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Keeping a Cornish Harvest Tradition Alive: Crying the Neck

Traditional Cornish dancing, ale swigging and singing thanks to the earth, harvest and local farmers!




As the wheel of the year shifts, we step on crunching leaves into autumn!


Like all good seasons, it kicks off with harvest celebrations. Harvest festivals must be one of the oldest traditions celebrated in Cornwall, the UK and all over the world.


The Cornish harvest festival is known as ‘Guldize’, a festival that gives thanks to the bountiful harvest with the cutting of the last shock of corn. One traditional ceremony to celebrate this time of year is known as ‘crying the neck’ and a village just outside of Launceston has revived this community tradition.


Kathy the Bard helps to revive Rillaton’s ‘Crying the Neck’


Kathy Wallis, a Bard of the Gorsedh Kernow, has been a driving force in reviving the harvest tradition within the community of Rillaton.


Kathy was made a bard of the Gorsedh Kernow 3 years ago after being initiated in St Just. Kathy’s Bardic name is Gwithyades Hengovyow which means, ‘keeper of traditions’.


Kathy's initiation to become a Bard of the Gorsedh Kernow

Kathy was invited to become a Bard through her contribution to Cornish culture and community through keeping alive the traditions of Cornwall.


Kathy was born into a Bonfire family in Lingfield, which required the family to care for the bonfire procession and traditions in their village and the surrounding areas. Kathy has therefore been rooted in rural traditions her whole life.


When Kathy moved to the village of Rillaton, she brought her apple trees with her and after planting them she invited everyone in the hamlet to a Wassail. During the Wassail, Kathy said: “Jack from the bottom farm said, ‘Well, then, now we’re doing this perhaps we ought to do the harvest as a whole village as well.’”


Thus, the village’s ‘crying the neck’ ceremony was revived.


Crying the Neck…


Kathy told Bodmin Life: “The first year, we decorated a trailer and went up to the field on the trailer and sang on the way and the way back and that was the beginning of the village doing the crying the neck.”


Crying the neck is evidently a harvest tradition that has been important to the village of Rillaton for hundreds of years, for in Kathy’s sitting room there is some plaster work dating back to when the house was built in 1599 showing a neck of corn decorated for harvest.


Kathy said: “Chris Daniel, he and his son own the bottom farm, Lower Rillaton and it is their farm that we ‘cry the neck’ on.”

After suggesting they revive the ‘crying the neck’ tradition, Kathy said nothing more was said.

She continued: “I never asked any more, for when someone knows how to use a scythe because they’ve been doing it for years, and to tie a sheath of corn with a bean - which is weaving the straw into a circle around it, held together by its own straw - when they already know what to do, you just know that they know - you never ask!”


Unfortunately, during lockdown they couldn’t do their usual celebrations of dancing, singing and eating back at Kathy’s house due to the restrictions, but this wasn’t going to stop them!

To adapt to the restrictions Kathy said: “We moved it from 7pm in the evening to 4.30pm, so it meant we had time outside before it got dark. We had the ‘crying the neck’ ceremony in the field and we were all well-spaced. Everyone who came brought their own picnic and chairs and we provided paper cups and bottles of ale for toasting the earth, harvest and local farmers.”


Then rather than going back to Kathy’s, out came the picnic baskets and everyone sat in the field and had their own picnic. This was just two days before the six-people restriction came in – so they celebrated safely and just in time!


Last year, still being wary of Covid, the celebrations took place, once again, in the corn field that was the last to be cut.


The paper cups still made an appearance, but everyone was able to talk to each other and they sang and danced in the field. Carmen Hunt, a local expert on Cornish dance, danced the ‘crying the neck’ traditional, ‘Cock and Breeches’ dance while her husband, Steve, played her music with Cornish fiddle player, Mike O’Connor.


Kathy was awarded the Arwen Award by the Gorsedh Kernow for keeping alive her village’s traditions during lockdown and making sure they continued while so many events were cancelled.


What Cornish traditions do you remember or enjoy celebrating? Let us know! Please feel free to contact us on content@life-media.co.uk.



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