Tonight, the family and I have been Moonraking. No, nothing to do with Roger Moore attempting re-entry, nor with the rather potent winter ale from John Willie Lees. I’m referring to the annual Slaithwaite (pronounced Slough-it) Moonraking Festival, which takes place every February half-term. According to the event’s web site, the event stems from a local legend…
‘It all started around 1802 when the Slaithwaite Canal was built. As usual, when there are ships there are smugglers, and canal barges are ships of a sort aren’t they. Some of the bargees used to smuggle all sorts of things up the canal. Mostly rum and whisky and other things that had duty on them, and times were hard on the local estate in 1802, so they employed customs men to try and catch the smugglers. Despite this, the chances of getting caught if you were a smart cookie were not very high, and the profits could be so good that many villagers took the risk to make a few bob.
The Moonraking story begins on a dark, windy and cloudy evening late in 1802. A man named Ken Boot, helped by some of his mates, was collecting the rum that had been secretly placed in the reed bed in the canal by a bargee. They has just started to rake it out, when a shaft of moonlight pierced the clouds and illuminated the scene. Unknown to Ken, some customs men were secretly keeping watch, having been tipped off by a jealous villager. When the moonlight lit up the scene, one of the customs men shouted “What are you lot doing?” Uncle Fred was quite a quick thinker and as he noticed the Moon reflected on the water, he replied “Are you blind? Can’t you see that the Moon has fallen into the water. and we’re trying to rake her out before she drowns!” Well, the customs men looked at each other and burst out laughing. “Moon fallen in the water! A right lot of Moonrakers you are!” said one, and they returned to the customs house in Marsden, to feed their Cuckoos. Ken and his mates quickly gathered up their smuggled goods and returned home….’
The finale is on the final Saturday of half-term (that’s today), and the week before has events such as a Ceilidh, several story-telling sessions (including ones on board a train) and a lantern-making workshop. The highlight of the final evening is when moon is ‘raked’ along the canal…..
….before being lifted out and carried at the head of a procession through the backstreets of the town, accompanied by street entertainers and musicians and literally hundreds of lanterns of various shapes and sizes – Rockets, Clangers, Lunar Modules, Aliens, Daleks and more. Our two made one for the first time this year (out of tissue paper, willow and masking tape), and while their star was but one of many in the parade, I thought it was great.
Settling down now for the evening with a glass of the 2007 Poggio del Sasso Sangiovese di Toscana from the Cantina di Montalcino – a gorgeous gluggable glass of herb-scented black cherry flavour, with a dry, earthy finish. Yum, especially at around £8 a bottle (Liberty Wines are the UK importers).