The Ancient Garland Ceremony

The first documentation of The Garland Ceremony is in the Castleton Barmaster`s book of the 1700`s.  Its true origins are lost in the mists of time, but it is thought to be an ancient fertility rite involving flowers, people and springtime, and possibly having Celtic connections. There are many different ceremonies thought to be connected with this unique event which has changed and adapted over the centuries.

Oak Apple Day on 29th May was once celebrated throughout the country.  It was a commemoration of Charles ll regaining the English throne.  Although the Garland Ceremony is much older, it incorporated these celebrations, as can be seen in the Stuart costumes of the King and his Consort.
Garland Day is celebrated on 29th May annually, unless this falls on a Sunday when it is usually held on 28th May instead.

‘The Garland’ itself is a beehive shaped head-dress, covered with wild flowers and greenery, which is worn by the King over his head and shoulders.  The topmost, removable piece of the Garland is known as ‘The Queen’ and is also a smaller beehive shape. The garland often weighs between 50 and 60 pounds and is very heavy to carry on the King’s shoulders. The King and his Consort are dressed in Stuart costume – a link with the first Oak Apple Day – and lead the Garland procession on horseback. Currently the two horses are shires from the neighbouring village of Brough.

During the previous evening, oak leaves and other greenery are fixed to the pinnacles on St Edmund’s Church tower. Wild flowers, such as bluebells and cow parsley, have traditionally been gathered for covering the Garland the next day.  More recently many of the flowers come from the village gardens – wallflowers, peonies, laburnum, lilac, lily-of-the-valley, rhododendron and other blossom.

The ceremony begins with the Garland King (without the garland head-dress) and his Consort riding the village bounds, though this is only a token as they stay within the confines of the housing in the village. Castleton Silver Band marches to the host pub, which changes annually, while playing The Garland Tune and followed by The Garland itself carried on a pole. Here they meet the dancing girls.  The girls must be no younger than school age and be resident of Castleton Parish or attend the village school.  They dance in pairs with their white dresses and hair bedecked with flowers and each carry a Garland stick, which resembles a miniature maypole, with red, white and blue ribbons. 

When the King and Consort arrive at the host pub, The Garland is placed over the King’s shoulders, the band strikes up the garland tune, and the dancers dance the garland step through the village.

The procession goes from the host pub to the Eastern village boundary at Spital Bridge, there it turns round and heads back towards the market place.  On its way back the procession stops outside each of the Public Houses (there are 6 in total) and the girls dance the chain dance.  During the last dance outside The George, the King and Consort ride through the Churchyard towards the tower of the church. ‘The Queen’ is removed from the Garland at the church gate.  At the tower, whilst still astride his horse, the Garland is hoisted directly from the King’s shoulders to the top of the tower. It remains there on the central front pinnacle for about a week. 

The King and Consort return to the Market Place, joining the dancing girls and the band. Here the older girls then dance six different maypole dances to well known tunes.

Following the maypole dancing, there is a solemn ceremony at the War Memorial. The King places the Queen (the top most piece of the garland) on the War Memorial to commemorate the people of Castleton who lost their lives in the wars.  The band plays The Last Post, Reveille and the National Anthem.

Finally the band reforms in the street, strikes up the Garland tune, and returns to the ‘band room’ followed by the girls and ‘the old girls’ dancing The Criss-Cross (a different lively dance) to the garland tune. They are usually followed by all the villagers and visitors who wish to join in.

That is the end of the ceremony and people will then disperse to the various public houses!


Noon to 3pm The Garland and ‘The Queen’ are made at Mill Lane Barn

16.00-16.30 The maypole is erected in the Market Place.
 The horses arrive at Mill Lane and are dressed with ribbons.

17.30 The King and Consort ride the village bounds

18.15 The dancing girls assemble at the host Public House

18.25 The Castleton Silver Band and the Garland arrive at the host pub

18.30 King and Consort arrive, the Garland is hoisted onto the King’s shoulders, and the Procession begins…

20.00 (very approx) The Garland is hoisted up to the Church tower, followed by the girls dancing the six maypole dances

20.45 Ceremony at the War Memorial

21.00 Villagers and the band dance back to the ‘band room’

Everyone disperses and goes to the pub!

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