Northgate Go To Whitby

‘The NUT’ readers will know about the Sword Spectacular which took place in Whitby this year; a gathering of sword teams from around Europe, each keen to show off their dances, to meet other sides and, more importantly, drink with them. Northgate, having missed the first Spectacular, were not going to miss this one too.

First to arrive on the Friday were myself and Henry. Having settled in nicely at the Tap & Spile, we were just making in-roads on our second pint when the barman came over - there was a phone call for us. It was Mike; he and Ken were stranded about 20 miles south with Ashley, whose car had just exploded. Ten minutes later and we'd have been over the limit and unable to pick them up - unfortunate timing on their part.

Still, we trundled off and picked them up and met up with everyone at the school. A good session, made all the more enjoyable by our being able to buy a much-needed set of new rappers, even if we had to wait until Sunday night to get our hands on them.

A nice touch by the bar organisers was that they went to the trouble of bringing beer from Ushers in Trowbridge, a mere ten miles from Bath, all the way up to Whitby to make us feel at home. I noticed that the same was done at Gateshead for DERT. Thank you all for making us feel so welcome, but really it's not necessary - any beer will do.

We kicked off the Saturday rather earlier than planned, due to my mis-reading of the timetables, so we therefore opened the dancing opposite the Tap & Spile following repeated requests by locals and also by a rather bemused group of Americans who were wondering why we were dressed in short trousers... In fact, we started so early that we hadn't had a pint - that's dedication.

The rest of the day was filled with a lot of dancing, beer, more fish and chips than can possibly be healthy, beer, curry and beer. The dance spots were well placed and well organised and the pubs were well prepared for the invasion. In fact, the Tap & Spile even had a special beer on - Sword Spectacular Ale - although it had, according to the barman, been called Whitby Festival Ale the previous weekend. It's the thought that counts.

The evening do was fine and the ceilidh was successful. However, we decided to make ourselves scarce and went on a small pub crawl instead, ending up in a pub whose name is long forgotten, where we drank, took snuff from enthusiastic tourists and watched Sally Wearing drink herself into a stupor (which was a surprise, because we didn't think anyone took snuff anymore).

The Sunday started with a difficult choice: sightseeing or going to one of the workshops. A late breakfast decided this for us, so we wandered off up the 199 steps to the Abbey on the far side of the harbour. It was a tiring walk, especially following all the dancing on Saturday, but well worth the effort.

The rest of Sunday was taken up with the dance spots in town, plus a number of ad-hoc performances along the pier at the request of the tourists and locals. There was a trip to Robin Hood's Bay, dancing in a couple of pubs and in the bit at the bottom of the hill, including our now-infamous axe dance. We still have them somewhere but I don't think they'll ever be used with such venom again.

Back in Whitby, we returned to the Tap & Spile, our home for the weekend, and met up with Boerke Naas from Belgium. After a couple of dances, they grabbed myself and Mike and put us into their dance... but they use real swords! Ouch. Still, they were game enough to attempt rapper in return, so friends were made despite the fear.

As the evening show loomed, we decided a boat trip was in order, so we hired the old lifeboat for a wonderfully relaxing trip around the bay, with excellent views of Whitby, bright sunshine and a bracing wind to wake us up.

Once back on dry land, we split up and went for beer and food and, when in Whitby, what better food to go for than a Chinese?

And so it was. After a stop for a pint or two, we finally made our way up to the evening event, having missed the presentation by a scant half an hour or so. And then, later, it was our turn to dance. We were ready; we were relaxed; we were primed; we were only four in number. Bugger. At the very last moment, an out-of-breath Brian Kelly came running into the building having finally escaped from the clutches of the Kingsmen. The dance went ahead, and was fine.

To finish the evening off, we returned once more to the Tap & Spile, where we danced at the landlady's request in the main bar, although we were on strict instructions not to damage the lights, which were still in a bad way after a previous visit by Sallyport. One man in the bar was so overcome that he bought us a couple of jugs of beer - most welcome - on the condition that we danced again in the front bar. Despite the onset of shin-splints (a nasty debilitating thing, especially for rapper), we agreed. Beer is beer is beer, after all. One more dance followed, by request of some young ladies in the audience; the pain by now was becoming hard to bear, but even so when they asked to be taught the dance we all agreed without a thought for ourselves or for the pain. A good end to a great and most enjoyable weekend.

Why was this get-together such a success? I think the most important thing was the total lack of formal competition; events such as DERT have their place but the whole thing is rather artificial and far removed from rapper as it is normally done. Rapper is best performed in front of a lay audience, for preference in a pub; to be placed on a stage of any sort seems to subtract something from any dance. I think also that the lack of a competitive element enhanced the dancing – teams were dancing well because they wanted to, not because they were trying to please judges who are constrained by a necessarily arbitrary set of guidelines.

The main evening event was better arranged than that at the previous DERT too, but this is perhaps an unfair comparison given the unfortunate events surrounding the Saturday night there. Further, it was something of a relief to have other types of sword dancing on display; a menu entirely made of rapper can become cloying, however good the teams involved are. Still, on the plus side, DERT does give everyone the chance to pilfer each other's figures!

Finally, I'd like to express the congratulations of the whole of our team to Vince and all his little helpers for arranging such an excellent event, especially given all the trials and tribulations encountered on the way. Thank you. Organise another one. We'll be there.