THOUSANDS lined Whittlesey’s streets on Saturday for the annual Straw Bear Festival to enjoy the procession of folk dancing groups led by the bears.

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The masses were entertained by more than 400 dancers and musicians who performed traditional Molly and Morris dances.

Donald Crick, one of the ‘Strawbearers’ who organise the festival, said: “It went very well. There was such a friendly atmosphere and the day is always well attended.

“There must have been 3,000 people there. It was a wonderful, colourful day.”

The festival started on Friday with a concert at the Ivy Leaf Club. There was also a barn dance at Sir Harry Smith Community College and a Cajun dance at Park Lane Primary School on Saturday evening.

Sunday’s traditional Straw Bear burning at Sir Harry Smith Community College was followed by a Plough Service at St Andrew’s Church.

Story telling events were also held at the Methodist/United Reformed Church and the library hosted music by Tom Richardson and poetry workshops.

The festival originates from a 19th century custom on the Tuesday following Plough Monday to dress one of the farmers of the plough in straw, call him a ‘Straw Bear’ and take him around the town.

The tradition was revived by Brian Kell in 1980 and it has grown into one of Britain’s folk festivals, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Mr Crick said: “People from China, New Zealand, Australia, America and the European countries, Germany in particular, make the journey to Whittlesey every year.

“A lorry driver was out in deepest Russia and when he said he was from Cambridgeshire, they said to him, ‘that’s the home of the straw bear’.

“It’s great for the shop keepers and restaurants who get to provide the food and beer.

“They get a boost and that benefits the town.”

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