Flashback Friday: Beltane at ‘The Stonehenge of the North’

Festivals, North Yorkshire

We’re less than a week into the month of May. Let’s mark the arrival of this lovely month by celebrating Beltane.

BELTANE AT THE ‘STONEHENGE OF THE NORTH’

May 1st 2016

Not much further than a mile from us as the crow flies, lies Thornborough Henge. It’s a prehistoric monument consisting of three giant circular earthworks. Constructed 5000 years ago by the first Neolithic (New Stone Age) farmers, it was probably an enclosure for their ritual gatherings. The Henge became an important centre in Britain for pilgrimage and trade, although its exact purpose still remains a mystery.

It sends shivers down my spine to think that this ancient piece of our history lies just a short walk from our home.

An ariel view of Thornborough Henges (photo courtesy of Historic England)

We can visit it any time we choose, simply to tramp round and try to imagine it in its heyday, and we’ll have the place to ourselves.  Not on May Day though.  Today is the Gaelic feast of Beltane, half way between the spring and summer solstices.  It’s a day to mark the beginning of summer. Sadly, today is very cold, rather windy and a bit wet.

Back in pre-historic times, rituals were held on this day to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Bonfires, deemed to have protective powers, were lit.  For many centuries these practices died out.  But nowadays, at sites like Thornborough, pagans, Wiccans, New-Agers and lovers of history and tradition gather once more to celebrate the renewal of life and growth.

Today I was there too.  For an hour at least, for the opening ceremony. Brrr!  It was cold.

The Green Man and his horn.

I was strangely moved.  The Green Man, representing rebirth and the cycle of growth was our Master of Ceremonies.  He invited us all to join hands, whether friends or strangers, in fellowship, and shout out three times the invocation to new life. We hailed Brigantia, Celtic goddess of Northern England.  Then at his bidding and as he sounded his horn, we turned to the east and welcomed the summer rains.  We turned south to welcome the sun (who was coyly absent today), to the west to welcome summer winds, and to the north where the wolves apparently are.

Welcoming the West Wind.

Then a man, naked from the waist upwards save for his covering of woad-coloured paint, leapt among us bearing the flaming torches which would offer us all protection over the coming months.

Protective flames.

And that was the ceremony over.  Dancers entertained us.  They seemed to me to owe much to flamenco and to middle-eastern belly dancing traditions, but we all cheered them on with enthusiasm.

I shan’t be there this year for the closing ceremony.  I’m still thawing out.  But weather permitting, I’ll certainly go along next year.  Will you come along too?

I’m sorry to say I’ve not been since. I would have gone this year, but … cancelled … Covid.

Fandango’s Flashback Friday

Cavalcada de Reis

Barcelona, Festivals, Spain

It’s 5th January. Tonight, one of the three kings (Balthazar? Melchior? Caspar? You can choose) will steal into your house and deliver you presents, as once they did to the infant Jesus. That’s if you live in the Spanish speaking world of course. Before that though, they – or their stand-ins – parade through the streets of every city and town they can find. There’s an eruption of lights, gaiety, colour, as the three kings and a cast of musicians, dancers, and hangers on of every kind process slowly through the streets. Joy and delight is uppermost, whether you attend the no-expense spared slickly presented civic offering, as we did in Barcelona in 2018 and 2019, or enjoy a more low-key event put together by your local community as we did in 2020.

These are not the best photos you’ll ever see of the Cavalcadas, But they might give you a small taste of this upbeat, family focused event. Which sadly, this year, will not be taking place. Of course.

Square Up

All kinds of pumpkin

Ariège, Festivals, Food & Cooking, France

It’s Hallowe’en today. Time to carve those pumpkins into frightening faces, and then tomorrow … throw them away. What a pity. Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes, they’re good to eat, and it’s a shame you rarely see anything but the good old bog-standard Jack o’ Lantern here. They can be large, small, yellow, red, orange, green, even bluish or black, and on mainland Europe they’re much more appreciated.

Enjoy the pumpkins on display, many of them from Le Jardin Extraordinaire in Lieurac , near where we lived in France. And then have a go at the comforting recipe I offer here because you don’t really want to scare the neighbours with an evil orange face peering out of your front window do you?

#Kinda Square. Today is the final square in Becky’s month long squares project. Thank you Becky, and thank you fellow squarers. It’s been fun. I’ve met kindness, had my interest kindled and met – virtually of course – many bloggers-of-a-kind.

Christmas? Not yet, but …

Festivals, Food & Cooking

I decline to have anything to do with Christmas before December 1st at the earliest. I close my eyes to Christmas decorations in the streets, and scuttle out of any shops belting out Christmas musak. A three month long celebration ain’t our kind of Christmas at all.

There are just two exceptions. Christmas pudding has to be made on Stir Up Sunday. And since I was a small girl, October half term has been the time to make the Christmas cake. That way, it’s got time to sit and mature, have all those rich flavours get acquainted, and wait for us to feed it with frequent tablespoonsful of hooch. We made the cakes last Saturday – one for each family in the family – and today I’ve got them out again to pour a little whisky on the already sozzled cakes.

That’s the beginning of our kind of Christmas.

#

#Kinda Square Be sure to read Becky’s post. She has some fine suggestions to make today a better day for you, and for others.

Le Cami des Encantats Revisited

Ariège, Blogging challenges, Festivals, Heritage, Patrimoine, Pyrénées

It’s that time of the month when I re-visit a blog post written during our years in France.  I’ve chosen this one because of the perspective it offers on rural life there,  a hundred or more years ago.  Because France – certainly where we were in the foothills of the Pyrenees – had no Industrial  Revolution, country life continued more or less unchanged for many until villages devastatingly lost their menfolk during the First World War.

Country life is country life, and some of these occupations would seem familiar to our own grandparents.  Others less so.  Have a look and see.

Le Cami des Encantats

July 26th 2012

Today we visited Benac, one of those  small and almost picture-postcard-pretty  villages outside Foix.  I think it’s unlikely that too many horny-handed sons and daughters of toil live there these days.  Too many freshly painted facades and cheery boxes of geraniums at the windows. Too many sleek and highly-polished cars.

But once upon a time it was a busy working community. For the last few years, every summer the villagers here and in nearby hamlets arrange carefully constructed and dressed figures into appropriate corners of both village and countryside.  These figures celebrate the way of life that persisted here – and throughout France – for centuries, and only died out some time after the First World War.  They call the route you follow to hunt out all these scenes Le Cami des Encantats: Occitan for something like ‘the Enchanted Path’.  Come with me and take a look. Click on any image for a closer look and a caption.

Square Perspectives

The Day the Kings Came

Barcelona, Blogging challenges, Catalonia, Festivals

Finally, those kings came. A day of bright delight shared with Miquel’s wider family: feasting, talking, laughing, sharing, and exchanging presents as ‘invisible friends’ – that’s Spanish for ‘secret Santa’.

This photo of my daughter’s reaction to her gift may not be filled with yellow light. But it expresses completely the brightness of heart of a day when Malcolm and I, for all our language limitations, once again felt accepted into the heart of this joyous Spanish family.

January Squares: January Light

Cavalcada de Reis: the Kings are Coming!

Barcelona, Catalonia, Festivals

Tomorrow, the Three Kings who once visited the infant Jesus will be busy delivering gifts to children all over Spain.

Tonight, they are in exhuberant and joyful processions in just about every community in the land. We’ve been to Barcelona’s spectacularly impressive city offering for several years. But those crowds …

Awaiting the local procession

This year, we decided Small is Beautiful. We went to the small community event covering just a handful of streets round Emily and Miquel’s flat. It was cosy, homespun, atmospheric and fun.

Drummers escorted the kings, dancers too. We worried that Emily’s community wouldn’t be able to deliver King Balthasar, traditionally black. But Queen Balthasar stepped up. There were fire-eaters accompanying a Heath Robinson contraption belching smoke.

And sweets for anybody who could catch them as eager elves and helpers chucked them from the floats. Even we caught some, before wandering off home, relaxed and cheerful.

A ‘So British’ Christmas in Lavelanet

Ariège, Blogging challenges, Festivals

It’s time for a visit to my French archive once more – any excuse to get out of post-election UK.  Come and enjoy a traditional British Christmas, as explained to the residents of the small town next to ours when we lived in France.

December 6th, 2011 

A ‘So British’ Christmas in Lavelanet

A British living room comes to Lavelanet library.A good old-fashioned English Christmas has come early to Lavelanet.  To the library (oops, mediathèque) to be exact.  The librarian there enjoys children’s literature, and is a bit of an Anglophile.  So she’s mounting a small festival of English Children’s literature featuring everyone from John Burningham and Quentin Blake to – of course – Charles Dickens and Beatrix Potter.

What a disappointment I am to her.  I can’t produce a pretty tea set awash with rosebuds, and she can’t believe I really don’t like tea very much: and that when I do drink it, I decline to add milk.

She’s wheeled in Découverte des Terres Lointaines to help with all the activities for schools, retirement homes, and the general public.  And DTL have wheeled me in as Consultant on All Matters English. Together we’ve chosen recipes and we’re baking biscuits and cakes and we’ve planned craft activities round, for instance, our ‘so British’ Christmas cards.  But said cards must contain no bible-story references.  No stables, cribs, angels or Three Wise Men. French schools are strictly laïque – secular – and our friends were astonished to learn that even the mantelpieces of committed atheists are likely to feature Christmas cards from friends, showing church stained glass windows or the Star of Bethlehem.

From tomorrow, I’ll be reading stories in English, helping pull crackers (an unknown treat), and unpacking – many times – a stocking which dear old Father Christmas has delivered to me early.

A satisfyingly bulging stocking.

My other job is to correct the misapprehensions learnt from French websites and children’s books about England. Who knew that the English enjoy tucking in to a huge plate of oysters at the beginning of Christmas dinner? Or that all British schoolchildren have a free bottle of milk every morning?  Margaret Thatcher abolished that back in the early 70’s.  And Sylvia misunderstood me, and thought we served stewed cherries, not sherry sauce, with our Christmas pudding (cherries – sherry: easy to confuse when you speak no English).  And so on.

But it’s been fun transforming the community room in the library into an impossibly cosy snug, full of Christmas cheer.  Let’s see what ‘le tout public’ think, when we open the doors tomorrow.

Six Word Saturday.