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♫    Music to dream by ....
from the album 'Coincidence and Likely Stories'  1992   

'Starwalker'
    Buffy Sainte Marie

(minimize new window & listen while you browse)

"Starwalker, he's a friend of mine,    You've seen him looking fine,
He's a straight talker, he's a Star walker,    Don't drink no wine .... " 

 

 

 

    January 7th 2014    
      ....   May it be a rare and splendid New Year .....

Flooded meadows near Headcorn, Kent ©vcsinden2014
Meadows near Headcorn, Kent, first week of the New Year.

   .... for that, apart from the good old British weather, is how it started. In and around the Hurst Wood Clearing and the old hollow oak all is 'So far - So good' - if a bit soggy underfoot!    ... it all began with the Mad Mummers of  the Woodchurch Morris and and that dreaded French Stick. Best not to ask!

Woodchurch Morris & Mummers - Josephine  ©vcsinden2014 The role of the French Stick was an important one - spare your blushes - but you might ask the horse about it if you must! Woodchurch Morris & Mummers - The Hooden Horse ©vcsinden2014
Woodchurch Morris & Mummers - The French Stick ©vcsinden2014
Josephine
The French Stick
The Woodchurch Hooden
Napoleon

     There were fireworks over the channel and harbour at Ramsgate on New Year's Eve, and on New Year's Day a visit to Sadlers Wells and Mathew Bourne's 'Swan Lake' - the entrancing male swans being a lot more elegant than Madame Josephine (above), who behind that fan has a definite beard!

Ramsgate New Year's Eve ©vcsinden2014
Midnight sea and celebrations at Ramsgate
Swan lake at Sadlers Wells, London
Photo by Sadlers Wells Production Photography Team

    Now a little travelling Northwards, to witness the strange tradition of the Whittlesey Straw Bear for the old Twelth Night / Plough Monday. See you, I hope, when I get back to my woods.

 

 

 

      January 14th 2014    
         ......  And here he is - Whittlesey Straw Bear .....

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  ©vcsinden2014 Whittlesey Straw Bear Historic photo from Journal of the Folklore Society 1909
Bear and his Keeper  2014
Bear and his Keeper c1900

      Welcome to you Straw Bear!   Costumed luxuriously from the best of the old year's harvest, he is reborn at Twelth Night (as at the Julian calendar tradition).  The Bear symbolizes the giving of thanks (and alms!) for past, plentiful seasons and readiness to give way to the new year. The fields lie waiting for the plough and the seed drill. Each day grows longer and lighter. 

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014 roof  thatching ©vcsinden2014
Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  Pig Dyke Molly ©vcsinden2014
      
A rooftop thatch Straw Bear looks down on proceedings in the Market Square while 'Pig Dyke Molly' make themselves a souvenir photo.
Muddypond Green dances at the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival  ©vcsinden2014
                You can never stop a good faery dancing when she has the chance!

   

    The historic picture above is made from a Victorian lantern slide and a copy may be found in Whittlesey Museum, at the Town Hall, and the 1909 Journal of the Folklore Society, in the Collectanea section, where it is accompanied by a letter .... I give an extract below ....

      'When I was in Whittlesey (Cambridgeshire) yesterday, (January  12th 1909), I had the pleasure of meeting a 'straw-bear', if not two, in the street. I had not been at Whittlesey on the day for nearly forty years, and feared that the custom had died out.   Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014   ©vcsinden2014

 

 

 In my boyhood, the "straw-bear" was a man completley swathed in straw, led by a string by another, and made to dance in front of people's houses, in return for which money was expected. This always took place on the Tuesday following Plough Monday. Yesterday the "straw-bear" was a boy, and there was no dancing; otherwise I saw no change.'

   Happily the dancing habit is very much back alive and well in the 21st century. I wonder what the letter-writer, Mr G. C Moore-Smith of Sheffield, would have made of the madly colourful 2014 festival.

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  Gog Magog Molly  ©vcsinden2014
Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  Gog Magog Molly ©vcsinden2014
The wonderful  'Gog Magog Molly' , precision dancing while the band plays 'The Oompa Loompa' tune!!

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  - Bessy from 7 Champions Molly, Kent  ©vcsinden2014  


Things I loved about the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival:

*    No junky outside stalls, town traders were all that was needed
*   The Bear himself, parading and ambling all day long from pub to pub -
      so accessible and easy to see
*   The small and tiny sized straw bears sitting atop the big parade drum
*   The Town Hall, Museum, Pubs and Churches being open, with story-telling
      and music
*   The wonderful, free, park & ride into town
*   The huge mix of ages, interested spectators and enthusiatic, skilful performers

(Left: 'Bessy' from 'Seven Champions Molly' - visitors from Muddypond's neck-of-the-woods, near Lenham in Kent.)

 

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  - banner ©vcsinden2014
Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014 - the Mepal Molly Men  ©vcsinden2014
' The Mepal Molly Men'  (above), who traditionally only dance for The Straw Bear Festival and on Plough Monday.
Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014 - Old Glory Molly ©vcsinden2014
The drum - Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  ©vcsinden2014
'Old Glory Molly Dancers & Musicians' -   (see their own 'Cutty Wren' ceremony here on my website.)  and the Whittlesey Parade Drum.

   And so -  to be reborn, old Bear must be burned - as the rough stalks in the fields are burned to make way for the Plough. His fun loving spirit had fled his costume before the first flame of Sunday touched its feet and leaped up, changing straw to ash which will fertilise and feed the earth.  He WILL be back!

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014 - the bear dancing ©vcsinden2014
The burning - Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  ©vcsinden2014
Bear back -  Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  ©vcsinden2014

 

 

 

 

     January 21st  2014
             ......
Of Wassail and Snowdrop buds ......
( The  Ogham wood has changed today to Rowan - Luis - January 21st to February 17th.  Use Rowan wood for a powerful wand, add Rowan bark or berries to you herbal incense.)

   Apple orchards for fine fruit, juicing and cider making are an important ingredient of the Kentish landscape.Wassail - Seven Champions Molly at the Phoenix Tavern, Faversham, Kent ©vcsinden2014

    A wassail ritual (often celebrated around the Twelth Night, old or new) is a must-attend essential for all faery Woodland Guardians, whether appointed or hopeful. If you would like to read more about the fruit tree wassails, you can find a longer entry  "Recipe for a Fine Wassail" here  on my website.

    First snowdrops, Challock Church ©vcsinden2014This little wassail took place in Faversham on 17th January and was led by Seven Champions Molly - these fellows get about, it was only last week that Muddypond watched them dance at the Straw Bear Festival! (see below). The young tree was hung carefully according to custom with cider-soaked toast, blessings given and its roots were duly annointed! 

 Breaking with tradition, (cider soaked fruit cake), there was apple pie and custard to finish!  Most welcome!

 

    In the early dusk of Sunday, I walked along the path beside the isolated church of  St Cosmos & St Damian near Challock - and yes! There they were! the very first buds of the snowdrop carpet that will be at its peak and ready for the famous 'Snowdrop Teas' in mid February.

   It isn't too early to plan your Snowdrop walks - my detailed   'Kentish Snowdrop Calendar 2014'  is ready today. Hurrah!

 

 


   February 1st 2014      
        .....  For the festival of Brigid
...... or Imbolc ...  

Wild violets in January ©vcsinden2014

    Dodging the rain and the muddiest part of  'Neighbourhood Bank', where I know there's a small patch of cultivated snowdrops, my eye was drawn to glints of purple through the green. Instead of the snowdrops that I was searching for, I was amazed to discover wild violets - violets on the last day of January, in full bloom! Whoever heard of such a thing?

  brigid's Cross in reed grass, freshly made for St Brigid's Day ©vcsinden2014An extraodinary gift they seemed to me, bringing hope and a shiver of anticipation for the long days of spring to follow. So when I light my simple white candle tonight to honour Goddess Brigid and replenish the rush cross of St.Bride, instead of the traditional snowdrops, there will be a tiny pot of wild violets to focus thoughts on nature's blessings.

How to make a Brigid Cross is here on my website.

You might also be interested in learning a little more about Brigid's Day here.

 


 

   February 20th 2014      
           ..... And it's still a whole month before the Spring Equinox ....

( The  Ogham wood has changed and is now Ash - Nion - February 18th to March 17th.  An Ash twig can make a powerful wand, add Ash bark or keys to your herbal incense.)

Snowdrops and blossom ©vcsinden2014

   Early Spring blossom ©vcsinden2014It doesn't surprise me that this has been the wettest January and February since the weather-recording of human-kind began in earnest. But - it has been warm !! The birds have been singing their dawn chorus around my wood at just after five in the morning - and the local cockerels wake the world more joyfully every day!Crocus bloom  ©vcsinden2014

   Don't need to show you the flooded fields and railways, the fallen trees and dangling telephone wires - let's just look at the results of the full on signs of finer weather that I've enjoyed here in Kent over the last few days.

   Blossoms in the churchyard at Molash, and amongst the snowdrops.            Primroses in Hurst Wood and crocus' on the banks at Hever.

Spring bank in early February ©vcsinden2014
Primroses soak up a rare day of February sun ©vcsinden2014

To go with the Calendar of Snowdrop Walks and Gardens in Kent, is a new page that you may like,
all about the folklore, myth and magic surrounding this most loved flower -
I hope you will enjoy 'Snowdrop Magic' .

 

 


    February 25th 2014  
        ......
Just because ....


         Baby dragon illustration by Jackie MorrisA Small Dragon

I’ve found a small dragon in the woodshed.
Think it must have come from deep inside a forest
Because it’s damp and green and leaves
are still reflecting in its eyes.

I fed it on many things, tried grass,
the roots of stars, hazel-nut and dandelion,
but it stared up at me as if to say, I need
foods you can’t possibly provide.

It made a nest among the coal,
Not unlike a bird’s but larger,
it is out of place here
and is quite silent.

If you believed in it I would come
hurrying to your house to let you share my wonder,
but I want instead to see
if you yourself will pass this way.

                                                            Brian Patten

You will find Brian Patten's website here.   
The scrumptious illustration is by a favourite contemporary artist and author - Jackie Morris
Jackie Morris' Artist Blog is here       

 

 


 

    
     March 4th 2014
      
        ......  Today is Pancake Day ...
may there be a surfeit on your table!  .....

   If you've read any other sections of Muddypond's diaries, you probably know that one of her favourite sets of books, read to her as a very small faery-sprig indeed, is the Little Grey Rabbit series, written by country woman Alison Uttley, and illustrated by Margaret Tempest mostly in the 1950s.    

Today in Britain, it is Pancake Day, otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday. Many a mortal still makes the pancakes which signal the beginning of forty-six days of austerity before Easter.
   Us Magics love the smell of them with fresh lemon juice and sugar and usually take in more than is good for us, even though we're not so good at the austerity part of the bargain these days!

 

    In 'Little Grey Rabbit's Pancake Day', Hare discovers a rusty old frying pan in a ditch, and Mole cleans it up for him until it gleams. He takes it home just in time for Pancake Day.

   Speckledy Hen brings a basket of eggs, and Grey Rabbit teaches them all how to make and, even better, toss the pancakes.  Young Fuzzypeg's first try lands on his smock and he eats it up from there!

"She beat the eggs and some milk in the flour with a brush made of birch twigs till they frothed. She put the frying-pan over the fire with a little butter in it, and poured in some of the mixture.

She sprinkled a few drops of sorrel juice squeezed from the wild wood-sorrel leaves, to give a sourness to the pancakes.

  The mixture ran all over the pan. bubbling and spreading out. Everybody watched the clever rabbit, who raised the edges of the pancake with a thin little stick. Then with a sudden jerk of her paw, she tossed the pancake up in the air and caught it in the pan the other side up.

'Hurrah!' They cried. 'She's caught it!' "

Quotation from Alison Uttley's 'Little Grey Rabbit's Pancake Day' with illustrations by Margaret Tempest.
First published by Collins in 1967

 

 

    March 11th 2014   
    ......
Woodland seating arrangements to treasure ....

  Should you go wandering in Wood Guardian Muddypond's faery wood, Hurst Wood, (the part which is actually owned and managed by the Heath's Countryside Corridor), Hurst Wood, Charing, Kent - hazel coppicing near the High Speed Rail ©vcsinden2014you may discover a breathtakingly fitting place to sit and contemplate the early signs of Spring..

    If you look hard enough, you'll find it amongst the hazel trees. Sit there to hear the birdsong - I'd let you bring your picnic too, but only of you promise faithfully to leave no trace - none mind you, not even a scent - of your human presence!

   This magic place for resting weary feet is a tribute to the small company of rare Hazel Dormice who live amongst the branches, feasting on the green nuts in summer and hibernating safely when the first frosts bite.   

 

Hurst Wood, Charing, Kent – seating sculpture by Steve Portchmouth  ©vcsinden2014 

  Isn't that perfect?  A fine dormouse sleeps in his trunk of sweet chestnut tree, surrounded by a faery ring of comfortable toadstools. He is the work of Kentish sculptor Steve Portchmouth, an artist who has enhanced many a rural setting with animals, birds, seats and waymarkers. Such a captivating use for a big tree stump don't you agree?

Hurst Wood, Charing, Kent – seating sculpture by Steve Portchmouth  ©vcsinden2014 Hurst Wood, Charing, Kent – seating sculpture by Steve Portchmouth  ©vcsinden2014
Fine carving by Steve Portchmouth (link above), with faery-guardian Dog Martin to give an idea of the size of the old chestnut stump

      A lot further along the lanes, following the High Speed Rail line and M20, you can find Chilston Pond. Also owned and managed by the volunteers of Heath's Countryside Corridor as a wildlife habitat which is open to all. Once part of the huge Chilston Park estate, the pond was an 'ice pond' for the old 'ice house' belonging to the magnificent country house.

    High on the bank, beneath the Scots Pines, you can see the walls of the ice cellar, which has recently been party restored, and read a little of its history. The pond, now quite wild and with plenty of cover for nesting birds and small creatures, is home to quite a number of Great Crested Newts amongst many other residents.

    There, beside the pond, another fabulous resting place by Steve Portchmouth - a huge crested newt surveys his kingdom from one of a pair of invitingly rounded benches.

Chilston Pond near Lenham, Kent – seating sculpture by Steve Portchmouth  ©vcsinden2013 Chilston Pond near Lenham, Kent – seating sculpture by Steve Portchmouth  ©vcsinden2013
By the Ice House at Chilston Pond, the newt guards his special habitat       . Sculptor: Steve Portchmouth (link above).

 

 


 

     March 16th 2014      
        .... Tonight - ruled by the Ash tree - full moon ....

Full march Moon, March 16th 2014,  Charing, Kent ©vcsinden2014
This photo, just an hour ago, 6.30pm - from the bank beside my wood,
the Ash Moon catches the last rays of a brilliant sunset at the end of a day as warm as summer.

 

An Extract from
'The Cat and the Moon'

Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet.

W.B Yeats

 

 

 

 

    March 21st 2014   
        ..... Saying thank you for Spring - at Ostara ....
( The ruling  Ogham wood is now Alder - Fearn - March 18th to April 14th.  The day of the Spring Equinox is ruled by Gorse - Onn)

English postcard illustration, c 1920 from 'The Silhouette Series - Elves & Fairies'.

     The vernal equinox, celebrated as the festival of Ostara, heralds the official first day of Spring, and such a lovely day it was here in the south of England.

Sissinghurst Castle Garden in March ©vcsinden2014
Sissinghurst Castle Garden in March ©vcsinden2014
 
Above, a mist of blue scilla, and on the right, looking back towards to the tower, daffodils and fritilarias crowd the orchard..

 

      At present I am reading Vita Sackville-West's " Garden Book", which is a collection of notes from several of her works about gardening written in the 1950s. And what better place to spend some time browsing its pages than in Vita's own magical garden.

      So, my thoughts and thanks for this day were realized, not in my wood with incense and candles, but in the March sunshine of the Kentish garden of Sissinghurst Castle, famous at this time of year for the orchard burgeoning with spring flowers and newly woken bees.

Blus scillas in Sissinghurst Castle Garden in March ©vcsinden2014 The Moat at Sissinghurst Castle Garden in March ©vcsinden2014
Cecil beaton's famous portrait of Vita Sackwille-West

Excerpt from 'The Land'

'The country habit has me by the heart,
For he's bewitched for ever who has seen,
Not with his eyes but with his vision, Spring
Flow down the woods and stipple leaves with sun,
As each man knows the life that fits him best,
The shape it makes in his soul, the tune, the tone,
And after ranging on a tentative flight
Stoops like the merlin to the constant lure.
'

Vita Sackville-West
1926

Image Source - Cecil Beaton, National Portrait Gallery here

Faery Muddypond Green visits Sissinghurst Castle Garden in March ©vcsinden2014
Muddypond celebrates Ostara with the bees in the Sissinghurst orchard

 

 

 

     March 26th 2014     
        ....  P
erhaps you'd also like a faery flower note ... on the 'otherblog' ...

Kingcups or Marsh Marigolds feature today on
Muddypond's 'other' blog 'Wolf Moons and Muddypond Green'

Kingcups, Golden Riches in Darkest Mud

 

 

 

     April 8th 2014 
                ....  
 Seeking the legendary Turkish 'Faery Chimneys'   ...

Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014

Fairy Chimney in Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014      

   

Yesterday I found this letter from Canada on my Drax machine   -

   " I think you must be on a faery tour because you haven't been writing your diary blog!
If your wings can carry you to the Bow Valley I can take you high up our mountains and you can see all the beautiful snow we have.  It is so beautiful although at the moment we don't have spring flowers.

  The bears are starting to come out of hibernation and the birds are returning from the South and are singing every day. 
                                                   Lots of love, Spray "


 

  Thank you so much Spray - how I would love to see your Canadian bears - and the snow. We seem to have missed snow altogether this year in my English woods.     How right you are - I have been on a 'faery tour' - to see the Faery Chimneys !

 

Uchisar from Pidgeon Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014
                                                               The old village of Uçhisar was built into the rock.

       Cities from the times of the ancients built into soft rock, topped with magical citadels on the hills, cave houses and whole underground townships. The valleys and peaks swooping and undulating their way like frozen dunes in this part of central Turkey give landscapes that are quite literally 'unbelievable'.

Fairy Chimneys, Monks' Valley - Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014
Fairy chimney top - Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014
Looking down at the 'Monks Valley', and a single, precarious 'faery chimney' outlasts the winds and erosion.. Below:  walking amongst the chimneys.

Fairy Chimneys - Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014    

Atmosfer Balloon ground crew prepare Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014

Here's the ground crew preparing the vast balloon for the journey. What a way to see the landscape that I've wanted to visit for so long!

   We chose a flight with 'Atmosfer' balloons - and loved it

      A breathtaking way to ponder those views is to save faery-wing strength and take a balloon ride over the valleys. It would take a lot of wing-power to fly this high. An early evening flight, accompanied by just one sister-balloon gave travel through a silent, astonishing world.

Ballooning, early evening - Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014

Sinasos old town Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014 Camels survey the scene - Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014
                  Parts of the cave dwellings at the old town of Sinasos (now Mustafapasa) are still in use. A small camel stares at the visitors.

      As a wood guardian, I make protective amulets from the Ogham Trees or from hag stones for the safety of the folks of Hurst Wood and the Neighbourhood Bank. These are endowed with all sorts of ancient magic - so I was very curious about the properties of the nazar boncuğu - the dark-blue glass 'Evil Eye Amulets' from the region where I travelled. They were everywhere - hanging from trees (similar to our own 'clouty trees), beams, doorways and window frames to keep buildings safe from harm, and pinned to clothes or worn as pendants to protect the villagers.

Evil Eye Tree or Nazur tree - Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014
Nazur amulets Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014
                                  A Nazur Tree at the Pigeon Valley - full of 'evil eye amulets' to protect against negative spirits.
Hasan Dagi in April -  Cappadocia, Turkey ©vcsinden2014
Following part of the silk road on the way home,  my snow at last, on the summit of Mount Hasan.

 

 

 


    April 16th 2014
     
        ....  Kentish Blues  &  
Turkish Yellows - an April mixture for Easter-time ....  

Mimosa – April in Southern Turkey ©vcsinden2014
Mrs MeadowMouse's 'Yellow Song' by Johnny Rae

        In artist Johnny Rae's book   'Grasshoppers and Meadow Mice', published by Volland 1922,  Mrs MeadowMouse sings cheerfully that 'Yellow is the colour of Corn and Cheese'.  She doesn't know perhaps that it's also the colour of beautifully scented, fluffy Mimosa on warm April days in southern Turkey! I rather think she'd love mimosa too!

Bluebells at Hole Park, Rolvenden, Kent©vcsinden2014 Mimosa – April in Southern Turkey ©vcsinden2014

    A contrast now amongst England's damp and shaded woodland - and a little earlier than expected this year - the intense blue of the bluebell carpet. Another wonderful perfume stirs in a ripple of breeze, wood pigeons coo and all is at its restful best. My pictures were taken at Hole Park near the pretty village of Rolvenden in Kent. The park opens its gates at Easter time to show off its crowning glory - the bluebell wood.

Bluebells at Hole Park, Rolvenden, Kent©vcsinden2014
A couple stroll amongst the bluebells at Hole Park, Rolvenden, Kent.
Bluebell Elf by Brucero
Muddypond Green, wood guardian faery, among the bluebells at Hole Park, Rolvenden, Kent©vcsinden2014
A bluebell elf by fabulous French illustrator Bruno Bruçero looks on as Muddypond luxuriates amongst a sea of bluebells and apple blossom.

Wattle or Minosa Babies by Mae Gibbs c1929
Wattle or Minosa Babies by Mae Gibbs c1929
Born in Kent, but leaving with her family for Australia at the age of four, May Gibbs wrote and illustrated a series of much loved children's stories about 'Wattle Babies'  in the 1920s.  Wattle - the Antipodean name for Mimosa.
Mimosa – April in Southern Turkey ©vcsinden2014 Mimosa – April in Southern Turkey ©vcsinden2014
Mimosa trees, giving welcome shade to a peaceful last resting place and a little girl on her rope swing.
Bluebells at Hole Park, Rolvenden, Kent©vcsinden2014

 

 

 

 

      April 20th 2014   
           .....  The  
Easter Blessings that are Hayley's lambs .....
   ( The ruling  Ogham wood for any magical requirements is now Willow - Saille   from April 15th - May 12th.)

Easter Lamb at Headcorn, Kent ©vcsinden2014

Easter Lambs at Headcorn, Kent ©vcsinden2014
Easter Lambs at Headcorn, Kent ©vcsinden2014
"Did someone mention Easter Tea?   Hey Hayley!!  Oi Mum!! Wait for us then!"
Easter tea at Muddypond Greens, with Romanian patterned eggs ©vcsinden2014
My beautiful easter eggs came home with me from the Transylvanian mountains of Romania several years ago.
Easter Lamb & Mum at Headcorn, Kent ©vcsinden2014 Easter Lamb at Headcorn, Kent ©vcsinden2014
 
"We're ready then ....... hmmm, think I'll just see what's in this bag while I'm waiting ....Can't find the simnel cake"
Rare Quadruplets - Easter Lambs at Headcorn, Kent ©vcsinden2014Easter Lamb one of quadruplets at Headcorn, Kent ©vcsinden2014  
 
"We are rare - we are QUADS - and 'Friendly Sheep Mum 36' loves us all.  Need a bit of a top up though now and again!       
Hurry up there with that bottle -- there are FOUR of us you know, and mum seems to be busy!"

A big thank you to faery-friend Bridget and daughter Hayley for a magical Easter afternoon at your farm !

Naughty bullock on Bridget's farm  ©vcsinden2014

 


 

 

     May 1st 2014   
        .....  Ring out the bells today at dawn - for this fair time of Maying .....
.

"O ring the bells! O ring the bells!
We bid you, sirs, good morning;
Give thanks, we pray—our flowers are gay,
And fair for your adorning. ...  "

May Morning – Bluebell Hill, Rochester ©vcsinden2014

    The nursery rhyme for Maying, and the fanciful Kate Greenaway illustration at the top of these notes (from Greenaway's book "Under the Window" pub. 1879)  seem to hark back to days when sunrise on the first of May was always bright, warm and dry. As you can see from this morning's pictures, that no longer appears to be the case!

    The maids still dance though, through the mist and drizzle, the lads cavort and show off with swords and sticks, and Jack in the Green slowly awakes as he has over three centuries, shakes his dripping foliage and ushers in the Greening.

May Morning – Bluebell Hill, Rochester - Bishop Gundulf Morris ©vcsinden2014
Jack watches in the grey dawn light while the girls of Bishop Gundulf Morris dance with the flower hoops.

"O ring the bells! O ring the bells!
Good sirs, accept our greeting;
Where we have been, the woods are green.
So, hey! for our next meeting."

"Then ring the bells! then ring the bells!
For this fair time of Maying;
Our blooms we bring, and while we sing,
O! hark to what we're saying."

May Morning – Bluebell Hill, Rochester ©vcsinden2014 Jack in the Gree - May Morning – Bluebell Hill, Rochester ©vcsinden2014
         Typical 21st century Maying scene - British umbrellas and a sodden Jack in the Green.  Still captivating no matter what!

"O ring the bells! O ring the bells!
We'll sing a song with any;
And may each year bring you good cheer,
And each of us a penny."

May Morning – Bluebell Hill, Rochester- Bishop Gundulf Morris ©vcsinden2014
The lads of Bishop Gundulf Morris welcome May with swords and theur Molly

  This Jack in the Green is perfectly based on one of the oldest patterns - as you can see here in an engraving from 'Parley's Tales about England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales' published in 1856.   George Mogridge, under the alias of Peter Parley describes a detailed May Day celebration of the past and talks of .....'the oddest figure of all' which 'is called Jack in the Green; this is a boy or a man in the very middle of large boughs of laurel who whirls round and round like a top.'

Jack in the Green, engraving from Parleys Tales of England'

     Photographs taken today (May 1st 2014) on Bluebell Hill as dawn broke and the sun hid behind the drizzle! Jack in the Green performs here as part of the Rochester Sweeps' Festival.

 

 


    May 10th 2014
   
        ....  A perfect village tradition
at Ickwell Green ... with due reverence and simple charm ...

Ickwell May Queen Celebration   ©vcsinden2014
The older Primary School children begin the skillful dancing

              Last weekend - on the May Bank Holiday Monday, the village folk of Ickwell Green and Northill in Bedfordshire massed together to perform their annual May Queen festivities with all the reverence, innocence and simple charm that has marked their ritual in different forms for over four centuries. The huge Maypole is a permanent fixture on the Ickwell village green. You can see the impressive archives of the Ickwell May festivities over the past hundred years here.

Morris Bird of the Bedford Morris Men  ©vcsinden2014 Ickwell May Queen Celebration - Bedford Morris Men   ©vcsinden2014

     May celebrations were first recorded in the Church Warden's records in 1565. No doubt a 'jester' was part of the proceeedings all that time ago - not so sure about the fine, surly crow (apparently named Morris Bird) who is attached to the local Morris dance team 'The Bedford Morris Men'. With their friends 'The Lechworth Morris Men' the group began the day's cavorting outside the local pub in Northill before leading the May Queen's procession to the village green.

Ickwell May Queen Celebration   ©vcsinden2014 Ickwell May Queen Celebration   ©vcsinden2014

Ickwell Green May Queen and her procession ©vcsinden2014
Here she is - the May Queen herself, lovely - no ugly make-up and pretentious hair dos for these youngsters
simply happy children on their special day, behaving and looking like children - and all the more beautiful for that!

Ickwell May Queen Celebration   ©vcsinden2014     Traditional maypole dancing can be a complicated art, and the people of Ickwell have been brought up to treasure all its intricacies.  On the left the 'Old Scholars' dance and  plait 'The Spider's Web',   
Maypole braiding - Ickwell ©vcsinden2014
    As the ribbons wind round, they make an elaborate plaited pattern down the pole.

 

     The Queen is solemly crowned and her little handmaidens present her with colourful wild flowers to match their cotton dresses. Watchers and revellers sing old world songs for her and the words are carried on the May breeze as she settles down to watch the dances ......" For her we'll dance and sing,   And our Maypole we'll braid,  For our lovely maid,   For she rules o'er the Maypole ring ...."

Ickwell May Queen Celebration   ©vcsinden2014 

  As you know, faeries are curious creatures, or perhaps you would say plain nosey? Anyway, this one couldn't resist having a go.    Nothing her kind loves better than a true British tradition 'dun proper'!

 

 


    May 20th 2014   
        ...... A haze of purple in the magnificent Marden meadows .....

                           ( The ruling  Ogham wood for all your magical needs is now Hawthorne - Huath   from May 13th - June 9th.)

  Marden  Meadows, Kent  – wild Green-winged orchids ©vcsinden2014

    It was from the train window that the colour caught my eye, coming home from a faery-outing.  Kentish fields flying past, washed in a haze of deep purple, liberally contrasted with sunshine yellow. Our leader "Jean-of-the-Handbells", eight decades of wisdom and more behind her, smiled at my amazement.  'Many's-the-time I've walked in those hay meadows, especially in Spring when the orchids are out' -   and she went on to tell me how to find them .....

Marden  Meadows, Kent  – wild Green-winged orchids ©vcsinden2014
Marden  Meadows, Kent  – wild Green-winged orchids ©vcsinden2014
Wild Green-winged orchids in Marden Meadows, Kent ©vcsinden2014
 
The abundance of Green Winged Orchids, showing lots of variation in colour - the commonest one is shown in close-up below.

    Orchids ! - is it possible to see so many? Almost like a cloud of bluebells - orchids painting a whole field in shades of purple. The Marden Meadows are owned, protected and managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust, and are kept as wild hay meadows, organic and a-buzz with honey bees.

   For just a couple of weeks in late Spring and Maytime, before the Ox-eye daisies burst on the scene, there they are - Green-winged Orchids by the thousand among the grasses, buttercups and other wild flowers
   Read lots more about the meadows and orchids as well as how, when and where to find them here on the Kent Wildlife Trust's web pages.

    Meadows like this, full of wild flowers, were once a common sight. Remember the cowslips? So many have been lost because of modern agricultural practices, vast unhedged fields, chemicals et al - we must thank the wildlife Gods and support the Trusts who save just a few for us (and the bees!)

 

Wild Green-winged orchids in Marden Meadows, Kent ©vcsinden2014

   A while back, I wrote about the Folk and Faery Lore of British wild orchids on the other-blog - 'Wolf Moons and Muddypond Green'. If you would like to read some folklore you can visit the page 'Of Summer Wild Orchids and the Satyrs of the Woods' here.

 

 

 

     May 21st 2014   
         ....  Waiting for the off .....
 
Muddypond Green, Wood Guardian, waiting to travel to Africa ©vcsinden2014

 

    Have ancient luggage - must travel!  There's a whole world to explore, an earth to discover - and wood faeries should see desert, bush, dunes and mountains while they can. Martin the God Dog and Guardian will stay home (but not alone) to carry out his responsibilities as Home Guard.

   You might like to share my pictures when I return, hopefully an elephant or two amongst them!  Meanwhile - be sure to walk with the stars.

                       Tenna’ omentlye au’.  x

 

 

 

 

   June 17th 2014   
       .... Namibia diary - Part 1 - impressions of the first breath-taking days ...
. 

Ai-Aiba Rock painting Lodge, North West Namibia ©vcsinden2014

   Lines on a 'Return from Travels' by faery-folk who have 'long ago learned to ride the winds' -
from "Fairies" by Gertrude M. Faulding, 1913

"What more glorious incident could there be in the elfin revels than the swift return of a fairy traveller--the starry courser driven from highest air to where his brother sprites are "by moonshine leading merry rounds" ?

    We can imagine the tinkling hubbub of welcome, the fantastical dizzy stories of adventure, the wonder of the stay-at-home fays, and to the wanderer the caress of the cool fragrant earth which for all his journeyings he loves the best."

Animal road sign, Namibia ©vcsinden2014
Donkey cart, Namibia ©vcsinden2014
   Riding the winds then, (but carrying two strong spare tyres!) faster even than the carts, whose speed can be seen by the flying ears of the donkeys, we travelled first to the North Western province of Damaraland. Through low hills and strange rocky outcrops with hidden rock-paintings, tens of centuries old and out into the basalt  mountains.

Giraffe - always curious, Ai-Aiba, Namibia ©vcsinden2014

Kudu bull Namibia ©vcsinden2014 Kudu youngster Namibia ©vcsinden2014
  Top,  Alway curious, with those immense ebony eyes, a father giraffe watches placidly as we stare entranced, keeping his wife and daughter behind him.
  Above, a big stripey kudu bull shows off his fine horns, with a youngster further on in the sunlit evening scrub.

Namibian roads, deserted and straight as arrows Namibia ©vcsinden2014

       Roll over image.  The roads, some tarred, many gravel and sand can be seen from the air as endless, straight ribbons cutting through bush, scrub, mopane and acacia forest, rock and desert.. Well sign-posted no matter how remote, and mostly almost deserted, they are well cut in wide swaithes at the sides to ensure good visibility should animals be crossing - and they do - particulary tail-in-the-air warthogs!

Himba mother and son, Namibia ©vcsinden2014 Himba, matriarch Namibia ©vcsinden2014
Himba mother, Namibia ©vcsinden2014
Himba women rebuild their village Namibia ©vcsinden2014

   Evil eye protective fetish, Himba, Namibia ©vcsinden2014

     
A small village of the Himba people
was being rebuilt at Rustig Toko in the North West. The men, who had already made the wooden frames for the huts, were gathering last belongings from the old land. Now it was the turn of the young women, skins and hair plastered in a red-ochre clay, to wind and waterproof them. They use thick layers of a traditional recipe of soil mixed with cow-dung. The earth from termite mounds in also used in some places. Men don't touch the dung mixture.

  Grandmother looks on and imparts her wisdom while the children play around her. In the picture above you can see her wearing her protective talsiman neckwear, a square of leather with an 'eye'. It reminded me of the 'evil eye' beads from Turkey, and I am lucky to have brought one that she made home with me.

 

Ai-Aiba Rock Painting Lodge, Namibia - sundowner drive   ©vcsinden2014


    It's early Winter in Namibia, and the nights fall fast - by six in the evening all is dark after the fiery sunset and the stars appear in vast skies. There's so much more to tell....  but my woods are calling, cool and green, and so is Summer Solstice and the charmed, short night of summer. But I'll write more soon .... and YES, elephants WILL follow! .....

 

 


      June 21st 2014   
           .... With thanks for the light ..... this morning's perfect  solstice sunrise ......


Stonehenge   - waiting - watching the East with baited breath - all is silent

Stonehenge Solstice, a beautiful day 2014 ©vcsinden2014 
A minute or two after sunrise at Stonehenge this morning - the Summer Solstice


Welcome sun ....

 

 


   June 24th 2014   
       ....   Namibia Diary - Part 2 -  'satiable curtiosity' everywhere
  ....

    'IN the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk. He had only a blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot, that he could wriggle about from side to side; but he couldn't pick up things with it.'Etosha - elephant family ©vcsinden2014

'But there was one Elephant—a new Elephant—an Elephant's Child—who was full of 'satiable curtiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions.

                    And he lived in Africa, and he filled all Africa with his 'satiable curtiosities.                 

Khaudun, Namibia - an ostrich smile ©vcsinden2014

He asked his tall aunt, the Ostrich, why her tail-feathers grew just so, and his tall aunt the Ostrich spanked him with her hard, hard claw.

  He asked his tall uncle, the Giraffe, what made his skin spotty, and his tall uncle, the Giraffe, spanked him with his hard, hard hoof.

Khaudun, Namibia - family of giraffe survey the afternoon ©vcsinden2014
                                 And still he was full of 'satiable curtiosity! '

   So begins the tale of "The Elephant's Child" - a favourite from long-ago in "the Just-So Stories" by Rudyard Kipling, as I am sure you will know O Best Beloved!  You can find the complete stories online here and remind yourself of the elephant child's adventures.

Etosha- oryx or gemsbok at Okaukuejo ©vcsinden2014
Etosha - springbok ©vcsinden2014
 
A  mighty Oryx (Gemsbok) takes to the cool water
  
Springbok considering a mid-afternoon pronk! (leaping)

      The photos here were all taken in the vast Namibian Nature Conservancy Parks of Etosha, where water-holes and empty, shimmering salt-pans attract animals by the thousand, and wild, secretive Khaudun. In Etosha we were also priveleged to see as many as seven Black Rhinoceros drinking together at the floodlit water-hole of Okaukuejo as well as two lionesses with their cubs.

Etosha - herds of animals at Nebrowni ©vcsinden2014 

Etosha - 'ghost elephant'  ©vcsinden2014

   Two elephants stand under the hot sun at Nebrowni water-hole in Etosha, looking with 'satiable curtiosity' at a vast heard of zebra.

   They stand beside a wallow containing pale, salty mud which they slaver over themselves as a cooling skin-pack. The resulting light colour gives them the nick-name 'Ghost Elephants'.Etosha - zebra baby ©vcsinden2014

Etosha - Burchell's zebra ©vcsinden2014 Etosha- Burchell's zebra in road ©vcsinden2014
  Above top - a baby zebra with his fine mane.         Above right - zebras with absolutely no intention of moving from the road and all the time in the world!

Khaudun, Namibia - rare Roan antelope ©vcsinden2014

     Not found in Etosha, we were lucky to see a group of rare and endangered Roan Antelope in Khaudun in late afternoon sun - again, all alive with that 'curtiosity' shown in their huge, expressive ears!!
    Back on the roads of Etosha, on a single track leading out to a salt-pan look out point, a fine bull elephant, again with all the time in the world, strolled in front, trunk swinging nonchalantly from side to side and immense ears wafting cooling air. He took me to see his family, relatives of that first, most curious baby, in a place 'all set about by fever trees' and guarded by herds of Wildebeest out on the plains  ....

Muddypond Green, led by bull elephant at Etosha ©vcsinden2014
Etosha - mother and baby elephant ©vcsinden2014

'And ever since that day, O Best Beloved, all the Elephants you will ever see, besides all those that you won't, have trunks precisely like the trunk of the 'satiable Elephant's Child. '

Etosha - wilderbeast lead over the plains ©vcsinden2014

 

 

 

   

    June 30th 2014   
        ....  Namibia Diary - Part 3 - the Ju/'hoan bushmen - remarkable people ...

       Far away in the North-eastern corner of Namibia, some 80km along deep sandy tracks from Tsumkwe, and adjoining the tribal village community of Nhoq'ma is the unusual safari camp of Nhoma. Spending some days there, with owner Arno and his family, and translator Bertus, immersed in the lives and culture of the Ju/'hoan people was an unforgettable experience.

      Here was an ancient language replete with clicks and clops of the tongue and throat, completely unfamiliar to our ears, spoken in soft, gentle voices - each click sound and position giving a soft word a different meaning. The language is thought to have been spoken in parts of Africa nearest the Kalahari for at least 80,000 years.

                             

 

  I do hope you will have time to watch my short slide/video mix of our 'never-to-be-forgotten' San village experience, and that the film works well for you here.

 

 

 

   July 17th 2014     
        ....  Ely Folk Festival  - the most delectable of them all .......

Eddi Reader - unbelievable voice and her auntie's evening coat.
Steve Knightley goes it solo and packs the marquee.

      That time of year again, the corn is high and golden, hot sun and storms are expected and all those with a smattering of wanderlust in our genes head off for their chosen time-bubbles of music. This one tends to favour 'folk-music', but not as it used to be in her far-away youth - as it is now - multi-talented instrumentalists and extraordinary blends of old, new, global and traditional.           

    My haven is the festival in the small cathedral city of Ely. Limited ticket numbers, virtually no queues (for anything!) - fabulous music from local folk performers at the Club Tent to headliners on Stage One and enthusiastic dance from countrywide Morris sides.

   Camping on the festival ground itself, generous space for vans and tents and oh so easy to fall into bed!

        Above:     the King's Morris from Kings Lyn relax before their set on the hottest day
Below:     Hemlock Morris
from Bedfordshire - with colourful Cambridge favourites Gog Magog Molly
.

 

 

 

     August 1st 2014
          .....
Lammas Tide and the first corn is gathered ...

      At celebration times. us faery-folk tend to prefer making our thanks and wishes out under the stars, and in a solitary way, at a place of our choosing. Perhaps I should have stuck to my instinctive ways - but curiosity got the better of me as usual and I travelled along the coast road to Sussex, to join the Lammas Fair on the sea-front lawns of Eastbourne.

  It was - erm - interesting - but I did love all the Lammas hats! Lots of people, lots of craft stalls with real crafts - a wonderful vegetarian burger - and what had been a successful parade through the town in the morning. Then came an odd quasi ceremony. Hunter's Moon Morris sang and danced the death of John Barleycorn - fine. Should have left after that!

   So - wanting to seek a quiet thanksgiving, out in the English countryside, I headed for the nearby village of Wilmington, to commune silently with two real guardians of the harvest and the English hills. Two giants, watching for centuries, watching, imparting their knowledge to those who choose to watch with them.

   First, the ancient Yew tree, lovingly propped, standing peaceful guard over the top of the valley and the village for at least 1600 years - before the first cartload of stones was carried up the hill for the church.
Imagine what it has seen and heard.

    And the Long Man of Wilmington - gazing silently out over the latest gathering in of the corn, from Windover Hill. He stands nearly 70m tall but his history is disputed - he may be from the iron age, or again from the 16th century - difficult to measure as the original marks or stones have been overlayed so many times down the years.
Either way, the giant has watched over many a planting and cutting.


The Long Man of Wilmington watches as the Lammas corn is safely gathered

 

 

 

     
    August 25th 2014
       ...
Great Dixter - satiating the senses ...

Great Dixter, East Sussex - late summer long border ©vcsinden2014
Great Dixter, framed by the famous 'Long Border' showing a definite early-autumnal tinge already

               From time to time, I like to share a favourite 'Very English Garden' with you. I like to see them when I can, each magical in its own way, and each making me appreciate the cool green shadows, ferns and mosses of my own home woods.    

Great Dixter, East Sussex - topiary and faded meadow ©vcsinden2014 Great Dixter, East Sussex - shady corner ©vcsinden2014
     Christopher Loyd's garden at Dixter is best known for it's bold, jangling and exhilarating colour mixes. Hot reds and oranges weave happily between purples, yellows and cool greys in schemes that most gardeners wouldn't dare to dream of - and here, they work! 
     But there are restful spaces too, here topiary in a faded wild meadow, and there a hauntingly beautiful shady house corner, inviting you to explore.
Great Dixter, East Sussex  ©vcsinden2014 Great Dixter, East Sussex - clematis ©vcsinden2014

      Amongst the extraordinary colours, shadowy faery-shades clamber over arches and Kentish peg-tile roofs, or are set into relief against weathered grey boards. The handsome house (open for visiting - as is the unusual plant nursery) is softened on all sides with trees, shrubs and climbers - and on this day the venerable mulberry tree was loaded with voluptuous fruit.

Great Dixter, East Sussex - back of the house  ©vcsinden2014

Great Dixter, East Sussex - display of pots at front door ©vcsinden2014
  
     Richly layered displays of seasonal pots are an ever-changing feature of the Great Dixter spectacle. After strolling through a wild flower meadow, the main door of the house greets you in full technicolour, and the lure of the gardens beckon you on.
Great Dixter, East Sussex - colour - succulents and mixed pots ©vcsinden2014

          Great Dixter is in Northiam, East Sussex.  Not my place here to give you chapter and verse - but here are links for history, biography, opening times, directions et al.  Great Dixter.    Christopher Lloyd.       Link here to a video with Christopher Lloyd showing his garden to Rosemary Verey.

       As for me - well, I have a season ticket - you are welcome any day to visit with me!

Great Dixter, East Sussex - the oast ©vcsinden2014

 

 

      September 12th 2014
         .... treasured traditions - the Horn Dance at Abbots Bromley ...

              ( The ruling  Ogham wood for all your magical needs is now Blackberry - Bramble - Muin   from 2nd to 29th September.)

Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley 2014  - at Blithfield Hall ©vcsinden2014

                     All Magics, faeries such as I included, treasure ancient traditions. We love nothing better than to check on proceedings to ensure their solemn and proper enactment! The Horn Dance at Abbots Bromley has continued down the centuries (until being banned by Cromwell after the Civil War and reinstated as fast as possible afterwards!).

Abbots Bromley Church, St. Nicholas ©vcsinden2014


Above:  The Church of St. Nicholas, Abbots Bromley where the six sets of ancient horns are kept.

Left:  Muddypond talks with the leader of the White Horns on the day before the dance. The tips of his antlers were quivering with anticipation!

   The huge horns once belonged to reindeer and have recently been carbon-dated, revealing them to be over 1000 years old. It's thought that they came to England with Viking raiders and there is a known Viking settlement in the area.
    There are three white and three brown sets. The dance leader carries the white horns in the picture here, weighing in at 25¼ lbs (11.5kg)!

    Come rain, come shine, once a year in the very early morning of the Monday after the 1st Sunday after September 4th, the church doors open. A blessing is given and the Horns are released from their resting place against the grey stone walls to dance once again in the autumn air.

Fairy Muddypond Green talks to the Leader Antlers of the ©vcsinden2014

Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley 2014 - beginning at the Church ©vcsinden2014

Early morning and the group assemble outside the Church after the blessing

Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley - the reindeer horns on display in the Church ©vcsinden2014 Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley - the Old Horse ©vcsinden2014
The cherished reindeer horns are taken from the church for only one day. The expressive old hobby horse has earned his rest.

    Led by the musicians, the fool and the traditional 'man/woman' Maid Marion, they spill out of the churchyard passage and onto the little village green . Past the ancient Buttery, stopping all the morning rush hour traffic as they dance and promenade along the narrow streets towards Goose Lane.

Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley 2014 - stopping traffic beside the Village Green ©vcsinden2014

     An age-old 'death and resurrection' ritual is re-enacted as they go by. The 'Boy with a Bow' shoots at the 'Hobby Horse' with every forward movement of the dance. The Horse seems to be unperturbed by its day long battering, but the Boy's bow arm must suffer!

Horn Dance leader, Abbots Bromley 2014 ©vcsinden2014
Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley 2014 - Hobby Horse and Boy with the Bow take it easy at Blithfield Hall  ©vcsinden2014
 The leader, who has been involved with the dance since he was a boy, carries the heaviest set of white horns and decides when to change from procession to dance, for how long, and which private drives and lawns will be honoured as they keep to the traditional stops!

Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley 2014 - around the new houses ©vcsinden2014
The newer parts of the village aren't neglected!    It's thought that this may have once been a type of 'Beating the Bounds' ceremony.

     The more recent history of the famous Horn Dance is well documented, and an archive exhibition was on display in the Church. Below, William Ady poses proudly in 1899, apparently wearing a very colourful uniform of scarlet, blue and gold.

Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley - William Ady 1899 ©vcsinden2014 Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley 2014 - Goose Lane ©vcsinden2014

         Now it's out to the nearby village of Admaston and to the country estate of Blithfield Hall. We piled along the winding drive and ecamped on the far edge of the Ha-ha to watch the dancers perform their ancient rites in front of the old stone hall.

             It was hot (fairies you know are not keen on sunlight) and the men must have felt the heat in their thick padded clothes with the weight of the horns on their shoulders!

Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley 2014 - a moments rest in the sun on the Ha-ha wall ©vcsinden2014 Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley 2014 - horns weighing over 25lbs rest on the grass ©vcsinden2014

  Gruelling rounds of local Pubs follow Blithfield, and Abbots Bromley makes merry! The finish is not until 8 o'clock when the horns are finally returned to the church.

   Jackets came off, legs and antlers were rested as introductions are made, and then - off again! .....

Horn Dance, Abbots Bromley 2014 - Blithfield Hall ©vcsinden2014

 

 

 

      September 30th 2014
       .... magical places ...
the yew grove and spring at Gawton's Well ...
              ( The ruling  Ogham wood for all your magical needs is now Ivy - Gort   from September 30th until October 27th.)

Gawton’s Well, Staffordshire - votives and clouties ©vcsinden2014

     If you follow the much-walked path around the resevoir at Greenway Bank Country Park in Staffordshire, cross a tiny bridge over a stream and move gradually out into the wild places, you may find a secluded spot high on the bank, which seems surrounded in mystery. Pass the dark pool (below) and stop to admire the beginnings of Autumn colour.Pool near Gawton’s Well, Staffordshire ©vcsinden2014

   The spot you're looking for isn't far from the main walkers' thoroughfare, but hidden from prying eyes. Search diligently enough and you'll discover it - a dark grove, feeling mystical, silent and unvisited.

    An ancient grove of yew trees circle a trickling spring of pure hill water. At some point in history the source has been built up with rocks cut into huge rectangles and flat boulders, giving a series of shallow pools where you may step, cupping your hands to anoint yourself, collect the water or drink.

 

Gawton’s Well, Staffordshire ©vcsinden2014
The head of Gawton's Well, above the entry-pool, amongst the Druids' grove of yews.

      Perhaps better not drink though, for in places the yew tree branches, although magical themselves, sweep low and there is a layer of dark needles and scarlet berries in the water. Most faere-folk are extremely susceptible to the toxins of the Ioho or yew tree, so this one simply splashed face and eyes, dipped toes and sprinkled wings!   

    Sunlight glints through the yew tree circle sparkling on the water, making the deep shadows seem ever more silent. No birds singing, no animal sounds inside the surrounding stone and moss walls.

  Sit beside the blessing pools for a while and the stillness is palpable. The circle of yews is believed to be a Druid Grove, and the use of the Well dates from the dark ages and probably beyond.

Gawton’s Well, Staffordshire ©vcsinden2014
Gawton’s Well, Staffordshire ©vcsinden2014

Inside the ringed stone wall, all was as quiet as a disused church. Add to the votives, the clouties, beads and prayers if you will, then scramble down the bank beside the narrow rocky trickle of a stream, out through the rough stone entrance, and you immediately leave the dark yews behind, emerging into birch and oak, wild flowers, grasses and the scurry of birds and animals busy making ready for Winter. A magical place for certain.

Grey squirrel burying hazel nuts near Gawton’s Well, Staffordshire ©vcsinden2014 Clouties, votives and thanksgivings at Gawton’s Well, Staffordshire ©vcsinden2014 Moorhen near Gawton’s Well, Staffordshire ©vcsinden2014

     Read more of what is known of the history of Gawton's Well in an article from Biddulph Museum here.

    Retracing our steps around the resevoir in the early evening light, we were surpised by the clamour of hundreds of wings, and a vast flock of wild geese dropped down to the water.

  

 

 

    October 12th 2014
         .... fashioning the Community Drum
......

    

    I've chosen extracts from the poem 'The Squaw Dance' by Lew Sarett to accompany pictures of this perfect day.
The poem was first published in his mesmeric collection 'Many, Many Moons: A Book of Wilderness Poems', published by Henry Holt & Co. in 1920.

Beat, beat, beat, beat, beat upon the drum ;
Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hoy-eeeeeeeeeeeeee-yah !

Eagle Spirit Drums – workshop -stretching the skin lacing ©vcsinden2014
Eagle Spirit Drums – workshop - drilling the frame ©vcsinden2014
Medicine men on the medicine drum,
Beating out the rhythm with a steady thrum.
Medicine gourd with its rattle, rattle, rattle,
Flinging wild with the call of battle.

        Beat, beat, beat, beat, beat upon the drum ;
Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hoy-eeeeeeeeeeeeee-yah !

Rhythm of Life, Elham - in the yurt ©vcsinden2014
Eagle Spirit Drums – workshop -braiding leather handles ©vcsinden2014
 
Stretching the lacings, drilling, braiding, enscribing, thinking.
  Fifteen of us worked together to make the double skinned Community Pow-wow drum from thick, thick bison leather..
Muddypond green at the drum workshop  ©vcsinden2014

Beat, beat, beat, beat, beat upon the drum ;
Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hoy-eeeeeeeeeeeeee-yah !

Pat Pica, Eagle Spirit Drums – workshop - ©vcsinden2014
Beaded drummers squatting in the ring
Leap to its challenge with a crouch and a spring;
Weathered old bucks that grunt and wheeze
As they jangle bells on their wrists and their knees
Eagle Spirit Drums – workshop - admirimg the soaked bison leather ©vcsinden2014
To the beat, beat, beat, beat, beat upon the tom-tom,
Beat, beat, beat, beat, beat upon the drum ;
And a shuffle to the left, a shuffle to the left,
A shuffle, shuffle, shuffle to the left, to the left
Hi ! Hi ! Hi ! Hi ! Hoy-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-yah !
Eagle Spirit Drums – workshop - ©vcsinden2014
Eagle Spirit Drums – our double sided Pow-wow drumrat the Elham workshop  ©vcsinden2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    Caroline receives the finished drum from Pat, now it must wait for a couple of weeks to gradually dry and tighten before it can take its place at the centre of the sound, fire or drum circles at 'Rhythm of Life', Elham, Kent.

Hi ! Hi ! Hi ! Hi ! Hoy-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-yah !

All our thanks go to our drum-workshop leader
Pat Pica of Eagle Spirit Drums,
a man who infuses his drums with essence of earth, dreams and magic.

(Read about another medicine drum workshop with Pat in my DiaryBlog entry June 12th-15th 2012 here)

 

 

 

    October 27th 2014
         ....
magical heritage at Much Marcle ......
       ( The ruling  Ogham wood for all your magical needs is now Wheatstraw or Reed - Ngetal   from October 28th to November 24th.)

     A Guardian Tree flourishes in the church-yard of St. Bartholemew's in the Herefordshire village of Much Marcle. A Yew so ancient that it has stood sentinel there for well over one and a half millenia!  This great tree was already full grown when it watched the church being built stone by stone, and despite its incredible age and vast store of memories, with all blessings it will be there for centuries to come.    

Ancient yew tree at Much Marcle, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Ancient yew tree at Much Marcle, Herefordshire - inside looking up ©vcsinden2014
Sitting inside and looking up through the tree to the sky overhead
St. Bartholemew’s Church, Much Marcle, Herefordshire – under the great yew tree  ©vcsinden2014
At rest beneath the spreading branches
St. Bartholemew’s Church, Much Marcle, Herefordshire – gravestone beside the great yew tree  ©vcsinden2014
A mighty girth of 31ft allows room for benches inside the tree for rest and contemplation.
A plump and cheeky cherub enjoys his place beside the yew

      Sit on the benches inside the split trunk of the tree and dream with it for a while. Each scarlet berry scattered around your feet could be a year of English history that it has witnesses. Imagine the parade of Lords, Ladies, servants, farmers, craft and trades people, each dressed in his Sunday best, that has walked from the lych gate to pass into the church and look back over a shoulder to marvel at the Yew Guardian at the door.

    Going into the church itself, you find that imagination is no longer necessary - there the parade lies before you in all its gloriously meticulous detail. Rosaries, wimples, collars, lace, fleur-de-lys petticoats, each a perfect study of costume fashionable at the time of carving.  (Images above from my set of 'Costume Reference' books by Marion Sichel, pub:Batsford 1977)

Effigy of Blanch Mortimer, St. Bartholemew’s Church, Much Marcle, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
The much loved 'Sleeping Beauty' Blanch Mortimer, died 1347 and restored to former glory
14th century shoes on the effigy of Walter De Helyon,  St. Bartholemew’s Church, Much Marcle, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
 
Shoes, wonderful shoes. The rare oaken effigy of Walter De Helyon who died in 1357.
17th century effigy of Sir John Kyrle, St. Bartholemew’s Church, Much Marcle, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Hedgehog effigy, St. Bartholemew’s Church, Much Marcle, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Such detail! Here lie Sir John Kyrle (died 1660) and his wife Sybille. His feet do not rest on the customary lion or hound, but on a hedgehog!

Ancient Yew tree, St. Bartholemew’s Church, Much Marcle, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

 

 

 

    October 31st 2014
       ....
on this night .....'churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world.'                William Shakespeare
   

Autumn colour ©vcsinden2014
Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014
Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014
Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014 Charm for protection on the night of All Hallows  ©vcsinden2014
Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014
Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014 Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014
Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014 Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014
Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014
Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014
Autumn colour for All Hallow’s Eve ©vcsinden2014

   Muddypond wanted to share these   'Autumn Colour for Samhain '  pictures,
which she took around and about during her heritage and research journey to Herefordshire last week.

Pumpkin lantern ©vcsinden2014 Pumpkin lantern ©vcsinden2014

This fine fellow is sitting
beside my wood, brightening
the path for any wanderer who dares to come near.

His flesh is even now being
turned into spicy pumpkin soup!

Must go - only five minutes to Samhain Supper.

 

 

 

    November 2nd 2014
        .... Arthur's Stone .... megalithic tomb with a view ...
  

    View from Arthur’s Stone, Dorstone, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

     Atop a ridge of hills overlooking the village of Dorstone in Herefordshire sits the chamber tomb named Arthur's Stone. It keeps vigil over the surrounding valleys as it has for an estimated five thousand of years. Quite a few faery life-spans indeed!

Arthur’s Stone, Dorstone, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

   An oldish book from Muddypond's reference library 'Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain' by Leslie V. Grinsell  (pub: David & Charles 1976)  informs her that ....

"Arthur killed a giant here; the stone on the Bredwardine side is where the giant fell, and the hollows in it mark the giant's elbows.'

    The tomb, which would once have been entirely covered by a huge earthen mound, has an unusual entrance passageway constructed with a sharp angle half-way along its length. Its massive capstone is estimated to weigh in excess of 25 tons.

Angled passageway, Arthur’s Stone, Dorstone, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Arthur’s Stone, Dorstone, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

      

      Down in the valley below, is the village of Bredwardine where clergyman and celebrated Victorian diarist Francis Kilvert spent his last years of ministry in the church of St. Andrews. He is buried in the quiet churchyard. Sadly his untimely death at the age of 39 robbed us of further rural musings, jottings and chronicles - leaving history with only three volumes written between 1870 and his death in 1879.  (Picture of Francis Kilvert from 'Victorian Powys for Schools').

     Muddypond visited the church on a rather damp afternoon of October 26th. Almost one hundred and forty-two years earlier to the day, Francis had jotted the following ...

Grave of Francis Kilvert, Bredwardine,  Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

  ' The weather was lovely and round the quiet Church the trees were gorgeous, the elms dazzling golden and the beeches burning crimson. The golden elms illuminated the Church and Churchyard with strong yellow light and the beeches flamed and glowed with scarlet and crimson fire like the Burning Bush. '

          Francis Kilvert October 27th 1872

Bredwardine Church, Saxon Doorway, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

 

 

 

    November 10th 2014
       .... silent awe
... night-time at The Tower  ...

Poppies for November, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014

Poppies for November, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014

Each one a life

Poppies overlooked by Tower bridge, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014
Poppies overlooked by The Shard , floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014
London landmarks - Tower Bridge and The Shard oversee the tribute.

Poppies for November, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014
Single ceramic poppy in the rain, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014
Single ceramic poppy in the rain, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014
Poppies for November, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014

Poppies for November, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014

 

 

 

    November 15th 2014
        ....
  Treasure house,  the 12th century church at Kilpeck . .
     ( The ruling  Ogham wood for all your magical needs is now Elder or Nion -   from November 25th to December 22nd)

Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

    Unspoilt, unaltered and unarguably one of the most amazing buildings that this oft-travelling fae has ever visited - is the church of St Mary and St David, in the Herefordshire village of Kilpeck. It remains as it was built over nine hundred years ago, a perfect little Norman country church - no added side chapels, steeples or Victorian clearances here. It sits on an ancient monastic site, beside the remains of a castle, which makes a fine little walk from the adjoining churchyard.

   The church's interior is sweet, serene, almost plain and well worth the finding - but it's the outside that's so very astonishing!

The dooway of Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Carvings above the great doorway of Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Carvings on the great arched door of Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

    The great Norman doorway is surrounded by intricately carved figures, with a range of strange creatures above. These echo the eighty-five extraordinary corbels (see below) supporting the roof. around the apse and most of the exterior.

    These celebrated red sandstone carvings, unique to this part of the country, have never been renovated or renewed. They remain unweathered and looking it seems, as fresh as in the days when  the stone was cut.

Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Badger corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Pig corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Baby birds with snake corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
bear with baby in mouth a corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

       I do so hope that one day, if you haven't already managed it, you'll be able to see these wonders for yourself on a visit to Kilpeck. Meanwhile, there are many sites online where the history and art of this stunning and treasured place is discussed in detail. If you would like some further reading may I suggest:

Website - Great English Churches - Kilpeck
Website - Sacred Destinations - Kilpeck

Book - 'The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture' by Malcolm Thurlby
Pub: Logaston Press 18-4-2013   IS

 

  

 

    November 20th 2014
       ....
Rye Bonfire Night - the Sussex Societies light up the Autumn skies . . .

Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014 Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014 Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014 Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014

       From 1863 ....  'The well-known festival of Guy Fawkes Day is observed by English juveniles , who still regard the 5th of November as one of the most joyous days of the year.

   The universal mode of observance throughout all parts of England is the dressing up of a scarecrow figure in such cast-habiliments as can be procured, (the head-piece generally a paper-cap, painted and knotted with paper strips in imitation of ribbons), parading it in a chair through the streets, and at nightfall burning it with great solemnity on a huge bonfire.'

from "The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities" Volume 2
edited by Robert Chambers  c1863?

Chairing the Guy at Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014

   All fire celebrations and ceremonies are much loved by the ancient faery-folk as well as the 'English juveniles' mentioned in the Victorian journal the 'Book of Days'. Nothing else compares to the crackle and roar of a great bonfire, fiery torches and deafening arial bombardments orchestrated by the historic Bonfire Societies of Sussex!  Muddypond chooses a different Society to visit each year, and a faery's wings shiver with anticipation as the time draws nearer!

Muddypond Green at Rye Bonfire Society Parade in Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014
The Fire at Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014
    The amazing Bonfire Societies of Sussex light up the skies from late September right through until December. You can pick any weekend to attend one or another, no need to get crushed in the melee of the famous night at Lewes! This year there were 34 others around the county to choose from!

  On the left you can see Muddypond chatting about the great Dragon in the Rye parade. She has Dragon stories of her own to tell!

The Dragon at Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014

    'The uproar throughout the town from the shouts of the mob,  the ringing of the bells in the churches, and the general confusion which prevailed, can but faintly be imagined by an individual of the present day.'

from "The Book of Days:" Volume 2 ed.Robert Chambers  c1863?

Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014
Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014

                            Below - climbing boy with a view! A future Bonfire Society leader perhaps!

                   

                            

                                  

                          

 

 

 

   December 21st '14 
        ... The extraordinary 'Nikolospiel' of Bad Mitterndorf ... folklore at its best
..

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

   It's towards the end of a December afternoon, and I stand looking back over the village of Bad Mitterndorf, nestled deep in the valley, entirely surrounded by Austrian mountains. No snow yet sadly, but the sharp, cold, crystal clear air tells me I am far from my own woods.

   
   Researching folklore, this time the European
tradition of 'Straw men' or 'Straw bears' has brought me to Austria, and a long-wished-for close encounter with the unforgettable 'Strohschab'  of Bad Mitterndorf!  

   Many of the shop windows are decorated for the Nikolospiel - on the left is a bakery and coffee shop, where brioche Krampus figures were selling out fast!

 Meet some REAL Strohschabs below .... I counted at least twelve at one time during the processions of the evening! You can hear their whip-cracking in Muddypond's video later on.

 


The 'Strohschaben' of Bad Mitterndorf

    Bad Mitterndorf is busy in the ski season. It's set up for plenty of snow - late coming this year! Never mind, there's a huge new 'Therme' in walking distance of the village!

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014 Grimming Therme, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014
The Grimming Therme - is a big thermal complex of indoor / outdoor swimmimg pools, spa and saunas fed by recently discovered hot springs. Swim outside in hot water steaming into the cold mountain air. Delicious!

  You might visit the pretty churches while you wait, as I did, for the all-important night of December 5th, and the age old folklore of the 'Nikolospiel'.

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014 Village Church, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014
The 14th century church of St. Margaret built atop a small hill in the very centre of the village.

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

The horses enjoyed the exercise as much as I loved the ride it seems!

  Wrapped up in plaid rugs and  out for a hour or so along forest tracks and mountain streams, where even the birds have their Christmas trees and mistletoe!

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

 And then  it was here. The night of the legendary Nikolospiel. Amongst all the Salzkammurgut villages, Bad Mitterndorf stands alone in the scale, dedication to tradition and sheer exuberance of their performance. The play, which is basically a morality play for children where the original script is still used, is performed five times. Before and after each, the players process from place to place, led by the amazing, whip-cracking straw beetles - the Strohschab.




    The good Bishop Nikolaus lectures us on proper behaviour, attended by his Angel and a Policeman!
  'Death' swipes of the head of a wayward old fellow with his scythe as a warning to all!
It is the job of the Priest to interview children and discover their suitability for presents of nuts and oranges.     The Nikolospiel, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

The Nikolospiel, Lucifer, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014
   Lucifer in his chains, and the frankly frightening 'Krampus'  complete with sheep bells and in wonderfully carved wooden masks topped by horns, do their utmost to disrupt the proceedings.
Krampus mask at the Nikolospiel, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014
The Red Krampus at the Nikolospiel, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

      The Krampus, around forty of the local men, chase the crowds down the streets, seeking out individuals, catching them   and beating them with birch switches like small besom-brooms. Be warned - they can sting !! Much shrieking and laughter ensues!

       Beer tankards and hot mugs of  Gluhwein are raised, and suddenly - all is over for another year.

 

 

    December 31st  2014 
        ...  Ring in the new ...
   Dobbin brings in the cheer .... 

   
  
     Allow me to introduce you
to a horse - a Hooden Horse named Dobbin, still working and enjoying seeing in the Yule, Christmas and New Year festivities at more than 200 years old!

   Muddypond (for 'tis I penning this diary) was privileged to meet him very recently at Gadd's Brewery, Ramsgate, Kent. More of this tale in the new year. Let it be known, he's a marvel for his age and as sprightly as a Twelth Night Bean King!

   Dobbin is thought to be one of the most ancient of his kind to survive in England and he was a joy to watch. He belongs to the Kentish St. Nicholas at Wade Hoodeners and is a much loved local character.

  Dobbin jingles his bells and joins me to wish you

Joy and Happiness for tonight,
and for the Whole Year to Come!

 

Hooden Horse Dobbin belonging to the St. Nicholas at Wade Hoodeners, Dec 2014 ©vcsinden2014