The Padstow Obby Oss festival is a folk custom unique to Padstow and now one of Britain’s most famous folk customs, attracting many visitors. It is Padstow’s most famous and popular event with as many as 30,000 people visiting the town for the day.
Watching the processions and festivities is free and of course the fabulous Padstow shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes are all open to help make it a brilliant day for all visitors.
The festival has long taken place in the Cornish town and still traditionally involves two processions making their way around Padstow, each with a hobby horse, known locally as an Obby Oss. The processions are led by an MC with a special decorated stick and top hat.
The Osses are stylised horse costumes worn by local men. The Oss costumes are made of black oilskin covers over an oval frame, with small horse’s heads featuring a snapping jaw. One Oss is named the ‘Old’ (red) and the other the ‘Blue Ribbon’ (blue).
You can find lot’s more details on the Padstow Obby Oss festival website.
Padstow on May Eve
The Padstow Obby Oss festival starts outside the Golden Lion Inn at midnight on May Eve, 30th April/1st May when locals sing a song called the ‘Night Song’.
During the night Padstow town gets its final decorations with flowers, flags, sycamore twigs, forget-me-nots and other greenery, plus the Padstow maypole, ready for the festivities and celebrations the following day.
The Padstow Obby Oss on May Day
On May Day morning festivities start with the appearance of the Osses and the crowd singing the ‘Morning Song’. Each Oss is led by and prodded along by a person dressed in white and known as a Teaser, wearing a mask and cape and carrying a coloured club. Maidens beware, the Teaser is out to catch you as they go through the town along with supporting bands of drums and accordions. The entourage of locals are all dressed in white and decorated with ribbons, bluebells and cowslips.
The red, ‘Old’, Oss traditionally appears at 10am to start the dancing and festivities. The blue, ‘Blue Ribbon’, Oss makes its appearance at 11am.
The two separate circular processions each take 12 hours to complete. In the evening, the Osses meet at the maypole and dance together, after which, at about 10pm, each Oss returns to their stable until the following year’s Padstow May Day festival, to the tunes of a final song.
Taking part in the Obby Oss festival
Everyone is welcome to spectate, join the in the festivities, eat, drink and cheer on the processions. However, only residents with at least two generations living in Padstow are allowed to actually join the processions. The local community take great pride in the festival.
Car parks close to Padstow get busy so arrive early or you can park-and-ride from one of the out-of-town car parks signposted as you drive in. You can also park in Rock car park across the estuary from where a ferry goes from Padstow to Rock and back every few minutes.
Where did the Padstow Obby Oss festival come from?
In Britain May Day festivals are documented back before the 16th century. However, the Padstow Obby Oss is only formally mentioned in documents from 1803. So, it’s unknown when the Padstow festival actually started.
The Obby Oss custom began to become better known in the early 1900’s when a number of folklorists took interest and there were claims that the custom in Padstow may be linked to a pre-Christian ritual relating to fertility. Other’s think the festival could be to welcome the spring or summer or to make rain.
There are other Obby Osses although none so famous as the Padstow Obby Oss. There are Obby Osses at Barnstaple, Combe Martin and Minehead and similar Osses elsewhere.
Accommodation for Padstow Obby Oss Festival
There are may places to stay for the Padstow Obby Oss festival but book in advance as it gets busy. At the time of writing Glen Valley holiday cottage is available but please check our availability calendar or get in touch.