Archives for posts with tag: druid

Having heard of these little globules  over the past few years, I has a chance to see them in the flesh for the first time a couple of weekends ago.

While on Angelsey for the first weekend of the Angelsey Druid Order’s training weekend  of 2017, I wandered down to Lligwy  beach.  On previous  visits I had found shells from Pilgrims Scallops and even tiny abalone shells, potentially  from areas as far away as Mexico. As well as funnel web spiders and orchids alongside other wildflowers  on the walk down to the beach.

On this visit more treasures turned up  such as a hermit crab and rock fused oyster. Yet, more amazingly, the sandy shore and rocky outcrops were filled with scores of small jelly like globes.

These fascinating and transparent  creatures are known as Sea Gooseberries  and are part of a group of organisms known as Ctenophora and are a group of animals similar in nature to the jellyfish. 

Although they look to be nothing more than ridged clear jelly at first glance,  when one looks closer they will see fine red threads at the heart of the critter and grooved ribs along its outer surface. 

In some species these ribs and the ‘threads’ inside are able to glow and flicker; attracting prey via bioluminescence. (Check out the videos of sea gooseberries  feeding on YouTube).

What we can’t  see out of the water and with the naked eye are the feeding strands, known as combs. These combs are used to filter plankton, fish and crustacean larvae from the sea – some species can consume more than their body weight on tiny organisms each day.
With such an appetite, these tiny critters can have a drastic effect on fish populations. A couple of species were introduced  to the Black and Azoz seas much to the detriment of the local fish stocks. 

Obviously,  in my wonderment,  I picked a few of these beauties up for a closer look and a photograph  or two. After  that,  they were dropped  in to a large rock pool to await the returning sea. This revealed  another wonder from this marvellous  creature….they disappeared  from sight as soon as they went in to the water! 

What with them being 99% water, that shouldn’t  surprise  me, but it didn’t  half  make me smile 🙂

Yet another example of the wonders of the natural world around us.

All too often we get used to our immediate  surroundings and take them for granted, but when we take the  time  to look at what’s  under our nose we can make fantastic  discoveries.

I often have the pleasure  of  workin in varied locations. Today’s work was up in North Blackpool,  from there I nipped down  the shoreline to work in the Blackpool office a couple of miles away.

Whenever  I work anywhere  with a beach I try to grab some time  on the sand…. beaches are dynamic  and changeable  places which can hold a treasure trove one day and nought but smooth sand the next depending  upon the tide’s haul. 

The last two times I’ve  ventured on to the beach in Blackpool I’ve  been  amazed at what I’ve found. 

Last Wednesday, after high and stormy winds, I discovered  a beach full of shells – from large specimens  of hard shelled clams to vast numbers of turret shells and a few delicate but beautiful  Common Wendletrap shells, minature Murix and Pelicans foot shells.

All those amidst a  carpet of razor clams, mussels and cockles which created a crunchy chorus underfoot, complimenting the rolling waves.

The shore today was far smoother – a week later and all but a spattering  of shells have returned  beneath  the waves, maybe never to be seen  again.

However,  other oddities  graced the sands… delicate seaurchins, many crumbling  at the touch, we’re the first to catch my eye.

Followed by the sheer number of crab bits from various  species.  All washed up amidst long tangles of seaweed. The weather, or an under sea current  had obviously  stirred up the seabed well.

As a sure sign that the depths were truly disturbed; the unusual  sight of what appeared to be breadcrumbless chicken nuggets, some wrapped around seaweed  and betwixt dogfish egg cases. 

These turned out to be bryozoa – colonies of tiny sea animals  which form jelly, or in this case meaty, round growths, like soft coral, which usually  stay well off shore.

There a brief video of some here..

Add to that the sight of a baby dogfish still in the egg case, washed ashore amidst weed but still vitally alive. 

This was a wonder to see… an embryonic  dogfish thrashing around inside the case which will welcome it to this world. 

Obviously,  being beached isn’t particular  conducive to the health of a baby dogfish. Left alone it’d  simply ‘boil in the bag’ under a warm sun.

See a not always in focus video of the dogfish to be here.

As such, I did my best to return the pod to the water with a good throwing arm put in to use. Hopefully  the waves will take it back out to deeper waters and give it a chance at at long and healthy life.

And as one last point of interest a few different  types of  beached jellyfish, also returned to the sea.

Blackpool is an area which hardly conjures up thoughts of wild biodiversity, but with a curious eye and a willingness to slow down, a lot can be seen in a what would often be dismissed as a dead zone.

Why not go out and look at what’s  around you? Reclaim  those places you take for granted.

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On recent walks and events it’s been brought to my attention that I often find myself lost. Now, you might think that this is a bad thing, but it’s not always.

Maybe it’s not the best practice when leading a group walk to not know where you are going; with all the threats of danger and accidents and savagely wild hedgehogs that are just longing to get a grip on your throat the moment you stumble! (Ok… I admit it,  the part about savage hedgehogs is a slight fabrication on my part… I felt an urge to make British wildlife sound as fearsome as that in lands such as Australia. In reality, it’s much cudlier.)

Certainly when leading a walk as part of my job, or for a session I’m leading with any pretension of professionalism, the route is always walked in advance, risk assessments done and dangers minimised where possible.
For most Witchish Walks, I’ve visited the site before or at the very least taken a look on Google Maps to make sure that there is actually a route that can be taken (rather than a hop, skip and a jump in to oblivion with people following me).

In this post, though, I want to defend the art of getting lost.

‘Art?,’ I hear you say.

Art indeed. In today’s world there are many ways to not be lost at all, unless it’s in the time stealing dimensions of social media.
Many people have a miniature computer in their pocket that can connect to satellites, and guide an intrepid explorer right to an ancient site… all while taking photographs and chatting to a friend on the other side of the world.
If not that then maps are at hand, or the ever present sound of traffic and sights of urban sprawl eating in to the countryside. You’re not truly lost if you can find out where you are… bu you could still be lost enough.

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It’s my firm belief (or pleasant fantasy at least), that there are invisible and  hidden doorways in to other realms that can be only be accessed by getting thoroughly unsure of your bearings.
In a city these doorways might be side streets that you find as you take a failed attempt at a shortcut. A shortcut that opens your eyes to a fancy bistro and a beautiful person’s smile, or an intriguing looking shop with the heavy smell of exotic incense floating though it’s open doors. Perhaps you spy, as you walk, an open green space filled with sumptuously green grass, stately trees and colourful flowerbeds. A space that shouldn’t be there, smack bang in the middle of the city.

Sometimes we are too busy rushing to be seduced in to experiencing the wonders of these stores, spaces and the charming smile of the dark haired stranger whose eyes spark with a hunger, The one who sits alone at the Bistro table seemingly waiting for you to join them.
Sometimes we miss out on opportunities that can flavour our lives forever more.

‘Why do we miss out on them?,’ I hear you ask intrigued.

We miss out on them because these little pockets of wonder can never be found again. No matter how many times you try to find the short cut and it’s shops, no matter how many times you look at where you traversed on the map, often there is no sign of a heavenly park. Or no sign of the Bistro or beguiling shop.

And then we are left longing. Wondering if we imagined it after all? Wondering whether or not we wasted a world of riches in our haste to find our way to a destination?

Sometimes we’ll catch the scent of heavy, exotic incense  on the breeze as we near the place that we cannot find again…. and we almost mourn that which we could’ve known more sensually.

Now, I’m the first to admit that my sense of direction isn’t always the best. I navigate mostly by trees and memories of foraged foods. Yet there are some places that seem to make no sense to me at all. Places like Rivington Terraced Gardens, near Chorley, which has many routes up and down and which I always think I’m somewhere else when I’m on a connecting path.
Rivington leads me astray. It’s not quite pixie led, but it’s a dreamscape to my mind which scatters my sense of direction to the wind like loosened feathers knocked free as a hawk snatches a songbird from flight .

Rivington is part of the moorland upon which lies many ancient remains. Up on those moorlands I’ve found myself more than a bit lost before, but because of my being lost I’ve discovered things that would’ve been truly hidden from me had I gone another way.

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Sometimes these lost spaces yield up a treasure that I’ve been searching for – a sheep skull here, a carved rock there, a stone circle or a gargantuan tree.

I learned many years ago to allow myself to get lost; to find the spaces that sit between the known and unknown… and to explore them fervently.

An example: Borsdane woods is a long scar of a semi natural ancient woodland. If one enters through the Tunnel Entrance found at the top of Hindley, and alongside the Graveyard, then the woods extend in front of you and to the left a little as well.
One of my first solo trips to Borsdane woods saw me scrambling along a muddy track in the late winter mists.  I went perhaps 500 metres in to he woods, crossed over the small brook and turned back on myself for at least a mile.

That mile heading back toward the tunnel, but on the far side of the stream should have taken me over a railway line and through fencing and brought me out further than the farthest boundary of the grave yard.

Instead, I found myself stood in a wide open woodland staring at the largest tree I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. An ancient looking beech with a trunk that could swallow a small cottage.

The mist was thick, the pull towards the leafless tree strong and centuries of beech mast and leaves crumpling and crunching under foot.

Now, this happened ten years ago – I had neither a camera nor a phone frequently on my person back then, so I have no pictures of this beautiful tree. I know I could retrace every step… if only the path was there again for me to find.

I spent plenty of time with that tree, as druids do. I walked back out the same way I had come in.  It was when I reached the tunnels again that I realised something wasn’t quite right about my experience. There is no section of woodland where I walked that day. There is no behemoth beech tree there. There has been no way back either.

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Nowadays I put a map marker via Google Maps when I find somewhere worth returning to.  There have been times when I have returned to the very spot, only to find it far from how it was last experienced, mind you.

In a less ethereal manner, the simple act of being lost means you open your eyes wider, you listen more intently and you find interesting stuff that would’ve never even become a memory for you had you not found yourself in a quandary.

By straying off the beaten path, by letting yourself get a little lost there is so much to discover.

As a second example, today, I went for a short walk, looking to take a few pictures for this blog post. I strayed of the beaten track and was rewarded with an odd find in Wigan. A terrapin (?) shell amidst the fallen leaves.

Probably the final remains of someone’s pet which perished after being released in to the water at Low Hall Nature reserve …. but an interesting curio for me now.

So… if you go down to the woods to day, or over the moor, or tread a valley path … take a few extra provisions, put away the phone and GPS until you need it. Give yourself an extra hour or two…. and let yourself get lost.

Or maybe you are taking a shortcut or exploring a town or city… why not see what you can stumble upon and embrace it if it’s a soon to be lost treasure?

We can accrue much in this life, but one experience can be more valuable than millions in the bank or a new and fashionable bathroom suite.

Or maybe, you’ll find yourself lost in a conversation; maybe you’ll take a different meaning than was meant and maybe that will open up a new thought, a new possibility and from that moment of being lost you might discover the world as an oyster at your fingertips. Either that or you might find yourself in an argument.

There’s an art to getting lost. There’s an art to working with your own vulnerability and find much more than you sought.

So take the rough and narrow path, follow your nose and strike out towards the thing that caught your eye… go where you do not know.

However you do it. Wherever you do it. Whoever you do it with…. Please GET LOST! 🙂

 

 

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 Ever since my first trip to the Isle of Man I have felt a strong connection  to Manann as Manannan Mac Lir is know on Ellan Vannin. 

As soon as my feet touched it’s  shore some seven or eight years ago I knew a bond had formed between he and me. Over the ensuing  years I worked with Manann regularly and it was in August of 2016 that I visited the island again. The reconnection was intense and immediate and hasn’t left me since even though I have left the shores of that beautiful land.

It was upon my return  to  the mainland that I started to sense his very obvious  presence up on the moors, in the damp and crowed thickets of the woods and often in the rhythmic falling of the rain as well as on the shores.

As such, in the manner of a God charge as used frequently  in Wicca, I have written the below.

Feel free to use it yourself if it speaks to  you, just credit me if you do.
Hear it spoken  at Cemlyn Bay  here

Manann’s Charge 

I am never fully what I seem. I am the son of the sea adorned  by a cloak of mist.

My touch is in the dew upon every blade of grass and every  bell of heather on every mountain  and moor.

My footprints  are all but seen on the salted marsh and sandy shore; in all places that trick  the eye,

Always I am where I am not,

I am in the writhing ocean, 

I am in the endless thicket.

I breathe in the depths of the pine forest as the rain falls

And I  will lead you in the losing of yourself,  until you discover the shores of your being.

Trust in me and the use of Fragarach, the sword of answers,  shall be yours. 

Trust me with your deepest  secrets and wholest truths and the deception of the Feth Fiada, my clouded cloak, shall be yours.

Cresting the waves aboard my wakeless ship scuabtuinne, I move across the wavetips  and through the hidden places with equal  ease.

For a caring  trickster am I, dressed in the robes of a sage, for without the pain of awakening we are nought but a hare who dreams of sleep

Manann, Manannan, Manandan, Manawydan am I.

Walk in my ways. 

Join me on the shore or the rocky scree topped hills and I shall answer the unspoken question                 and with graceful mirth and sharp tongue guide you through life’s  mysteries and tribulations. 

Then when you are utterly spent,  I will lay you to rest in an earthen  barrow or a cairn of fine stones

And I shall guide your spirit in to the land of the dead to be cradled in to the cauldron of renewal .

Manann am I. 

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I’m currently in the midst of preparing a big Samhain post and hopefully a podcast with it… but I’m also in the midst of doing a great many other things too!

The weekend just gone saw me in Shropshire, working on my parent’s new place, a stone cottage/house near the LLanclys crossroads, and helping them to move in.
For the past half a year they’ve been renting a place called The Lodge, some ten or fifteen miles away but still rural.

The Lodge sits on the periphery of a large estate and the building itself has a charm… though, with the low doorways, it’s a charm that can be steadily  knocked out of a tall person like me.

As nice as the house is, that’s not what has inspired my post today – you see, not more than a hundred metres away from the property edge you find yourself approaching the shade cast by two huge sweet chestnut trees.

Unusually for many, these trees are absolutely covered in fruit; nuts encased in coats of thin and numerous spines – like a tree’s impression of a hedgehog, but without the soft underbelly!
Luckily, the green spiny cases often split as the ripe clusters fall to the ground, dispersing their precious cargo of shiny, beautifully coloured seeds.

In many places, sweet chestnuts grow more as a multi-stemmed tree rather than the behemoths in front of me, but often the multiple stems are the results of coppicing and human interference.

Most sweet chestnuts wear what appears to be a good crop… but often is just the seed cases filled with hollow, slim nuts, the fattest being small by comparison to shop bought ones; often imported from warmer climes.
Indeed the sweet chestnut favours a more Mediterranean climate for good nut production but excels at producing wood that has a plethora of uses in our wetter lands.

I was aware that, historically, some communities in Italy would use chestnuts as a staple food , almost in place of grain, but I’d never had the pleasure of seeing a tree that made me believe that it was possible in the  UK until, looking up in to the branches of these sweet chestnut that were almost dribbling fruit down their boles, I was awe struck.

With little effort and with around half a rotation of the trees I had filled a plastic bag to the brim – easily six or seven kilograms had been picked with ease.  I had been fussy too; leaving the smaller nuts. I also left those even slightly touched by the few squirrels that had scarpered off as I approached. If all had been gathered from the floor around the trees there would have been easily thirty kilograms of nuts to eat.
Speaking to my parents it would seem  that the ease of gathering had been the same for the last few weeks and the trees were still covered with nuts that were yet to fall.
The squirrels would feed well this year!

With my bag of fat nuts in my arms I waddled off to place them in my car for later use.
I wondered if this was simply a mast year for the nuts – many trees have years where they produce a glut and then barely reproduce at all the following few years while they recover from the effort spent. A survival strategy whereby, by the grace of numbers,  not every seed can be eaten before it takes root. Only a few more years of observing would tell me.

As a reward for producing so many nuts I promised the tree that I would sow a load of these tasty seeds – and then give away and plant them out once germinated at one or more of my tree talks in the coming year. In this way, I would be giving back to the tree, ensuring it’s genetic future by spreading it’s seeds far and wide. It’s a bargain always worth making with a tree or fruiting plant. After all, if a tree can grow so well on the rainy, cold Welsh border, I’m sure it could fruit well up in Wigan or even Blackpool… though I might need to wait forty years for a full crop.

A part of me wonders if this was a similar process of bargaining to that which our ancient Ancestors might have used to begin humanity’s foray in to the world of horticulture. If you plant the best nuts from the best tree, or the seeds from the sweetest apples, then not only do you and your descendants benefit, but that individual tree could even come in to a greater prevalence by virtue of it’s  offspring. If we sacrifice a little of our harvest to honour a gifted yield, perhaps we magnify it also?
And maybe that explains our predilection for sacrifice and bargaining?
Maybe the tree, knowing that it has an ally, will continue to fruit well, nay, be encouraged to fruit even better.

So, this morning saw me cutting and peeling hundred of nuts  (barely a third of the bag!) and placing them in to a dehydrator. Dried they will keep for years and can be added to soups, stews, broth or even  ground up as flour…. but left as they are, they loose their capacity to germinate within a few weeks – almost as soon as the initial shine is gone from their shells even! Then, those not lucky enough not be destined to be sown will start to turn to mold slowly but surely.

As I go through the bag I’ll select the biggest and best nuts and put them to one side to be sown in the very near future – my sacrifice or my bargain held to.

As for the others, I’ll spend hours preserving another batch and the rest are in a fridge draw, cool and safe… until I slice in to the top of them to prevent them exploding when I place them in a crock pot and slowly roast them atop the wood burning stove.

And there’s little to top that sweet, stodgy, soft and moist nutty flesh when you pop it in you mouth still warm from the fire.

So…. I encourage you all – strike bargains, plant seeds and help spread abundance in to the world…. and then eat the rest of the unborn children of the trees… nom… nom….nom.

A good friend  of  mine,  Brian, and myself took a day away from the grindstone  yesterday to head up to the sandy beach of Formby.

We were joining a party of folk all interested  in seeing the prehistoric  footprints  trapped and eroding layer by layer in the eluvial layers of estuarine mud.

It would appear that the beach at Formby is vanishing;  the  wind  and tide stripping almost ten metres from  the  edge each year.

Although Formby  is well known for the dunes and  pine forests which  house a delightful  cluster of red squirrels,  it wasn’t  always so.

Jamie, our National Trust guide explained that the melt water of the most recent  ice age dragged sediment and sand  out to sea and effectively  goes a sand bank, enlarging  the coastline  some four or five kilometres  further out than it is today. This  sand bank in turn trapped both water and debris until in time a mosaic of habitats had formed. 

Habitats  such as both salt and fresh water lagoons, wet forests,  grass lands, salt marsh and scrub; ideal for a large array of animals and as hunting and gathering  grounds for ancient  humans some between  four and six thousand years ago.

Due to the nature of the place it was regularly  covered with flood brought layers of mud. This mud captured imprints in it and baked in the sun before a dusting of wind brought sand covered it over…. and then a new layer of mud arrived and so on.

As the sea encroaches upon the land the dunes are forced to retreat …. as they do they are uncovering many footprint storing layers of mud. The sea in turn is slowly wearing theses away – a dynamic landscape  revealing ancient  track ways.

On our visit the tide had left a lot more sand covering  the mud layers  than was ideal…. but we still saw a good number of species preserved – gilded in the imagination  due to the heavy mud.

Contained in the mud could  be seen the foot print of a juvenile auroch; a now extinct species of wild cow which would dwarf even a large modern  bull by thrice the bulk. 

Note the squared shape, the splayed  toes and the rear imprint  of the redundant  bovine toes.

These incredibly  heavy and strong  animals are well known as powerful, ill tempered brutes to those who read legends of European  origin.

Two species  of deer were also traced – roe deer (above) and large red deer (below) – it seems that the red deer of old were bigger than our current  moor land loving beasts.

Add to this the ancient  foot prints of millenia old oyster catchers, amongst the eliptical burrow marks of molluscs from the 1700s (below) and we had quite a lot of finds.

Yet for many this obvious trail of tracks which show evidence  of our own kind was the most fascinating.

Thousands  of years ago people with a significantly different  culture and world view to us walked in what was a significantly  different  landscape than the one we were seeing…. but for all the difference,  they were still human – still us.

These layers of estuarine  mud go down around six metres and may have many more treasures  to share  as they wear away.

Full red deers skulls replete antlers have been found buried in this mud and there must be more.I know I’ll  be  keeping  an eye out.

The retreating dunes have also begun to unearth more modern finds… the remnants  of an old caravan  park.

A caravan  park which, with every tide, disgorges chunks of concrete and bitumen and bricks.

Further up the coastline is a thick layer of compressed  and shredded tobacco  waste from a the Victorian era. 

Seemingly dumped and shredded stems; abandoned  after the nicotine  had been extracted for the pesticide  industry. It now looks like rock… but is soft enough  to break apart and crumb up by hand.

Yet still potent enough  to leave your hands stinking  like stale tobacco.

However,  going back to that caravan park debris. Some of it became a temporary  stone circle of  alternating monoliths  and stone stacks.

All in under twenty  minutes, yet unlike to last the evening  tide.

It was a mixture  of play time and of mystery – the query from a couple out walking  along the beach as the light dimmed was enough  to know that a little  enchantment  had been spread in to the world. … and all from bits of concrete foundations  and tarmacadamed road.

And… as big kids do…. we couldn’t  resist the urge to make ourselves feel like giants 🙂 

(Brian below… myself at the bottom)

 

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I’ve found myself building more and more stone stack shrines these last few months, and some of that could be a reflection of what’s going on in my own life. Yet, I suspect that a lot of it is due to the fact that I’m being called to build them by the Spirits of the places I visit.

I cannot recall a time before which I enjoyed making simple things by hand. Don’t get me wrong, I found wood work and any ‘technology’ class other than cooking to be incredibly dull and frustrating – at no point have I ever wanted to make something according to a curriculum not of my choosing.
The sea of inspiration smacks hard against the wall of  a curriculum without room for creativity… and like a fish leaping from the sea to find itself hurtling wetly towards a wall, the otherwise inspired suffer much from it.

There’s a simple beauty to be found when a rock or  log or similar can be stacked or worked with to create a change in the landscape that engenders a recognition that there is something other than the self in a site when stumbled upon by another. An echo of what is and what was, possibly moments before, possibly centuries.

Stone stacks are found all over the world and in varying sizes and shapes – I claim no artistry here, as I have seen some stone balancers who truly have made it in to an art form. The ones made by my hands will never win awards, but they echo the voices of the places they are found – rough, unshod and if not wary then belligerent.
My little shrines are a mixture of the ephemeral and almost permanent – they both have their value.

In the woods, I sometime stack sticks from a fallen tree, in the form of a stepped pyramid, grids of sticks lined up  to form a pyramid, but that’s rare as I’d hate for them to become an invitation to light a pyre for local pyromaniac youths. More often in the woods, I slide feathers in to cracks in bark. Done at eye height; a deliberate change. A recognition of the tree and the bird; designed to be seen.

I have in the past also made witch’s ladders from bones and compostable twine (or cordage), and hung these from branches in trees.
With the coming of the winds, the bones sing an odd and jaunty rattle as if glad to be granted movement again. While the feathers flutter until they are knocked aloft, flying once again; even if momentarily.

Yet, more recently I’ve been called to make more and more of these little stone stacks out in the middle of seemingly nowhere – the desolate moor, the cliff top, the stream bed, the beach at dawn. Or, as in the pictures above, on a recent Circle of Pagans Trip to Anglesey, in a cove just beneath Barclodiad-y-Gawres Burial Chamber as part of a mini ceremony of gratitude to Mon.

It’s a compulsion almost, my hands tingle, the Spirits of the place seem to add a gloss to exactly the right rocks to use and whisper… and so the back pack is dropped and some time is spent  making these structures; with me seemingly at play.

So I thought I’d share a few from a recent visit to the Isle of Man and my time on Anglezarke moor – both places where Mannanan’s presence is strongly felt, both landscapes that seem open but that hide a lot… but Mannanan is a topic for another blog post or two.

The majority of stone stacks will survive for a long time if in a sheltered spot. Some can be made in to pretty permanent things, but often the top third or so falls off with a strong wind or when a passing animal uses it as a scratching post.

Using big stones in a big and barren landscape was an Inuit tradition. It can be awfully lonely out on the tundra and the iced up sea when out hunting, fishing or walking.
To combat the loneliness, they would build big stone stacks on the shore line, enough that they could be seen by passing boats and to act as a reminder that you aren’t alone, nor are you lost. Others have been this way before you and will come this way again.
In many cases it would be remembered who had built which stack and so, as they were seen, you’d remember a family member or a friend.

 

Many of the small ones pictured, will be little more than one stone tall now. They are built in exposed areas. It pleases me in someways to know that I’ve given the Wind something to play with.

For me, making these isn’t about achieving any form of immortality, nor is it to be remembered in the short term. They’re made by going with the flow of inspiration received while out in these places. They are made to recognise the dynamism of the spirit there; and as such they should be changeable, movable and yet still obvious while they exist.

Some however are built in such a way as to give others a tingle as they come around a corner in to a landscape speckled with stone stacks shrines, they know about it. There’s an eeriness in the air and a giddy energy – the Spirits of the Place and Time are recognised even by the non-magical traveler.

 

It’s rare for me to aim for permanence, but sometimes that’s what’s called for. In the pictures below you can see a stone stack on Anglezarke moor, made in a place of exposed stones, where I’m pretty sure they’re from a a naturally exposed ridge rather than a settlement footprint. Either way the spot blasts out potency and I made a simple stack on my first time  visiting.
A couple of weeks later I was in the area again and checked on how the stack was doing, it had lost the top third or so of it’s stones in the windy weather. As I began to rebuild it inspiration came in that led me to make it more resilient and more likely to survive for a long time… it’s now a little over a metre tall and about 60cm across at the widest point. It’ll be checked up on and the Spirits greeted next time I’m up there.

 

Quite to the contrary though, it’s just as important to make things of fleeting presence – a sacrifice of energy and awareness.
As such, I often find myself creating seaside stone temples in miniature whenever I’m on a stony beach.

The images below show a small, not quite, stack shrine and a metre wide shrine, made on the beach. The stones were just south and east of the point of Ayre on the Isle of Man. Within ten minute the sea had rushed in to claim them, leaving no trace after a few waves had broken over it. Although it took quite a few more waves than anticipated to fell all of the stones.

The resistance of both of these little structures to the sea’s advances is oddly hope giving.

What we might expect to be washed away in mere moments, we find stands strong until almost fully submerged by rolling waves.

It’s long been said that there’s a  beauty in decay and as you watch the work you made to be eaten, slowly become other than it was – returned to it’s constituents, that beauty creeps in to the mind.
It’s almost as though the same beings that suggested you build it just here and with these exact rocks and in this pattern are also reminding you that the world is rife with impermanence. Showing that even the strongest of us will find peace from the ceaseless conflict of change, of becoming and unbecoming, if we surrender to that which makes us what we are in the here and now.  Or it will come if we wait it out for the greater whole of the world to subsume us again in it’s regenerative embrace.

There’s a power in accepting how vulnerable we are, how mortal we are, in the grand scheme of things. Whether you believe in reincarnation or otherwise, this life, this form, this self will never exist again in exactly the same way after we are gone.

The ephemeral nature of life and being means that every breath we share with others truly is a blessing – we gift ourselves to those we spend time with, as they do to us.
And so, from the apparent permanence of stone we can catch  a glimpse of our own mortality and smile, knowing we are truly gifted with the present moment… even if not all present moments are nice or pleasing.

Finally though, there’s another blessing that stone stack building can convey; enchantment.

By leaving a foot print free stone shrine on a beach, or in a landscape known for it’s magical properties, we can keep the world a little bit more magical for those who find it.
Like this one, done shortly after dawn on Ramsey beach, Isle of Man. It’d be hours before the sea came in and hours before the beach was filled with children… enough time for the wind to hide my footprints and for the mischief found both in myself and in the Spirit of that place to leave a little mystery and hopefully a little enchantment for those who found it.

And then, finally, if not kicked over, it’d become a sacrifice to the Sea God Mannan.
A sacrifice freely given and made of my time at play.

 

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In a previous blog post I mentioned  that I hold the role of ‘Ritualist’ for the Circle of Pagans moot.

This is a longstanding moot that serves Liverpool  and the surrounding area as well as any one else who might be passing through.

Part of my role is to create simple rituals for each of the eight spokes of the Neo-pagan wheel of the year. These are rituals that anyone can follow, regardless of how new they are to their pagan path or their ritual experience.

The rituals are based on Wiccan, Druid and Traditional Witchcraft ceremonies;  like most followed by Neopagans today.

They are rituals that can be used by sole practitioners or adapted to group use easily; feel free to tweak them until they suit you and yours.

Circle of Pagans aims to share knowledge and reach out to the wider community. Which is why I thought I’d post the rituals on my blog for others to see, adapt and use.

So here we go……..

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Mabon, Autumn Equinox ritual:

Thoughts:

– In today’s world, it can sometimes be a bit of a mystery a to why things are celebrated, but the equinoxes are some of the most self explanatory. An equinox happens twice a year, once in Spring (Vernal equinox) and once in Autumn. Mabon, as it’s come to be known is the Autumn equinox.
Equinox means ‘equal night’, this refers to the hours of daylight and darkness being equally matched. Either side of this day Summer and Winter can be said to be reigning.

–  The autumnal equinox usually falls on either the 21st or 22nd of September. To the casual observer it looks as though there is a period of around three days where the day and night are almost identical in length to each other, or at least it does here in the UK.

–  After the Autumnal equinox, the number of hours in darkness, will be greater than those in light each 24 hour period, until we hit the Spring equinox.

–  Recognising the changing tides of day and night, can be reason enough to make this a special day. Here, with the equinox, the summer officially ends and we step ever further in to the darkness.

–  Agriculturally and horticulturally speaking, this is the time of the second major harvest. The grain crops and hay crops would have been gathered in around the beginning of August (Lammas) and now the plants in the vegetable garden have started to run out of vigour. Yet, at the same time apples, pears, quince, medlar, late plums and grapes are suddenly showing up; swollen against the back drop of slowly changing leaves.

– Although, historically, many of these fruit would be picked over a long season between now and the start of November (Samhain), many would now be gathered and checked over. The best of the fruits would be stored in barrels or in the cool airy rafters of the lofts of cottages.
While the fruit that would not store so well, or indeed was grown especially for it, would be chopped and pressed and funneled in to barrels to make what is the second most holy drink in my opinion: cider.
(With mead being the first… arguably a place shared with a sensually good red wine or a smooth whiskey).

– Cider making was a communal activity and a magic all of it’s own. Cider vinegar was also made at this time to help preserve the last of the seasons vegetables as strong chutney or pickles.In more modern times, canning of vegetables and fruits would also have been common place.

–  Crops like plums may well have been dried, while quince and medlar would be picked and left to soften, or blet, as in begin to rot, in the case of the medlar, before being used.

–   All these foods are the flavour and nutrient givers to the carbohydrate crops of grain and potatoes and similar harvested back in August, with these prepared, stored and fermenting the prospect of Winter wouldn’t seem quite so bleak to people living a peasant  life.

–  Although the mists would be coming in more frequently and the dew wetting one’s feet in the morning, this time of year also marks a productive time in the hedge row, with rowan, hawthorn, elder and black berries ripe for picking. The obviously generous nature of the Land could not be missed.

–  In modern Druidry, the Autumn equinox is known as Alban Elfed – the light on the water. As the sun lowers to a point where it reflects strongly off the sea and sets in to the West, which is associated with autumn and the third quarter of the year, and , indeed our lives

–  September is often a time of seemingly confused weather as the heat of summer meets the wetness of Autumn; and although the midday can be too hot, the nights can be too cold for comfort. A balance on average, but spiked in experience.

–  Many call this festival Mabon, named after a Welsh deity. Mabon ap Modron appears to us in the tale of in the tale of Culhwch ac Olwen as man, who as a child was stolen from his mothers arms when he was three nights old and locked away in a castle dungeon for milennia. Culhwch, becomes infatuated with Olwen, the daughter of a giant, Ysbaddaden, neither of which he has met, after a he’s cursed for not wanting to marry his stepsister.  Families eh?
A battle ensues and Ysbaddaden is wounded before agreeing that Culhwch can marry Olwen if he performs a series of impossible tasks.
One of these tasks is to hunt down Twrch Trwyth , a giant boar. Twrch Trwyth can only be tracked by Drudwyn, a dog that can only be mastered, so prophecy says, by Mabon ap Modron… as such Culwch and crew head off to find him and in doing so end up speaking to the oldest animals in existence including a devious hawk, an ancient owl, a haggard old stag and a geriatric salmon.

It’s a tale worth reading.

–  The woodland floor is now starting to be come decked with fallen nuts – hazelnuts, acorn and beech mast. And as such, just like Twrch Trwyth, wild boar and pigs would have been moved in to the woodlands to fatten up ahead of the more brutal harvest found at Samhain in six weeks time.

–  The equinox is a time of balance and is a seasonal threshold – perhaps the first leaves are changing colour; shirking their pleasant greens for vibrant painted skins. Perhaps the seed heads of wild grasses have started to bow towards the ground in an aged shade of brown. Perhaps the wildlife is starting to prepare hibernation nests and perhaps hedgehogs and foxes are seen more  as they forage from nature’s bounty to put on weight enough to survive the winter.

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Mushrooms are every where… little ones like this don’t take up much room 😉

 

 

 

What to do?

Here are a few ideas for activities that you could do to recognise the time of Mabon, the Autumn Equinox:

–  Read the tale of Mabon ap Modron – there are a several versions and it’s worth reading a few so that the sense of the connection to the time of year sinks in.

–  Take a bag, some tubs or baskets and go on a mushroom foraging walk (trust an expert if you don’t trust yourself and always make sure they are safe to eat). Perhaps dry some mushrooms at home, to practice an ancestral skill.

–  Go on a berry and nut foraging walk, make some jam or chutney, or even fruit leather. taste the landscape as you go.
If you are feeling brave you could look up how to safely make yew berry tart. The pinky red flesh around the seeds is the only edible part of the yew tree and they taste somewhat like raspberries but with the texture of snot. Never eat the seed or leaves, bark or buds of the yew tree though… they are likely to kill you.

–  Even better, get up early and go walking in the dew found on grassy lands. Take time to appreciate spiders webs as they bear droplets of water, like flowing crystal gems.
Don’t forget to say hello to the large Orb spiders that weave webs that dominate the spaces between paths. These beautiful lady spiders with egg swollen abdomens, naturally painted in beautiful markings, could even lead you to looking in to Arianrhod as a goddess of weaving and spider like accuracy.

– Go out to a woodland or park near you and gather some acorns from under oak trees. Perhaps you would even like to plant some to further the next generation of oak trees. Plant them while still fresh and in a place they will grow well.

– Consider  going on  a shamanic  journey to  visit Mabon ap Modron, or the Guardian of Autumn, or one of the Ancient Animals mentioned in the tale. They can both often be found in the middle or lower worlds. Ask what lessons they have for you and what adventures they’d take if they were in your shoes. You don’t have to act these adventures out though if they are a bit much!

– Set up a circle or working site and invoke an appropriate deity of your choice, or your Ancestors, and speak with them about what you have harvested in your life over the past season or so and what you’d like to harvest in the coming months.

– Or simply go for a walk in to the woods, or meadows or park and see what changes the season has brought to the land near you.

– Have a go at making cider or elderberry wine and perhaps take a toast of a ready cider or mead to a liminal place, such as the beach or moorland and offer it as a libation to the Spirits there and of the time.

–  Collect the best coloured autumnal leaves as you find them and perhaps make a leaf mask to use for Samhain in due time.

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Berries of the Guelder Rose start to deepen to red

A brief solo ritual for you to practice.

Rituals are always better with meaning and purpose  that is more than just a recognition and a tugging of one’s  forelock to a deity or time of year.

These words are my own, but not necessarily the ones I frequently use. If you would like to,  please feel free to ad lib or replace with your own words.

Edit if you will, but please cite me as the author if you are sharing (Mark Buxton or this blog).

The circle cast used here is one aimed at connection rather than separation or safety, feel free to use a different one if you feel in need of a more secure space.

This circle is in a similar vein to the majority of Neopagan style circles and is losely based on both a Wiccan and Druid ceremony format.

The purpose of this circle is connection,  this allows for some vulnerability, but  please don’t use this if you are in a place  that creeps you out or feels ‘wrong’;  wait and work elsewhere.

Preparation 

Find your working space. An area with a 9 foot (3 metre) diameter of open ground will be more than sufficient. You will  need a lighter or matches. Please make yourself aware of fire safety.

Mark out the North with a stone and an  unlit candle.
Mark out the East with a  feather (or  jos stick) and an unlit  candle.
Mark out the South with an unlit candle and something golden in colour.
Mark  out the West with a small bowl of water and an unlit candle.

Place a candle, a dark bowl of water (ideally dew or spring water collected from your local area) an apple and some fresh acorns in the centre. A small amount of cider, apple juice or mead can be placed in a glass in the centre as well. You will also need a knife, this can be an athame, boline or penknife depending upon how you use your tools.

Circle cast

Begin by standing in the centre of what will be your circle.

Take three deep breaths, feeling your lungs fill completely. Feel yourself centred, calm and ready to begin. Face the East.

Extending your finger (or wand, athame, staff or whatever you choose) hold it against your heart. Move your finger to point outwards and be aware of power moving with it.

Feel the energy flowing out of your finger and move your hand slowly to face the East. See that the energy flows out and pools in the air just beyond the Eastern candle, creating a wall that extends both upwards to a point directly above your head and down wards to a point directly below your feet.

Move clockwise, feeling the energy drawing a spherical curtain around you. As you move say the words below. Keep moving in a clockwise direction (deosil) until you reach East again.

A circle of Joy I wind around me like a cloak,
A sphere of presence and of love,
These walls borne of my own spirit,
weaving a circle of connection,
A circle of power, joy and strength
Shared with the world around me.

Once you have reached the East pull your hand back in towards your chest and  allow yourself to feel the presence of the sphere of your own energy around you.

Walk to the East and say:

Hail to the East, place of dawn and the Spirits of Air!
Spirits of the Mighty Winds and Living Breath!
I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.

Light the Eastern Candle

Move to the South and say:

Hail to the South, place of the midday sun and the Spirits of Fire!
Spirits of the flickering flame and the body’s chemical fires!
I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.

Light the Southern Candle

Walk to the West and say:

Hail to the West, place of dusk and the Spirits of Water!
Spirits of the Falling Rain and the water in  my flesh!
I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.

Light the Western Candle

Walk to the North and say:

Hail to the North, place of Midnight and the Spirits of Earth!
Spirits of the fertile soils, stones and bones!
I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.

Light the Northern Candle

Walk back to the centre of your circle.  Bend and touch the Earth beneath you, then stand and reach up to the heavens.  Lowering your hand and tuning the full  circle where you are say:

Ancestors of my blood, Ancestors of this land and Ancestors of my Tradition I call to you!
Spirits of this Place and of this Time, Those seen and unseen,
Walk with me and guide me in my ways.
I ask that you join me and watch over my  rites

Sit in the centre of the circle and meditate or dwell on what this second wave of harvest has brought you or will bring you. Try to recall all of the changes in the natural world, or the plants and such growing in your local area, that have marked this out as the Autumnal equinox.

Consider  whether or not you have experienced any change as the Equniox arrives. Perhaps your clothes are now heavier and warmer? Perhaps you diet is suddenly more filled with starches and heavier fattier foods? Or perhaps it would be if you gave in to the cravings?

Kneel or stand in front of the items in the centre of the circle now.

Taking the apple, anoint it with dew water, seeing the blessing of the Autumn, of harvests and richness sink in to it.
Hold the apple with the stem towards the sky and cut through it’s centre horizontally.

Look down at the cross cut core of the apple and you will see it is shaped as a star, a pentagram. Note that this gift of the season and Earth displays the five pointed star at it’s centre.

Become aware of the pentagram being a symbol of balance between the four magical elements of Earth, Air Fire and Water, along with the Essence of Spirit.

Place half of the apple on the ground and eat the other half. Focusing on nothing but the taste, texture and pleasure of eating.

Once done, say:

The Earth’s fruits have nourished me with insights and joy,
Half I have imbibed, Half I leave,
A gift to me is a shared gift with All.
May this half be a blessing to another creature of the Earth.

 

Touch the second half off the apple and leave it on the floor.
Pick up the bowl of water and place it on the ground in front of you.
Place the candle behind the bowl and light it.

Say:

I seek now to look for my memories of success and for what is to become.
I seek the knowledge hidden in the Light on the Water.
I ask my Ancestors to show me what joy is yet to be harvested,
to remind me of a task not yet attended to. 

Pause, breathe and look deeply in to the reflective surface, allow your eyes to defocus. Spend some time here and if you are meant to see something you will.
Scrying, as this is, does not come easily for many. Do not rush; take your time.

Reflect on what you see, if, indeed, you see anything.

Once done, step back from the bowl and thank the Ancestors thus:

I offer you my gratitude,
The Light on the Water i now return again to you,
The blessings of a past harvest and a long and fortuitous future life,
I ask for here with this offering of acorns.

Snuff the candle out with wet fingers and drop the acorns in to the bowl of water.

Now take up the cider, apple juice or mead. Walk to the East and pour a little on to the floor, say:

A libation for the start of the year, a spring well raised.

Walk to the South and pour a little on to the floor, say:

A libation for the height of the year, a summer well grown .

Walk to the West and pour a little on to the floor, say:

A libation for the present hour, a harvest well given.

Walk to the North and pour a little on to the floor, say:

A libation for the end of the year, a Winter yet to pass.

Walk back to the centre and pour a little on to the floor, say:

A libation for those gone before and all in attendance.
Blessings upon you
and may your blessings be upon me.

Drink the remaining contents of the cup or bottle.

 

 

 

 

Closing

Facing the North say the following

Spirits of the North and Earth
I thank you for watching over my rite,
I offer blessings and farewell.

Facing the West say the following

Spirits of the West and Water.
I thank you for watching over my rite,
I offer blessings and farewell.

Facing the South say the following

Spirits of the South and Fire
I thank you for watching over my rite,
I offer blessings and farewell.

Facing the East say the following

Spirits of the East and Air.
I thank you for watching over my rite,
I offer blessings and farewell.

Standing in the centre of the circle and turning round say:

Spirits of this Time and Place, This Land and of All my Ancestors
I thank you for watching over my rite,
I offer blessings and farewell,
Walk with me as you will.

Stand in the centre and face East

Reach out with your finger (wand etc)  and see the energy of the circle begin to flow back  in to our body as you turn anticlockwise winding all your energy back in.

Once done say:

This rite is now complete and done, I return  to the apparent World.

Put out the quarter candles.

The water can now be emptied in the West and the acorns gathered up.
These can be planted in pots outside, or in patches of soil on your journeys over the next three days.
As the trees grow, so too should your blessings asked for or seen in the ritual.
Listen to  the  ritual via my podcast  here:

Try: http://traffic.libsyn.com/inspirallingleafsgrove/Mabon_COP__2016.mp3

or: http://inspirallingleafsgrove.libsyn.com/mabon-the-autumnal-equinox-a-circle-of-pagans-ritual

or: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/4676504

 

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Alban Elfed – the Light on the water.

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A few years ago a conversation furnished me with knowledge of a neolithic site on moorland not too far from home, more importantly it told me where exactly it was.

It then took me quite a while to get around to going and seeing it but eventually I did. The Pikestones are a passage grave up on Anglezarke moor, near Chorley and not too far from Rivington Gardens and the magical landscape that it offers.
The site itself sits on the edge of the West Pennine moors and once you’ve found it the eye is drawn out on to the moorland -a few extra steps revealing spongy ground and muddy sheep tracks. The few times I had previously visited I didn’t ventured very far in any direction due to rain and mud and biting flies as much as due to a lack of time.

Recently, though, I had a day off, simply an opportunistic day, booked to elongate a Bank Holiday weekend. On that day I woke with a chilled feeling but  a calling to head up to the Pikestones. As the morning passed the chilled feeling remained and so did the call to visit the stones, with a growing sensation that I would be meeting someone up there.

Now, I’ve mentioned how desolate the place can be and the passage grave itself is neither visible from the road nor very well known about in the local area, so the chance of meeting another up there is rare, the narrow paths being more than frequently hidden under flowering grasses and reeds.

My sensation of being too relaxed to do anything suddenly evaporated and I headed out the door with a sensation that the timing was now right.

However, the thought didn’t go  away and as I prepared to head up towards the reservoir next to the moors I found myself assuming that it might be a friend who I was taking to via social media. However, it turned out that Tara was actually far down south at present so couldn’t come along despite my invitation. As such the mystery continued and I started to doubt that there would be any meeting on the physical plane.

Pulling in to the small car parking space at Jepson’s Gate and grabbing my rucksack I locked the car and hopped over the stile before meandering through the rushes and grasses to the top right corner of the field.

Pikestones; passage grave

 

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Through the passage 

Here, enclosed by a wire fence, is a large  patch of longer grass tinted red and brown. Sharing this space are rushes and flowering heather. Hoping over another stile in to the field I walk the almost hidden path, noticing that the grass is bent in a few places; someone had been here pretty recently.
In the centre of the patch the Pikestones sit, a few left upright, a sunken cairn and a few piles of rocks cover a 45 metre by 18 metre piece of ground. The Standing stones are the remnant of the passage grave.

I walk around the stones, touching a few here and there while greeting the spirit of the place. Suddenly though, my eyes alight upon a walking stick lodged in to a crevice next to a low lying rock. The stick is carved like a snake, with brass tacks for eyes and a small area of damage disfiguring it’s head.
Well… I wondered… is this an offering by the last visitor? A gift to the space?

As I sit and eat my food, placing an apple and a biscuit on the space for the dead to remember the tastes of food, I ponder the history of the site.

From what I’ve read the site once had a double wall around it which curved inwards to form a forecourt of sorts on the easternmost side, with the passage running North to South.. This lead to a double capped fifteen metre long passage grave that was used to house the bones of the dead after the wildlife had striped them of flesh. Sadly the site has been badly damaged in the past and now only one cap stone sits atop the uprights with the other having slipped and other stones are scattered rather than placed. This is the oldest known feature in the local landscape with other sites thought to be Mesolithic or Bronze age.

There’s also a piece of more modern graffiti in the style of a spiral cut in to the stone in one section (now worked over by someone else with a chisel to be very vague). As well as someone’s name on another stone.

Despite this the site still has a potent presence and it must have taken a huge effort to build for the local people of the time.

As I sit pondering, gently heading in to a meditation, the site seems to buzz briefly and i open my eyes and look to the stile I had entered the enclosure by. Sure enough, a man was walking towards me.

‘Right on time,’ I thought.

After a fifty minute, thoroughly enjoyable conversation,  I find out that Alan is has been retired for  little more than a year and that the walking stick was his. He’d left it that morning while on a rare visit to the site with his Granddaughter and had come back to collect it.
He was surprised to see anyone up here, let alone to fall in to conversation so readily. Alan, it turns out, is a gold mine of information, mainly on Egypt and temples but also many other thing.
While talking Alan directs me to Round loaf Cairn not too far away and we also discuss the chances of other ancient sites on the moss and the curious shape of Rivington in the distance. He recall a memory of other cairns in the area, that were more stone and less grass when he as a lad.

After a drink on my part and a cigarette on his, Alan gathers up his stick and we head our separate ways. A fortuitous meeting indeed.

Encouraged by Alan’s words I decide to head towards Round Loaf cairn… but that’s coming in the next blog post along with some other ancient oddities that were found.

 

 

 

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On 27th August,  I had the great pleasure of leading a walk and talk around Sefton Park, Liverpool.
I’ve only visited the park once before and even then only for a couple of hours, but in discussion with Moot Lord Brian (I was right… he’s too humble to like the name Moot Chief, so I thought I’d step it up one), we agreed that it was a nicely central and easily accessible location.

Sefton Park contains 235 acres  of land that is devoted to trees, football pitches and even an old palm house that just screams it’s heritage as you walk past it.

Rather than recount the full five-ish hour walk, not including eating time,  I thought I’d mention a couple of the more unusual  finds in the park.

As we walked, we talked about the folklore and uses of some of the more commonly found plants; from yew, to juniper, to oak and sycamore and beech and beyond.

Yew of course is more than a little toxic and it’s botanical name, Taxus, even gives us the origins of the word ‘Toxic’. Taxus itself coming form the old Greek work ‘Taxa’ meaning bow. As we know, arrows and bows combine to make a deadly tool.

We also saw a nice array of other plants that would of you a good deal of harm  as we walked, but in this blog post I hope only to draw your attention to two types of trees and two types of gall.

Let’s start with the Galls.

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A Turkey Oak acorn, Quercus cerris.

Galls are distorted growths on a tree and I’ll do a more in depth blog about them in the future. Some, such as Maple blister galls, are caused by mites feeding on the leaves, but some of the most impressive ones are made by species of wasp.

Some of these wasps are tiny, while others are around the size of a housefly as an adult, but they are not the sugar loving and super stingy hornet like wasp that many fear.

On several Quercus robur, the English Oak, we spotted a number of Knopper galls. The wasp which causes Knopper galls has an interesting life cycle with female wasps laying eggs that house male grubs on the Turkey Oak, Quercus cerris, in the spring and a sexually reproductive part of the cycle involving the English Oak.

Like several wasp and be species, unfertilised eggs hatch in to male offspring.

These hatch and then make small galls on the Turkey Oak buds before mating with female wasps which lay their eggs almost exclusively on the English Oak’s developing acorns.

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Quercus robur, English Oak, with a Knopper gall acorn

 

These acorns are then distorted, and  often rendered infertile by the developing galls. Inside each of the galls is  developing wasp grub which feeds off the flesh on the inside of the gall.  The shape and form of the galls can vary massively.

Interestingly, although Turkey Oak was introduced in to the UK In 1735,  Andricus quercuscalicis, the wasp responsible, only arrived in the 196os. The wasp requires the presence of both oak species before it can complete it’s life cycle.

Sadly, some English oaks are so over stocked by these funky galls that they don’t produce any fertile acorns in some years.

As an observation on my part, Turkey Oak seems to be out competing our native oaks as young saplings, as well as naturalising in to areas of previously industrial  land with a greater readiness than our natives. It wouldn’t surprise me if climate change is lending a hand to the Turkey oak and it may well become a dominant tree in the landscape in years to come.

 

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Gouty / horned gall

The second gall is either a horned Gall, with few horns or a Gouty Gall with a couple of horns – both again caused by wasps and in this instance growing at the junctions of twigs on a Turkey Oak and spotted by the keen eyed Druid known as, Badger.

I’ve certainly not seen many of these in the past, but they are fascinating ( the galls as well as the Badger named Druids).

And now on to two trees.

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The first tree is the Metasequoia glyptostroboides, The Dawn Redwood. This Chinese native was only known in fossil records at least 1.5 million years old until a living one as found.

The fossil record trees were spotted in 1941 and were named as Metasequoia, meaning ‘like sequoia’, with no known specimens in the word, until in 1943 Zhan Wang, a Chinese forester found a huge tree as pat of the local peoples shrine in what is now Moudao, Lichuan county. This huge tree was propagated and can now be found with it’s beautiful trunk and burnt caramel scented foliage all over the world, although it’s still rare.

There are at least two of these in the park, but this one has a gloriously characterful trunk.

It’s closest relatives are the Swamp and Giant redwoods of North America.

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The final highlight for me was encountering Staphlea pinnata, the European Bladdernut.  This multi-stemmed shrubby plant has beautiful pea like flowers and is a distant relation of the pea.
These flowers become air filled bladder like pods which each bear several small seeds. Seeds which look like popcorn that hasn’t fully popped but taste like pistachio mixed with fresh pea shoots.

Delightful. Obviously I gathered some seeds to sow, but the require a long period of heat and then cold and even then can be erratic to germinate. So … next time I’m in the park I’ll take a few cuttings as they root readily according to my research. These might well be guerrilla planted.

This species is apparently native to Europe, but not frequently seen. I at first, incorrectly, assumed it was the American Bladdernut.

I had seen these bladder bearing plants in a Permaculture book many years ago, but this was the first time I had seen them in the flesh… well, at least fruiting. It turns out that I had seen it’s close relative Staphlyea bumalda  in flower when over in Ireland earlier in the year.

The Staphylea genus only has 11 species in it, so I can excuse myself for getting them muddled up a little.