It’s time to ‘up’ the swans again . . .

Most Americans have never heard of a quaint but very historic ceremony conducted on the Thames River in England every July.  It’s known as ‘Swan Upping‘.  The Telegraph reports:

Because they were once royal fare, all swans on open water – bar those at the Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset – technically belong to the Crown, though this prerogative is exercised only on the Thames and its tributaries. In the 1400s, co-ownership over the Thames swans was awarded to two City of London livery companies, the Dyers and Vintners. Every July a ritual known as Swan Upping takes place on the river to the west of London, so the swans can be counted and claimed.

So, from Monday, July 16, starting at Sunbury, a cheery-looking chap in white ducks, a blazer of the sort of fire-engine red normally seen only at the Henley Regatta and, literally, a feather in his cap, will supervise six old-fashioned skiffs on a five-day progress upriver, gently lifting (“upping”) the swans to count the cygnets and check their health. Broods of swans lie quietly on the riverbank, adults tethered leg and wing with soft twine, while fluffy cygnets, peeping anxiously, are weighed in a rudimentary sling before being checked over and ringed.

There can’t be many more charming ways to have a break in the Thames Valley than to follow the route of the boats, whether for a day’s jaunt or for a longer stay: the whole thing is so absurdly English, the liveries worn and flags flown easily rival those on show at the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant and the Uppers potter past some of our most attractive riverside pubs. The only things missing are Ratty and Mole, or Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).

“It’s not about providing food for banquets these days, of course,” explains David Barber, the man in the scarlet blazer who is the Queen’s Swan Marker. “It’s about education and swan welfare.” David’s role has existed in some form for 800 years. He is rowed upstream in a 30-year-old mahogany skiff known as the Crown Boat by Royal Swan Uppers in white breeches and red tops. They work with five other skiffs, one royal, two flying the blue Dyers’ flag and two flying the black-and-white flag of the Vintners. All the Swan Uppers are watermen of the River Thames.

The ceremony is in July because at least one of each pair of adult birds will be in moult and unable to fly.

There’s more at the link.  Here’s a video featuring the Queen’s Swan Marker, who explains what the annual ceremony entails.

A fascinating bit of almost medieval history, continued into our present day.


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