Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Redwood

redwood

We were lucky enough to have blue skies and sunshine this morning after what seems like weeks of grey rain and I was seduced into having a walk during the lunch hour. It was absolutely perishing! One of the highlights was our single redwood glowing in the sun. When the Town Council announced the purchase of land to build a municipal cemetery in the early 1860s, one of the local gentry was so excited by the idea that he bought three specimen trees to plant in it. Unfortunately construction was quite a way off and the council decided that the trees would have to be planted in the Park (which is next door) instead, “at his own cost.”

This Wellingtonia is in the valley between the Cemetery and the Park and I think this may well have been one of these trees. In the same area there’s also a Cedar of Lebanon, and until recently a Chilean Pine. Coincidently three of the most threatened evergreens in the world in their natural habitats.

snowdrops 2

We’ve had a couple of days of ‘nice’ people visiting the Office which has made a change from the moaners and complainers we seem to have endured recently. There have been a few folk researching their family tree, one gentleman had been round several cemeteries and told me how pleased he was to locate a great grandparent at Stockport – buried between a Whalley and a Nutter!

 

Calanais 3 - 1

Back to the Western Isles! This is the first of three posts about our day in the sacred landscape around Calanais (otherwise known as Callanish)

We started off by pulling into a layby at the side of the main road and walking across a field to the small stone circle of Cnoc Fhillibhir Bheagknown (also known as Calanais 3). There had been cattle in the field – although none were around when we visited thank goodness! – and the peaty ground was very badly poached and covered in cow pats. This meant that it was really difficult to get close to the stones and there was nowhere to sit!

The setting is pretty spectacular, they’re on a ridge of land overlooking the surrounding landscape with views looking north west across Cnoc Ceann a’ Ghàrraidh (Calanais 2) to the great circle of Calanais itself.

Calanais from Calanais 3

Calanais 3 is actually an ellipse  of thirteen stones (eight standing) surrounding an inner ellipse of four stones. The tallest is about 6 foot high.

Calanais 3 -3

Below is the view looking back to Calanais 3 from the stones of Calanais 2. You can see that they’re sat in quite an elevated position. The walk across to the second circle was a pretty boggy one!

Calanais 3 from Calanais 2

Fortunately the ground was better at Cnoc Ceann a’ Ghàrraidh. The stones here are really beautiful and very striking in appearance, and much bigger than Calanais 3. The tallest is around ten foot high.

Calanais 2 - 1

There are five standing stones, and two fallen. These form an ellipse which surrounds the remains of a cairn. In 1858 a metre of peat was removed to expose the stones and four post holes were discovered, which is thought to be evidence that the circle here had a wooden predecessor.

Calanais 2 - 2Calanais 2 - 3

This circle had a lovely atmosphere.

Calanais 2 - 4Calanais 2 - 6Calanais 2 - 5Calanais 2 - 7Calanais 2 - 8

Set by the shore of Loch Roag,  Calanais 2 is much lower than both Calanais 3 and Calanais itself, which was visible on the ridge of land on the other side of the Loch. Here’s a view of Calanais taken with a zoom.

Calanais form Calanais 3 -2

Bride Imbolc

The Wildwood held it’s Imbolc Ceremony last weekend, at our Grove on the Edge – as it’s dedicated to Bride it seemed fitting! The Bride doll is still in situ and has survived a year remarkably intact, although the large quartz point she was holding has disappeared. I’m thinking it may have slipped down into the bole of the tree – there is a deep hollow filled with water under the ledge where she sits. It’s rather comforting to think of it safely resting deep in the black water.

Unfortunately we didn’t have any fine Spring weather, just more rain, which took the form of one of those really drenching drizzles. Despite this we had a wonderful turn out, including two new folk –  I just hope getting so cold and wet hasn’t put them off too much! A hot drink at the cafe afterwards seemed to restore everyone’s spirits.

Lindsey had baked fresh bread and to this we added goats milk as an offering. We had grand plans to make Bride’s crosses from drinking straws but in the end it was just to cold and wet to stand around. Plus a few of us were beginning to lose the feeling in our hands!

As Bride is the goddess of poetry, we shared a few poems during the ritual. I read out this poem which I found on The Melbourne Grove’s Website:

 

The Quickening

Although the chill of winter

Is still settled like a cloak

Resting its cold folds upon the earth

Beneath, her heart is beating

Just waiting for the sign

That signals it is time for life’s rebirth

 

For the seed of light is growing

It reminds us of its warmth

Whisp’ring to new shoots to show their face

And the seed of life now quickens

Responding to its call

Stirring from within earth’s safe embrace

 

The wattle it hangs golden

See it gracing every bough

A promise of the spring that’s yet to come

And the life still lying dormant

Starts to shift in winter’s sleep

Responding to the newly growing sun

 

Each seed has rich potential

Now, to grow into new life

So set your year’s intent without delay

A time so rich with promise

Feel it echoed in our lives

May Brigit bless our growth and light the way

          Jowen, Imbolc 2009

 

We all felt the urge to set an intent for the year and spent a few minutes in contemplation before The Closing.

Imbolc Altar The poem I found for our ritual booklet was this one:

 

Kindling the Fire

This morning,

As I kindle the flame upon my hearth,

I pray that the flame of Brighid may burn in my soul,

And the souls of all I meet today.

I pray that no envy and malice,

No hatred or fear,

May smother the flame.

I pray that indifference and apathy,

Contempt and pride,

May not pour like cold water on the flame.

Instead may the spark of Brighid light the love in my soul,

That it might burn brightly through the day.

And may I warm those that are lonely,

And whose hearts are cold and lifeless,

So that all may know the comfort of Brighid’s love.

 

I thought I’d include a photo from our Alban Arthan ritual which was also held on the Edge and which I missed writing up. We’re planning to resume our nomadic ways for the next nine months, so it will be a while before we hold ritual on the Edge again (although many of us visit the Grove on and off during the year to meditate, perform workings or make offerings) We will be holding our Alban Eiler ceremony on a sandy bank, close to a grove of hornbeams, in a piece of ancient woodland.  Just by the junction of two rivers which meander through our part of East Cheshire, can’t wait!

Altar

Spring has Sprung?

Bread & Cheese

As you know it’s traditional for us to announce the arrival of Spring here in the North West by sharing news of our spotting the first Bread and Cheese in the hedgerows – that’s new hawthorn leaves to the uninitiated. So here’s a blurry photo of Bread and Cheese taken during this afternoon’s dog walk. There were also hazel catkins, sticky buds and both daffodils and lungwort in full flower!

We’ve had months of mild, dull and wet weather here, the ground is waterlogged and everywhere is muddy, although today there was glorious sunshine and a slight chill in the air. I’m actually looking forward to a good cold snap, although it’s going to be a bit hard on all the plants that have decided that it’s time to sprout!

ferry 2

The ferry over the Sound to Harris takes a very tortuous route through outcrops of rocks and very shallow water, and is marked out by red and green buoys.

ferry

Someone we’d met at the campsite had seen dolphins on his trip the other way across so our eyes were peeled. Unfortunately all we caught a glimpse of were gannets, gulls and ducks.

ferry 3

Approaching the ferry terminal at Leverburgh.

harris

A view across the mountains of Harris. It reminded me very much of Snowdonia.

harris 3

Our plan had been to drive straight up to Lewis and to head for the campsite at Uig. Unfortunately the ferry was an afternoon service so we were short on time and Uig turned out to be quite a lot further than we anticipated. To add insult to injury we were also low on petrol which wasn’t good considering it was a Sunday! We decided the best thing to so would be to head for a campsite on the outskirts of Stornoway. This was a bit to of a shock to the system as it was positioned on the edge of a housing estate and was rather crowded, we’d been used to empty, wide open spaces.

Thankfully the next day we filled up with diesel, did a shop and headed off to Uig, which is on the south west coast of Lewis.

valley ti Uig

Uig is a pretty remote settlement almost at the end of very long, windy B road. At one point it takes you through a wonderful  dramatic gorge called Glen Valtos which was formed by melt water running off a glacier during the ice age. The glen is about 2.5 km long with a stream running through, rock turrets, rock falls and a tiny forest. It felt like we’d wandered into a Tolkien novel. There was an amazing feel to the place and it really did give you the sense of passing from one reality to another.

Uig campsite

At the other end of the glen you arrive at Uig. Our destination was the campsite at Traigh na Beirghe, which is just a glorified carpark with toilets and a shower room. It’s just a few hundred metres walk across the dunes and machair to the bay.

Uig 1

The campsite is operated by the community and fees are paid via an honesty box at a local croft.

basalt 2

The geology is wonderful, opposite the site is a huge outcrop of pink gneiss which was littered with basalt erratic’s. The hill was covered with rabbit holes and haunted by ravens. I could have sat up there for ever, such a strong sense of place.

basaltgneiss with quartz vein

Harebell

Beautiful harebell – these are one of my favourite flowers.

Uig 2

And more wonderful white sand.

uig 3

We had the best weather yet, and a wonderfully clear evening sky at last so Mr Stoatie and I lay in the sand dunes star gazing. Beautiful views of the Milky Way, fantastic!

Uig 4

The sea goes out for miles at low tide.

Uig 5Uig chessman

Uig is where the Lewis Chessmen were found in 1823. There is a carving of one of the Kings at the entrance to the campsite to commemorate their discovery. Apparently a cow rubbed itself against a sandbank and uncovered them, maybe it was one of this one’s ancestors!

cow

Beach

Gosh! Has it really been over a month since my last post? I’ve got a lot to catch up on over the next few weeks, but first, the next instalment of our campervan trip to the Outer Hebrides.

These pictures were all taken on North Uist which I think was my favourite of all the Islands as it had a little bit of everything, mountains, long white beaches, wildlife, ancient monuments, lochs. Absolutely stunning and so quiet. We moved campsites to Moorcroft which is a working croft on the seashore. This was one of the best campsites we’ve been to, and like most on the islands had wonderful facilities. As well as a bunkhouse and toilets/showers there was the usual kitchen and eating area which must have been a boon for campers.

The first few photos are of the beach to the east of Vallay Strand, walking North and then East towards Veilish Point. Those pink flowers had a wonderful sweet scent, I think they’re sea rocket.

Beach flowers

Miles of white sand and only us and the dogs to enjoy it. There was quite a strong breeze.

Beach 2

Beach 3

dogs

There was a lot to see on the strand line. I scavenged a couple of seal bones and a lot of bird bones and feathers. There were clumps of goose barnacles on various bottles, a selection of foreign jars and plastic containers, and a large orange buoy (too heavy to carry unfortunately!)

Florida Harbour Light

The most interesting find was this red buoy. The sticker at the top told us it was the property of the US Coastguard and was marked as being from the harbour at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, so it had made a long journey across the Atlantic. Originally it would have held a light fitting at the top (where the metal pins are) and would have probably lit up one of the safe sea channels.

goose

This was the most amusing find, and no I wasn’t allowed to take it back to the van!

Pobull Fhinn 1

We broke up the beach walks with a visit to a couple of ancient monuments on one of the highest parts of the Island, Ben Langass. These stones are part of an oval stone circle called Pobull Fhinn (Finn’s people) which is on one side of the hill. The Finn it refers to is the legendary Irish hero Fionn Mac Cumhuaill. As there was quite a slope the builders had to dig into the hillside on one side and add material on the other to form a flat platform before they could erect the stones. There are a total of 48 stones in the circle, not all of which are standing and they’re spaced irregularly round the circumference – there is a patch which seem to have none at all. Amazingly the circle has never been investigated by archaeologists and no study has been made to check astronomical alignments.

Pobull Fhinn 2

Pobull Fhinn 3

Pobull Fhinn 4

Pobull Fhinn 5

plan Pobull Fhinn

On the other side of Ben Lengass is a stone cairn called Barpa Langais. This is a passage grave and reminded us very much of the cairns at Kilmartin. It has been dated between 4000 to 2000BC. Unfortunately you’re unable to go inside now because of a roof fall. The cairn is positioned, like the circle on the side of the hill, in a prominent position where they have extensive views across the island.

Barpa Langais

The image below shows what it may have looked like at it’s height. It’s thought that the warmer climate would have meant the landscape would have been grass or scrub rather than the heather and moss it is today.

Barpa Langais 2

This was an interesting boulder we found on the way back to the van. Basalt on gneiss, you know I love my rocks!

Basalt

This is the view across to the Island of Benbecula from the campsite.

Campsite North Uist

Looking up to our pitch.

Campsite North Uist 2

ram

One of our neighbours.

deer

And another!

gull

Another day another beach! This is Traigh Ear, on the opposite side of a spit of land from the previous beach. It lines a wide bay, and at the top you can walk over a narrow stretch of sand dunes and arrive on the Atlantic coast.

another beach 3another beachdogs 2

There is a causeway onto the island of Berneray from North Uist which is where the ferry takes you to Harris, our next destination.

Leaving North Uist

Sorry for the blogging hiatus, I’ll try to explain what’s been going on in a subsequent post but I’d really like to crack on with our Hebrides trip!

arriving Eriskay

From Barra we took the ferry to Eriskay, which is a tiny island connected to South Uist by a causeway. It’s famous for it’s grey ponies, the breed almost became extinct in the 1970s – it was saved by a 100% Eriskay stallion called Eric – but I only managed to spot one pony as we made our way over the island.

Once on South Uist we made our way up the only main road which runs north-south. On the west were flat areas of lochs and machair and huge white beaches whilst on the east were hills, mountains and a rocky coast. We stopped off at one of the beaches to give the dogs a run.

South Uist 1

Unfortunately the weather started to take a turn for the worse and the blue skies were replaced by cloud. There was also a biting northerly wind which blew sand into your face.

South Uist 2

At one end of the beach we found rocks and had fun exploring the pools. Mr Stoatie found a baby plaice lying on the sand at the bottom of this one but it buried itself before we could take a close up!

Rockpooling

There were only a couple of campsite listed on South Uist, we made an attempt to find the one at Lochboisdale but ended up the wrong side of the loch! Rather than drive back to the main road and then drive back along the the other side we  decided to head back to a site we passed just after the causeway from Eriskay.

Kilbride

It was a good flat site, a bit exposed but there were wonderful facilites. One of the other campers spotted an otter whilst stretching his legs so we headed out to the tiny beach after tea. Unfortunately we didn’t see anything!

Kilbride 2

Attached to the site was a marvellous cafe and in the morning we treated ourselves to black pudding barmcakes for breakfast, absolutely delicious! 

Kilbride Cafe

We then headed back up the main road. On an island where most of the buildings are small crofts it was rather incongruous to find this ugly church sat by the main road.

South Uist 4

Church South Uist

On thing you notice is that the islanders are very accepting of modern buildings, although most of them are a lot more picturesque than this.

Machair harvest

cows

We stopped off at the Cladh Hallan roundhouses, which date from the late Bronze Age. There are three visible, there are thought to be another three or four buried under the neighbouring sand dune. It was a pretty atmospheric place.

Hut Circle

Hut Circles

And about two hundred metres from the round houses was this beach.

Beach 2

We were enjoying a walk when Mr Stoatie pointed out that we were being watched – there were three seals in the sea.

seal

It was a bit like the seal encounter we had on Skye, they just seemed happy to stay at a distance and watch us. Mr Stoatie spent some time trying to get a decent shot but they seemed to know just how far his zoom would work and stayed just out of range.

seal 2

seal snaps 2

The dogs and I retired to the edge of the dunes to get out of the wind and watch the action. It was starting to drizzle.

beach dunes

Charlie started to entertain himself sliding, he would work his way down and then run back up and do it all over again.

charlie sliding

Machair

Machair 2

We’d left the ScoobyVan parked by a graveyard. These are almost always on a hill overlooking the sea and not by a church. Stunning locations and oddly comforting.

churchyard

Peat stacks would become a common sight as we worked our way along the Islands.

peat

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 121 other followers