oss with the Mari Lwyd:
Something magical happened when that meeting occurred, because from that first contact, wonderfully creative and exciting events have developed. I have written extensively about this marvellous journey here:
Penkevyll has travelled widely within Britain including Scotland and Wales, but not Ireland as yet. I would personally love to take Penkevyll to Brittany to complete her tour of the Celtic Nations!
Recently, and the reason for this blog post, we changed Penkevyll’s kit for the final time. It was shortly before St Piran’s Day this year and I was admiring the lovely Cornish banners we had around our nearest town, Penzance. It was then I had the idea of since our Oss is a sort of ambassador for Cornwall when she visits other towns and countries, and that Lands End is so iconic, it made sense that Penk (as she is affectionately known) would wear Cornish colours for her kit. So, I leave you with Penkevyll the Lands End Oss, accompanied by her Teazers, resplendent in black, gold and white.
Kernow Bys Vyken! (Cornwall For Ever!)