Feeds:
Posts
Comments

shrooms 1

Last night we held our Samhuin ritual, as usual, on Lindow Moss. It seems a bit weird to say ‘as usual’ as it only feels like we started the group a few months ago, but this actually our third Samhuin together. I really think we ought to consider ourselves an established Grove by now!

The pathways across the Moss are always a good place to spot Fly Agaric toadstools and it’s lovely to find them left to go about their business. Too often any found near ‘civilisation’ tend to get kicked over and destroyed. We spotted quite a few but the most jaw dropping was a cluster of seven, which was pretty apt as there were seven of us in total. The largest – in the photo above – was the size of a dinner plate!

We set up the circle on the junction of two paths which was a T junction rather than a crossroads, with one path going through the circle east-west and the other arriving from the North. We found that there was quite a lot of spirit traffic along these routes last year. It’s a liminal spot because of the tracks, and also because we’re surrounded on all sides by the Moss, which is a few feet lower than the roads, hidden by the darkness and the mist, brooding in the background. There is the constant sound of trickling water which at times became voices having a conversation just out of earshot.

samhuin 2

I decided to bring along a pumpkin, it’s practically a Samhuin ritual tradition for me now! The rite itself was unscripted and after opening the circle we offered bread, salt, wine and honey to the departed and remembered our loved ones together round the fire. Penny kindly brought along offerings of yew and rosemary which were cast to the flames. Unfortunately our tiny fire couldn’t really cope with them, and almost every time Paul had to coax it back to life. Once we had said goodbye to the dead we took the opportunity to cast those things we wished to get rid of into the fire – by imbuing sticks with our intent and burning them. Offering them up to the Calliach so that she can scour them from our lives as surely as she scours the leaves from the trees.

It was a beautifully mellow and poignant ceremony, lightened by fellowship and fun.

samhuin 3

 

Drefach Felindre

In early September we set off for our main camping trip of the year, two weeks in West Wales. Needless to say we’d been looking forward to this for months! About three days before the trip Mr Stoatie fell off his bike, literally. He didn’t get knocked off and he didn’t run into something, he just came to a junction, couldn’t get his foot out of the clip and fell over sideways. Unfortunately he caught his thigh between the frame and the floor and ended up with an interesting collection of bruises but he was feeling well enough to drive down to Ceridigion where we’d booked four nights at a campsite at Drefach Felindre.

The drive down, once we’d got off the motorway at Wrexham was really scenic, especially the road along the river valley into Aberystwyth. This was a very inviting route, popular with motorcyclists, which Mr Stoatie attacked with gusto despite the van not really responding with the aplomb of a rally car. I had visions of arriving at the campsite with one of Jane’s heads.

I was excited to see a couple of red kites on the way down, but as we drove past Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest we were amazed to see tens of kites circling over the visitor centre. Apparently they feed them once a day and it seems we’d passed by just at the right time! It was an absolutely incredible and uplifting sight.

We stayed at Pant Y Meillion (Hollow of Clover) campsite. This is a small Camping and Caravanning Club site on level ground, with a fantastic view over the surrounding countryside. The owners have a selection of shetland ponies, donkeys and pigs which were lovely. We had the site entirely to ourselves which was great and (disregarding our wild camping) was a first for us. There was a very new shower and washing up area, and, incredibly, fast and free wifi. The only drawback was the length of the grass, I spent the entire time in shorts and (damp) sandals because with the dew, and the little rain we had, jeans and boots would have been permanently wet through.

We set up the pop up tent to store most of the van contents which makes it much easier to pack up and go out for the day. When we bought the tent we had envisioned using it as an awning – putting it up with one entrance against the van, but experience has taught us that it’s really more trouble than it’s worth like that. The van door catches on the tent, there is an annoying gap between the van and the tent which lets in rain, there is the hassle of precision parking and the dogs jump in and out tangling their leads both on the tent and it’s contents. I also miss being able to  look at the view, so now we tend to pitch it to one side.

Charlie managed to find the only pile of fox poo on the field within an hour of arriving and had to be washed, which was a bit of a performance when you only have a washing up bowl. Needless to say he was watched very carefully after that!

We had a day in Camarthen but didn’t get the camera out, so I can’t show you any photos.  The next day we went to Castell Henllys which is a reconstruction of an Iron Age Hill Fort, with the buildings erected over original foundations. This was the location for the BBC series “Surviving the Iron Age” which was aired in 2001. This was memorable for me as the producers decided to include a Druid as they ‘’thought it was important to have a druid as they were fundamental to Iron Age societies.” They chose ‘a very nice 27-year-old called Chris Parks’ who is a member of OBOD! There is an interview with Chris on the According to Whim Blog here

Castell Henllys 1

Taking the sensory experience path along the river (rather than the road) up to the fort you pass this wonderful carving, and the spring, which is guarded by the figure below and various other skulls, faces and sculptures. There are a few clooties tied to the tree over the spring itself.

Castell Henllys 2

Castell Henllys 3

The cookhouse was my favourite building, there was seating all round the fire and it was lovely to sit and watch the flames whilst getting gently smoked.

Castell Henllys 4

There were two other round houses, a smaller family house and the larger great house. We walked into the great house to find a group of Iron Age ladies sat round the fire waiting for a school party to arrive. One was arranging car hire on a mobile phone which was a bit disorientating!

Castell Henllys 5

There were a couple of buildings that had been semi demolished and one of the guides said that the remaining ones were also at the end of their life and would be replaced soon too. I find it hard to believe that people would need to completely rebuild every twenty years or so, I think if you lived in them constantly you would do DIY as and when it was needed. I’m sure that the wattle and daub that look like it had dropped off a good few months ago would have been replaced and not left to get worse for instance.

Castell Henllys 6Castell Henllys 7

Although the buildings were a bit tired, Castell Henllys itself was really atmospheric, with a very strong sense of Spirit of Place.

On the way out we had a quick lunch in the cafe which I can recommend!

Banner

Yesterday the Wildwood and our friends met up at Tegg’s Nose to participate in the latest Warrior’s Call anti-fracking event. This event, Voices on the Wind, called on pagan groups and solitaries to perform ritual and magical workings to prevent fracking and to provide blessings and healing to the land. We’ve previously worked with the elements of water, earth and fire, and this year it was the turn of air.

The brief was to gather at a high point with flags, banners and musical instruments of all descriptions and let our voices carry our message around the globe. I enjoyed writing a ritual which included calling in the Four Winds to the circle, in order to make sure our voices were well and truly borne to those who needed to hear them. Making the flag was another matter entirely, but I got there in the end (even if the kitchen counter got liberally coated in acrylic paint!) The design is the Warrior’s Call sigil.

We met up in the car park and the afternoon started well, with the sighting of a single buzzard, which was circling and making it’s distinctive mewing call. I also saw four cormorants flying one behind the other towards the west, I just love these intelligent, heraldic, prehistoric birds (bet you didn’t know that they can count!)

Tony knew of a quiet, sheltered hollow just below the Country Park and as we were unpacking all our bits and bobs we were surprised by Badger and Daisy from the Setantii Grove. The intrepid duo had driven down (at speed!) from the Nos Coryn/Way of the Buzzard event at Anglezarke Moor that morning to join us and had brought it’s banner and energy with them.

Tony Johnson - rainbow 2

After the Four Winds were called in to the circle we had 20-30 minutes of drumming, rattling and yelling to add our voices and intent to the wind – we managed to attract a small audience who were probably wondering what the heck we were doing!

The wind was blowing from the west, from behind the hill we were sheltering under and which the sun had dropped behind. The opposite side of the valley, to the east, with Macclesfield Forest and Shutlingsloe’s triangular peak in the distance, was bathed in sunshine and looked beautiful. Reminding us of all the other wonderful places on this sacred land of Albion that we were working to protect.

As we were drumming, an incredible and rare metrological phenomena was occurring in the west. Firstly the wind blew cirrus clouds in a glorious fan shape,  centering perfectly around the hill’s summit. Then the sun’s rays formed a halo which morphed into a small rainbow, whilst a second larger, brighter inverted rainbow formed over it. Tony managed to take these two photos – no filters, no effects just quick point and shoot, snaps.

Tony Johnson -  rainbow

We felt that we had received a blessing from the wind and that our work and that of all those who had contributed to the Warrior’s Call had been recognised and acknowledged by the Otherworld.

So an inspiring and magical ritual. Many thanks to all who attended, especially those completely new to Druid Ceremony who cheerfully agreed to tackle parts and did a brilliant job!

Special thanks to Tony Johnson for sharing the photographs, all rights remain with him!

To finish, here’s the poem that I included in the ritual:

 

It was the wind that gave them life

It is the wind that comes out of our mouths now

that gives us life

When this ceases to blow we die

In the skin at the tips of our fingers

We see the trail of the wind,

It shows us the wind blew

When our ancestors were created.

Navajo chant

And the poem I included in the booklet, which we spontaneously decided to speak together at the end:

Teach your children

what we have taught our children –

that the earth is our mother

Whatever befalls the earth

befalls the sons and daughters of the earth

If men spit upon the ground,

they spit upon themselves.

This we know

The earth does not belong to us,

we belong to the earth

This we know

All things are connected

like the blood which unites one family

All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth

befalls the sons and daughters of the earth

We did not weave the web of life,

We are merely a strand in it

Whatever we do to the web,

we do to ourselves.

Chief Seattle

 

Barmoor

Last weekend I headed to the North Yorkshire Moors to meet up with other northern Druids at Barmoor, a Quaker Retreat Centre just outside Hutton Le Hole. This Northern Druid event has  been running for four years now and this is the first time I’ve been able to attend. It’s a sad fact that most of the Druidic meet ups seem to happen down south so it was great to follow signs to ‘the North’ for a change!

We had a weekend of companionship, activities, an eisteddfod and workshops. My friend Caryl aka The Reindeer Druid gave a fantastic workshop on rune working, Badger the Setantii Bard, facilitated an inspiring, awen filled poetry workshop on the Wheel of the Year, Hannah from the Arturian Grove led a fascinating one on dowsing and I led everyone into the Realm of Faery. I loved each and all of them!

Badger had everyone spellbound with his recitations of Seasonal poems and managed to get us writing poetry (of sorts!) We each had to choose our favourite time of year – which was difficult as I would have liked to write about all of them, but in the end I chose Lughnasadh. It’s funny but it always seems to be a time of beginnings rather than endings for me – both the Groves I helped to begin – the Setantii and the Wildwood, began with this festival as our first ritual.

Here is my effort, dashed off in a couple of minutes.

 

Looking back

It’s the one day of Summer you recall, the one perfect day.

Not the weeks of rain.

The one day of constant sun,

squinting eyes

heat, dust, the endless fields of gold.

Not a cloud in the sky

Collapsing in the shade.

 

Hail Lugh! Stick around a bit longer this year!

 

Interestingly we had no takers to write about Samhuin!

I managed to escape onto the Moors for a while on Sunday when the weather cheered up and the rain had passed.

Barmoor 2Barmoor 3Barmoor 4Barmoor 5Barmoor 6Barmoor 7Barmoor 8Barmoor 9Barmoor 10Barmoor 11Barmoor 12Barmoor 13Barmoor 14

Barmoor 15

Barmoor is an Art and Crafts house built in the early 1900s. The main entrance is actually at the back of the building, with a fantastic view down the valley . It is a peculiar house with lots of corridors, doorways and staircases, but it makes sense when you remember that it’s actually split into family and servants quarters. Outside the double garage and chauffeurs flat has been converted to a brilliant workshop space. You can just make out Geoff taking up the labyrinth he’d laid out for the weekend and which we’d all enjoyed walking very much.

Barmoor 16Barmoor 17Faery TreeRowanAsh Tree

This is the altar I put together for my workshop. I went on one of my “borrowing’ missions, with the intention of bringing the outside inside. I tried to capture a the feel of the moorland itself. I have to confess that I would be hard pressed to chose between the moors or the seashore as I love them both!

 

Campsite

It’s disappointing that we’ve made it to (almost) the end of July and only managed two camping trips so far this year. Too much DIY and work are to blame. However on Saturday we did finally get away again for a few days and headed down to visit Mr Stoatie’s Nana in Royston.

We were looking forward to having a couple of dry days, as it’s been raining cats and dogs here in the Northwest for a few months now. Sure enough as soon as we crossed the Pennines the weather improved and it was lovely to sit outside the van, drinking something alcoholic, barefoot and in a t shirt! The site was one we hadn’t been to before – it was small, just ten pitches and was quite full. We had to stop on the camping field the first night and make do without power which was fine although the weather was getting hotter by the hour and I was rather worried about the milk spoiling, I need a regular supply of hot milky tea!

oats

The site was level grass pitches on the top of a chalky hill, set beside a field of oats. Most of the countryside around is arable, barely any livestock at all. The hill is the highest point in Cambridgeshire at over 450 feet. The view was fantastic, almost a full 180 degrees from the Southwest to the Northeast.  I was hoping that the skies would be dark enough to star gaze but unfortunately as well as having an almost full moon there was a lot of light pollution on the horizon, so no sight of the Milky Way for me!

One of Great Chishill’s claim to fame is an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. On 10 September 1983 Ben Palmer, a local farmer, and Owen North, the local baker, produced loaves from wheat in the field to bread on the board in 40 minutes 44 seconds. It seems fitting to mention it now that Lughanasdh is just round the corner!

The next day we had a few hours with Nana – not too long as she is in her mid nineties and easily tired – did a little food shopping, then retired to the site. Gosh it was hot! Fortunately our next pitch had EHU (electric hook up) so there were cold drinks. It also had a little more shade which made the heat a bit more bearable.

poppy

On one of my trips to the loo I noticed a large hawk like bird on top of one of the farm buildings. I went back to the van to grab the camera and take a few pictures, fortunately I managed to find a post to balance it on so I could use the zoom. When we got back we were able to identify it as a juvenile Peregrine falcon. If you look closely you can see it has been ringed and also fitted with a radio transmitter. It is the first Peregrine I have been able to definitely identify so I was really happy. Such a beautiful bird.

Juvenile peregrine falcon

The following day I became a cycling widow, as Mr Stoatie took off on a training ride. He’s doing the Prudential 100 again this year, which is in two weeks time. It was ridiculously hot and humid, the dogs and I chased the shade round the van all day while he was gone. He was out for over eight hours in thirty degree heat -  rather him than me! I entertained myself reading books and consulting the tarot.

The morning we left I noticed three blobs appear in the wheat on the hill in the distance. I grabbed the binoculars and three deer came into view so I was happy again. We just don’t have wild deer here in our part of the Northwest, unless one gets out of the local National Trust estate, so it’s a treat to see them.

After having fried all the time we were away, we were quite happy to head back north and were looking forward to grey skies and cooler air. We scanned the horizon looking for clouds but instead were baked all the way back. I got sunburnt through the van window and all of us were fit for nothing when we finally staggered into the house, which was of course, hot and stuffy having been shut up for a few days. Tilly disappeared to the bottom of the garden and stayed there until it was time for bed!

 

medalThis year Mr Stoatie is riding the Prudential 100 to raise money for Kidney Research, which is a cause close to our hearts, as he was the recipient of a live donor transplant from his Dad nine years ago this month. I normally don’t post a lot of personal stuff, but if you would like to make a small donation we’d be very grateful, his just giving page is here.

Another way to help if you’re short of funds, would be to consider joining the Organ Donor Register

Blackhouses 1

Our last full day on Lewis started off at The Blackhouse Village at Gearrannan. These were the last group of blackhouses to be inhabited in the Western Isles. They’re actually only about 150 years old, but represent a style of house used for centuries. Until 1952, when electricity arrived, most of the lighting was by oil lamp, piped water wasn’t installed until the 1960s. In the early 1970s many villagers moved into a group of council houses built a few hundred yards further up the road, and then in 1974 the last few people remaining moved out. Local people set up a trust in 1989 in order to restore the old houses.

Four of the nine houses are used as self catering cottages. One has been adapted to display pictures and video telling the history of the village and another has been preserved as a home circa 1955. There is also a cafe (scrummy black pudding baps) and a gift shop. The museum housed a loom used to weave the famous Harris tweed and explained a little of it’s history. I would have loved to have bought one of the beautiful bags we saw on our travels – especially the ones made from the modern pink and purple tweeds, but they were eye wateringly expensive. I could have picked up little tweed fridge magnet/bookmark thingamajig but I’d rather have something useful so I didn’t bother – maybe one day!

Blackhouses 2

When we arrived there was a coach party going round the houses. As at Calanais we were firmly on the tourist trail!

Blackhouses 3

The houses sit above a perfect little bay with just the right pebble to sand ratio for a rock lover like myself!

Blackhouses 4

I’m not sure how easy it would be to sail out of the bay, there was an interesting whirlpool of sorts churning away on one side.

Blackhouses 5

Looking back up to the houses from the beach.

Blackhouses 6Blackhouses 7Blackhouses 8Blackhouses 9Blackhouses 10Blackhouses 11

There were eagle whirling over the village, I heard one of the coach party call them buzzards, I didn’t feel brave enough to put them right! But what a shame they missed them!

Blackhouses 12

Replacing the thatch.

Blackhouses 13

One of those places that I would love to have lived, maybe not back in the past though, it would have been a tough life.

Broch 1

Just a little further along the coast is Dun Carloway, which is the remains of a broch thought to have been built between 100BC – 200AD. It was inhabited (in worsening states of disrepair) until the 1860s, losing a lot of it’s stones which were robbed out and reused in local buildings. In 1882 it became one of the first officially protected monuments in Scotland.

Broch 4

Brochs were built more as a status symbol than a defensible stronghold  – although they were used for this occasionally. It could house an extended family, and their animals. We had to crawl into the broch under a stone lintel. I’m not sure whether this was due to the floor having been raised over time or whether it was part of the original design. The walls are double skinned with a passage way and stairs running all round them. I managed to smack my head on the bottom of one of the steps, which was rather painful after doing the same the day before.

Broch 2

The broch would have had quite a few different floor levels, accessed though these doorways from the passage in the walls. It would have been capped by a conical roof.

Broch 3Broch 5

Views over Loch Roag.

Broch 6

Local legend says that cattle raiders holed up in the broch in the 1500s after having stolen stock from Uig. One of the pursuers climbed up the outside of the broch using two daggers, and set a fire with heather to drive them out.

image

The following day it was time to leave the Islands, we took the ferry back to Ullapool from Stornoway, with the intention of making a leisurely journey south over the next couple of days. We waved to the folks in a bright orange converted German VW ambulance as we both queued up to board the ship, we kept bumping into each other on our travels.

Stornoway 1

We had slightly misjudged our timings and didn’t quite have enough time left to visit all of Lewis which was a shame, but at least it means we have a good reason to return!

Stornoway 2Stornoway 3Stornoway 4Stornoway 5Stornoway 6

Last camp 1

We made a stop at a campsite on the Black Water.

last camp 3

One of the guys on the site was fishing in the evening and caught a huge pike. His wife ran across to take a photo and then it was released back into the river. Unfortunately he didn’t fancy putting his fingers near it’s mouth and it went back in with the hook still attached.

pike

That’s the end of the holiday snaps. The next day we did our usual volte face and decided to go straight home instead of dawdling back and prolonging the agony. It was a fantastic trip and I would go back tomorrow if I could!

Bernera 4

A single track road heads north west off the B road between Uig and Garynahine and leads to the island of Bernera. The island is separated from Lewis by a stretch of water with very strong currents. In 1953 following protests by the Islanders, the government built a bridge to link the two islands, using a newly developed form of pre stressed concrete. This used less steel reinforcing which was great given the post war difficulties.  Above is the view looking back across to Lewis.

Bostadh 2

We’d headed across to visit Bostadh Iron Age House, which is situated at the end of a valley on a small bay at the other end of the island . In 1993 storms exposed the sand dunes on the south side of the beach and revealed the remains of a rectangular Norse house, which had been built on top of an Iron Age village. Excavations of five of the houses revealed that they were of a type found in the Late Iron Age – the Pictish period – 400-800AD. The houses had double walls and were built into the earth, with entrances in the south. Each had a main circular room with a central stone lined hearth, and other small chambers leading off it.

After the excavation, the site was backfilled with sand to preserve it, but a replica house was built further to the North.

Bostadh 1

Apparently the style is known as ‘jelly baby’ house. Because there was no archaeological  evidence of how the roof was built, there was a certain amount of experimentation. In the end it was dictated by the shape and strength of the outer walls – the dividing wall between the two main chambers was found to be too weak to support any weight. It turned out to be a transition between the round houses of the Early Iron Age and the Blackhouses.

Bostadh 3

There was a charge to enter, which I balked at a bit, but it turned out to be money well spent. You had to stand at the threshold for a while until your eyes got used to the dark and you had to remember to duck as you entered (I didn’t and smacked my head!) There was a fabulous lady inside to answer your questions and show you around. It was originally thatched with straw but has now been turfed. There’s been a bit of a discussion about whether there would have been enough straw or heather to have used thatch.

During the excavations several quern stones were discovered – thought to have been used to grind barley, along with fish bones, limpet, oyster, mussel and scallop shells; and the bones of cattle, sheep and red deer. The presence of red deer indicates that the area was wooded at one time

Bostadh 4

Dunes over the backfilled houses, looking back up the valley. There was the remains of a blackhouse further up the valley by the stream.

Bostadh 5

A couple of views of the beach, absolutely glorious. In fact the whole area was magical. I would have loved to have lived there!

Bostadh 6

Just before the beach was another of those fantastic island graveyards enclosed in a stone wall overlooking the sea.

image

On the way back we stopped off in the layby just before the bridge and headed up the hill to a group of standing stones. These are known locally as Tursachan, or Calanais VIII. They have a commanding position at the top of a cliff which is pretty unusual.

Bernera 9

These were a wonderful group of stones and have a great atmosphere. Before the bridge was built they must have been pretty remote. I loved the location looking up and down the straight and over to Lewis.

Bernera 5

Bernera 2

The hairy lichen growth on the stones shows how clean the air is on the Isles.

Bernera 1

Bernera 3

While we were sat amongst the stones we became aware of bird cries. Looking up we counted nine golden eagles soaring in the air. It really was a most amazing experience.

image

They seemed to spiral lower and lower and eventually Mr Stoatie managed to get one decent shot with the zoom. If you look closely you can see that the bird is wearing a radio transmitter and that there’s another bird in the distance. It was absolutely fantastic, what a gift.

Bernera 6Bernera 7

A couple of the stones reminded me of people wrapped in cloaks looking out to the horizon. I wonder if that was deliberate?

Bernera 8