Thousands are expected to head to one of West Oxfordshire's most eagerly-anticipated events as the Witney Feast returns to The Leys.

The historic celebration, which features one of the largest fun fairs in the country, was opened on Sunday night with St Mary's Church holding the traditional blessing at the Golden Gallopers carousel.

Hymns were played on the fairground organ while the service was held alongside golden horses and cockerels.

Nearly 800 years old, Witney Feast started in 1243 when King Henry III granted two deer from the Royal Forest of Wychwood to celebrate the rededication of St Mary’s Church.

It is traditionally held on the two days following the first Sunday after 8 September - the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.

It was cancelled last year because of Covid.

The Revd Canon Toby Wright said on Facebook: "I’ve been walking round talking with the showmen and women and catching up on stories on what has been happening for them during Covid time.

“They have a strong and delightful link with our town and we are once again blessed to have a fair of this standard and size because of the friendship that exists between Town and Fair.

"Perhaps because of the break we’ve had, it feels even more special to have the fair return."

Thousands of visitors from Witney and beyond are expected to flock to The Leys for two days of fun.

Witney Town Council welcomed the Feast back with “great delight”.

In a statement they said: “Meetings and conversations have been taking place over the past few months to ensure that everything is in place to make the fair a fun and successful family event for everyone.

“A huge amount of work from both the fair organisers and the Town Council goes into making an event of this kind possible, and especially in a year where things still feel very tentative, post-pandemic regulations.”

Along with traditional rides such as the Waltzer and Dodgems there is the Wild Mouse rollercoaster and a family-friendly smaller version – the Dragon Coaster.

Then there are the white-knuckle rides Star Flyer, Space, Superstar, Extreme, Jumping Frogs, Dominator and Stargate.

Many of the rides that come to Witney are exclusive and were not at last week’s St Giles Fair in Oxford.

For the past 70 years, the rides have been provided by William and Emily Wilson of Bob Wilson's Funfairs who are looking forward to this year's Feast as much as ever.

Mrs Wilson said she hoped the the turnout would be as good as usual as this year more than ever the showmen need the support.

She said: “We’ve kept to pre-2019 prices and I think the Star Flyer will be the most popular ride – it takes you 200 feet up into the air. You can also wander through the biggest fun house in Europe at four storeys high.”

Witney Feast was originally more of a fair for cattle, horses, pigs, cheese, and general merchandise.

By the 1870s it included a large pleasure-fair, which continues today.

The fair starts at 3pm.