is still hours before the dawn of Midsummers Day,
but from the valley below Glastonbury Tor, dark figures
can be seen moving on the hilltop. Bonfires are lit and
torches are driven into the soil, illuminating the faces
of the druids and witch-women who tread in circles around
St. Michaels Tower, swaying their arms in time to
soft drumbeats. Sickles and brooms wave through the air,
banishing evil spirits from the site. A makeshift dolmen
is erected from long poles, and flowers and ivy are woven
around it. Solemn chants drift down to the camp on the plain.
the campsite, nearly one hundred souls rest inside their
tents. Waterboys and footmen sleep near their employers,
muscles twitching with anticipation of the coming days
excitement. The players slumber. Their dreaming minds are
active but not agitated, imagining faraway kingdoms and
enchanted fields. All have spent months preparing for this
day. Rigorous training and strict diets have been adhered
to, their equipment has been inspected and maintained for
peak performance. Strong wooden chests lie at the foot of
each cot, their contents more valuable than any other possessions
the sleeping competitors own.
a quiet bustle is heard among the tents. Groggy Britons
rise and stretch to the starry sky before putting the kettle
on at the campfire. One Scotsman pauses to examine a small
wooden sphere, just the size to fit in his hand. It is painted
in the same pattern as his great-grandfather's tartan, and
identifies the man as a competitor from Clan MacKenzie.
He admires it for a minute in the firelight, then motions
to a passing man to come nearer. The stranger obliges, and
draws back the hood of his white robe as he kneels to also
look at the ball. MacKenzie utters a question in a thick
brogue, and the druid nods. Reaching into his pouch, the
priest draws out a handful of leaves and flowers. A low
song drones from his lips, and he rubs the herbs over the
surface of the ball for a few minutes, then sets it down
in front of MacKenzie. The Scot snatches the ball up, and
with a confident laugh offers the druid some food. The stranger
declines; there is more work yet to be done. As the druid
wanders off, MacKenzie thanks him and makes ready for breakfast.
eastern sky is growing lighter every minute, and those still
in the valley watch the irregular procession of competitors
ascend the hill. Mallet shafts extend from the hikerss
bulky backpacks like antennae guiding them toward the top.
Each member of the parade is greeted and blessed at the
tower by the Master of the druids, and then finds a suitable
place to rest before the signal. No balls are allowed to
touch the ground beforehand, so the players warm up in other
ways. Some stand facing the growing light and practise mighty
swings, arcing their mallets through the dewy air. Others
kneel and mutter prayers to God, holding their mallets as
the knights used to hold their swords. Others still speak
in hushed tones to their teammates, discussing strategy
and the lay of the land that will be covered today.
long, silence falls over the throng of people. A young herald
vaults to the top of a large rock and holds his trumpet
high above his head. The players pass through the dolmen
and assemble into a loose line facing the imminent sunrise.
The herald lowers his horn and draws a ball from his pouch.
He lets it fall to the ground, and as it strikes the soil,
so do scores of others land as well, each falling from the
hand of a competitor. Each player raises his own mallet
at the ready. The first ray of summer's sunlight beams over
the distant horizon and the herald blows a sonorous note
on his trumpet. All mallets come down together and strike
the balls with a thunderous CRACK, commencing the most magnificent
of all the overland croquet games, the Midsummers
Day Glastonbury Trounce.