We love to cover things you can only do in Staffordshire on this blog, and have certainly had some unique experiences over the past few months!

We've been to the Monkey Forest, the only place in Britain where you can roam amongst the macaques in their home, and done the Breakfast with the Monkeys experience.

And we've had a tour of the National Football Centre at St George's Park, where the England football teams - all 29 of them, including Gareth Southgate's men - train before big international fixtures.

But our visit to the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance has to top the lot! Read on and find out what happened when we dropped in...

Joining the Deer-men

They might sound like someone's backing band ('Dickie and the Deer-men': imagine that!) or some weird woodland tribe but they are anything but - they are the star attraction.

The six Deer-men are the chaps carrying those horns, which are actually older than the dance itself, having been carbon-dated back to the 11th Century.

It's something the whole village gets involved in and some have been involved longer than others. Jeff, who organised my horn dancing debut, was performing it for the 51st time!

So if there was to be any teaching, I couldn't have a better one.

As it turned out, there was no teaching! I was just given the horns, which are heavier than you would imagine (my set weighed about 22lbs), and told to 'Follow him' - a bit of a surprise, but it made for some comical results!

At least I was not alone in my embarrassment - there were five others who had made a similarly daft decision. Anyone can have a try, you just need to introduce yourself to the dancers at their stop in Admaston, and then away you go.

Check out my performance and interviews with visitors in this short clip.

The Main Event

From Admaston, we took a short walk to the majestic Blithfield Hall, a Grade I listed country house which becomes the backdrop to the most-watched part of the dance.

The Hall has been home to the Bagot Family since the 14th Century, and the current owners, Commander and Mrs Charles Bagot-Jewitt, kindly allow the dancers and their many spectators in every year.

We estimated at least 200 had made the trip to watch them in action, and lots more would have seen the dance after lunch as it made its way back into Abbots Bromley, stopping at several pubs along the way and dancing long into the evening.

We had to depart, but I was happy to have contributed in a small way to keeping this age-old tradition going, and spent the afternoon reflecting on another example of what makes our wonderful county such an unusual and engaging place.

The oldest folk dance in Britain?

A ritual which dates back almost 800 years to 1226, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance was first performed at the Barthelmy Fair, making it one of the oldest - if not the oldest outright - folk dances in the country.

It features 12 dancers in costume, on a day-long 10 mile walk around Abbots Bromley and surrounding East Staffordshire villages like Admaston and Yeatsall. Some are dressed as Deer-men, others as characters including the Hobby Horse, the Fool and a man in drag as Maid Marian!

Why? We don't know for sure - people weren't good at keeping records in those days - but some say it was to thank King Henry I for giving villagers the right to hunt. Others reckon it is an ancient fertility ritual.

What we do know is it draws people to Staffordshire from across the country and even the world - we spoke to one family who had travelled from Germany just to see it for themselves!

Visit and see some of our many historic attractions

Why not come along next year and have a look? It happens on the first Monday after 4th September, Wakes Monday, so in 2019 the all-important date is Monday 9th September.

You could combine it with a visit to one of our other historic attractions, like Lichfield Cathedral (12 miles away), the only medieval three-spired cathedral in the country, or Tamworth Castle (20 miles), the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mercia.

There's more information about these and other historic attractions on our History & Heritage page.

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Abbots Bromley
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Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

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