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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.

Related image

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.

ducks

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.

ducks2ducks3Reservoirreservoir2reservoir3reservoir4

pony&sheep

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?

pony 2

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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

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pond

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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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!

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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

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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!

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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

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