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rainbow

Last Christmas (it was only three weeks ago – seems like forever!) was the bi-annual get together with Mr Stoatie’s side of the family and so we set off with the dogs, for a weeks holiday at Romaldkirk in County Durham.

We stayed in a converted barn in a holiday let complex just off one of the three village greens. The village itself is very picturesque, even in the dismal winter weather and must be a honeypot in the summer. For the first few days we had relentless rain and strong wind, then Christmas Day we had a glimpse of blue skies between the squalls, and finally some crisp frosty weather for the remainder of the week.

There used to be a railway line through the village run by the Tees Valley Railway which has since been converted into a public footpath. There’s an interesting site here which tells you all about it.  In a break with tradition it was decided that the Family Walk (along the old railway line) would take place before The Presents and The Dinner.

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With an elderly dog, and having been ill myself, I had an ideal excuse to head back when the freezing hail and strong wind got too uncomfortable. Mr Stoatie and the eldest daughter nobly offered to accompany me! For the entire time we were out this rainbow remained in the sky.

Romaldkirk Kirk

Some parts of the Church date back to Anglo Saxon period, although it’s believed that the Scots laid waste to most of it a few years after the Norman invasion. Unsurprisingly it’s dedicated to St Romald who was born in Northamptonshire in 650AD, I’m not sure how he came to be venerated up here. It’s said that Romald (or Rumwald) was a grandson of King Penda, the great Mercian king whom I’ve a bit of a soft spot for – he was one of the last pagan kings!

Kirk Inn

Romaldkirk Green

Romaldkirk is only ten minutes away from Barnard Castle. When we were courting Mr Stoatie and I had spent a couple of weeks camping nearby and had visited the Bowes Museum there. My abiding memory was watching the swan automaton so we took the eldest daughter with us to relive the experience. The swan is only wound once a day, to help preserve the mechanism, and it’s truly magical. It used to cost a guinea to see the swan a few years after it was manufactured in 1773 and was quite a crowd puller by all accounts. In this age of CGI it’s hard to imagine how awe inspiring this would have been in those days.

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The museum, which was purpose built to house the collection of the Bowes family, is a beautiful building, styled, rather incongruously, as a French chateau and is packed with art, fine furniture and costumes. It’s well worth a visit.

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Bowes Museum

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The barn.

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Mr Stoatie and I managed to get out by ourselves for a couple of hours on Boxing Day and took the dogs for a walk around the nearby Grassholme Reservoir. It was absolutely perishing, with a really stiff wind pelting us with hail every so often. Even the ducks looked fed up.

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The farmland around the holiday lets was used for stabling and there was a constant stream of cars going past each morning and evening. Some of them drove so fast through the yard that I was worried the dogs and I would get run over in the dark. The grey pony above was given hard feed and a hay net, but when it’s owner left, the sheep from the next field used to get in under the wire fence on the other side and help themselves!

The little Shetland pony below was alone in a tiny field, about the same size as our garden. It was fed regularly but I felt sorry for it, the ground was almost completely poached. Does the poor thing get taken out for walks? (Not while we were there anyway) Isn’t this the equine equivalent of keeping a goldfish in a bowl?

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Alban Arthan 2016

In December the Wildwood celebrated Alban Arthan at our Grove on the Edge. The weather was kind to us and we stayed dry which is always a bonus. The altar was decorated with evergreens and fairy lights. The mistletoe was a large bunch from the OBOD Winter Gathering in Glastonbury, and was cut from an apple tree in the same valley as the Stanton Drew complex of stone circles. It was lovely to be able to share it with everyone afterwards.

The rune stick Guy had left at North was still in situ but the little straw figure of Bride we keep in the cleft of a Beech tree had disappeared. A fingertip search revealed her swan feather gown and a length of gold ribbon on the floor – now tied on to the nearby holly as a cloutie. There was nothing at all in the cleft, not even the greenery we use as decoration which was very strange. Either everything had been removed deliberately or it had succumbed to the weather. Maybe the little Bride doll’s time had simply come to an end.

In the Summer we’d noticed that someone had left a Green Man on one of the nearby Rowan trees. This is on a little hummock behind Bride’s tree, overlooking the Grove, and is a lovely place to meditate. There is a little oak, ash and thorn growing on it and it’s very fey. It’s interesting that someone chose the same spot as ourselves to work, considering how big the woods are. The masculine energy of the Green Man compliments that of the Goddess (of course!) and we’ve grown quite fond of him.

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Our next ritual is Imbolc, which is dedicated to Bride and will be held in the Grove. We’re planning to make another little Bride doll, with input from everyone, and shall be installing her back in her bower.

As part of our Alban Arthan ritual we always recite the poem, The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, each taking a line until it’s finished.

 

The Shortest Day

So the shortest day came, and the year died,

And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world

Came people singing, dancing,

To drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees;

They hung their homes with evergreen;

They burned beseeching fires all night long

To keep the year alive,

And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake

They shouted, revelling.

Through all the frosty ages you can hear them

Echoing behind us – Listen!!

All the long echoes sing the same delight,

This shortest day,

As promise wakens in the sleeping land:

They carol, fest, give thanks,

And dearly love their friends,

And hope for peace.

And so do we, here, now,

This year and every year.

Welcome Yule!!

 

Susan Cooper

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WG1

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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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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

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

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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.

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Looking back up to the houses from the beach.

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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!

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Replacing the thatch.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Views over Loch Roag.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Last camp 1

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

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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.

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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!

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