The Land of Dragons

Last week I was in the Land of Dragons, otherwise known as Wales, for a family holiday. I hadn’t made the connection before going, despite having briefly visited Wales in early June, but then it has been a few years since my last proper visit and nationalism seems to have grown in recent years with Welsh flags on display most places we went. So to see a lot of dragons in a country for which they are a national symbol of pride shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, this went a step further, starting before I even left home.

The day before going, I was having trouble in my meditation with a lack of concentration for various reasons. I persevered, and then suddenly a small fire dragon bounded in. I haven’t met any dragon like this one before, dark orange, flames everywhere, very small (only waist high and four foot wingspan) and behaving like a small puppy bouncing about, chasing its tail, and utterly full of life. We agreed I could call him Fireball. Exactly what I needed personally at that moment.

He then said it was good to see me again!!! Apparently I have known fire dragons before, although this is definitely the first time I have seen one in this lifetime. Meanwhile, I was told he would be coming on holiday with us, and was really looking forwards to it. Fireball looks a little like a Welsh dragon, but there are some differences; he is more like the colour of ripe Rowan berries and his wings are smaller in proportion.

Glass Dragon

So day one, we set off heading for the far side of Wales, and the first place we stopped was a craft shop I have been past many times in canoeing days when it was closed – known as the Glassblobbery. As an occasional glass artist I was intrigued. So in I went, and was confronted with a glass dragon. And another, and tens if not hundreds of them in the shop, amongst various other glass animals and flowers. And the demonstration the man was about to do was a dragon. I found this delightful little chap there. (He is actually a pale blue-green colour.)

Day two, Dinas Emrys seemed to be the place we had to go to. Despite visiting Beddgelert many times in the past, I hadn’t been there – and it seemed a good size for M’s first Welsh hill. And of course it is entirely bound up with the legends of dragons.

Dinas Emrys as seen from above Sygyn Copper Mine. It is the small hill on bottom right.

Dinas Emrys – waterfall that is passed on the way.

The first part of the legend comes from The Mabinogi(on), a collection of ancient Welsh tales written down in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. After Beli Mawr died, his eldest son Lludd became king. He was wise and generous, but after many years of peace he was hit by three curses – gossip, shrieks on Beltane that terrified the people and withered everything, and vanishing of food that was stored, turning the country into a wasteland. Luckily his younger brother Llyfelys, now king of France thanks to marriage, knew the remedies to the curses. While the first was caused by the race of Coranians, who Llyfelys had the way of removing from the land, and the third was caused by a giant who became loyal to Lludd after being beaten by him in a fight, the second was caused by two dragons residing in the centre of his land who each year fought for supremacy. One was their own dragon, the other that of a foreign race, trying to overcome it, causing the native dragon to cry out. The centre was traced to Oxford, where they found a stone circle and a murky lake. Placing a cauldron filled with mead next to the lake, covering it with a cloth and disguising it with the mud, Lludd then placed wax in his ears and retreated to the stone circle for safety. As it grew dark, he felt an awesome shudder from the earth and knew the screams had begun. From the lake, two serpents, one red, one white, rose up from the deep, water dripping off their scales. The battle continued as they shape shifted many times until they resumed their true forms, fire and ice breathing dragons. Up in the air they fought, snapping and snarling, until finally exhausted they transformed into two piglets and fell back to earth, through the cloth and into the cauldron. There they drank the mead and fell into a deep sleep. Lludd quickly put each piglet into a stone jar, placed them on his cart and drove non-stop to the most secure part of his kingdom, Eryri (the mountains of Snowdonia). Finally he came to a hill called Dinas Ffaron Dandde (Hill of the Fiery Pharoah), just below the highest mountain of all, Yr Wyddfa. There in the hollow summit he found a pool, into which he hurled the two stone jars with all his strength. As they splashed into the water, the lake was swallowed by the hill, now renamed Dinas Emrys, leaving nothing but grass and stones.

Dinas Emrys, slow growing woodland and optical illusion of a tree ‘gateway’.

A little later in history, after the Romans left, King Constantine had two sons, Ambrosius and Uther. Unfortunately he also had a ‘Prime Minister’ Vortigern who coveted the crown, and who arranged Constantine’s death by a band of Picts. (Constantine’s young sons where whisked off to Brittany for safety.) Vortigern then invited the Saxons to get rid of the Picts – and gave them Kent in return, which worked fine until the Saxons wanted to take over Vortigern’s land as well. Barely escaping from a ‘parley’ with his life when the Saxons drew knives, Vortigern fled to Dinas Emrys and attempted to build a fortress there. However, while his men worked hard at the building work each day, every night their efforts were undone and they had to start all over again. In frustration, Vortigern consulted his wise men, who said he must find a ‘fatherless boy’ and sacrifice him over the hill to appease the spirits. The child found was Myrddin Emrys, whose mother had apparently become pregnant by an incubus spirit, so was still a virgin and the boy was baptised to remove the spirit from influencing him. However it seems most likely his mother was a priestess of the ‘old faith’ and took part in a pagan Great Rite with a masked stranger intended to create a child of destiny who would become a teacher and saviour of his age – and then adopted the Christian story as times changed. The child, later known as Merlin, escaped from his captors and persuaded the men to dig into the hill – where they found a lake as he predicted. Then he said in the pool there were two stone jars, each of which contained a sleeping dragon. These were found, the dragons were released and fought, the red dragon killing the white dragon, and peace was allowed to return. Vortigern’s castle was then completed and named Dinas Emrys in honour of Myrddin Emrys, (yes the second time it was apparently renamed Emrys; there is a suggestion it was actually Emyr meaning Emperor, Lord or King, possibly relating to the Emyr Llydaw, which was the Welsh name for Brittany but I digress) and the red dragon has been celebrated in Wales ever since. Meanwhile the young Merlin gave a prophecy and a warning about the Saxons, and Vortigern took his advice to flee for his life. Ambrosius and Uther had now come of age, returned from Brittany, and hunted Vortigern until he jumped off a cliff to his death.

Dinas Emrys and the rock remains. There is also some natural rock to walk up just above this.

Dinas Emrys was a gathering place for tribes in North Wales for at least 1500 years. Whenever danger threatened, they retreated to this heartland to take council with each other; I have seen it suggested it was an Omphalos, or Sacred Centre. The Slovenian artist and Earth healer Marko Pogacnik would probably call it part of a ‘nature temple’, somewhere that acts as a focal point for all the elemental kingdoms and has a far reaching energetic influence on the surrounding lands. Part, because it is also feels connected to Llyn Dinas in one direction, and the confluence of the Glaslyn and Colwyn rivers at Beddgelert in the other.

It is quite a special hill to walk up, with three ‘gateways’: first a water crossing (stepping stones optional, there is a stone bridge), then a tree gap and then a narrow rock gap that was once part of a Norman fort to the hill above. There is also a rather fine, carved, wooden dragon bench we found on the return route.

Pewter Dragon

Day three: after the first two days, I was excited to find out what the dragon connection would be next. It was wet, so we headed to Llanberis – where I found this tiny fella made of pewter.

Day four brought a totally unexpected connection – I met Fireball by a very fine Rowan tree when coming down a mountain path. (Since I have more to say on rowan trees, I’ll continue this story next time.)

Table Dragon

Day five saw red dragons following us along the Welsh Highland Railway, where they have a really beautiful symbol on the end of their station benches – everywhere except at Porthmadog that is, so I wasn’t expecting to see it (and didn’t get a photograph – it was raining at some of the other stations.) Some of the carriage tables also have a nicely drawn dragon next to a map of the line.

Day six was all about fabric dragons, in a wonderful exhibition of Josie Russell’s framed fabric pictures and in 3D toy dragons. Fireball suggested (or I interpreted) before I left I could look for a soft toy dragon and he would like that, but when it came to it none were accepted by the family for various reasons. So I have another sewing project, to create one that is ‘right’. So far, however, it is proving hard to visualise what it should look like as Fireball never sits still! Watch this space…

Finally day seven and eight both saw rather fine metal dragon sculptures, both painted red and both totally unique.

On my return I asked Fireball for some more details about some of these, included here, and then was told he would meet me on Dragon Hill in a week or so’s time. I can’t think where Dragon Hill is at the moment, but I’m looking forward to it already.

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Stone Circles – Nine Stones Close

Nine Stones Close circle as seen from the top of Robin Hood’s Stride, showing how it fits into the surrounding countryside. The circle probably had one extra stone to the right of the four remaining, but may have extended left as far as the oak tree. (All photos can be clicked on to enlarge.)

This is a circle I have visited previously, as it is almost impossible to miss if you are in the area. The four remaining stones are apparently the tallest in Derbyshire, all well over six foot. I do not know why it is called Nine Stones Close, as there are not and probably never have been exactly nine stones. Drawings exist from the mid and late nineteenth century showing 7 and 6 stones respectively, and estimates of the original number seem to be 11 or even 13, which makes sense on the ground; I felt it larger than 9. There are suggestions it may have actually been called Noon or Moon Stones Close, since the moon sets over Robin Hood’s Stride, a major rock feature in the area. (Robin Hood in this instance is another name for the Green man, the old God of fertility.) The circle is also known as the Grey Ladies, who were dancing until turned to stone when Robin Hood p****d on them from the stride… a very familiar story of dancers being turned to stone although the addition of a giant standing on the rock outcrop makes it slightly more local.

Two northern stones of Nine Stones Close circle, the further one showing the remains of a cup on top.

Each stone has its own character, all quite different in looks if not in size. Two originally had a cup in the top to catch rainwater, although these have both weathered a channel so that they now leak. There is one with a ‘smile’ again, although my imagination may be working overtime here. They are all of local gritstone and probably did not travel very far – there are some pretty large boulders scattered about the area only a couple of fields away, in addition to the taller outcrop of the Stride.

As a circle however, it is broken. The position where a stone once stood between the two pairs can be felt, as can the next stone around the circle in each direction, but then it fades out for me. So sitting there, I did not get strong positive feelings and circling energies that I get from sitting in a completed circle. It is also a fairly windswept site, with little intimacy, and the surrounding countryside kept drawing me out of the circle, rather than focusing my energies within. After a few minutes of getting nowhere, I decided to continue on my walk.

The four remaining stones of Nine Stones Close circle in Derbyshire.

A few days later I returned to the circle in a journey. Again, the circle felt broken and my first feelings were of frustration and disappointment that I didn’t seem to be able to connect with it or learn anything more. However I was then shown a way of ‘mending’ the circle by placing quartz points where stones should be, pointing along the energy lines I could feel, and amplifying what was there. I did this and continued placing quartz points until the circle was complete. Suddenly it felt far more worthwhile, although the energy was still very low. Then I remembered how the name might have been Moon Stones, and ‘fast forwarded’ to night time and a full moon.

Nine Stones Close stone pointing towards Robin Hood’s Stride to the South.

At this point the circle and surrounding area came alive. I became aware of literally hundreds of people there, mostly wearing dark clothing, standing outside and behind the circle to watch the rising of the full moon in silence. Out of respect most did not enter the circle, although there was one man, possibly a priest officiating in a lighter coloured cloak, who remained within it and at times others entered for healing while the moon shone on the circle. My focus was poor and I did not stay long, but I had other impressions of other times of year when the moon was not in quite the right place or quite full when smaller groups of people or individuals would come and benefit from ‘moon power’. I interpreted this as healing, divination or intuition. This may all be my imagination working overtime, or there may be something in this, I have no way of telling. I did however feel this circle, once mended, as very different from those I have previously written about and far more ceremonial than small ‘family’ circles as I now think of the last one I visited.

John Barnatt in his book ‘Stone Circles of the Peak’ suggests that tall stones were used for this circle so that they could be seen over the trees in what was a relatively lowland, wooded area – in fact the lowest of all Peak District stone circles. There may be something in this as nearby I had read of and seen a few pictures of a circle known as ‘Dudwood’, so after visiting Nine Stones Close circle I made an attempt to find it. Looking for stones through trees is surprisingly challenging! Shadows and stumps catch your attention, but stones do a good job of hiding. I found various stones, but failed to find any arranged in a circle.

The three references I rechecked afterwards (a 6-figure grid reference, and two Lat/Long positions) were to three different spots, none of which are exactly correct. (I know that because I had looked in two of the three places, and the third was too steep and wooded.) From the photos I think I now know where to look (not in the woods!) so may try again one day, but as it is most likely a ‘hut circle’ remains and not built for the stones themselves, it is a little low on my priority list.

Wood-sorrel, Oxalis acetosella

However I had a really special experience in the woodland by my looking. (A path runs along the outside of the wood, on the edge of Access Land.) My namesake Wood-sorrel carpeted the floor, the last of the bluebells were now faded but still good, and I found some very beautiful mossy rocks. So the search was worthwhile even if unsuccessful. Also it will remind me that sometimes it is worth following other people’s descriptions of how to find a circle, especially when it is not marked on a map in any way – although in this case it was a completely unplanned walk that was decided in the car!

Bluebells in Dudwood, seen from the access land. Some of the mossy rocks can be seen on the far right by the wall and path.

Blackwell Stone “Circle”

Blackwell Stone “Circle”
(Click to enlarge.)

Here is a Peak District novelty that I happened to spot on the way to somewhere else, and stopped to take some photographs on the return journey. Five large stones placed in an arc on a raised bank in the middle of a field, near the hamlet of Blackwell, clearly visible from the B6049. Grid ref: SK1267.7194 (last digits approximate – it is private land so I didn’t enter the field and pace out the exact position.) At first glance it might appear to be the remains of a stone circle.

However, as a circle, it doesn’t quite fit and I suspect it isn’t really trying to. The stones are limestone, whereas Derbyshire stone circles are all on gritstone – apart from the much older henges. Their size and shape also feel incorrect for a historical circle, since nearly all are ‘female’ in shape and are too close together proportionally. (Avebury alternates male and female for example, other circles are nearly all male.) Being approximately 3-4 feet high, this is also unusual for Derbyshire as most circle stones are either considerably smaller, or 6 feet plus. And the bank they sit on was probably created to support the stones and shaped around them, it does not continue to complete a circle but slopes off evenly in all directions before the ground rises again near the wall.

And yet… There is a totally unexpected power and majesty of these five stones erected carefully and precisely by human hands. They line up neatly in their arc with a precision many circles lack, and they are substantial lumps of rock. Even if it can’t be called a circle, it is an intriguing rock sculpture and deserves praise for that alone.

I was unable to meditate with the stones, given they are on private land, but I did return to them in a mediation journey later.

My first impression was a surprise of how strong energy links there were between the stones. They had come from the same place and were all strongly connected to each other, and that was replicated in their alignment. It made me see how other stone circles could easily build up such a strong energy field around the circle. However I then tried to feel beyond the stones, even within the arc, and there was nothing. If I had ever been in any doubt that this was never part of a circle, this would have confirmed it, as there was absolutely nothing across the empty space. Not even a path where people might have walked from the nearby farmhouse to the stones. I have found that it is usually possible to feel the energy of where stones were and feel the circle even when it is not visible, but that wasn’t the case here. Possibly this is an opportunity missed – there are other circles around with only 4 or 5 large stones, eg see photos on my blog about Duddo Stones, Northumberland, and also elsewhere in Derbyshire that I haven’t written about yet. But more likely whoever erected the stones just wanted them to feel like part of something bigger, and maybe one day there will be more.

The other discovery of interest from my meditation was that the stones were each already quite weathered and shaped, and I could see how this would increase over time making them each into sculptures in their own rights. Some would hold water, others would develop fissures and other interesting shapes, but all seemed to have somewhere smooth you could run a hand over.

Froggatt Edge Stone Circle

Finally. The first circle in my quest to visit, meditate at, and photograph all the stone circles in Derbyshire…

Froggatt Edge Circle

A first view of Froggatt Edge Stone Circle as approached from Curbar.

Froggatt Edge circle, also known as the Stoke Flat circle, is one I must have unknowingly walked past twenty years ago, yet never saw on the ground. Only a short way off the path, it is easily missed even in Winter unless you were deliberately looking for it. In Summer bracken would surround it and make it harder to spot. In my defence, at that time the circles I was most familiar with were Stonehenge and Avebury in Wiltshire, and possibly Castlerigg in Cumbria. I had no idea that such small, indistinct circles even existed. So when looking at options for a family walk, with requests for some rocks to climb and somewhere not too wet after a week of rain, I was keen to return to the area and see if there was anything there.

My former ignorance is fortunately not shared by others, and besides photographs and maps for most Derbyshire circles being available online, there is also an excellent book ‘Stone Circles of the Peak: A Search For Natural Harmony’ by John Barnatt, published 1978 with detailed drawings and alignments of each circle he surveyed. However, I made a decision not to research this circle in any way beforehand, reckoning that I should be able to find it with some fairly simple navigation from the map, so that I could have my own impressions uncoloured by others. I have instead used the information available to fill in the gaps afterwards.

Tall Rock

Tall rock by entrance.
(Click to enlarge)

The circle is actually quite large in the area it covers, approximately 18m across, but there is only one stone above waist height and a few knee high ones remaining. There is however a slightly raised bank forming the ring, so that the stones that remain do look and feel as if they are indeed part of a circle. Unusually the stones are on both sides of the raised ring, suggesting to me that either they have been moved at some point in the past, or it once had a double ring of stones, inside and out. (John Barnatt suggests the latter, in common with Ewden Beck / Broomhead circle some 12 miles further North into Yorkshire. But see also below.)

I took a few photographs as I approached the circle, then I put the camera away and entered by the tall stone as that felt like the ‘way in’. It had a deep hollow in its top, filled with water. After feeling my way to being at home in the circle, I then chose a rock to sit on – in this case a ‘smiling’ rock called to me and proved incredibly comfortable, the perfect height, size and flatness for sitting. I felt very welcome, and even loved as I sat there.

Smiley Rock at Froggatt Edge Stone Circle

Smiley Rock at Froggatt Edge Stone Circle, showing stones on the opposite side of the ring in the background.
(Click to enlarge)

The first thing that struck me was how peaceful it was. There were strong gales blowing that day, making walking difficult at times, but being just slightly back from the Edge the circle was almost windless. It also seemed undisturbed by the popular path running almost alongside; the only other people I saw take any notice of the circle that day were with someone who, judging by conversation, had recently done an archaeological survey of the area and wanted to show it to them. Everyone else simply walked on by.

Sometimes sitting on the edge of a circle makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, being aware of the boundary energy-wise. I didn’t feel that here – possibly because the boundary was further out, at the outer edge of the bank – but neither did I feel so energised that I couldn’t stay for very long within the circle as I have felt elsewhere. Instead I had a real sense of the circle as as a stable and complete form and me as part of that. This is a rare true circle, not egg-shaped as is common, and I could really feel that as a stillness and strength. (According to John Barnatt’s plan and geometry, I was also sitting along the side of a square within the circle; the entrance being through the point of the square. A perfect square would likely increase the solidity and stability of a circle form.)

Although the circle did not feel particularly powerful when I visited, as if the new moon was its weak time, I felt strong within myself by sitting there and feeling its energies. Like I could achieve anything I wanted to. A feeling of empowerment. That was something I carried with me for several days afterwards.

Two days later I was able to do a journey back to the circle. I wanted to ask if there was anything I had missed, or should have done, whilst there.

Water offering

Water offering

The first seemed frustratingly obvious in retrospect – I should have taken some of the gift of water at the entrance that was there for me! I find it hard now to believe that I didn’t and am really puzzled by why I didn’t, but it serves as a reminder for next time. Recognise and accept gifts offered, and connect with all four elements when there is an opportunity to do so.

Beyond that, I’m glad to say I learned new information. I discovered that the circle was anchored through all worlds on Earth, and is a place where it is possible to move easily between the worlds, and the worlds come together. By this I am including lower and middle worlds, and worlds of the fae (another lower world but, to me, in a different place than that of animals). I didn’t specifically explore any world of ancestors (I haven’t tried that before) but I did have a strong sense that the circle was built by and used by people. More specifically, I seemed to see two rings of stones, with the inner ring being used to sit on as I had done, and the centre of the circle for dancing. This is different to Stanton Nine Ladies circle, where I have sensed any ‘audience’ would stay outside the circle while not taking part, whereas here some, or even all if only a small group was present, would be inside. I had an impression of the circle belonging to a family or clan or tribe who loved and looked after the circle. They lived some distance away on the moor where there was water, not by the river although they could see it and used it for a trading or travelling route. It was safer up on the moor.

Within the circle itself, I sensed that an energy vortex could form at the centre when at its peak time, that is when the sun or moon was fuller, and also dancing was used to raise the energy. I couldn’t get any idea of how this energy was used however – beyond it being slightly different to an experience I had regarding Wet Withens circle a couple of years ago. (Saved for when I revisit.) Clearly each circle type, and possibly each circle, has its own distinctive character.

Alignments made by John Barnatt show that the circle has been built to line up with the midsummer full moon over Arbor Low and midwinter full moon at Win Hill – a very distinctive, pointy hilltop which rises abruptly out of flattish moorland. While his sunset positions seem a bit non-specific to the horizons, he then points out that when sitting the midwinter sunset is in the centre of the tallest stone. Additionally, Imbolc / Samhain sunset is at the stone next to this, and midsummer sunset one further along. It is possible that missing stones once marked the other key sunsets through the year.

Froggatt Edge Stone Circle.

Froggatt Edge Stone Circle looking towards the Edge and the footpath. Sunset stones on the side nearest the trees.


Update
As the project continues, and I find out more information, it grows… Within the boundaries of Derbyshire, I am now aware of:
5 possible Henge sites, all on ‘White Peak’ or Limestone, of which only Arbor Low has any stones and is sufficiently intact to see the whole ring.
33 probable stone circle sites, all on ‘Dark Peak’ or Gritstone – of which 23 are known to have stones remaining.
4 sites which may be stone circles but are more likely ring or kerbed cairns – 1 of which has stones.
9-10 destroyed circle sites. (Debateable if the village of Ringstones had a stone circle, but it seems to be generally assumed that there was one once. Nine other circles have been recorded at some point since 1800, but are now lost.)
3 modern circles.
And a lot of confused grid references, or multiple names for the same circles… I can see why a GPS might come in handy!

Stone Circles in Derbyshire

I have started a new project recently, one I have been cogitating since the start of the year. My aim is simple – to photograph and meditate at all the stone circles in Derbyshire. Needless to say, it gets more complicated from there!

The first question I looked at is why stone circles, and should I include anything else? Most stone circles can be reasonably dated to the Bronze Age from finds within the circles – but there are also huge numbers of other Bronze Age sites in Derbyshire which include cairns, burial mounds, carved stones etc as well as evidence of settlements. However, Derbyshire has been inhabited since at least the last ice age, with various pieces of evidence from limestone caves in the north of the county as well as near the river Trent in the south – and there are two older (Neolithic) henges, one of which (Arbor Low) also includes stones. Did any of these have an influence on the Bronze Age circles, and if so how? Then of course there are the later Iron Age hill forts, not to mention all the Roman roads and forts through which these circles have survived, and which the circles may have had some influence over. There are also other complications: some circles do not exist any more; some recorded as circles may have been ring cairns rather than stone circles; and there are also several standing stones, age generally unknown, which are even less clear in their purpose than stone circles but which are sometimes more dramatic than a circle with one small stone remaining.

So my first meditation was to answer these simple questions.

A circle, I realised, is something special. The energies flow in particular ways, it is very feminine in form, it is related to the circle witches cast, and it is healing in its centre. For some reason these are apparently all things I need right now. Many also have alignments to the sun at different times of the year following the larger cycles of our lives, so it would be good to visit them at their appropriate times if I can.

Stone Circles in Derbyshire

Stone Circles in Derbyshire, with rivers.
(Click to enlarge)

The beginnings of my map, shown here, includes 34 ancient circles, of which 8 destroyed (yellow) leaving 26 (green, darker for better preserved) to be found and photographed. Two of these are henges (double circles), one with stones and one without. There are also three modern circles (brown squares) to investigate – two apparently built new but using old rocks, the other entirely modern as a public space – to see if anything of a genuine ancient circle is created.

It is of interest to me how all the Derbyshire circles are concentrated in a small area mainly following the Derwent valley. They appear to be features of hilly areas where there are naturally rocky outcrops – yet sometimes the rocks were moved some distance from these outcrops. (There is no great concentration of stone circles just over the borders into Yorkshire, although there are larger numbers roughly following the Pennines north, as well as in other upland areas further west such as Cumbria, Wales and the South West. Very few stone circles exist in the East of Britain until you get to Northumberland and Scotland.)

Those known to be lost were possibly in more intensively farmed areas – whether there were more circles at one time is impossible to know, although my feelings are that it is unlikely since we would be talking about pre-enclosure days, when few would have worried about some rocks in the way of their sheep! What is more likely is that there were wooden circles built in lowland areas which simply would not have survived.