Saturday, 18 February 2017

2017 Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival : The Big Day Out

I have vague childhood connections with Shepton Mallet. My uncle and aunt lived there for a time when I was very young, and driving past the chamois deer that was the Babycham trademark atop the factory roof was the highlight of long car journeys to and from South Devon before the M5 was built. The deer now stands on a bank sheltering under a tree, as Dru Marland and I discovered a few years ago

It turns out that Shepton Mallet is also famous for its snowdrops. I didn't know the story of its illustrious son, James Allen, the first person to breed new varieties of snowdrop from ones growing in the wild, during the 19th century. So it's as well there's now a Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival to bruit his fame. 

In fact, the whole town's really gone to town on snowdrops.

I was there as judge of the first Snowdrop Festival Poetry Competition. First, though, there was a walk, from Highfield House, where James Allen lived, to his family plot in the cemetery on Waterloo Road, for the planting of extra snowdrops.  

We were accompanied by the Big Noise Street Band from Taunton.

James Allen wasn't the most fortunate of men. Botrytis eventually destroyed his collection and only two of the varieties he bred survive today. I was much luckier ... the competition produced a fine crop of poems, from Somerset and much further afield. A pleasant few evenings in January spent sifting and winnowing entries culminated in a highly enjoyable set of readings by the shortlisted poets and presentations to the prize winners, washed down with mulled cider.

Best of all, I got the chance to look at the unassuming snowdrop afresh, through the lens of all the poems entered, and it was a delight.  

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