THOUSANDS of people are preparing to gorge themselves on one of West Oxfordshire's most eagerly-anticipated events as the Witney Feast returns.

The historic celebration is back at The Leys for its 776th year this weekend, as Witney's second Oktoberfest kicks off the festivities on Saturday.

This will progress seamlessly into the traditional Golden Gallopers church service on Sunday evening, before two days of fun fair rides offer plenty of thrills and spills.

Like the last 70 years, the rides will be provided by William and Emily Wilson of Bob Wilson's Funfairs and the pair are looking forward to this year's Feast as much as ever.

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Mrs Wilson said: "Everybody looks forward to it, it's the biggest social gathering in town and the villages all around.

"People will see friends there that they haven't seen since the Feast last year. It's got a real community bond.

"We're like a small town moving in. The economy benefits through people shopping for food and clothes and others going to the pubs."

The Wilsons have already made their annual pilgrimage down from Birmingham for the Feast and will remain in Witney until everything is packed up next Wednesday.

Mrs Wilson revealed a selection of new rides will be available this year, but reassured traditionalists that the old favourites will be out in force.

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She said: "You've got to have a mixture of rides at the Feast. People want to go back in time, but you've got to cater for the teenagers too."

The Feast began in 1243, when King Henry III provided two deer from the Royal Forest of Wychwood to celebrate the rededication of St Mary’s Church.

The story of the event's origins has been passed down through generations of Witney families and the strands remain plain to see, with a venison roast still a staple of the festivities.

Although the Feast goes back hundreds of years, Witney Oktoberfest returns after enjoying its first edition just 12 months ago.

Witney mayor, Duncan Enright, joked: "Given our twin town Unterhaching and Witney are celebrating 30 years together, the Oktoberfest is a great sign of our continued common interest in beer."

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A day of authentic music, beer and food will begin at midday on Saturday and continue until the evening, before making way for the Golden Gallopers service at 6pm the next day.

This will be taken by Toby Wright, team rector for Witney since 2009, who is so fond of the event that he has a painting of the Golden Gallopers in his study.

He said: "It's already a special part of the 10 years I've had here and it will always continue to be.

"The first time you take the service it's like being a parallel world, but then you realise it's just Witney being brilliant."

Witney's mayor and town councillors will be blessed before a procession down to the The Leys, while hundreds of schoolchildren will visit the Feast on Monday and Tuesday to learn firsthand about the town's history - and maybe enjoy the fun fair.

Mr Wright said: "It's a remarkable event and one of the great things about the town.

"It's a privilege to be involved in - but I think my days of scary rides are over."