Archive for the ‘Mr Stoatie’ Category


This is the first of a few catch up posts from last year!

Mr Stoatie and I went down to the OBOD Winter Gathering which was held the second weekend of December. Unfortunately due to problems with getting leave we could only stay for two nights – we usually like to have a couple of days either side because it’s such a long drive down.

The Winter Gathering takes just takes place for one day and begins with a Ceremony at Chalice Well, followed by a an Order meeting in the Town Hall. This includes the now traditional Mistletoe Ceremony, which is a beautiful experience. The centre of the hall is heaped with mistletoe which is an amazing sight, particularly for us northern folk who have no native mistletoe and who only usually get to see the sad sprigs on sale for a King’s Ransom in the shops.

During the morning Philip interviewed ‘Youth’ or Martin Glover  later during the Eistedfodd he was awarded the title of Honorary Bard. This is a link to Philip’s blog where you can hear the interview and see some photos of the Town Hall in all it’s glory. There was also a bardship awarded to the artist Jamie Reid, which was collected by his agent.

In the afternoon we were treated to a workshop with Karen and John from Sli an Chroi which was really great ( I wish they lived a bit closer!) and then in the evening we had the legendary Eisteddfod. What’s nice about the Winter Gathering is that there’s an opportunity for the crafters and writers to display their wares too, so you could pop in the Green Room on and off all day to mooch.

We only managed to take photos of the Eistedfodd, and a mighty fine line up it was too. No photos of Damh, we were up dancing!


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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!

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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!


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.


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

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Calanais photo

From our recent trip to Glastonbury we go back .. back … (imagine harp music and rolling mist) …  back …to our journey to the Hebrides last year. I’ve promised Mr Stoatie to finish off recording the trip and I reckon there will be just a couple more posts after this. If I leave it any longer we’ll be celebrating the first anniversary!

The wonderful image above I borrowed from here. Our photos were taken mid morning and aren’t quite so atmospheric! Calanais sits on a ridge of land which means that not only is it visible from all around but you get fantastic uninterrupted views to most of the horizon from the monument too.

There were several phases of development. In 3500BC the land was under cultivation by early farmers, then between 2900BC and 2600BC the central ring of thirteen gneiss stones was erected around the huge central monolith (4.8m high!). About 2600BC a small burial chamber was placed in the centre, it’s possible the stone rows were added in this period too. Around 2000BC a cairn was raised over the chamber and cremated bones and pottery buried in it. From 1500BC – 1000BC this chamber was emptied and the land was ploughed once again. From 800BC  peat began to form – by 1857, when it was removed, it had reached 1.5m up the stones.

The site was excavated by archaeologists in 1980-81, and one fallen stone re-erected. At the southern end of the monument there is a rock outcrop from which you can get a good view of the entire monument, which resembles a Celtic cross with the four avenues  of stones meeting at the edge of the central ring. These avenues are aligned with the four cardinal directions.

To illustrate I’ve borrowed an aerial photo from this article by Philip Graham of the RCAHMS, which was published for the Day of Archaeology project. (Pop over to his page, it has an interesting drawing of the stones made in 1866 which shows exactly how far up the stones the peat went, you can tell by the staining!)

There are various theories why Calanais was built, the site certainly has many astronomical alignments which would have been the centre of ceremonies and/or celebrations. The southern line of stones, and the large monolith are on a bearing of 180.1 degrees, true north-south. This means the pole star is framed by the avenue to the north and the avenue to the south marked the point the sun and moon reach their highest in the sky.  The eastern and western avenues point to the sunrise and sunset on the equinoxes.

To the south you can see a range of hills on Harris, which are known as ‘the old woman of the moors’ – they form the outline of a woman lying on her back. Every 18.6 years when the moon reaches it’s southernmost point it is seen to both rise and set behind these hills.

The stones have been tentatively identified by Aubrey Burl as the Temple of the Hyperboreans, which was mentioned by the Greek philosopher Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st century BC. He remarked that the God Apollo was said to visit the Hyperboreans – a race living on a faraway northern island, about the size of Sicily – once very nineteen years. He also mentioned that the moon was said to skim very close to the earth there too.

It takes 19 years (or 6939 days) for the Moon to return to the same spot in the sky at same phase, this is very significant for us Druids of course, as nineteen years is said to be the length of time the ancient druids spent in training. This Metonic Cycle is the basis of many ancient calendars.

Calanais 1Calanais 2

Looking southwards up the avenue.

Calanais 3

There were pointy bits on several of these stones (and on stones at the smaller circles) Were they pointing something out perhaps? Or maybe you could lash something like a flag or stick to them? Who knows!

Calanais 4

Flowers and feathers at the central stone.

Calanais 9

Calanais 5Calanais 6Calanais 7Calanais 8Calanais 10

The central circle.

Calanais 11Calanais 12Calanais 13

I thought Mr Stoatie did a marvellous job with the photos, it almost looks as if we were alone. Actually the stones were very busy! The visitor centre is a short walk away and we had to wait a little to get a parking spot. There were also several coach parties which came as a shock, as we’d been used to far fewer people on the other Islands and certainly no buses!

The picture below shows what is was like really. It did take an edge off the experience having so many other folk around (this was taken after one bus had left) but how wonderful for everyone, including someone with a disability walker, to be able to get up close and personal with these amazing stones.


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We’ve had a few days of beautiful dry and sunny weather. My mum said she heard the local weatherman report that the North West only had three days without rain between October and February so you can imagine how pleased we are to see blue skies!

To celebrate Mr Stoatie and I took the netting off the ponds before the frogs decided to get amorous and move around looking for fun – we have a constant worry that they might get trapped in the nets if we leave it too late. There was just one female frog in the large pond closest to the house, but the small top pond had seventeen snoozing in the mud and leaves, including a couple who were clinging together.  It is always difficult trying to hold frogs at the best of times, but mucous and mud coated ones add extra comedic effect. As did the layer of ice that came off with the net and which meant we also struggled with freezing cold hands.

It doesn’t seem to matter how we organise the poles and floats, or how tight we peg the netting, leaves still seem to gather and sink below the surface, and that’s where the frogs choose to dream out the winter. At least we can hoick the leaves out easily, oak takes so long to decompose that they’re still intact too.

The photo above is one I took for a facebook challenge – to post a nature picture every day for seven days. It’s the reflections in the top pond, taken before we removed the netting. The wind ruffling the net created some wonderful effects. I’m only half way through the challenge, it’s making me really have to look at the garden carefully (since I haven’t been out anywhere interesting), which can only be for the good. My other pictures so far are:

Collared Dove

A Collared Dove. When we first moved here, we used to have 10-15 of these Collared Doves in the garden at the same time. As the Wood Pigeons increased, the doves disappeared, and now we only have a single pair. The species are Southern European in origin, but have been slowly spreading northwards (an early climate change indicator maybe?) The first pair arrived in the UK in the mid 1950s and their descendants have been spreading round the country ever since. I wonder if they’re getting crowded out now the farmers don’t shoot pigeons anymore.

Crocus 1

Early Crocus. We have several clumps of these around the garden now, they seem to self seed easily which is great. The other blooms we have out at the moment are snowdrops, polyanthus, heather, and a completely out of sync liverwort!

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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!


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.


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


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.


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 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.


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


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It only took us about ten minutes to reach our campsite which was on the east of the Island. The light was fading pretty quickly and we were anxious to get the tent up by the van and chuck some of the additional stuff in it. Mr Stoatie had brought his bike with us and as he hadn’t yet invested in a bike rack, once again it took up too much space in the van. Turning Charlie stripy with oil stains and generally getting in the way. This is where when we realised our first forgotten item – the bike stand! Cue two weeks of constantly having to prop the flippin’ thing upright on various heaps of bags and boxes and picking it up when it fell over.

When we got out of the van we were treated to our first ever experience of the Scottish Midge, it’s making me itchy just thinking about it! I had bought a bottle of Skin So Soft which seemed to do the trick nicely as I didn’t get any bites at all while Mr Stoatie who couldn’t be bothered to apply it, had lots of little red lumps by the end of the evening. We were both rather glum at the thought of having to endure two weeks of the things.

Castlebay 2

The next day we woke up to grey skies and headed back into Castlebay for a look round. It’s the main town on the Island but is about the size of a small village, with a small local shop and a well stocked Co-op. It was very quiet, we recognised a few people from the ferry – including the labrador people!. bumping into people we shared ferries or campsites with became a bit of a thing on this trip, which isn’t surprising I suppose when most people are working their way up the island chain. In the past Castlebay had been the home of a huge herring fleet. At the height of the season it was said you could walk across the harbour on the fishing boats. Over six hundred would anchor in the bay, and the fish would be carried off to various stations around the harbour where the women would gut them and pack them into barrels with salt.

There was a short trail around a park by the harbour which showed the history of the trade, and which began with the mosaic at the top of the page.



From there we drove on to Vatersay, which is a small island to the south of Barra which is connected by a slim causeway. We found the first of many wonderful white beaches, and not another soul on it!


The dogs were excited by the beach and shot off to the sea as soon as they were let off their leads!


It was absolutely fantastic despite the overcast skies.




Vatersay has two wonderful beaches which are either side of a strip of sand dunes and grassland – the famous machair. We went to visit the other beach which is on the Atlantic side of the Island too. This was much larger, we were still the only souls there!


When the clouds broke everything looked even better.


It rained a little the second night, and that and the strong winds seemed to keep the midges at bay thank goodness. It was a little brighter when we got up and we headed off to the Airport – this is what happens when you’re married to an Aircraft Engineer!

Luckily Barra airport is one of the few airports in the world where the runway is on a beach. So we had a lovely walk and a snack at the airport cafe while we waited for the tide to go out and the plane to arrive.

Barra Airport

The airport is at the end of a long, wide bay, Traig Mhor. It’s a tiny little place, security was a rope across a doorway and the baggage collection area was a lean to against the terminal building, a bit like a bike shed. The cafe was fabulous and very popular.

Airport from a distance

The beach is composed of compacted cockle shells, which makes it firm enough to take the weight of the aircraft. There were one or two people cockling in the centre of the bay while we were there.

sand Barra


The plane arrived on time, there were quite a few spectators.





The Western Isles have their own species of bumblebee, the Hebridean Bumblebee.


Hebridean bee2

On the way back we visited Helaman Bay which is feted as the best beach on Barra. With the blue skies turning the water turquoise, and all the white sand, it was hard to disagree!

Barra Beach

We were the only people on the beach again!

Barra Beach2Barra Beach3

The access to the Bay was across a couple of fields. One of those houses was for sale, what a beautiful location!


Our campsite looked across to the mainland, although it was way off on the horizon. It was entertaining watching all the boats, mostly ferries and one huge cruise liner. Mr Stoatie managed to get one run out on the bike while we were there.


Most of our cooking is done on the trusty barbeque bucket. We decided when we first got the Scooby Van that we wouldn’t cook anything smelly or fatty on the stove! We mainly just use it to boil the kettle or cook vegetables and snacks.


All the exercise was a bit much for some folk.


On the third day we were off to the next Island group. We took the ferry over to Eriskay. This is the smallest ferry we’d been on, Tilly spent the journey under the bench seats but at least there was a window that I could look out of this time.


Ferry 2

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