Morris dancers welcomed the arrival of May at the crack of dawn on Sunday.

Colourfully clad, with bells ringing and hankies swinging, the Woodside Morris Men danced through dawn in Cassiobury Park to celebrate the first sight of the sun for summer.

May Day is traditionally marked by Morris Dancers across the country because of a tradition going all the way back to pre-Christian times.

Pete Bradshaw from the club said: "As the grass shimmered white and mist rose from the River Gade, one by one the dancers and musicians arrived for this most English of events.

"We had a small audience of hardy souls who came out to watch, it was extremely cold.

"On the other hand it was one of the most fabulous sunrises of recent years with the inky black during to bright blue during our performance."

The hour-long performance from 5am featured some 20 dances, a mixture of traditional Cotswold numbers and those choreographed by the side themselves.

There also a rendition of the song Hail to the First of May and the dance Grollie's Thing - which is a tribute to former dancer Reg Grolliemund who collapsed and died in the park one May Day morning while dancing.

After the early start, the dancers performed at Harrow on the Hill for the annual May Fair.

Morris dancing itself dates back to the middle ages, Woodside to 1957 and dancing in the park to the 1970s.

Woodside Morris Men moved to Watford in the mid 1960s, dancing predominantly at pubs in the Watford, Hemel Hempstead and Rickmansworth area.

The group dance throughout the year at local events and folk festivals, and practice each week at the The Pump House in Lower High Street.

The club currently has 14 members, including one from Newport Pagnell, and the longest serving Dave Pearse has been a member since 1972.

Morris dancing involves teams of dancers - often wearing hats and bells on their legs - wielding handkerchiefs, sticks or swords, to the accompaniment of folk music.

It dates back centuries, though its origins are unclear.

Mr Bradshaw said new members are always welcome.

  • Photos by David Ritchie.