THE mysterious disappearance of a 66ft maypole thrust the villages of Burnsall and Thorpe into the national limelight.

It was just before the 1991 May celebrations that Burnsall residents awoke to find that their maypole had gone missing.

The £150 pole had only been standing for nine months - bought with money raised by the community to replace a previous one that had blown down in high winds.

It had been cleaned and stripped for the May celebrations.

Meanwhile, one-and-a-half miles away in sleepy Thorpe, equally amazed residents woke to find a maypole, remarkably similar to the one that had stood in Burnsall, concreted into their village green and proudly flying the Union flag.

Villagers were, however, remaining tight-lipped, with nobody admitting seeing or hearing anything.

The saga of the missing maypole was suspiciously similar to an occurrence reported in 1804 and reproduced in the May 1991 parish magazine.

It told of a maypole at Burnsall being taken away in the dead of night by the merry cobblers from Thorpe. It remained undiscovered for some time much to the amusement of the Thorpe folk. However, "after a sharp encounter with those lads of the 'lapstone and leather', it was borne back in triumph amid victorious shouts of the boys of Burnsall and again fixed in its original position'."

And, nearly 200 years later, Burnsall residents were taking the latest disappearance as a bit of fun - but were keen to see the maypole returned or their £150 reimbursed.

Alan Stockdale, chairman of Burnsall Parish Meeting, said: "It was not totally unexpected, but I didn't think they would actually put it up. But it is all taken in the spirit intended - providing it is returned."

Over in Thorpe, villagers seemed quite taken with the new addition.

"We are getting to like the maypole," said Ken Gamble, chairman of the Thorpe Parish Meeting. "It looks very proud standing there and I think it is rather nice.

"I was seeing to sheep at about 10pm and I saw nothing in the village although the next morning, there it was concreted in. The people of Burnsall are pointing the finger at us, but I don't know how it got there. But it has been done professionally and has been put up straight as a die. There are even daffodils around it."

Retiring Burnsall vicar, the Rev Alan Whitworth, said he was sure the maypole would be returned.

And so it was, but not without the intervention of Burnsall residents. Three weeks after its disappearance, ten villagers, armed with ropes, ladders, a tractor digger and spades drove to Thorpe with the intention of returning it to its rightful place.

Structural engineer George Burfitt climbed the pole and fixed a rope around it so that it could be safely lowered to the ground. Four hours later it came down unharmed and was transported back to Burnsall, with one end on a trolley and the other in the back of a Land Rover.

However, what had started as a joke had turned sour, with residents of both Burnsall and Thorpe reportedly fed up of tourists invading the area, looking for the pole.

So did everyone live happily ever after? Not really.

Over Christmas 1997, the maypole was again brought down by high winds - and was mysteriously replaced by "an apology of a maypole".

Described as not much larger than a twig, it was not even half the size of the original and once again the finger was pointed at Thorpe, with Appletreewick also in the frame.

"Obviously, no-one is going to own up to putting it up," said the Herald's Burnsall correspondent Ed Williams. "It is only a tiny little thing, in fact it's an apology for a maypole - a disgrace!"

Just weeks later, the "imposter" was removed because residents thought it made them a laughing stock and, much to the merriment of the good folk of Thorpe, the village was left without a maypole until the summer of 1999 when a new pole was erected.

The work was carried out at 9pm one evening - "when the men of Thorpe were safely tucked up in bed with their cocoa and Noddy books" - and, to avoid any sabotage attempts, a news blackout was also imposed until the official unveiling.

But the Herald was on hand to record the auspicious occasion. The new maypole, topped by a splendid weathervane created by Nigel Daggett, was erected on top of a time capsule buried by the children of Burnsall School at the start of the decade.

"The good folk of Burnsall, pride restored, are keeping a close eye on their new edifice, mainly through the windows of campaign headquarters, the Red Lion," reported the Herald.