Lancashire and the Peaks Feature

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Well Dressing

Unique to the Peak District is the custom of well dressing, when certain wells or springs are decorated with elaborate pictures made of flowers. Frames up to 4 feet wide and 6 feet high, covered with a base of clay, are filled with a colorful mosaic of seeds, grasses, berries, and moss as well as flowers and flower petals, a process that involves a team of workers and takes about a week to complete. The designs usually incorporate religious themes such as biblical stories, though the origin of the custom is disputed; some say it’s a Christian veneer over an ancient pagan rite; others claim it started during the Black Death, when locals (mistakenly) believed that the purity of their water supply had spared them the worst ravages of the plague.

The well dressing and blessing ceremony, usually accompanied by a brass band, heralds the start of several days of festivities. Of the 70 or so towns and villages that continue this summertime tradition, Tissington (May), south of Matlock; Bakewell (early July); and, near Chatsworth, Eyam (late August) are among the most popular. Check with local tourist offices for information.

Updated: 2013-10-15

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