Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Flicking through my Welsh Saint's book for stories on this ;
Halloween is of course the popular name for All Hallow's Eve, and is a night of superstition and ghost stories,  so the Welsh  have the same traditions as in other parts of the country, and of course a great feast which we sometimes forget about.

The reapers supper in Carmarthenshire usually had whipod - rice,bread, raisins currants and treacle.
In Anglesey the feast consisted  of potatoes, turnips and oatcakes.  In Carmathenshire, writing in 1760 "the contents of a brewing pan of beef and mutton, with arage and potatoes, and pottage, and pudding of wheaten flour, about 20 gallons of light ale and about 20 gallons of beer"
In Montgomeryshire on Nos Galan Gaeaf, a mash was made of nine ingredients (3 times 3 is a lucky number); leeks, potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, peas, fresh milk, salt and pepper.  A wedding ring was hidden in the mash (bit like a sixpenny bit in the xmas cake) and young maidens would dig in with wooden spoons anxious to learn their fate.
In Carmarthenshire the ceremony was also a feature around 9 ingredients, this time a pancake called stymp naw rhyw which was made by 9 girls, who ate a piece each.
Apple bobbing was popular, and wassailing was also carried out, with punch being drunk from 'puzzle jugs'

This tale I find funny;  In the Vale of Glamorganshire, spirits roamed the churchyards at night, and the bravest villager would don his coat and vest inside out, reciting the Lord's Prayer backwards as he walked around the church a number of times.  Then he would walk up to the church porch and place his finger in the keyhole to prevent spirits from escaping!  It was also believed that apparitions of those about to die could also be seen through the keyhole.
And the tale of trick or treating? Well in other parts of Wales, youths would dress up in girls' clothes and vice-versa and groups of young people would wander from house to house in the dark chanting verses and soliciting gifts of fruit and nuts..In other areas men would dress up in sheepskins and blacked their faces and were given gifts of nuts, apple and beer.  These groups were known as the
gwrachod  (hags, or witches) and were meant to bring good tidings and expel bad spirits from the household.
And as the celtic 'old year' disappears, on this last night it was a tradition for a local Ladi Wen (ghost of the white lady) too appear, but then in North Wales it was more often the terrible Hwch Ddu Gwta (tailess black sow - another celtic tradition).  Bonfires were lit on hillsides, apples and potatoes were roasted and the watchers would dance and leap through the flames for good luck in the forthcoming year.  Stones were thrown into the fire, and as the flames died down, everyone would rush home to escape the clutches of the great black pig.  If you found your stone in the morning in the fire then luck would follow, if not misfortune would follow...
Tales told from T.D.Breverton - The Book of Welsh Saints.

And wishing we were in Whitby so that we could experience St.Mary's churchyard this night, a tale told in the Guardian;

If you like spectacular ghosts, they don't come better than the phantom hearse of Whitby. They say that when a Whitby sailor was buried in St Mary's churchyard, a large hearse with four jet-black horses would appear beside the grave at night, ready to take him away. A group of ghostly mourners would appear from the coach and remove the body from its grave. The spectral coach, lit by burning torches and driven by a headless phantom coachman shrouded in a black cloak, would then gallop away at speed and plummet over the cliffs into the sea.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bits and bobs

Something I miss - the sea
Things that keep me occupied; patchwork, a quilt, which ground to a halt because I was not sure how to finish it off, in the end I decided to mess up the green stripe edging (my original idea) and introduce strips of the bright red poppy material I have.  So yesterday and today I will be tacking the three layers together.

My knitting is supposed to turn out as a shawl cardigan but i have problems with the pattern, the wool was brought from my favourite wool shop in Whitby, it's called Bobbins, an old chapel with various, normally very expensive, yarns hanging round the narrow passageway that you perambulate around.  They do the traditional fisherman's sweaters in dark navy with the cabling and patterns as well.  It took me a long time to choose the wool, and I kept noticing my love stood at one counter all the time, paying for my purchase went over to see what he was up to, well he was measuring the egg timers, turning them over and calculating with his watch - yes, well, he did actually buy one in the end much to the amusement of the people working there.

This weekend the family comes from Whitby, mostly to see how Tom is getting on in uni, they stay a couple of nights and Tom is coming through London with a friend to Chelmsford.  He seems to be getting on well, joined the rugby club, been 'initiated' (don't ask, you get stripped down) and looks gaunt according to my daughter, so plenty of feeding in the Xmas holidays is what is needed.

Touching on Time;  So the clocks go back once more, how many clocks does a household have? we have quite a few, the most accurate one had to wait a few hours for the satellite that changes it to go overhead, but the rest still lie in various different modes, yesterday as i sewed the old  clock behind me had stopped an hour behind, it just hates being messed around with, the small clock that resides by the fireplace was an hour ahead - totally confusing.  We even have Japanese time in the kitchen which is a few hours ahead (or behind).  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

St.Mary's Church- Lastingham

Holiest of places in the North? Perhaps, but this was a church I wanted to see and to quote Bede
in the haunts where dragons once dwelt shall be pasture, with reeds and rushes, and he wishes the fruits of good works to spring up where formerly lived only wild beasts, or men who lived like beasts; Isaiah.
This the place that Cedd chose to build a monastic house early in the 7th century, Cedd, one of four brothers at the Lindisfarne monastic community, left the Lindisfarne community  and in 664 on a visit to Lastingham he was to die of the plague and was buried here. Cedd is of course the patron saint at Chelmsford and I have already written about the church he founded at Othona.  This Norman church stands on high ground and the early Anglo-Saxon church is somewhere below its foundations. Strange church, very Norman, rounded apse, and exceptionally well built.
The crypt was where all the Saxon and Scandinavian carved stones were kept, and was not too scary, the little altar down there being very similar to the one at Bradwell on Sea's Othona chapel.  Photos did not come out too well, but the crypt was well lit and and rather beautiful pillars,  and it is the only crypt in England to have an apse, together with a chancel, nave and side aisles.
In the guide book is the head of an 8th century dragon head, which was part of the Abbot's chair and which is now in York Museum so we did not see it, but loving dragons as one does, it is well to mention that apart from the St.George's dragon at Pickering church, there is also a lovely dragon on the wall there swallowing the sinners as they march into hell. Dragons depicted in church stone engravings never cease to fascinate, cos we know they don't exist but there they are!
There be dragons

Sheep in the church yard

The crypt

Entwinned snakes

Crude engraving of a sword

Carved stones

Danish and Saxon influence

Early 8th Century Sculpture.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The death of the ash tree - Heart Rot

George Monbiot has written on the new threat to our ash trees, having lost so many of our elms to another kind of bug, it would be terrible to lose more trees to what I suppose we might call globalisation, plants and goods from one country to another, in this case saplings from Denmark, where the disease has affected 90% of the ash trees.  Below is a photo of an ash tree up on the downs round Bath.  They grow on the steep hillsides, forming woods along the edge of the downs.
Monbiot talks of the legend of the Scandinavian legend of Odin and the Yggdrasil Tree, so I will not expand on that story, though it appears in this country to.  Geoffrey Grigson gives the many stories that accompanies the ash tree in this country.  It was rated as good a wood as oak  as the 'most toughest and elastic' of timber for making a variety of things.  It had 'healing power', pollarded ash trees were cleft and the young child passed through to heal them of their affliction, a bit like the holed prehistoric stone in Cornwall. 'ash tree, ash tree pray buy these warts from me..
The ashen spear 'Ash, baneful weapon in the hand of a warrior' carries its magic on into ash walking sticks, bringing with it its essence of strength and sacredness. 

Ash tree caught by early morning sun

I loved the old ash trees up on the downs, one cruelly struck by lightening, apparently lightening strikes the ash so remember 'avoid an Ash, it courts the flash', don't stand under one of them in a thunderstorm.  One experiment I carried out with the trees was to count the leaflets that form a twig, mostly it is supposed to to be nine, four on either side and a singleton at the tip but you will often find eleven or thirteen leaves. 

Of course nine is a magic number, Odin hung from the Yggdrasil Tree for nine days and Aubrey Burl has something to say about in his book on Stone Circles (which I no longer own), but it is a tree that comes late to leaf, I'm sure there is a little rhythm about it somewhere...

As always for reference; Geoffrey Grigson, The Englishman's Flora

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fog and kingfisher

the water creeps up the shallow banks

Old willow slowly dying into winter
Woke up to a foggy morning and LS being very  miserable with the onset of autumn, dark mornings and then early dark evenings shorten the day even further. The turning of the seasons is so dramatic, it seems slow at first then the darkness arrives and we become cooped up bereft of natural light.
Well this morning we went for a walk down by the river, hedgerows and grass are garlanded with spider webs, they tremble on the wind thickly strung with beads of rain or dew. Probably one of the most beautiful natural constructions of nature.  There are mushrooms in the grass,a rich brown domed cap, and a pale creamy shaggy one.
The river is high, the muddy brown water swirling away at quite a pace, it is almost as high as the muddy path along which we slip.  The 'race' of the water is caused by the water being diverted round the mill and then flowing back into the river lower down, we stand on the bridge, the ducks are gossiping loudly to themselves on the bank.  Then suddenly a flash of blue from under the bridge and a kingfisher flies swiftly down the river.  I suddenly realise that the splashes I have heard must have been this blob of tropical colour fishing in the river and there I was thinking it had been fish jumping for insects. The person at my side is happy, the sighting of a kingfisher has coloured his day that lovely iridiscent blue or is it green, we watch it too swift for photographing skimming from side to side on the water.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Always waiting for the ball to be thrown

It's Sunday, and I miss my  old Moss for a Sunday walk, tears will not bring him back but his solid companionable presence seems to lurk in the shadows.....

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saponaria officinalis or soapwort

Autumn has arrived, each night it rains, and the garden becomes more bedraggled, the cosmos hangs on in there, the geraniums and pansies still producing flowers. Yesterday my love asked how do you make soap, and looking through my John Seymour, Self -Sufficiency book Seymour has the recipe, well we do not really need it nowadays, the process is too complicated and it is much cheaper to buy at your local supermarket. 
But it did bring back the memory of the soapwort I grew in a narrow bed under the house, its root system means that it happily expands itself and needs keeping in check, but its pretty rather untidy habit did attract humming-bird hawkmoths so it was a welcome addition to the garden.
It is not called soapwort for nothing Grigson says and I quote
"Crush a handful or two of leaves and bring them to the boil in water.  Strain off the liquid and it will make an appreciable lather" he goes on to say that it will give you a dry, comfortless, slightly stinging wash.
He goes on to contemplate whether this plant was used by the early medieval fullers as one time it was called Foam Dock, it was used to wash the sheep in Switzerland and also for linen, and taken to New England where it kept the old West Country name of Bouncing Bett......

The dunes at Holme Next to the Sea

A berberis shrub used along the wooden pathway to keep visitors and dogs off  the sand dunes presumably

Harebells amongst the marram grass

The eroded beach and dunes

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cawthorn Roman Camps

I am not going to write much about these three large camps, Pastscape below has a detailed discussion about them.  It is said that they might be 'practise' camps, (how to build a camp in three goes;), they are pretty formidable and on the sign posts are declared as having to subdue the fierce British tribes that lived in this part of world.  Alternatively, they could be part of a line of camps to the coast from York.  Recent excavations showed Grubenhaus in their interiors showing later medieval use as well, though water is pretty absent on top of this ridge and they would have to gone down into the valley but perhaps there were wells dug.
Easy enough to find, four miles out of Pickering along a narrow lane, turn off to the right and you head into woods that surround the camps, it is a place to walk the dogs and we met a few of them.  The camps are delineated by deep ditches and banks, the lines further marked by the dark brown of heather.  One thing I noted is the absence of sheep, a photo on the gate of badly mauled sheep being hoisted into a jeep tells the tale, dogs had been attacking them.

The view over the valley from the ridge


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

North Yorkshire Moors

Sitting among the heather,
‘Suddenly I saw
‘That all the moor was alive!

Browsing through the blogs I came upon a poem by Kathleen Raine - Heirloom, and thought how apt it was.  The first impression of the moors is the dead brown colour of the heather that greets the eye, yet always my heart skips a beat when first I see these great rolling moors, interspersed with green valleys.  Feel the pulse of the moor and it beats faintly, the tumble of rocks that fill the becks, untidy grey giants in the peat brown musical waters. Sheep stand forlorn amongst the heather, or crowd the road side verges for that useful mouthful of scarce green grass. No pheasants, they are down in the lush green valleys, filling the tiny lanes with their foolish young dicing with death as they stand uncertain in the path of oncoming cars.  No, the moor has  dark grouse with a flash of red, quietly adapted to a life of eating the tender shoots of heather. 

You can tell from the following photos that trees are sparse, they follow the line of the becks clustering, protected from the winds that sweep over these plains, forest planting around Pickering is ugly the dark green monotonous march of the evergreen firs, but the decidous trees below already have that soft touch of autumn colour, lighting up the landscape.
Perhaps there is a large restless spirit that protects this stubbornly impractical large piece of land, hostile to all but sheep and grouse, even walking is restricted to the few public paths, unless you want to wander in the footsteps of a sheep path, not knowing where they will lead.


The burning of heather on the moors

These two trees stand guard at the water's edge, their bark is smudged with white which must be some sort of mold or mildew in this damp climate.

When we came from Lastingham we took a more westerly route over the moors and passed, in the midst of the most barren stretch of the moor, a pub called The Lion, it reminded you of Jamaica Inn on Dartmoor, I think it is on Blakey Ridge.

The whole poem

'Since she saw the living skein
Of which the world is woven,'

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sea Henge

The sand dunes with a stream making its way to the sea

Remnants of old dunes

Wooden posts found from the circle

                                                           The double pronged entrance

The central upturned tree stump

Seahenge.  Of course it is not a henge, not even a stone circle but built with wooden posts around the spring of BC 2049. The diameter of the circle was 21 feet (6.6m) with 55 closely fitting posts the circle averaging out at about 10 foot high. The land on which it stood would have been different, saltmarsh protected from the sea by sand dunes and mud with a mixed oak woodland nearby.  Tis a place of sacred unknowingness, you may laugh but that central upturned trunk its roots reaching out to the sky must hold some sort of secret. The archaeologists think that it was used for excarnation, either for a great chief, or maybe for the small group or clan who lived here.
When I first saw the upturned tree, my initial reaction was that it was somehow a dinosaur, not quite dead, still throbbing with slow life.  It has PRESENCE this tree, blackened and deeply fissured with age and a few model carrion crows perch  menacingly on the edges of the mock-up wooden circle help create the drama.  The tree stands in its glass cage watching over the recovered wooden posts of the circle as they curve round on their stand backed by a large photographic representation of the beach on which the circle was found.
This beach at Holme-Next-to-the-Sea must be your first port of call, drive down to the village and turn left at the crossroads, (where it says Peddars Way) and there is a car park further on. Walk over the wooden boardwalk by the dunes, the sand stretches for ages down to the sea, and on the horizon about 50 sea wind turbines stand like ghosts, blades idly turning. No mention of where the posts were found on the information boards, and I suppose if you were lucky and walked further on and the tide was out you may find the second wooden circle, called Holme 2.
There are several theories mooted on the boards that accompany the timbers, one is to do with the stripping and non-stripping of the bark off the posts, most timbers had there bark left on but one had been stripped, this one called ‘timber 30’ had its outward facing bark stripped, maybe to represent an important person, maybe because it had been struck by lightning thereby leaving a white bark.  Firstly, it was said that the closeness of the posts could be that the whole site was supposed to represent a tree stump, or maybe each individual post represented a person, there were 55 posts in all.    The orientation of the first timbers sunk was to the Midwinter sunset in the south-west and the Midsummer sunrise in the northeast.
About half the timbers were placed upside down, it could have been due to the fact that if driven into the ground right way up the circle would have leant inwards towards the centre.  By placing them upside down they cancelled this inversion, but there again at other Bronze Age sites inverted objects were associated with death and human remains.
The narrow ‘entrance’ double pronged timber was labelled 35/37 in the initial excavation because it was thought to be two separate posts, there is a blocking timber 36 in front of the entrance.
The great central oak stump, over 50 axes were used on this tree, and 3 holes bored into its lower trunk show where it was dragged by honeysuckle ropes. Measuring about 2 and half metres high by approximately the same width, think I read somewhere it was 150 years old when cut down, there are two suggestions for why it was used, one being the excarnation theory the other “a symbolic representation of the fruits of the earth and the magical powers of trees, or perhaps a gateway to the underworld”
What to make of it all? Firstly, one has to agree with the decision of digging the timbers up, if only to help keep them for future reference and safe from further destruction by the sea, and because of their special uniqueness.  The heart does stop for a few seconds as you view these old monster wooden posts, my first impression was of the old wooden Scandinavian gods found in the bogs – strange twisted and  shaped…  Alien, scary and dark!  Imagination can run easily with Tibetan ‘sky burials,’ especially as part of the exhibition houses another upside down tree trunk to make the point that the roots easily cradle a human being.
Lynn Museum can be found to one side of the bus station, so simply head for the train and bus station and park in the car parks round there.

Whitby - October 2012

This is Peperoni, after finishing her tea, watching the sparrows outside in the bush.
Back home after a fortnight stay in Whitby, mostly beautiful autumn weather, though a phone call from Aggie this morning says it has turned.  Aggie is the person who will let the cottage next year and today she goes to photograph it, so I have 'dressed' the beds as best I can... She thought her key was lost but found it luckily because spares are inside the cottage at the moment! Masses of washing for the machine but the garden has fared well here, plenty of rain judging by the state of the buckets.
We pottered around the town quite a lot of the time, this weekend has been 'Wartime Britain' with people dressed up for the first World War.  Dress wise it was pretty fabulous, fur coats and pretty dresses worn with nylons, lots of women tottered down Flowergate on high heels, alongside smartly dressed business men, the armed forces were also much in show, sadly I did not take any photos.
Seahenge was fabulous, both the beach and the exhibition at the museum, moors of course, and a visit to Lastingham church to visit the crypt - this by the way is where Saint Cedd (Chelmsford) started the early northern christian church at Lastingham, but more of that later.  We also went and found the Cawthorn Roman Camps, three to be precise, large and pretty daunting if you were a native...

The following, two very windy photos, were taken up at Whitby abbey.  Gorgeous horses standing, not too patiently, the driver has a lovely gloomy face as he glares into my camera, but who could resist those horses. They travelled back home in a horse van and I expect went for a good run round their field....