TOP hats adorned with smoking fish and men with painted faces were spotted in Worcestershire as the Original Welsh Border Morris made their traditional Christmas tour around the county.

Now in its 40th year, the tour sees between 50 and 60 morris dancers join together as the Welsh Border Morris side.

Each year they visit a number of spots including White Ladies Aston, where they have the first dance of the day, and Pershore, when they enjoy a pint at the Angel Inn. They also perform in Upton, Hanley Castle and end the day in either Worcester or Evesham.

John Barker, a founding member, said the tour began when members of Worcester’s Faithful City Morris Men and the Silurian Morris Men of Ledbury met to preserve the old dances of Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

But the annual event took on a life of its own and it is now a tradition.

“This is the 41st we have danced together, but the 40th year we have exisited,” said Mr Barker.

“We started off as a very small side with just a dozen men. We used to travel in cars, then in a minibus and now we have too many people for a 50-seater coach.

“I have always been the fool, with a red nose, since the beginning. I also have an apprentice fool. My outfit is based on the Upton fool of the 1900s. The fool then wore a salmon on his head and he would carry a pig’s bladder that he would hit people with to keep them in order.

“The dancers then were fishermen. They had a lot of cold winters so they had to dance to earn money. They visited the big houses.

“That’s why they blackened their faces so they wouldn’t be recognised as it was basically begging.”

Throughout the day the side varies its dances depending on where they are.

Barry Clews, a member who travels from Halesowen to take part, said people come from all over to dance.

He said: “They come from around the country, mainly from the West Midlands, but some do come further on a regular basis. ”