By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 2:31 PM on 3rd September 2008
A horseriding hero who has wowed festival-goers since 1964 was this year forced to walk instead - after health and safety fears forced him from his steed.
Insurers deemed it ‘too dangerous’ for anyone to ride solo at the Day of Syn event and so ended the five-decade-long tradition.
The horseman - always a local volunteer -is meant to perform the role of fictional character Dr Syn, a Robin Hood-style vicar created by local novelist Russell Thorndike.
Traditionally, on every second August bank holiday, the 'vicar' will dress as a scarecrow to hide his identity, and gallop along the beach and streets of the Dymchurch, Kent, evading soldiers and taxmen in his bid to deliver smuggled food and supplies to his flock.
But for the first time since it began, Dr Syn had to walk among them, leaving 3,000 festival-goers disappointed.
Villager Ray Griffiths, 67, said: ‘It felt strange. It certainly was not as authentic a representation of the daring Dr Syn as it used to be.
‘There is already so much red-tape and bureaucracy to wade through it just seems like the days of our festival are numbered.’
And Dr Syn fan Angela Green said: ‘I’ve read all his novels and when it comes down to it Dr Syn is a horseman, plain and simple.
‘For him to be without a horse makes a mockery of the whole thing. He’s on the front cover of the first ever book for God’s sake.
‘I just wish people wouldn’t get so worried and uptight about these things. Health and safety rules and ridiculously high insurance premiums put a stop to everyone’s fun.’
Many insurers rejected cover outright, and the only one prepared to insure the rider quoted an astonishing £1,000-a-day - almost double what the average motorist spends on car insurance each year.
In Thorndike’s novels, seven in total, Dr Syn is pictured on horseback on at least two front covers, including his first novel entitled simply Dr Syn.
Chairman of the Day of Syn, Ian Hyson, said: ‘For 44 years Dr Syn has burst into the festival on horseback. He is the main show and when he makes his entrance people are truly overwhelmed.
‘But this time he just had to walk around. It just wasn’t the same.’
Mr Hyson added: ‘Dr Syn is a kind of Robin-Hood vicar, who is the vicar of Dymchurch by day and a smuggler dressed as a scarecrow by night.
‘He has been on horseback since 1964, but this year the insurers just did not want to know because they said riding a horse was a ‘severe” health and safety risk. Only one insurer would listen and they quoted us £1,000.
‘We simply cannot afford that, so had to do without.’
Mr Griffiths added: ‘We feel that we bring people to the village together. The Day of Syn is the catalyst to bring people in to spend money on the charity stalls such as the Scouts.
‘And it is a celebration of Dymchurch’s culture. It shouldn’t have to be so difficult.’
In previous years organisers relied on public liability insurance to cover the event, but discovered that the catch all policy - which cost around £450 for the entire festival - did not cover someone on horseback.
In previous years up to 10,000 people have attended the festival.
Author Russell Thorndike, the son of a former Rochester Cathedral canon, is best known for his early 1900s Dr Syn of Romney Marsh novels which include The Courageous Exploits of Dr Syn, Dr Syn on the High Seas and The Amazing Quest of Dr Syn.
The Dr Syn character is based around the vicar of Dymchurch, who became the leader of the ‘Marsh Men’ - a gang of smugglers who travelled the Romney Marsh on horseback at night to dodge the taxman.
The author, born in 1885, died at the age of 87 in 1972.