TRADITIONAL ‘CRYING THE NECK’ HARVEST CEREMONIES TAKE PLACE ACROSS CORNWALL IN AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER 2023. LOOKING TO EXPERIENCE ONE? READ ON FOR DETAILS OF WELCOMING CEREMONIES IN ST IVES AND MADRON…
Traditional Cornish festivals and ceremonies are held dear to our hearts in this magical corner of the world. Festivals like Obby Oss, Golowan and Lowender Peran help us look back at the myths, stories and artistic endeavours that were once commonplace in the Duchy. And there are plenty of other events and ceremonial happenings that also pay homage to Cornwall’s rich history, heritage and culture. One of these ceremonies is the Cornish harvest tradition popularly known as (these days, anyway) ‘Crying the Neck’.
Crying the Neck 2023 is, for many Cornish people, an integral part of Guldize, Cornwall’s harvest festival. This most important time of the year in the farming communities sees locals giving thanks for a good harvest but also putting food and drink at the heart of the festivities. The Guldize steamed pudding, for instance, which is like a plum and currant-filled Christmas pudding with clotted cream on top, is often the meal-time focus on a ‘threshing day’. Beef or lamb stews are also popular fare at this time of year.
The annual Guldize festival takes place either in late August, in September or in early October across the Duchy. Yes, it may not be as popular as it was prior to the mid-20th century but it’s nevertheless well supported by parish communities that value their rich heritage. However, probably the most famous part of the festival (in modern times, at least) is ‘Crying the Neck’. This is when the final shock of corn at a given farm or in a given parish is cut and thus the end of the harvest period is both proclaimed and toasted.
There’s a lot more to ‘Crying the Neck’ than just a farmer cutting some corn with a traditional scythe, though. Usually, the farmer, his family, his friends and a strong collection of parishioners gather in a field which has the last patch of corn growing in it. There may be a vicar there. There will almost certainly be children there. There will be an atmosphere of excitement and of giving thanks (well, at least this is the modern take as some ceremonies many years ago may have actually been fairly sombre affairs).
One of the most uniform traditions is for the master of ceremonies (usually the local farmer) to shout “What ‘ave ‘ee?” three times in a row before the crowd replies loudly: “A neck!” three times too. The master of ceremonies may then repeat this for different sections of the crowd, depending how many people are gathered there.
There are then lots of ‘hurrahs’ for the neck and an all round celebratory atmosphere. Traditional hymns may be sung. Other songs too. And then, for some ceremonies, it’s back to the village or farmhouse for that all-important food and drink (where, on occasion, a farm worker may have smuggled the last corn into the feast and, if done without being caught, gets a kiss from a pretty girl for their trouble…).
Cornwall’s ‘Crying the Neck’ ceremonies are generally organised by groups like the Old Cornwall Societies and the events are often carried out in both English and Cornish. We recommend a handful of welcoming, open and fun ceremonies every year.
Here are two ‘2023 Crying the Neck’ events in Cornwall that you are invited to attend, whether you’re local and seasoned or you’ve never been to one before and would like to learn about Cornish traditions:
The first event is on Wednesday 30 August 2023 at 2pm at Trewey Farm in Zennor near St Ives. The entire ceremony takes place on a field just off the Zennor-to-Newmill road at Trewey Hill. Look out for the Cornish flags and direction markers which will map out the way to the site as you approach. Bring a chair and a picnic for the full experience.
And then a couple of days later on Friday 1 September 2023 at 6.30pm in Madron near Penzance, there’s another really welcoming ceremony. The event is held on Boswarthen Farm land, which is between Madron and Morvah. The exact field depends on the crop growth.
The Madron event is fixed on this date to be close to the Gorsedd 2023 which is the following weekend (when modern-day bards meet and celebrate this time of year). A band will play at the Madron Crying the Neck Festival 2023 and the music continues in the church in Madron afterwards with pasties, hot drinks to purchase and more singing.
All are welcome at both of these ‘Crying the Neck’ events. Ceremonies often include a vicar and are usually conducted in both English and Cornish. Head to one and enjoy some of the best traditional events in Cornwall. It’s important to keep these traditions alive and it’s just as important to learn and have fun at the same time, especially when you shout “a neck, a neck, a neck” at the top of your voice!