Its an annual 'celebration' of the infamous local Lord, Sir Ralph de Assheton, who was well known for his cruel and heartless ways. Amongst other things he rolled his enemies and any local peasants who stood up to him, down a hill in Ashton, in a barrel - A barrel with iron nails hammered into it! During the modern celebration there were the expected boos when the Black knight made his entrance, but in truth everyone loved him and he was just like any great pantomime villein. But a local historian told me it was very different when the fair was introduced in the seventeenth century and the Black Knight then was still treated as a figure of hate. In those days his effigy was processed through the town before being burnt on bonfire. Now that's the kind of celebration I like. But saying that, it was still a fun day with jesters, musicians, magicians and me! Certainly the locals enjoyed themselves and its clear that they are very proud of their local history and the story of Sir Ralph. For his adventures do have the makings of a good story - Of foul deeds and secret meetings with hideous hunchbacks; its all there. And its hard to tell where the story ends and truth begins, for as one local lady told me, she can remember as a child the remains of Ralph's castle on top of a nearby hill at the end of her street. And she assured me that they were still rolling wrongdoers down that hill in a barrel full of nails until fairly recent times! Its true what they say, truth and lies do live in the same house!
A good day out and a warm friendly place, but what I also enjoyed was journey to Ashton. It was a long one that took me over the top of Derbyshire and the Peaks, which I hadn't expected. Its one thing to look at a map and follow a road, quite different when you are there taking in the wondrous views. For no sooner had I passed through Sheffield than I was driving on the Snake Pass, looking across at some fabulous views as the sun came up, lighting up the tops of the hills whilst the valleys still lay in darkness. That's one of the benefits of traveling to and from a job in one day, you get the roads to your self and the best of the views. Although I should have liked to have stayed longer to explore Derbyshire some more on the way home.
The Snake Pass at sunriseBut Ashton was worth the drive and as well as entertainment there was also a farmers market. And what caught my eye were two young 'Old Spot' pigs penned in next to one of the tents. They were getting plenty of attention from adults and kids alike. Plenty of ooohhhs and aaahhhs from everyone. For many did not know that the pigs belonged to a butcher nearby selling pork pies, sausages and bacon and he brought the pigs with him to show the kids where their food comes from. It reminds me of a farm museum called Gressenhall in Norfolk where I first started telling and where in the visitors center there was a sign pointing to a fridge door telling children to go get some sausages. But when they opened the door it looked into a pig sty and all the little piglets therein! A shock for some at both Gressenhall and on Ashton market, but to be honest I think its good that know something of the food we put inside us and I have to say the butchers pork pies were delicious. They were also good value, for I brought one for £2.50, which was as big as my face!
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AFTER-The butchers stall with pies as big as my face
Thanks to Gerry and his staff for making it such as easy day and also to the people of Ashton for their wonderful stories!