Slaithwaite Moonshine Festival of Light: The Yorkshire festival which pays homage to legendary moonshine smugglers

Customs evolve in curious ways when following old smugglers' tales over centuries.

In the Colne Valley community of Slaithwaite villagers still tell of 'raking the moon', with a bi-annual festival to honour its folklore.

The old story goes that smugglers would hide their ill-gotten gains in the inky depths of canalways. When they were caught by militia, they claimed only to be 'raking the moon'.

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Such legends tell a tale that many villages can lay claim to, said festival coordinator Gill Bond. In Slaithwaite, she added, it's a tradition that has "stuck", with lantern parades.

Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival in 1993

This year in the build up to a full festival for 2023, picture windows will be lit with 'moonshine', with each house encouraged to join a brightly-lit water-themed trail.

Modern 'moonrakers' are proud of this village's history, said Ms Bond, with the festival first launched in 1985.

She said: "It's an old-fashioned legend, as exists in many villages, but it's one that has stuck in Slaithwaite. It's a wonderful image, our raking the moon.

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Gill Bond (right) and Frances Noon hold one of the Illuminated windows at the Watershed, Slaithwaite

"The idea of being a moonraker, villagers always thought, was that anything is possible. Here, we're turning that story on its head.

"Here is the moon, we are carrying it around in our village as a symbol of positivity."

Back in 1985, when Ms Bond first came to the village with Satellite Arts, the idea for the festival had started small. Families, many with young children, practiced in workshops making lanterns from willow and tissue paper for a moonlit parade.

Over time it grew in popularity and participation, with a giant moon floated down the canal. But as it grew, so did its need for sustenance, and by 2019 funds to finance it were slim.

Then, when it came time for its 2021 event, the country was in lockdown. Instead, organisers hit upon the idea of 'moonshine', with each street creating its own lantern lit picture windows.

Guided by 'street ambassadors' to each area, terrace or block, some 400 windows were lit across Slaithwaite and beyond.

Ms Bond said: "We couldn't do what we would usually do, bringing people together in workshops and creating performances. That's when the moonshine idea was born.

"It allows us to keep moonraking in people's minds, doing something that people can participate in from their homes. It was fabulous."

Some picture windows saw moon-inspired creations, one was "glorious" rainforest. Another saw a brontosaurus, stretched out over three windows in one home.

"There's still a lot of love for the festival in the village," said Ms Bond. "It is something that has makes us stand out as a creative place. That vibrancy of community shines through.

"It's the surprises as well - you never know what people are going to do or who is going to do it. There's always that little window to discover, or a glimpse of one down a little used path.

"It goes back to that idea of us being 'moonrakers'. The legend is almost out of a story book. But it's the idea that anything is possible - I really like that positivity.

"Moonshine is heralding our intentions for a Moonraking Festival in 2023. This is the countdown, if you like, to a full festival next year."

Slaithwaite Moonshine Festival of Light, with materials and guidance tutorials launching next week, will run over four days in the upcoming half term from Feb 24.

People are invited to create an illuminated window with a water theme, or join the Moonshine Trail each evening, with street corners animated with musicians, performers and storytellers.

From next Saturday, January 29, techniques and design ideas are to be published on the website www.slaithwaitemoonraking.org.uk with video tutorials to guide people through the process.

Materials are available for those that live locally, while gallery window space is available to those that don't live in Slaithwaite but want to take part. Webinar workshops run from Feb 19 to 22.