Oak Apple Day takes place in Great Wishford on 29th May. The villagers ceremonially assert their right to gather wood and rear cattle in Grovely Wood which is owned by the Wilton Estate. During the ceremony, the men of the village go very early to Grovely and cut an oak bough which is then decorated with ribbons and displayed from the church tower.
To maintain the charter which allows them to collect wood, a small group of women from the village must go to Salisbury Cathedral and re-assert their right. Dressed in traditional costume the Nitch Ladies dance in The Close to symbolise the women that protested when the Lord of the Manor threatened to revoke their right to gather wood. Nitches are the bundles of dry wood that they carry.
A service is held inside the cathedral and the refrain “Grovely, Grovely and all Grovely” is shouted as the villagers claim the forest. The banner they carry says “Unity is Strength”.
After the ceremony, the villagers return to the village for a procession, to dance around the maypole and celebrate to brass band music at the village fair.
The term Moonraker (a person born and bred in Wiltshire) is said to have come about at The Crammer pond in Devizes. The story goes that the locals were unhappy about the high taxes they were expected to pay on whisky, brandy and gin and so they smuggled it. One group were surprised by excisemen and quickly hid their stash in the pond. To hide the fact that they had hidden their barrels, the men pretended to be raking the water for cheese. The excisemen thought the men to be simple country folk who mistakenly believed the reflection of the moon to be cheese and so they passed on, leaving the smugglers to recover their alcohol.
Collingbourne Ducis also lays claim to the Moonraker’s pond.
The winter solstice occurs on the shortest day of the year and the summer solstice on the longest day. Druid, pagans and others gather at Stonehenge for a ceremonial welcoming of the sun.
Sometimes druid weddings are performed and at the 2010 winter solstice, Lance Corporal Paul Thomas who has been a soldier for 15 years and served in Iraq, was “knighted” with a sword by Druid King Arthur Pendragon and in 2011, Canadians Pavel and Tanya had a handfasting ceremony. English Heritage manages the site and allows open access to both events. Thousands of people come from all over the world but the summer solstice is far more popular than the winter solstice.