Imbolc is a Gaelic festival marking the promise of spring. It is a celebration of the lengthening days and occurs halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It corresponds to the Welsh ‘Mary’s Festival of the Candles’ and the Christian feast days of Saint Brigid and Candlemas.
The word Imbolc probably comes from the Old Irish Imbolc meaning ‘in the belly’ which refers to the pregnancy of ewes – as at this time of year we see new born lambs along with snowdrops and early spring bulbs.
Purification was an important part of Imbolc – with spring cleaning – and lighting of candles and fires – representing the return of warmth and the increasing power of the sun. People would visit holy wells and ask for good health whilst walking in a deosil (Gaelic sun-wise) direction around the well.
The snowdrops are out and the frogs are hopping around the pond looking for mates, primroses are in bud and daffodils are peeping tantalising flashes of yellow ready to blossom into sunshine flowers. Then, just when you think Spring is finally on the way, the #BeastfromtheEast arrives and we’re in the middle of a snowstorm again. Only in England!
But it won’t be long before the primroses are out in profusion and daffodils and tulips will be swaying gently in the breeze. The birds are already dressed in their Spring colours and singing their Spring songs joining in the dawn chorus – and they know that the snow will soon be gone.
The hens don’t mind the snow, they are always eager to rush out into the fresh air and scratch around outside. The Spice Girls (our ex-battery hens – see previous post) have settled in and have become part of the family – at least two of them have – one didn’t survive the move and another managed to get lost somewhere – but Ginger and Meg (Nutmeg) now rush out to greet me every morning. They seem to be so grateful now they have settled into a ‘normal’ lifestyle. They still haven’t got many feathers (I tell them they will freeze in this snow but they take no notice) but their feathers should grow back eventually. They still don’t perch at night – they settle down in one of the nest boxes whilst the other hens roost in the rafters. But apart from that, they act like ordinary chickens and are part of Dillon’s flock (he’s the cockerel and definitely rules the roost).
When it’s cold and snowy the wild birds seem so grateful for the food on the bird table. I always thaw the water in the birdbath if it’s frozen and put extra food out. I watch them for hours – the long-tailed tits arrive all of a flutter, twittering to each other, the tiny wren, and of course the robin, showing off his best red waistcoat. We’ve seen lots of different birds this winter – even a bullfinch graced us with his presence for a few days.
Published in the March edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
From the Country Wisdom and Folklore Diary www.talkingtreesbooks.co.uk
I found inspiration for this website from a diary I was given at a social enterprise networking meeting held in Atcham village hall. When visiting Avebury earlier this year, I was delighted to find a 2017 version in the Avebury village shop and was very pleased to be able to buy it – and give something back – for the motivation to start my own website – and for help with ideas for the content.
I have always been interested in our Pagan beginnings, ancient traditions and folklore, the Druids, ancient stone circles and ley lines connecting earth energies. In these times of fast paced living and the stresses and strains of modern day life, these diaries are full of calming ideas connecting us back to nature, recognising the beauty of trees and plants and the rituals our ancestors shared celebrating country traditions and the phases of the sun and moon.
There are some wonderful illustrations in the diaries – like the one above.
Mitchell’s Fold in South Shropshire is a Bronze Age stone circle dating back to 2000 BC (making it older than Stonehenge) and it lies on one of the mystical ley lines.
We still do not fully understand why stone circles were built, but it is clear that they were ritually important for prehistoric people. Most of them have precisely aligned stones marking important lunar and solar events which became festival days like Beltane and Midsummer.
Neither do we understand ley lines – they are thought to be invisible alignments of mystical or magnetic energy areas in the Bronze and Iron Ages connecting sites like stone circles, standing stones, holy wells, hill tops and cairns. They were forgotten in modern times but the networks of leys were accidentally preserved because many medieval churches were built on top of pagan sites.
There is also a suggestion that there is a connection between ancient sites on ley lines and extra-terrestrial craft which use them as a point of navigation – or to refuel by tapping into the energy. Mitchell’s Fold is a location of high UFO activity with several sightings of discs and triangles over the years.
Whatever you believe, I have always had a strange feeling that ancient stones hold supernatural powers and I have to touch them to reach out to this energy. When we visited Avebury I touched each of the stones – after all – they must have been touched by generations of people over the last two thousand years and those people must have left something of themselves in these special places all those years ago.
It was a beautiful Spring day and a lovely walk along the lane and across the heath to the stone circle; we counted the stones (we could only find 14) and then stood in the centre of the circle and admired the views east across Shropshire and west over Powys into Wales.
As with many of these prehistoric sites, local folklore has a story to tell: Once upon a time there was a great famine and a fairy gave the people of Mitchell’s Fold a magic cow – that would fill any container with milk. One night an evil witch milked the cow into a sieve. Once the cow realised the trick she disappeared, the witch was turned to stone and a circle of stones set around her so that she could not escape.
Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle is now an English Heritage site. There is also a Bronze Age axe factory nearby at Cwm Mawr, where distinctive axe-hammers were made from a rock type known as picrite which is found on a small hill just to the north-west of Hyssington.
New Zealand White Rabbits – Holly’s litter at 3 weeks old
Both Holly and Eeny had litters this month – six babies each – and they are now 3 weeks old and hopping around their pens. It will be another 3 weeks before they are weaned and Mum can have a break. They will be ready for new homes when they are 10 weeks old – after 6th June. Won’t be able to tell what sex they are until then.
Now they are old enough to be picked up and cuddled – they are so cute – this is the best part about breeding rabbits.
There’s such a variety of spring plants – celandines, primroses, daffodils, hyacinths – and crocuses. I planted these bulbs about 9 years ago and the flowers have grown bigger every year. During the first year of home education, one of our days out was to Bridgemere Garden Centre and Kirt helped to choose a selection of bulbs for the garden – so every year, when these crocuses appear, they remind me of that day and happy memories of sharing life home educating.
Broad beans are very easy to grow but, for early beans, it’s always a good idea to start some off inside. My aunt advised me to get a big pot full of compost and push in as many bean seeds as possible and, as soon as they come up, you can plant them outside. These are ready for planting now, so I start the row with these then plant some seeds directly into the ground for the rest of the row. That way you get some early broad beans and some continuity. You can do the same with runner beans, French beans and peas. Peas are especially good planted this way because the pigeons don’t get a chance to eat them before they sprout!
Coltsfoot – it’s name comes from the hoof-shaped leaves.
Every spring, as soon as the daffodils start to come out, I start to look for coltsfoot flowers – then suddenly one morning, there they are, little yellow stars, dots of sunshine, decorating the path – the stems seem quite invisible until the flowers come out.
Like Butterbur, the flowers appear before the leaves. In fact, Pliny and many of the older botanists thought that the Coltsfoot plant grew without leaves. Rabbits like coltsfoot leaves but they will have to wait awhile for the foliage to appear.
Coltsfoot is a well-known herbal remedy for irritating coughs and respiratory disorders and Coltsfoot tea sweetened with honey will help soothe a dry cough.
The leaves were formerly smoked to relieve coughing and are even today included in herbal tobacco.
The seeds are crowned with a tuft of silky hairs which goldfinches like for lining their nests.
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury on 12th February, 1809 – if he visited his childhood town today I wonder what he would remember from his boyhood in Shrewsbury. The river still meanders under English Bridge to the East and Welsh Bridge to the West and The Market Hall still stands in the Square, but he might be quaintly surprised that the Darwin Centre is a shopping centre and the museum is in the Music Hall – very confusing to any visitors to the town.
He might also be very interested in a unique outdoor photographic exhibition that has just arrived in Shrewsbury honouring his birthday and International Darwin Day and also commemorating the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos – a co-operative of photographers formed in 1947. Noted for its diverse work chronicling world events and personalities, Magnum provides a living archive of people, places and discoveries reflecting our built environment, society and history that have shaped the world we live in today.
The exhibition was opened by Mike Matthews, Chairman of Shrewsbury BID with a very eloquent speech describing the range of photographs depicting a complex world of beauty, conflict, sadness, wonder, exploration, compassion and discovery and the emotions invoked by gazing at the images.
David Hurn, one of Magnums most celebrated photographers, also spoke at the opening ceremony in St. Mary’s Church, saying how important photography is – in whatever format – and how much he hoped that the exhibition would reach out to young people and encourage their creative talents.
The photographs are displayed in two locations in the town – outside St. Mary’s Church and in The Square and are brought to Shrewsbury thanks to The Shrewsbury BID and The Hive. Shrewsbury Business Improvement District represents over 500 businesses in the town and has been tasked with destination marketing – putting Shrewsbury on the tourist map. The Hive is a creative hub celebrating arts culture and creativity and providing funded creative projects for young people.
This exhibition is certainly unique – and definitely worth a visit – have a day out in Shrewsbury – you can get the train from Whitchurch or Wem, visit the exhibition, have lunch at one of the amazing cafes in the town, enjoy a stroll along the river and pause on Welsh bridge for a moment to think about how life has changed – and how much we have learned – since Darwin was a boy.
Time for planting onion sets and chitting potatoes.
Onion sets are basically partly grown onions – but most gardeners find them so much easier and quicker to grow that they buy these tiny onion bulbs, plant them in February – or as soon as the ground is workable – and by June they have usually grown into good size onions ready to eat.
Egg trays are ideal for storing onions until you are ready to plant them – and also for ‘chitting’ potatoes – this means putting them in a light, frost free place rose end upwards so they can begin to sprout while you wait for the right time for planting.
No-one ever really explained to me what the ‘rose end’ of a potato was but I have eventually discovered that it’s the opposite end to the ‘stalk’ end – where the potato was attached to the mother plant. So one end will have one mark with sometimes a tiny bit of stalk attached –and the other end with several marks where the new sprouts (chits) will grow from. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to tell the difference – but if you put them out in trays, they will begin to sprout –and you can soon see whether you have put them the right way up!