The Burning of Old Bartle

Old Bartle being carried through West Witton Burning effigy of Old Bartle in West Witton

The Burning of Old Bartle is an annual event held in the village of West Witton near Leyburn in Wensleydale which usually takes place after sunset in the evening on a Saturday close to St. Bartholomew's Day in late August.

Following a country gala and fell running races held during the day nightfall sees locals carrying an effigy of "Old Bartle" or "Owd Bartle" (pictured above) through the village while pausing for doorstep drinks at selected houses along the way. An ancient verse about the pursuit and fate of the victim is chanted and on some occassions an antler adorned rustic "green man" styled figure has on pipes been known to play an eiree tune. At the edge of the village the effigy is burned, but the revelries continue in to the night.

Nobody seems to know the origins of the tradition, or who Old Bartle actually was. The connection with St. Bartholomew's Day has led some to suggest that Old Bartle could actually be St. Bartholomew himself, though quite why his pursuit, capture and immolation should be celebrated in a bizarre pagan flavoured ceremony carrying overtones of the classic British horror drama film "The Wicker Man" one can only surmise..

Another theory holds that Old Bartle was a sheep rustling ne'er do well (or perhaps just an innocent patsy?) who fell out of favour with his peers and came to a grisly end. The doggerel chanted tells of a long chase taking in Penhill and other local landmarks, with Bartle succombing to various terrible injuries with great pain and suffering being inflicted before being finished off by a bloodthirsty mob.

So goes the verse: "At Grassgill End we’ll make his end.."

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