NINETEEN Wellington Majorettes representatives have taken part in the annual carnival in Portuguese twin town Torres Vedras.

The majorettes were joined by three Somerset carnivalites Nigel Phillips, Ashley Guise, and James Nelson, from Harlequin Carnival Club, Ilminster.

Torres Vedras Carnival is reputedly the best in Portugal, ‘very different’ to carnivals held in Wellington and other Somerset towns, lasting five days and people have to buy tickets to watch or attend the street parties.

It features several carnival floats which ‘mock’ the current happenings in Torres Vedras and the country, often featuring statues of various leaders and politicians.

The Portuguese also have a carnival monument in the town centre, and each carnival has a theme, with this year’s being ‘The Future’.

It starts on Friday morning with a schools parade, with 8,000 children taking part, but this year torrential rain meant this did not happen and instead schools held their own parades in their gymnasiums watched by parents, while town councillors, carnival committee, and carnival royalties visited each one to judge their costumes.

Wellington Majorettes were able to be involved as they were camping out in one of the local schools, and were invited to join its parade.

The majorettes band dressed in astronaut costumes, while the troupe wore futuristic dresses, and supporting parents were being carried away by inflatable aliens.

Troupe leader Sophie Brierley said: “All was fine, marching around the gymnasium, we were then asked to go in the middle and do a performance, it was very nerve wracking, but the children watching were great and applauded our short unrehearsed performance.

“We then joined in with some dance routines with them, which was great fun.

“Music and dancing definitely helps with the language barrier.”

In the evening, the carnival king and queen arrived, both of whom were men, and the keys of the town were handed over by the mayor and the carnival party began.

Torres Vedras held parades during both day and night, with carnival clubs parading in their futuristic costumes while spectators joined in the carnival spirit wearing fancy dress of any sort, hats, wigs, onesies, or the traditional ‘matrafonas’ costume - men as shabbily dressed women - a tradition going back to 1926, when women were not allowed to go to carnival and had to watch from their balconies.

But the men decided they needed women with whom to dance, so some dressed up and went onto the streets to dance in the clothes of their wives and the ‘matrafonas’ was born.

The Wellington troupe took part in five parades over the Torres Vedras weekend, although on the Monday evening there were so many people that it became confusing as to who was in the parade and who were the spectators.

The music blaring from speakers attached to lampposts became so loud that the majorettes had to abandon their instruments and dance along with the crowd, leaving the streets at around 1 am, although the carnival party continued until 4 am with thousands of revellers dancing around the town.

Louise Brierley, who organised the trip with the Portuguese Twinning Association, ASSIM, said there was no time for relaxing in between the carnival parades because a number of visits had also been arranged for the troupe.

She said an afternoon was spent in nearby Óbidos, a small town with cobbled streets and a castle and lots of history, and there was a visit to Torres Vedras Carnival Museum, where the latest attraction was virtual reality headsets showing last year’s carnival procession.

The majorettes were invited to two clubs during their stay, the first being the local tennis club, where two coaches gave instruction in how to play padle, a doubles game combination of squash and tennis.

The second was from ‘The Ministers and Matrafonas’ where a buffet tea was enjoyed before the final carnival.

The majorettes flew home on the Tuesday, ahead of the final day of Torres Vedras Carnival where the king is hanged and buried for creating all the chaotic parties and carnivals in the town, with revellers wearing black outfits as if they were going to a funeral.

Any groups interested in being involved in future Torres Vedras Carnivals can email Wellington Majorettes at [email protected].