Tan Hill Fair Day
Grubbing Out the Past
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 10th January 1996.
In August last year, thirty lean, sun-tanned, scruffy people pulled their handcarts, goats, donkeys and bow-topped wagons to the top of Tan Hill, near Devizes in Wiltshire. They claimed that a Royal Charter, issued in 1499, entitled them to hold a fair at Lammas on the summit.
The police arrived in six riot vans, three dog vans and a helicopter. As the revellers trooped back down the hill, the officer in charge said “When will you people realize that this is Wiltshire, and you don’t belong here?”
The hippies at Tan Hill were removed, the police said, because they posed a threat to the land.
The Tan Hill Fair eventually took place not on the hilltop, but in a green lane two miles away. For three days 200 people rode horses with painted flanks and plaited tails, drank mead, danced to the music of fiddles and mandolins and ate fat hen picked from a nearby field in set-aside, before they were thrown off by the police again. Something happened in those days which subtly changed the lives of everyone who roistered there. It is hard to tell what it was, but it felt like the future, swimming up slowly from the depths of the past.
As the local farmer I was chatting to the hippies in the green lane under Tan Hill and was invited up to a very enjoyable evening with them on the top of Tan Hill....
We got on well because I had evicted a fat faced youth with dark curly hair who they claimed had a bus that mummy and daddy had bought him to play being a hippy in, and he was just a pain in the arse, asking questions and writing stuff down. As far as I remember he was the only one evicted, as the hippies told him, "This is Wiltshire, and you don’t belong here. Go and play at being a crusty somewhere else."
I often wonder what became of the obnoxious little git, and almost miss the old hippies and their herbal excesses.