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At last: a proper celebration for England's patron saint

Friday 21 April 2006

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, who shamefacedly admits that he spends most bank holidays on his allotment, will take to the road this weekend to celebrate St George, the patron saint of … farm workers

ANOTHER entry in the "Not a lot of people know that" column: dear old St George, dragon slayer, namesake of six kings and national saint of the English bit of this sceptred isle, is better known in other parts of the world as the patron saint of farm workers and agriculture.

And I'll wager that in those rustic parts, he is better celebrated than he is here in dear old England, where virtually no-one knows when his saint's day falls and, unlike our Celtic cousins, no-one wears the shamrock, the leek or the thistle as they down copious quantities of hard liquor or coal black stout.

Well, folks, this Sunday is St. George's Day and because I feel the old lad needs all the support he can get, my wife and I shall get into the car, already sure of a bed for the night, and drive to a lovely small town (perhaps a large village) to raise a glass or three for Georgie boy. Sadly, it will not be in the Yorkshire Dales, although close, but in Cumbria.

St George: patron Saint of farmers?
St George: patron Saint of farmers?

Kirkby Lonsdale, which lies on the Cumbrian side of the River Lune close to where that county meets North Yorkshire and Lancashire, is putting on a reet good do for our patron saint and it is long overdue: whilst the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish celebrate their saints days with nationalistic fervour, we English tend to call ourselves British when asked and only show the flag at sporting occasions. And if soccer fans are involved, we pray that the flag poles will not be used as weapons.

In this display of national pride, the Cumbrians seem to be leading the field, although there are some events in the Dales: the Rendezvous Hotel in Skipton is throwing a charity bash. But the whole of Kirkby Lonsdale will be drenched in the old red and white (not the blue bit from the cross of St. Andrew), there will be knights in armour on horseback, a special service in the church, parades, band concerts and the pubs will no doubt be selling ale with patriotic names like Spitfire and Bombardier.

In other parts of the county, some very posh restaurants indeed - including the Sharrow Bay at Ullswater - will be putting on special menus of Olde English food cooked from locally grown produce. And this is where the clever bit comes in…

It was the Country Land and Business Association which began to think about resurrecting St George's Day as a national festival during the aftermath of foot and mouth five years ago. Cumbria had been even harder hit than the Yorkshire Dales in that tragedy and the tourist industry - the county's biggest earner - had been rocked almost as hard as the farmers.

Then some bright spark realised that other link with St George, the fact that he is known to millions of farmers across Europe as the patron saint of their industry. And, when it comes to saints' days, the mainland Europeans need no excuse whatsoever for proclaiming a festival.

So it was the CLA, whose membership includes many non-landowners in the tourist industry, said let's have a bit of fun - and help the farmers at the same time. Hence the spread of celebrations this Sunday, all of which will be aimed at selling locally produced food - and some local beers - to help the celebrations along. As a marketing ploy, it was an idea touched by genius.

Now I spent Easter on my allotment because I like to leave the roads, the pubs and the cafes to the visitors: those are facilities I can use all the year round without the crowds. I will probably spend the May Day holiday fretting over my broad beans too. But this weekend, I shall raise a glass to St George and gorge of rare roast beef and Yorkshires. I hope, dear reader, you have as much fun as me!

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