Tan Hill Fayre by Selena & Josh

Tan Hill Fayre by Selena &  Josh


Tan Hill Fair is an ancient traditional festival, held in early august, 2 miles uphill from Avebury, on the wansdyke trackway, close to where it crosses the ridgeway. Tan is the Celtic word for fire and it was first recorded by the Romans in 50 AD as Tan Fauna. This obviously meant it was to do with animals and it became an animal trading fair as well as a feast time. It died out in the 1930’s as access by vehicle became difficult, but it remains in living memory. An old man in the village of All Cannings remembers eating blackberries at the fair as a youth. In the 1300’s a Royal Charter declared its officiality as an established event, and theoretically guaranteed its permission forever.

The Dongas revived it in 1994 with a turnout of 60 people including many locals, and it was a great success. This song was written that year. The following year we walked to Tan Hill from Dartmoor, others walked or cycled from the Lakes, Newbury, London and other places. The turnout was 200 strong but unfortunately we suffered an inhumane eviction by Wiltshire police, despite us showing them a copy of the Royal Charter. We still managed to hold the gathering 4 miles away on a bit of trackway called ‘Tan Hill Way’, near Knapp Hill, which was fantastic. A few of us managed to sneak back up to Tan Hill on the last night to light the beacon fire, which was seen in all the villages below and likely further afield. Very small-scale local events carry on there now each year.


By Royal Charter – it was decreed
In the 1300’s – so they sent for the mead
And plenty good morsels of hearty whole oake
All for a merry feast to make

The people they came from wide & far
Some came by bicycle, some by handcart
And their intent it was to share
Some fun and frolics at Tan Hill Fair

There were the locals, the yokels and blokes
There were the Dongas and Solsbury folks
Also the farmers and animals were there
All upon Lammas at Tan Hill Fair

The bender was hoisted, the fire was lit
The goat ate the greens and they lunched the shit pit
Woven corn dollies they blew in the air
At harvest time up at Tan Hill Fair

To be sure there was laughin’ and smilin’ and jokin’
There was slurping and scoffing and plenty of smoking
There was running and bundling, with never a care
At that Wiltshire festival – Tan Hill Fair

There were drums and whistles, flutes and mandolas
Mandolins, gee-tars, fiddles, maracas
The singers and dancers, and even the mare
Got down to the music at Tan Hill Fair

That Party, I’ll say, was a right good revival
To show that the spirit is strong on survival
That hill had been calling the people to dare
To joyfully bring back Tan Hill Fair

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